Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Border

Originally, the border between the Church and the world was put up, not by the Church, but by the world, which could find no use for, and would not tolerate, this indigestible people. The Church constituted something like an Indian reservation or a ghetto, or even worse, a leper colony within society, a social entity which should not be, but nonetheless was. It was an embarrassment for and accusation against the classes that ruled the world.

Among those untouchable and unmentionable people, leaders arose, chosen not for their excellence or eminence in any worldly endeavor, but for their abject surrender to the service of the others. The world looked on in wonder at these hopeless imbeciles following a crucified criminal, surprised that they could have so much love for one another, but even more stupefied at their lack of survival instinct—they didn’t fight back when attacked by the world, they prayed for, and even more incomprehensibly, thanked those who injured and killed them!

They would not contribute any more than was exacted from them for the maintenance of the world system. They didn’t stand up for their own rights. They didn’t agitate for social reforms or strive for the betterment of any society except their own. Only among themselves, by common and unwritten consent, did they abolish customs that the world regarded normal, but which they abhorred—infanticide, sexual license, slavery, the “festivals.” In this regard, the world felt justified in labeling them “haters of humanity,” in segregating and controlling them by an elaborate system of “tests,” such as the performance of acts of public worship to the state deities.

The charge of atheism brought against them was designed to infuriate the working masses of the world, which by and large were “religious,” and which could be depended upon to punish the Church at the slightest provocation, thereby freeing the world rulers from overt responsibility for the persecution of these deranged trouble makers, undeserving of the name “human.”

No, the world had no use for, and would not tolerate, this indigestible people. It would give them no avenue for worldly success or security—economic, educational, social—not unless they, individually, renounced their allegiance to their pathetic God by publicly conforming to the world system and taking what they called among themselves “the mark of the beast.” If they did that, they were allowed the cross the border. They were free at last from the unreasonable restrictions placed upon them by their crazy beliefs.

After some time had passed, the Church, to the astonishment and discomfort of the world and its rulers, had grown much larger than had been anticipated. The elaborate system of tests and containment strategies that they devised could not keep the borders of this neglected area from expanding. The Church even crept into places it had never been seen before. It was to be expected that among the unschooled rabble, some would defect to this weird cult, lured by the rumors of “brotherly love” and other such nonsense. Everyone knew that these were just cover-ups for their unnatural practices, hypocrites all of them.

But now, and with more and more regularity every day, it seemed that once responsible citizens of the world were becoming uncooperative and difficult, excusing themselves from participating in the rites and rituals, even refusing the world’s most reasonable demands. The infection had spread, from the mere denizens even to the rulers of the world order. What was to be done? How was the world to maintain the border between itself and the Church?

There was nothing else to do but, swallowing its pride (just for a moment), the world would have to “become” the Church. It would have to get inside (disgusting!) the barricade where all that refuse and filth calling itself “human” was holed up, and somehow harness that teeming multitude to a new “world machine” under its benign and rational management.

Since the other side of the border was now larger than the world, there was nothing to do but jump the fence. Soon, “under new management” the Church, having become the world, would be so universal, so thoroughly ecumenical, that to be a leader of it would be an even greater honor than it once was to be a world ruler in former times.

It didn’t matter, not really, that the world would have to let go its old props and proof texts and principles. The Church had a Book that it had gathered together from one of those barbaric, backward tribes, adding to it a few chapters of its own. These could be imbued with new meanings, this Book could be used as a kind of Trojan horse by the world rulers to bring their powerful premises into play, first blocking, then replacing the so-called “promises” in that stupid Book.

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” See? Their own Book is talking about us! Now, no one can oppose us! To make sure of this, all we have to do is establish “tests” to qualify only those who agree with us, send them to school, and teach them to parrot our plans. As for those who won’t…

So a new border had to be put up.
Again, it was put up by the world, not by the Church.

It became difficult, sometimes and in some places, to distinguish just who was on this side of the border, and who was on the other. The world had learned how to juggle names, titles and powers in such a way that sometimes even it got confused about who was who and which was which. The new border, though, did work. The Church was contained, even though imperfectly. The world now had a free hand to save itself, to save the planet, to liberate all humanity from the darkness of ancient superstition—Imagine that! A dying and resurrecting God!—and from the “haters of humanity” who think that they alone possess the truth, and that there is only one way!

“The nerve of that bunch of fanatics who call themselves ‘the Church’—why, we can’t even see them! But we can hear them, and they trouble us still, even to this day.”

But, my brothers, let me remind you of these things…

There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom.
Luke 12:32

You must not love this passing world
or anything that is in the world.
The love of the Father cannot be
in any man who loves the world.
1 John 2:15

If the world hates you,
remember that it hated Me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because My choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you:
A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted Me,
they will persecute you too;
if they kept My word,
they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on My account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the One who sent Me.
John 15:18-21

I have told you all this
so that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
John 16:1-2

I have told you all this
so that you may find peace in Me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but be brave:
I have conquered the world.
John 16:33

Sunday, December 25, 2011

If He was not flesh

Jesus, our Saviour, the God-Man…

We confess one and the same individual as perfect God and perfect Man.
He is God the Word Which was flesh.

For if He was not flesh, why was Mary chosen?
And if He is not God, whom does Gabriel call Lord?

If He was not flesh, who was laid in a manger?
And if He is not God, whom did the angels who came down from heaven glorify?

If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes?
And if He is not God, in whose honor did the star appear?

If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon hold in his arms?
And if He is not God, to whom did Simeon say, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace”

If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take when he fled into Egypt?
And if He is not God, who fulfilled the prophecy,
“Out of Egypt have I called my Son”?

If He was not flesh, whom did John baptize?
And if He is not God, to whom did the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”?

If He was not flesh, who hungered in the desert?
And if He is not God, unto whom did the angels come and minister?

If He was not flesh, who was invited to the marriage in Cana of Galilee?
And if He is not God, who turned the water into wine?

If He was not flesh, who took the loaves in the desert?
And if He is not God, who fed the five thousand men and their women and children with five loaves and two fish?

If He was not flesh, who slept in the ship?
And if He is not God, who rebuked the waves and the sea?

If He was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee sit at dinner?
And if He is not God, who forgave the sins of the harlot?

If He was not flesh, who wore a man's garment?
And if He is not God, who healed the woman with an issue of blood when she touched His garment?

If He was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay?
And if He is not God, who gave sight to the eyes of the blind man with that clay?

If He was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ tomb?
And if He is not God, who commanded him to come forth out of the grave four days after his death?

If He was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest in the garden?
And if He is not God, who cast them to the ground with the words, “I am He”?

If He was not flesh, who was judged before Pilate? And if He is not God, who frightened Pilate's wife in a dream?

If He was not flesh, whose garments were stripped from Him and parted by the soldiers? And if He is not God, why was the sun darkened upon His crucifixion?

If He was not flesh, who was crucified on the cross? And if He is not God, who shook the foundations of the earth?

If He was not flesh, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross?
And if He is not God, how did it happen that the veil of the temple was rent in twain, the rocks were rent and the graves were opened?

If He was not flesh, who hung on the cross between two thieves?
And if He is not God, how could He say to the thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise”?

If He was not flesh, who cried out and gave up the ghost?
And if He is not God, whose cry caused many bodies of the saints who slept to arise?

If He was not flesh, whom did the women see laid in the grave?
And if He is not God, about whom did the angel say to them, “He has arisen, He is not here”?

If He was not flesh, whom did Thomas touch when he put his hands into the prints of the nails?
And if He is not God, who entered through the doors that were shut?

If He was not flesh, who ate at the Sea of Tiberias?
And if He is not God, on whose orders were the nets filled with fish?

If He was not flesh, whom did the apostles see carried up into heaven?
And if He is not God, who ascended to the joyful cries of the angels, and to whom did the Father proclaim:
“Sit at My right hand”?

If He is not God and man, then, indeed, our salvation is false, and false are the pronouncements of the prophets.

From A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God
(from the works of our Holy Father, Ephraim the Syrian)
Click on the images to see an enlarged version.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

η γενεσις του Ιησου Χριστου

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

Her husband Joseph, being a man of honor and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:19-21)

Some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" they asked. "We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage."
(Matthew 2:1b-2)

And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9b)

Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David's house and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. (Luke 2:4-7)

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. (Luke 2:8)

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shown around them. They were terrified, but the angel said, "Do not be afraid! Listen! I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favor." (Luke 2:9-14)

Listen, you heavens; earth attend for Yahweh is speaking, "I reared sons, I brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's crib, Israel knows nothing, my people understands nothing." (Isaiah 1:2-3)

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of Yahweh rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

His state was divine, yet he did not cling
to his equality with God but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as all men are.
(Philippians 2:6-7)

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)

Friday, December 23, 2011


Brethren, as you know, I am just an ordinary Christian, a simple follower of Jesus, with no formal education in ‘theology’ or in ‘biblical criticism.’ I’ve said it often enough, and so I believe, that theology isn’t learned in schools, nor is it possible to criticize the Bible. Sometimes I write things, just like the foregoing, that make me sound very dogmatic, very doctrinaire—some of you even think that I am denominationally biased, favoring one church over another, as if there were such a thing as ‘churches.’

If you know me well, as some of you do, you know very well that I am not being dogmatic or even denominational, that my words may seem pontificating, but I laugh at them, knowing they are the ravings of a fool who knows only the words of Jesus and is merely trying to accept them, accept Him, fully, letting you see his folly meanwhile, to elicit your prayers. But I don’t laugh only at myself. I laugh at you too, and often I seem to laugh all of us to scorn, nonetheless writing what I believe is true.

I really do believe that the Bible cannot be understood outside the Church, nor dogma grasped outside of worship, yet I write on subjects as if I knew something. As I’ve said often enough, I don’t witness for the Church, I witness for Christ, and He witnesses for the Church. I assume that anyone who studies the Bible wants to have faith, wants to hear the call of Jesus Christ, wants to be inside the Church, just as I do. As for dogma, well, I have done nothing if not invited everyone I meet repeatedly to worship.

What happens, though, when confronted with people who think they know the Bible and can use it as a weapon against others, even as a weapon against the Church? Personally, I am used to being attacked, used to being used and pillaged, used to being doubted, used to being suspected and slandered, used to being mocked, scorned, and discarded, used to finding myself having to start over from scratch, used to being eliminated from society.

Do you think I am speaking of Romanós? I am not; I am speaking of the Church. But then again, what does it mean if one’s life follows closely on the heels of these complaints? Could it mean that one is perhaps a member of the Church after all? Yet, we go to church and see all the marvelous things, the worship, the social and religious activity, the wonderful camaraderie of, well, some of the people there. Not everyone, it seems, fits in, but the Church makes room for us all, even us misfits.

We see the world around us with a sort of double vision—what it looks like, and what it really is. This double vision applies to how we see other people, and it even applies to how we see the Church. This is where faith either kicks in, or fails us—or should I say, where our faith fails us? Who can be strong enough to live in a world where, though the Truth be known, those who say they know the Truth cannot even be relied on to love those they see, as proof that they love Him who is Unseen?

How brittle are our lives to be so easily shattered! As I come to the end of all things—yes, the end of all that is merely human, all that is breakable, all that fails, yes, especially me—before I can welcome the One who makes all things new, who rewrites the broken ikons, refashions the fallen Adam in the image of the Eternal Man, even in His birth defeating hell and death because He fills all things—before I can welcome Him and hear the Message, ‘and on earth peace, and to humanity the favor of God’

What must I do but confess that I am a failed human and deserve the rebuke of all, that I have not kept up my end of the bargain—yes, the bargain, for what better buy was there ever to be had than the one whereby the Son of Man purchased me for myself with His own Blood, to set me free? All my ravings and babble, worthless, all my thoughts, nothingness, and yet I stand as one who thinks himself sane in a world that has gone mad, but nothing and no one is sane in this mad world, only He.

in a Christmasless land, I approach this bright feast of the Church—yes, only the Church celebrates it, while the world indulges itself in it—as one who has not even begun making an effort to live the good life, the only life worth living, as one who knows he doesn’t deserve to draw near.

Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being, and the earth offers a cave to Him whom no one can approach. Angels with shepherds give glory, and magi migrate with a star. For to us there is born a little Child who is God before the ages.

Shameless I come before Him empty-handed. Lord, have mercy on your servants who do not know You, who do Your will in spite of themselves, and on my enemy, on my worst enemy of all, on myself. In Your mercy make me worthy to say with the saints, ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!’

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What shall we offer Him?

Every year I am deeply moved by the hymns of Christ’s Nativity composed by my name day saint, Romanós the Melodist. Somehow in their simplicity of lyric and melody they capture a side of Christmas that escapes the notice of our culture. In the Western world, the famous short hymn Silent Night has a similar effect of reducing everyone who hears it to the level of the simple awe of the shepherds of Bethlehem. Yet, Today the Virgin, maybe because of its poetry and the details so carefully woven together with tender irony, surpasses all other hymns in conveying both what it was like in time, and what it is like in eternity—the Word became man and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.

Η Παρθένος σήμερον, τον προαιώνιον Λόγον,
εν σπηλαίω έρχεται, αποτεκείν απορρήτως.
Χόρευε, η οικουμένη ακουτισθείσα,
δόξασον, μετά Αγγέλων και των ποιμένων,
βουληθέντα εποφθήναι, Παιδίον νέον,
τον προ αιώνων Θεόν.

Today the Virgin comes to the cave
to ineffably give birth to the Word before all worlds.
Dance, O universe, upon hearing this,
and with the angels and the shepherds glorify Him
who freely willed to become a new Child,
the God before all ages.

Η παρθένος σήμερον, τον υπερούσιον τίκτει
και η γη το σπήλαιον τω απροσίτω προσάγει,
Άγγελοι μετά ποιμένων δοξολογούσι
Μάγοι δε μετά αστέρων οδοιπορούσι,

δι’ ημάς γαρ εγεννήθη Παιδίον νέον
ο προ αιώνων Θεός.

Today, the Virgin bears the One beyond being,
and the earth offers the cave
to the Unapproachable.

Angels with shepherds glorify Him.
Magi migrate to Him by a star.
For unto us is born a new Child,
the God before all ages.

(Sigh!) The English translations, no matter which ones you look at, don’t really convey the sense of the original, though they come close. Especially the “Dance, O universe” which translates, Χόρευε, η οικουμένη, Chóreve i ikouméni. That’s what it means!

I’ve been thinking about these hymns, and also this prayer which follows, for the last few days…

What shall we offer You, O Christ,
Who for our sakes have appeared on earth as a man?
Every creature made by You offers You thanks:
the Angels offer a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Wise Men, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, a manger,
and we offer You a virgin Mother!
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

And I’ve been thinking about the ikons. We know that we’re the living ikons of the Lord Jesus Christ, made in His image, broken by sin but restored by His saving grace. We know that He says things to us like, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me,” and “Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me.” So, the meaning of ikons is far more than just the religious pictures you see in an Orthodox home or church. Abba Anthony (one of the Desert Fathers) says, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

We know that the Bible is the greatest ikon of all, in that it is the verbal ikon of the Word of God, and that it should be treated with all reverence—venerated, honored, read and obeyed as the Source of everything we can possibly know about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and about His ikonomía, His “plan of salvation,” as the only divine scripture on earth. Just as we don’t casually throw it around, or use it as a place mat or door stop, but rather always give it the place of honor, kissing it and holding it respectfully and lovingly, for His sake Whose Gospel it contains, so we also treat our fellow man. We don’t treat him casually, or as a means to an end, but respect him as one to whom Christ comes, for whom Christ died, and through whom Christ comes to us.

Back to the prayer quoted above, “What shall we offer You, O Christ,
Who for our sakes have appeared on earth as a man?”

Since Christ is now among us, in us as His living ikons, how can we offer, not only what shall we offer, to Him?

This question posed itself to me, as I was thinking of Christmas gifts. The hymns and prayers of Christmas describe various beings (not just humans, but beings) offering gifts to Christ at His becoming a “new Child.” Hypersomatic beings (angels) offered “hymns.” Outer space (the heavens) offered “a star,” (quite possibly a supernova). The educated (wise men) offered “gifts,” (we know what they were—gold, frankincense, and myrrh). The working class (shepherds) offered “wonder”—what else did they have? The planet earth offered a cave (and as at the beginning, so at the end, in a rich man’s unused tomb). The wilderness offered a manger (so that the animals, too, could get a good look at their Creator). And finally, the human race, in the shape of her own willingness to risk everything she had ever known and every happiness she ever hoped for, a young virgin as His Mother.

Where does that leave us, who have come two thousand years too late?

No, it’s never too late. We can give to each other everything that we would give to Christ personally. He is here with us, after all! Yes, it’s presents at Christmas. The more of ourselves, the better. It’s a smile and a hug in loneliness, a kind word in sorrow. It’s a helping hand to one who needs it, to one who needs what you have but don’t need. “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry” (Luke 3:11 NIV). This is another facet of the theology of ikons. This is why ikons have come into existence—because the invisible, incomprehensible, eternal God has freely willed to become… one of us.

Do we sit out on a country hillside at night, enjoying the canopy of stars, looking for and trying to commune with the God of all? Wait! Perhaps He is there, sitting beside us, looking up at the stars too, that He created, because they are beautiful, and waiting…
for us to notice Him.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Always seeing Him

"…in the midst of the cloudy stormy morning—Bright Day…"
How wonderful it is when our eyes always set on Him
and closely follow behind Him!
and by...

always seeing Him,
we see the assurance of our faith
and the radiant hope glows so brightly,
always seeing Him,
we are transformed to be like Himself,

always seeing Him,
we are realizing the vanity of earthly wealth and glory,
always seeing Him,
we are convinced that there is no power
nor anything can separate Him from us,
always seeing Him,
we come to know that no other Beauty and Power can compare to His,

always seeing Him,
we then be enabled to chant
in the midst of the cloudy, stormy morning—Bright Day,
always seeing Him,
we have the courage to cross the river in the darkest night,

always seeing Him,
we are cheerful sheep among the foxes
’cause we trust and know Who is guarding us,
always seeing Him,
we come healed, saved and alive, because He is Risen,
always seeing Him,
we encounter Most High God and our beloved neighbor
since He is perfect Man and Perfect God,

always seeing Him,
we joyfully follow Him through the narrow way
and bearing our lovely crosses go up to Golgotha…

— Yudi Kristanto

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You love me beyond me

The crown of meaning and beauty is You, O my Joy!
my Lord and Savior
how beautiful it is to pause and remember
How You love me beyond me

That Your heart rejoices upon everything good that You set on me
You gave that trust, that love, that joy
so pure as the glimmering stream of fountain
'Cling on me! Feed on me. I am Good Shepherd'
You call gently
Your embrace warms my soul, the sweetest of all
Everything is on Your mighty hands O Lord
Everything good is from You

Lord, it is trembling for me to draw so close to You
because Your beauty is so splendorous
You are the source of all
of all beauty and joy
Holy are You O God!

Lord, have mercy on Your little servant
which You have created from dust
and that You have given life and gift of being
I am sinful, full of disgrace
but Your mercy I plea and Your love I trust...
that You love me beyond me

May my life be totally for You and for Your Joy O Lord, nothing else
because I find nothing outside You
I can do nothing if not from Your mercy
There's no meaning but in Your bountiful blossom

Lead me, O Lord...
Save me, I am Yours
may I live for You and You alone, O Lord
in loving whom You love, the mankind and my neighbors
in rejoicing in Your joy
in weeping and caring for those who are in need
in taking care and being mindful of Your creation

in each step
in each breath
I am Yours

Bless, O Lord! Ameyn!
— Yudi Kristanto

Monday, December 19, 2011

One only is worthy

One only is worthy,
and we know it,
and we know Him.

So as we go suffering as He suffers,
rejoicing as He rejoices,
let's keep following Him,
and decide to do now and always
exactly what He asks,

no matter what it looks like,
no matter whom it may offend,
no matter what it feels like,
but without malice,
without superiority,
without resentment.

This way is the hardest
because it is the Cross,
and it is the lightest
because it is Jesus.

And to be at His side,
no matter what happens to us by day or night,
is why we live.

— Romanós

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joy, joy

Joy, joy, amidst suffering, 
blending what cannot be with what is,
and all held in fragile friendship in the hands of God,

who for the love of His suffering siblings
joined them to prove on the battlefield of His body
that victory is at the bottom of defeat,
and that redemption can be purchased
only at a price beyond our paying,

and that of all worlds this one is the best and only,
because our Beloved has pierced our defenses
and shown us the way out,
to perfect freedom,
fearless, radiant, unfleshly
and immortal.

He is glorified by the piping of a solitary bird
that now sings, again and again, the threefold call,
‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’
out of the wooded depths.

Your day, O Lord,
Your day that You have bestowed on us,
grant us to behold Your face in every moment,
and feel Your touch.

Savior, come, and do not delay.

— Romanós