Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Papal magnanimity

We’ve been prepared for over forty years by populist but really quite ignorant uniphobes, warning us of the coming ‘one world religion’ in which the antichrist and the false prophet will establish the worship of the beast, and other such nonsense. I blush to remember that I too was once taken in by these goof balls. Their other pronouncements, just as imposing to the ear but just as ridiculous now that most of them have fallen flatter than pancakes, are evidence I hope we won’t forget, as they take one more shot at the movement toward Christian unity.

So here we have a pope who, I just found out today, has reached out, not only to the Eastern Orthodox (my confession), the Anglicans, and other historic Protestant churches which are still rather close to Catholicism, but even to the pariahs of modern Christianity, the Pentecostals, namely to Kenneth Copeland ministries, calling Copeland ‘brother’ and asking for him and his followers to pray for him. This has really gotten out of hand, hasn’t it? Has His Holiness no shame? Has he forgotten who he is? He’s the pope for Pete’s sake! Yet he acts and talks as if he’s nothing more than the bridge builder and the shepherd of souls!

I’ve been writing about Christian unity for as long as I can remember, and at the same time confessing that I do not believe in ecumenism, at least not in the movement that takes this name. That’s because I don’t see anything much but talk at the top, and the occasional joint effort at disaster relief. The kind of unity I write about, that I believe has never been lost but only gone unrecognized, is exactly what it looks like Pope Francis is preaching, and seeking as well. Instead of making ex cathedra pronouncements and dogmatizing in a way that would only perpetuate anti-Catholic feeling, he’s ‘coming out’ and treating other Christians as if they and he were already one.

Amazing! I can’t help but laugh at those ‘one world religion’ guys, because they’ve missed the point completely and are on the verge of losing their very lucrative business, that of dividing Christians and sowing seeds of fear and distrust to keep them that way. The Pope is not hiding behind a battlement of Roman Papal infallibility but neither is he abandoning Catholic (and therefore Orthodox) tradition and doctrine as he goes forth to announce the end of the Great Schism. No, not the one we call ‘great’ and date to A.D. 1054. That was nothing compared to the one that has pulverized the Body of Christ these last five hundred years till we are no longer recognized as standing on the Rock, but appear to be sinking in the sands, our own.

This pope (I can’t decide whether or not to capitalize this word) seems to have forgotten all protocol, and though I am small enough to still have issues with some of the people he is extending the hand of fellowship to (the Copelands, for example), I somehow sense that the magnanimity of which he is capable, through his position in the Body of Christ, just might be the leverage against the devil that we need to move the mountains (and yes, even the molehills) we have let divide us for centuries. There is only One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism, and therefore according to the promise of Christ, only One Church. It has never been divided and never can be, which is what ‘the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ means.

And as I have said till I was hoarse, if you think it’s divided, then you have a problem.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blind faith

Blind faith, good or bad? Even faith unqualified puts a person at risk. You must accept that something is, or will be, on trust. Reasoned faith seems to me to be no faith at all, because faith doesn’t wait, it simply obeys, and moves, following the Lord’s command. Reasoned faith is just another name for reason, riskless, not reckless, and follows one’s own views as to what is, or will be.

I don’t think that Christ expects what most people think of as blind faith, but He’s the only one who can ever really be trusted blindly. That is, of course, if you believe, or know, that He is God. Impossible for the natural man, no fault of his, that’s just how we are. To know that another human being, now or in ages past, is somehow God, is not possible for human nature. We know too much.

Still, the Christ calls us into regions of action, thought, and perception (what else can I call the movement of the spirit?) that are completely uncharted, unexpected, out of sync with everything we take for granted as a part of ordinary daily life. He calls us out, and we must follow, and that blindly, and immediately, or not at all, because when He commands, Christ doesn’t wait.

When we accept the claims of Jesus Christ, we place ourselves immediately at risk, though most of think we are now in a safe place and bound for glory. Well, yes, glory it is, but not what we naively imagine. The strange thing is, there is no compulsion with Christ. He simply states the facts, and then He acts, and expects us to follow Him, now or, in some cases, never. Choose Christ or comfort.

The disciples thin out now as they did when He told them they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Today we clamor to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and we surge forward in a mob to commune, mindlessly as well as blindly, and call this ‘faith.’ I wonder what the disciples who left Him were thinking, and where did they go after they abandoned Him. Did they sink back into the safety of tradition?

When Christ went to Bethany to raise His beloved friend Lazaros from the dead and declared to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, do you believe this?’ was He expecting her to accept this on blind faith? I don’t think so. Martha, along with the other disciples knew Jesus personally, followed Him, heard His teaching, and witnessed His miracles. He wanted to test and deepen her faith.

As He told the unbelieving Jews, ‘If you don’t believe in me, at least believe in the works that I do.’ That is a strange thing for Him to say if He were expecting blind faith. There is a danger in blind faith that even the Son of God wanted to avert and save His disciples from. Blind faith yields in turn to blind obedience, and the only authority to whom man owes such faith and obedience is God.

Though the Church is the Body of Christ as well as His mystical Bride, and though He has given it, given us, the power to forgive and remit sins in His name, the evil one has planted in this divine field seed of a different kind, which has sprouted and sought to command and exact undeserved obedience through all the ages. Yet we know when it is the Master’s voice speaking in the Church, and when not.

Yes, the disciples thin out, and considerably, as we follow more closely behind Jesus, moving as He moves, when, where, and how. Yet the Church remains full, the recipients of His mercy. For though He calls and commands us, and does not wait for us to follow, He nevertheless doesn’t cease to call, and that grace stretches out time, giving everyone, fast or slow, the chance to be saved.

For salvation is not the fruit of blind faith, but of love, and love that obeys, that keeps close watch on the Master’s every move, that does not sleep but watches, to miss nothing and no one that is sent, that is placed in its path. That is what kept the disciples close to the Lord when the others took their leave, and what brought the disciples back after they had abandoned Him and fled.

I am the resurrection and the life, do you believe this?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Crying out

Last Judgment, by James Janknegt
The Lord said, “When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46

Today is the Lord’s Day of the Last Judgment. We are getting very close now to the Forty Days (Sarakostí) of what we like to call the Great Fast, or ‘Great and Holy Lent,’ a time period when we are encouraged to fast, pray, and give alms. To the followers of Jesus, this ‘special’ season is hardly more than a speed bump on the street they’re already driving down towards their destination. To the devout churchables, this is the season we’ve all been waiting for, when we can quietly concentrate on self-purification through our austerities and acts of charity, and get ourselves ready to meet the Lord when He resurrects at Holy Pascha, or Easter, if you don’t mind calling it by its ordinary name.

Today, we eat our last hamburger or steak, and look forward to a week of cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, eat up all that yogurt in the fridge, drink all that milk, butter your toast on both sides, and don’t forget to gobble up the rest of that ice cream in the freezer. Stomach, get ready for rice and beans, rice and lentils, rice and veggies. And, unless you’re already on a tofu diet like me (because I just like tofu), you may be getting very acquainted with that meat and milk substitute in many of its forms. Ah, how good a bowl of cheerios tastes with vanilla soy milk!

Today we hear a gospel message straight from Messiah’s mouth that, had he never said another word, would still put us all to shame, make us forget our doctrinal disputes and dogmatic wars, eschew our schisms for fear that we might separate ourselves ahead of time and find ourselves with the goats instead of the sheep—that is, if we really listened to it. We’ve certainly had enough chances to hear it, understand it, and change our beliefs and behaviors to conform to it. We give it the amount of attention we think it deserves, and then go off to do the really important stuff on our lists.

Proving myself humble rather than proud, I ask the prayers of the brethren, that my sinful soul may nevertheless be saved. I quote the Desert Fathers to bolster my self-image of pious, though ignorant Christian country bumpkin, ‘Who the sheep are, God knows, but the goats are such as I.’ Meanwhile, hidden like a nest of earwigs incubating under a damp rock, my little kingdom of self still serves me, not God, who gave me that rock to stand on, not hide under. I hear these gospel words of the only True Man that ever lived, and still lives, even in me if I would only abandon all and follow Him, crying out,

Stay with me awhile, Lord. Give me some time to repent. Teach me how to unclothe myself so I can wear Your skin. Gently steer me into the road not taken by the multitude and, most importantly, by me. Show me the secret of unhousing myself, so I may dwell in Your house, in that mansion You made for me in the House of Your Father. ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed,’ yes, Lord, that my servant self should be free of its mortal wounds, and in Your immortal wounds, find peace and safety. Lord, have mercy, and save me.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Telling the truth in love

‘Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!’
To tell the truth in love—what does this really mean? It gets complicated because, from all outward appearances and most of human history, telling the truth in love can have some very adverse effects. We look back and shudder in horror, if we think long enough about it, but the burnings at the stake of those considered to be heretics was just a different expression of ‘telling the truth in love.’ After being tortured and made to confess, they were ‘forgiven’ but still had to endure death by fire as a sort of penance and purification, vaguely referenced to the apostle Paul’s teaching, ‘If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames’ (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). Strange that the Church thought it could administer salvation by fire as well as water.

Sorrowfully, we have not really made much progress. Most murders, as much as other ‘crimes against nature’—for that is what murder is—are committed ‘spiritually,’ not physically. I think we have all had this experience. Slander, for example, is a ‘spiritual’ form of murder—the modern name for this is ‘character assassination’—and its effects are almost always more painful, damaging, and long lasting, than a bullet to the head would be. When we are caught in the act of speaking our mind and telling somebody off who certainly deserves to be put in their place, we excuse ourselves, ‘I was only trying to help. There’s nothing wrong with telling the truth in love, is there?’

There was a time when Christians actually knew when what they might say would be abusive, and restrained themselves. They didn’t try to excuse themselves with, ‘Well, he deserved it!’ or ‘If I don’t tell them, who will?’ There’s a difference between telling a person the strange berries they just picked and are about to eat will make them very sick, and telling a man who is about to smoke another cigarette as he pulls one out of a package fairly covered with health warnings, that he shouldn’t smoke. The first is an instance of advising ignorance, the second an example of chastising informed choice. Both can be called ‘telling the truth in love,’ but the former really does this, while the latter merely heckles.

In a famous scene from The Wizard of Oz, a mean, old spinster brings an official writ to seize Dorothy’s little dog Toto because she claims it’s dangerous. Dorothy lashes out at her, ‘You go away or I… I'll bite you myself!’ before she is told to go to her room. Auntie Em, almost loses it too, ‘Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!’ and she too leaves the room in tears. Only the uncle stays on, and when Ms Gulch tries to justify her position, he just looks at her, sighs and says nothing. There’s a Christian man for you.

There’s a type of Christian who feels ‘the white man’s burden’ to go and tell the heathen (these being not people of color any more than he might be a white man, racially) how wrong they are about everything—their life style and beliefs, how sinful they are in their ‘natural’ state—and what to do ‘to get right with God.’ This may have worked in times and places where people really were backward and illiterate, but it doesn’t work here and now, nor is it appropriate. People can read. Whether they go to church or not, read the Bible or not, they’ve been exposed to ‘the Western heritage of faith and reason’ sufficiently to know when they’re doing immoral acts, or at least falling under Judaeo-Christian censure.

It must be a gift to know when to speak, and when to keep silent, because not many people have it. I know I don’t. But not having that gift is no excuse for not trying to speak well, that is, to know when a word well spoken will avert disaster, and when a word wrongly spoken might create one. This, of course, applies to acts as well as words. I have been hurt too many times to even count by those who, trying to correct me, have failed in their attempt, and driven the knife deeper. And I have done the same to others, more than I can count. This seems to be the human condition, and one of the chief defects of the natural man. I can only hope that I will be forgiven, but I know for sure I will not be unless I have forgiven others.

In the short time that lies before us, brethren, let us love, and forgive, one another, and in peace let us pray to the Lord, ‘Lord, have mercy!’

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Great Illusion

‘…We do not appear to travel well. [My wife] comes up with migraine headaches with air pressure changes. I have my own phobias about the U.S. so I tend to make an emotional mess of any visits south of here. I am appalled at what the U.S. has become. The Nazis have nothing on what the U.S. is becoming and what it is yet to become. That is likely a longer story than I care to discuss right now…’

A friend from my college days with whom I have come back into contact after a period of literally forty years wrote me the above in response to my question about whether he and his wife have traveled much. They, along with a handful of other friends and myself, migrated to Canada in the early 1970’s with the intention of setting up an intentional community, a commune. They also migrated to avoid the Vietnam War draft. My number in the draft lottery was too high, and I was never called. We were all student radicals, at least we thought we were, and also spiritual seekers. As it turned out, my career as a student radical was a shallow copying of others, what we have since learned to call being ‘a poser.’ All of us, after an initial tangle with ‘New Age’ religions, turned to Christ and became Christians. Me, at first an Episcopalian and then, after twelve years, a Greek Orthodox. My friends, various denominations ranging from Pentecostal to Roman Catholic, and anything in between.

The onset of old age brings with it a clarity of vision unknown to the years of youth or even middle age to some, and to others, the confirmation of ‘truths they always knew.’ It has been my observation, now that I am here at the threshold of my ‘golden years,’ that people really don’t change. It seems that we remain in some sense till our life’s end what we always were, and the end of our lives proves our beginning. This is expressed in a different way in the Bible, something like ‘by how a man ends we can know what he was,’ though I cannot at the moment cite a particular verse or book. This flies in the face of the current wisdom of Christianity which states that when one accepts Christ, one becomes a new creature. One changes. By this is usually meant, all of one’s former life is cast aside and gradually replaced with the ‘Christ life’ because now Christ lives in him. All this has the support of scripture, and of course, it is true, though not for all of us, maybe not even for most. The object of Christianity for many people thus becomes, whether consciously or unconsciously, the acquisition of virtues and—I hate to say it—material increase. Once these ends are sufficiently achieved, one either ‘rests on his laurels’ or leaves Christianity altogether. This is what I call ‘the Great Illusion.’

Where I stand now in my relationship to Jesus Christ is the same place I stood when He found and chose me as a disciple, at the age of twenty-four. In one year’s time it will have been forty years. It seems to me that I have the same joy, and wonder, and enthusiasm for the Lord that I was given at the moment of my ‘epiphany’ experience. That may or may not be true. Like everyone else who has ever been born, I am a great actor, and I also like to believe my own tales. My life will be revealed more and more for what and who I am or was as I move closer to my own bodily death. This does not bother me, because I see that it is how ‘Judgment Day’ comes upon us, and if that’s how God wants it, I am content. In fact, I want what I am to be revealed, because I am confident that He who made me, called me, and sent me, will in the end redeem me. ‘I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.’ This is what I mean when I say ‘in God I trust.’

For me, Christianity is not a program of self-help or moral improvement. It isn’t a regimen of discipline that will make me worthy to ‘acquire the Holy Spirit.’ It doesn’t depend on church membership, on my personal confession of faith, or on the good deeds I do. It’s not God’s stamp of approval on all my petty prejudices, phobias, and preferences. It doesn’t give me the right or authority to command, direct, or worst of all, judge those whom I may consider inferior to me (though they may only be different).

Christianity is to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to, no, to hang on His every word. It is to leave my water jar at the well of negativity and go to Him who is the well of positivity, that is, of indefatigable goodness, of life, temporal and eternal, and having received that which only He can offer, to give away, to distribute, to all others, that same goodness He has given me.

Light and life, it all amounts to this. If I am a Christian, is that what others experience from me? Is my life a bushel that has hidden the lamp, or is it a city set on a hill that cannot be hid? We want to defend and excuse ourselves when we fail to be ‘the light of the world’ that Jesus tells us we are. Something always gets in the way, but ‘our heart is in the right place,’ and in a pinch, when pressed, we will ‘give our testimony’ and confess before men that ‘Jesus is Lord’ verbally, come what may. Yes, we are convinced that one sentence of religious jargon, especially if it comes straight out of ‘God’s Word,’ will make up for all the negativity, judgmentalism, prejudice, and uncritical self-justification that we pride ourselves in, calling it our ‘Christian walk.’

Small wonder, then, that the ‘unsaved’ world prays to the God it doesn’t believe in but instinctively and regretfully knows is there, ‘Lord, save us from your people.’ The Great Illusion instead of the Great Commission. How can it be that the world understands better what the Truth is than we do? We, the Christian people, like the Ninevites, not knowing our right hand from our left, numbering in our millions, not to mention all our cattle.

Monday, February 17, 2014

He was my brother

Adelphótheos! Brother of God! Ah, what won’t those Hellenists with their illumined intellects name us? What won’t they tell of us? How zealously they’ve exchanged their old poets for new, for isn’t that all they live for, poetry? Yes, their accolade is just poetry I’ve been told, but this epithet, ‘Brother of God,’ this is really too much. It’s come to the ears of the authorities here in the City, and now they’re calling on me to dispel these rumors about my brother Yeshua. They want me to stand up for Torah righteousness when the tribes and the proselytes come to Jerusalem for Pesach. 

They said to me, ‘You, Ya‘akov, we know you are tzaddik, we know you carry out the mitzvot to the least detail. Tell the ignorant rabble the truth. Yeshua is not Mashiach. Yeshua is not Hashem. We will make all the arrangements. You must tell them. You are his brother. We must not defile yet another Pesach with superstitious worship. Shema Yisra’el, Adonay Eloheynu, Adonay Echod!’

Yes, even my old ears burn to hear them, the Gentile believers in Yeshua, making so free with the Divine Name. Yet who can blame them? For he that was brother to me, whom I guarded and guided in Torah righteousness from infancy up to the day he turned, to guard and guide me—yes, I too became his disciple—he himself made bold to speak the Name. Not only did he pronounce the Unutterable with his lips in our hearing, but by his life, his teaching and his miracles, and finally his resurrection from the dead, he spoke the Name that was proven to be his before our eyes.

We not only heard, we beheld, we even touched the Name with our hands. And these others, most of whom never knew him in the flesh, take liberties that we who did know him do not take. But let not the old man in me gripe unfittingly for the sake of all the good that has come to pass through Yeshua, my brother. No matter what they call me, I know who he is. Let the new man in me tell you what I know, for I was there, I heard the first good news myself.

We didn’t know that it was good news when we first heard it. Truth can look strange when one first encounters it, different from what it later appears. It grows in us as we grow. The good news did not start with the preaching of John, whom they call the Baptist, as many think. No, the first words of it were spoken by a bodiless power. She who is now my mother saw no one, only a shaft of light too bright to look at, and then a voice. She was the first hearer, but it started even before that, and in this fashion.

My father Yosef and his youngest brother Chalfi lived in Nazareth of Galilee. Though he was my uncle, Chalfi and I were about the same age. My four brothers were much older than I and, along with my sisters, lived far from us. For many years my father and mother lived happily, and I, the youngest, benefited from the softness of their old age. I could do as I pleased. But my world was shattered when my mother suddenly died. Seeing my father’s great grief made mine seem small. I wanted to help him.

A dream I had dreamt when I was a very small child came back to me, and it felt like an oracle. In the dream I was followed wherever I went by throngs of people. They called out to me, ‘Tzaddik, chaneyni! Righteous one, favor me!’ Much of the dream I have forgotten, but how it ended was frightening. I found myself on a high pinnacle, and then I felt a strong wind blow from behind me, and I fell. I awoke with a shout, and found my mother softly stroking my face, as she smiled, and then told me to go back to sleep.

In the dream I felt lifted up, and as I grew older, remembering that feeling, I knew it could only come from delight in Torah, and I resolved to devote my life to study and fulfillment of the commandments. When my mother was taken from us, I added another condition to my vow. I would never marry, but remain chaste as a Nazir. My life would be korban, dedicated. I would serve my father in her place, until the Lord took him. Having other sons to give him descendants, he was content to have me live with him.

This was my decision, but I never told him why, until the day a kinswoman of ours, Anna, the widow of Yehoyakim, approached my father with a proposal of marriage. At first he thought she was seeking for herself, as a widow, the covering and protection of a husband who was close kin to her. But it was not for herself she asked, but for her only daughter, Miryam! My father was speechless as he listen to Anna tell the reason why, which later he retold to me.

‘From the time she was three years old,’ Anna related, ‘my Miryam had a recurring dream. She says, she was led to the Temple and in the company of maidens handed over to the High Priest, who dedicated her to the Lord. She was made korban and led into the Holy of Holies, where she was to live. Strangely, she tells that there was no ark in the Holy Place, only two creatures who, surrounding her with their wings, sang, “Rejoice, Ark that is gilt by the Spirit! Rejoice, you who are the Throne of the King!”

‘And I did not want to upset her,’ continued Anna, ‘so I just listened when she told me these things, and marveled, and asked myself, what could it all mean? But the time came for my daughter to be betrothed to a young husband, and be married, and I could put it off no longer. I said, “My daughter, it is time to give you in marriage,” but she, who was always gentle and obedient to me her mother, refused, saying she was dedicated to the Lord, and would never know a man.

‘I tried to reason with her, but to no avail, so we reached a compromise. I offered to approach you, Yosef, my close kinsman and also a respectable widower, to propose a legal marriage that would not be consummated, which would give my daughter the manly covering and protection to continue the life of a perpetual virgin, in accordance with her dream.’

My father at first refused, shocked, not knowing what to think. To listen to such tales was next to telling them oneself and being acknowledged a raving lunatic. Then, he recovered himself, and after a moment put before Anna a different solution to the problem.

‘Why not arrange a marriage between Miryam and my youngest son Ya‘akov. He too has this strange notion to remain unmarried and a virgin. Perhaps the two of them could carry on a life of righteousness together in virginity, or, if they should come to their senses and abandon these ideals, they could consummate their marriage, and have a family.’ Of course, my father made this offer entirely without consulting me. After all, if Abraham could sacrifice Isaac…

Anna remained doubtful but returned to her daughter with the new proposal. She found Miryam to be absolutely inflexible and as unapproachable as the Holy Ark itself. Meanwhile, my beloved father came to me and carefully revealed the dilemma he was in. I blush to tell you, I was furious. For someone who prized fidelity to Torah and followed the fourth mitzvah precisely, I was abashed, and then ashamed. I confessed to my father, finally, the dream that had put me on the path I had chosen. I too was korban.

Wearily, my father Yosef met again with Anna, the two of them bringing each their version of the bad news. Out of pity and fatigue my father agreed to Anna’s original proposal. After all, this has been done before. Well, almost. It’s quite common that an aged widower takes a young bride. No one need know what goes on in their bridal chamber. Still, I was adamantly opposed. ‘Father,’ I protested, ‘this appearance of marriage is a lie! Nothing but evil will come of it! Please reconsider!’ But he didn’t hear me.

I was not my father’s counselor but his servant, according to my own volition. I gave him my opinion, and then accepted his decision, though I was unhappy about it. They were betrothed, and now I had a step-mother who was nearly the same age as myself. I pondered the words of the Tehillim as I prayed, ‘How can a youth remain pure? By behaving as Your Word prescribes. I have sought You with all my heart, do not let me stray from Your commandments.’ And then things went from bad to worse.

Miryam was found with child. I was more adamant than ever that my father send her away, ‘Divorce her, do anything, just get her out of here!’ How could he marry the wench? What had become of her vow of chastity? I fumed and ranted in a way I now regret. How quickly we judge those we want to hate, and for no reason! My father almost yielded, but he dreamt too, and a voice had told him, ‘Do not fear to take Miryam into your house, for the child in her womb has been conceived not by man but by the Most High.’

Though I felt at the time that my life was over, it had only just begun. What I thought at first was nothing but bad news, became in the end the first inklings of the good news, yes, the first gospel, and I am its witness. As his youngest son, I stayed with my father and my step-mother, accepting all that happened as coming from the hand of the Lord. I began to understand that there is a spirit of Torah which transcends the written words. I learned to love without limit, because that is what the Lord does.

I need not recount for you what happened in all those years. To hear it would not tire you, because it’s so wonderful, but these stories already have their tellers. How my brother Yeshua was born in a cave, not in Nazareth of course, but on the outskirts of an obscure village, Bethlehem. How the star appeared the night he was born. How the visitors were sent. And then, how we were sent, scampering for our lives, outside Judaea, into hiding among the brethren in Egypt. I was with them in all our travels.

And when we finally returned to Nazareth to take up our real lives again, as I’ve already told you, I stayed and attended to the needs of my father and his new family. That one Pesach when our whole clan went to Jerusalem, and we somehow lost Yeshua, my father sent me ahead with the rest, while he and Miryam went back to seek their son. I think that father was granted to see him teaching in the Temple as he later would, because he would not live to see his epiphany to the people of Yisra’el.

But here I want to testify to some things that have not come to the attention of the scribes, which I had no cause to reveal in my talks before the brethren, or in my written testimonies. I feel that for me, somehow, the time is close. I am an eyewitness. An eyewitness to what? To the only event in all the world worth seeing, yet which is hidden before the face of all people. It is the resurrection. I must take the witness stand and speak, so that you can tell the brethren, should something happen to me.

When we were all in that upper room, for his last Pesach—yes, I too was there, not just ‘the Twelve’—for that supper which transformed the earthly Passover to the heavenly, my brother, yes, he whom we dare call ‘the Lord’ said concerning the Fourth Cup, ‘I shall not drink any more wine until I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God.’ Inwardly I uttered in agreement, ‘And I shall not eat any more bread until I eat the new bread in the resurrection!’ but I was astonished at my words, and told no one. Then he said, ‘Come, let us go,’ and we left to pray with him in the garden.

Once again, what appeared as bad news, terrible news, at the time, the arrest of my brother, with the rest of us fleeing for our lives, after a night of unspeakable loneliness and horror, only became worse. A mock trial, and foregone conviction. Then, flaying, stripping, spitting, beating, and finally torturing on a scaffold outside the City gates, the innocent between the guilty, all sharing the same fate, death. And we, crazed and shattered, the guilty among the innocent, we who knew who he was, and still gave him up to those whom he excused by almost his last words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

My refuge after the catastrophe was in the house of my uncle, Chalfi. My aunt, his wife Miryam, along with my step-mother Miryam, and some other women—the only one among us who was man enough to do what only women were brave enough to do, watch his crucifixion, was my brother’s youngest disciple Yochanan—stayed at the place of the skull until a rich Jew who had begged his remains came to collect them. Again I am so very ashamed to remember, but the shame I felt at the time was greater.

I hid in the house of my uncle, until his wife returned, bringing with her the good news that Yeshua was alive. I didn’t know what to believe, but my heart was already pounding in expectation. Could this be true? This is what he said would happen. Obscurely, to save our sanity, he had intimated, ‘the Son of Man will be put to death, but after three days, he will rise again.’ I remembered my strange inner oracle at the supper, ‘And I shall not eat any more bread until I eat the new bread in the resurrection!’

To ease our minds a little, we took the road to visit the brethren in the village of Emmaus, Chalfi and I. We were nearly there when we overtook a stranger, and he fell in with us. It was a young man—he couldn’t have been older than twenty—and he began to talk to us. Noticing our downcast look, he asked us what was the matter. ‘Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has just happened in Jerusalem?’ we asked. He looked puzzled, so we told him what we knew about it, how all our hope was nailed with Yeshua to a cross.

‘Well, if this Yeshua were the Mashiach of Yisra’el, this is what would happen.’ And step by step, the stranger told us how the words of the prophets would be fulfilled when Mashiach appeared. We were dumbfounded. He seemed to know the whole story, even parts that we didn’t know or hadn’t thought of. The walk didn’t seem long enough. We wanted to hear more but had reached our destination. The stranger made to move on. We pressed him, ‘Brother, stay with us, for evening is at hand.’

How true the words we spoke, calling him ‘Brother,’ more than we realized. We were hungry, so we entered a well-known inn for the evening bread. We sat down, and food and drink were brought to the table. Our unknown companion took one of the hot loaves and broke it up three ways with his hands, and offered it to us. As he handed me a piece he asked, ‘Ya‘akov, will you now eat the new bread of the resurrection?’

Involuntarily I closed my eyes, feeling a faint coming on, and grasped the edge of the table to keep from falling. I heard someone suddenly stand up, and then the crash of a wooden bench as it hit the floor. I heard my uncle gasp, and then shout, ‘No! Wait! Stay with… us.’ His voice sank as quickly as one who feels that all is lost. I opened my eyes, expecting to see Chalfi and the stranger standing at the table, and a bench knocked over, but we were two at that table, with no sign of the third. After picking up the bench and sitting down, Chalfi was quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me and softly said, ‘It was him.’

So there it is. Yes, I know you’ve heard about Chalfi—he is called Klopas by the Greeks, but he was my father’s youngest brother Chalfi, and his wife is still with us, a widow now, older than we can guess—but I wanted you to know that it was I who walked that way with him, and I witness that it was the Lord that met us on the road. No, I didn’t see him. I mean, yes, I saw him but didn’t recognize him, at least not at first, not until it was too late. Eyes that should see sometimes close at the wrong moment.

Ah, but I see they’re coming for me. They call me ‘tzaddik’ and try to pay me by their flattery to say that white is black and black white. That is permissible by their reading of Torah, but not by mine. I don’t know everything yet about my brother except what I heard him say and saw him do. He was not an ordinary man. He was more than Torah righteous, that I do know. No one has ever spoken as he spoke. It is as though he were the Torah in the form of a man, not only saying but doing all that the Father does.

Yes, they will hear my testimony. Yes, I shall tell them all I can, all I know. I heard Yeshua say, ‘What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops.’ This is what I shall do. Come, brethren, walk with me to the Holy Temple, where his Mother in a vision entered where no man could enter, to become the Ark of a New Covenant and the Throne of a King. Come, help me mount the final scaffold that I may join my brother and Lord in his kingdom, where he reigns, as King of Glory, who says ‘I am the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End,’ and who makes all things new.

‘Come, Tzaddik, we are waiting.’

Simultaneously published at Eyewitnesses.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Nothing so erases the flow of time and brings me back quickly and fully to myself, the man I started out as, the seventeen year old with eyes aglow with wonder, and heart beating faster as the world of new freedom and of love opened itself before my path, nothing so brings me back, as the sweet songs of the young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who now, like yours truly, are also clothed with many years. When I hear them sing, I can’t help but join in, and I forget I am sixty-three, or maybe, because I want to sing these songs in the presence of my young friends, show them that there’s nothing to fear in ‘getting old,’ that in fact, there is no such thing as age, really. Who and what we are remains forever the same, and forever young. That is, unless we kill it.

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song.
I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long.
Time hurries on,
and the leaves that are green turn to brown.

I remember distinctly, singing that song at the ripe old age of twenty-one, the year I waved good-bye to my teary-eyed Mom standing in the front porch of her house in Joliet, Illinois, and drove my heavily-loaded Pinto to what I would later call ‘the Great White North,’ to Canada. I was still singing that song a year later, when I got married, wondering when I would be a grownup. Would it be now, now that I had known a woman for the first time? Was I a man yet? Or was I still just a boy?

Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl.
I held her close, but she faded in the night
like a poem I meant to write,
and the leaves that are green turn to brown.

Like the song, my life went through many turns, ups and downs, but I still never quite got past being twenty-two, and I was still singing. Not just this song, but most of the others of the melodious duo, ‘I am a Rock,’ and ‘Sounds of Silence,’ and ‘I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail’ (aka ‘El Condor Pasa’). I am still singing them today, and when I do they re-vest me in my boyhood dreams like a suit of old, comfortable clothes, and the man that looks out of these eyes and whose voice sings these songs engraved on his heart, remains the same.

No worry then, about getting old. I swear by heaven and earth, I, no, we don’t change. We’ll be the same at sixty-three, as I am now, as we were at seventeen, and will still be at seventy, eighty, ninety, and still counting. Not for nothing did Christ Jesus the Child Leader tell us that only those will enter the Kingdom of His Father who enter as children. Nor did the prophet-psalmist-king and lover David chant in vain, that those who trust, who ‘trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion’ (Psalm 125), and ‘who murmur His law day and night’ are like trees yielding their fruit in season, their leaves never fading (Psalm 1).

Ah, and that brings us back to the song, ‘and the leaves that are green turn to brown.’ I sing it now and am again what I was, and always will be, and I laugh at the fear that I could ever grow old, and I shyly smile at the boys who wrote that song, who also didn’t know what the years ahead would hold. We think when we are young we will live forever, and we can become careless. And in the pursuit of pleasure we sometimes trade our glory for shame, our youth for old age. We convince ourselves that we can be measured in years, as our coffins are measured in inches.

But no, the Truth has come to dash our delusions, if only we welcome Him in ourselves, who is forever with us, in us, even as us, being carried as always in tender arms, till that last day when we are delivered, yes, when He delivers us, and yet we will sing then as ever,

Yahweh, my heart has no lofty ambitions,
my eyes do not look too high.
I am not concerned with great affairs
or marvels beyond my scope.
Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet
like a child in its mother's arms,
as content as a child that has been weaned.

Israel, rely on Yahweh,
now and for always!
Psalm 131
Jerusalem Bible

What is the Father to do?

The words of Jesus have limitless application. What he once spoke to his hearers, the Pharisees, in first century Palestine, by way of warning, are just as much prophecy as they are parable and moral precept. Of this we can be sure, and it is this quality of the words of the prophets of Israel, and of all true prophets—that they have limitless application—that has preserved them for all peoples, cultures, and lands down to the present age.

There is a spirit of religion—and here we must be quite careful to deliberately say we are not speaking of true religion, that which causes us to come to the aid of the helpless while keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the world—yes, there is a spirit of religion which we must fight against, which the prophets battled, which Jesus contested, which encroaches on all spiritual inspiration and endeavor, especially the Church of Christ.

Christ tells us of the father with two sons. He tells us that the father asked one son to go and work in the fields that day. The boy said, ‘Yes, I will go,’ but did not go. The father had also asked the other son, who refused, saying, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but who nonetheless went. After hearing this story, the people were asked, ‘Which son did the will of his father?’ and they responded, ‘The son who went to work in the fields.’ Jesus had made his point.

We hear this story in church every year, probably more than once, and if we read our bibles regularly, we will come across it in the 21st chapter of the gospel according to Matthew. We all seem to know what it means, but we never think of applying it, except to excuse ourselves in a haphazard, unserious way. We think, ‘Well, I am neither the son who was obedient in word but not in deed, nor the disobedient who repented and worked. It’s not about me.’

Sadly, and unavoidably, but forgivably, it is about us, both as individuals and as the world of the Church. Sadly, because once we see what we ‘should have done’ we’re sad about it. Unavoidably, because when we look back at our lives, we still maintain, ‘What else could I have done?’ And forgivably, because in looking back at our lives, or at Church history, we quickly abandon regret, and forgive ourselves, and forget. Our religion gets us out of this mess.

But it isn’t real. The words of Jesus have power, though they do not use it against us, but for us. They are prophetic words, and we are caught, whether we know it or not, in the net of our own evasions. Thinking we have escaped by the grace of God, ‘He tore the net and we escaped,’ we justify our present behavior by that of our forgiven past, a past that looks more and more rosy as real history fades from view. We said, ‘Yes,’ but we did not go.

So the Church—which should lead the world in all things because it is the light of the world and the city set on a hill which cannot be hid—is found out by the unbelieving world, which has learned well from our bad example and behavior, and goes out to work in the fields while saying ‘No’ to the Father, instead of us who say ‘Yes,’ but do not go. That world now begins to teach us what mercy is, even though in disobedience it also blasphemes life.

This is a mystery. How salvation freely offered is rejected as a form of words by some who go and perform those works that pertain to the Kingdom. Even greater a mystery, how others forego the work, believing all has been accomplished, and pursue a salvation of their own making.

What is the Father to do with His two sons?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wonderful Judge

Our God, the wonderful Judge!

How is He a wonderful Judge?

He’s a wonderful Judge because He gives us the maximum length of time to repent—a life time. He’s a wonderful Judge because He doesn’t hide His laws from us but writes them on our hearts, so we don’t have to search for them. He makes them easy to remember by keeping them ever before us, revealed not only in ourselves but in His whole creation.

He’s a wonderful Judge because He has confided to us the rewards of obedience, instantly, whenever we fulfill His commandments. He has even given into our keeping His awesome Mercy Seat from which He will acquit us of all our iniquities, so that we may learn to sit in it and reign with Him in mercy towards all others.

He’s a wonderful Judge because He has fashioned us in His very image—kings like the Father, priests like the Son, and prophets like the Spirit—and even relinquished to us His authority to judge the world. Yes, only a wonderful Judge would grant us the dignity and the liberty to judge ourselves, and this earthly life as our chance to welcome Him, or reject Him.

For it is not the righteousness of His holy laws that He has made to be our home, but it is the mercy of His living words that He has made our road and destination.

I tell you most solemnly, 
whoever listens to my words, 
and believes in the One who sent me, 
has eternal life; 
without being brought to judgment 
he has passed from death to life. 

I tell you most solemnly, 
the hour will come—in fact it is here already— 
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, 
and all who hear it will live. 

For the Father, who is the source of life, 
has made the Son the source of life; 
and, because he is the Son of Man, 
has appointed him supreme Judge. 
John 5:24-27

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I write

I am a writer. That’s not what I think I am; that’s what I am. I don’t know if I am a good writer or not. I mean, from a literary critic’s viewpoint, I may be nothing more than a shabby if mellifluous wanna-be. I think I write well, and I usually enjoy reading what I write. Like my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, I claim to write the books (in my case, they’re not books yet) that I wanted to read, because no one else was writing them. Actually, it’s more like this: I write because I want to see the ideas inside me from the outside. I write because I want to affirm what I think I know to be true. I also write, have written, and may continue to write in the blog format, because I really write to communicate, to connect, myself to myself (inner and outer), and myself to others. I even write sometimes to communicate, to connect, myself (and my reader) to God. I believe in Him, and in spite of my bad behavior and my worst opinions, I am compelled to witness for Him. Most of my witness is in what I do, not what I speak or write. I do not want to be a human bumper sticker. Let those who watch how I drive my vehicle understand whether I am a follower of Jesus or not.

This year I decided I would not recycle my blog posts. Some of my readers have expressed astonishment at my prolific output. It’s true that I have at times written and posted several pieces in a single day, but especially in the last few years, I have integrated earlier writing with new. I did this because there are many testimonies—that’s what I call my posts—that need to be remembered, kept in active memory, in mine and in others who like what I write. I know that for most readers it is a chore usually avoided, to backtrack through a blog and read older posts. This recycling was my method of keeping focus as well. The reason I decided not to recycle anymore is that I am reconvening the parliament of my own mind, formulating what is to be my forward path. I want to glean from this and from my other blogs essential testimonies to publish in book form. With my coming retirement in about a year’s time, I want to transition to writing in book format, and redefine how and what I write in the blogosphere. I don’t know much about where I am ‘going’ in my writing, but I am confident and certain of my motives. I do not write to teach (even if it seems that I do), nor to correct (though I sometimes fall into this through human weakness and forgetfulness).

I write to encourage, to affirm, to strengthen the weak, in me and in others. I write to allay fears, to dissipate delusions, to liberate myself and others from bondage to ancestors in stone armor, calling for loyalty untrue.’ I write, like my hero, poet Walt Whitman, to ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,’ yet like the psalmist, without leaving the divinely bestowed kingdom where ‘the measuring line marks out delightful places for me,’ because I trust, I know that ‘for me the heritage is superb indeed.’ Yes, for me, and for the others like me who will find my letters where I have dropped them. I want those letters to be love letters, patterned after the truest and greatest love letter the world has ever received, the holy and divine scriptures. I write because I am a word man. I want to give back with increase the word that was deposited with me. I want to prove, not who I am or even that I am, but that He is. I want to make, as best I can, the Invisible visible. Though I try and fail, I still must try. I trust not in my pen or my brain but in Him who has created me and all, and who has entrusted me with this urge: not to be known, but to make known. Not by us, Yahweh, not by us, by You alone is glory deserved.’ 

This is why I write.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is it I ?

When one knows one is ‘on death row’ and is going to die, whether by sickness, or by execution, I think it’s customary for the condemned to make a final request. What comes to my mind is a man facing a firing squad asking for a last cigarette. Small consolation to the likes of me who have never smoked. What would I ask for, really, if I were standing against that wall, knowing that in a moment it would all be over? At that point, I’m not sure anything material I could have would be worth the asking. Maybe I’d ask for a last drink of cold water. What would you ask for?

Someone might respond—I might respond if I weren’t so darned self-conscious—that he’d like a moment to make one final prayer. After all, if you know you’re going to meet your Maker and have some moral sensibility and doctrinal belief, ‘make peace with your adversary while on the way to trial,’ you might want to confess your earthly sins while you still have breath. You know you can’t escape being dragged to court, but maybe, just maybe you can settle your accounts outside and avoid being harshly sentenced by the judge. I think we all know what I’m talking about.

Consider Christ, the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. What was his last request? He knew—the friends he had just eaten supper with didn’t really—he was going to die, and that it was for real, not just in appearance. His last request was his prayer to the Father, the one called his ‘high-priestly prayer’ that his beloved friend John recorded from memory in his gospel. This prayer wasn’t quite finished in our hearing, though, for when Jesus had gone to the garden of Gethsemane, he continued it while his disciples, even while we, had fallen asleep. What we missed we’ll never know.

But we can overhear his prayer after his last supper with his friends. What did he pray for? Let’s have a hearing. ‘Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you; and, through the power over all mankind that you have given Him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.’ This does not sound like the kind of request a man who knows he is about to go to his death would make, not unless of course he were very sure about two things: that He is the Son of God, and that his Father can do anything He requests.

I take back what I said about not hearing the last part of his prayer. I forgot that, though John doesn’t record his words, evangelist Luke does. I wonder how he knew. In the garden Christ prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.’ From this part of his last request, we have learned that Jesus of Nazareth was at least a real man, a human being, for sure. How could someone who starts out asking for what seems a complete impossibility close his request with what seems to be abject resignation?

Returning to John’s gospel, what else do we find? Does Jesus pray for himself in his last request to the Father? Not exactly. ‘I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.’ He continues praying for those whom God has given Him. ‘Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.’ He doesn’t seem to be concerned at all about the fact he is shortly to die. In fact, in his prayer he affirms, ‘I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.’

As it is, it appears that Christ’s last request was nothing for himself at all, but for us, and he was asking the only One he was absolutely confident would be able to grant his request. He asks for one thing, though, again and again, each time in slightly different terms. ‘I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me, and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one.’

Nothing for himself, except that he be glorified, whatever that means. (We know what it means now, but we didn’t then. Only he knew he was going to reign from the Tree.) Everything he asked for in his last request was for us. Everything. At least, I think it was for us. We’re the ones he refers to when he says, ‘but for those also.’ But I am hesitant for this reason. If he prayed for us, and if his Father in heaven was sure to grant his request, what are we doing? As bystanders to his death by torture, as hearers of the good news of his resurrection, as witnesses of his ascension to his Father, what is our last request?

‘Lord, is it I, is it I?’

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Interwoven in amity

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Thus, he was both a scientist and a Christian.
An Orthodox brother sent me a link to a televised debate between ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye and an Australian creationist, Ken Ham. This is not the sort of thing I am interested in, debates, especially debates on artificial antagonisms such as ‘creation versus evolution,’ but I looked at it, enough to know that, yes, just another waste of precious time. I certainly don’t blame my friend for forwarding it to me. I’m not sure where he stands on this issue, as I do know that there are many Orthodox Christians who hold to very literal and fundamentalist beliefs. Many of these are former Evangelicals, ‘born again’ Christians, disillusioned by the drift of their original fellowships into spiritual anemia.

Myself, not exactly a ‘cradle Orthodox’ but almost, I did start out holding staunchly to what would now be called creationist views. It would be difficult indeed, living in America, the seedbed of ‘fundamentalism,’ not to be affected at least a little, whether pro or con, by the vigorous promotion of such views, in the street, in the media, sometimes even in church regardless of denomination. But after growing up within the Orthodox koinonía, observing both beliefs and behaviors of those inside and outside the Holy Church, I came to the conclusion that what is called ‘fundamentalism’ is really a misnomer. A true fundamentalist deals in foundational faith, not in divisive opinions.

What I noticed very early in my life among Orthodox Christians was their unique way of presenting the Bible and its stories, especially those in the Old Testament, simply and without questioning or challenging them from a rationalist angle. When Adam and Eve were discussed, we never talked about who Adam and Eve were historically, or even if they existed at all as depicted in the Bible, but what their story meant for us and for the whole human race. Even, no, especially, in our holy ikons, the creation not only of Adam, and Eve, but of the whole of creation, is shown in beautiful and compelling color, and we are told, that ikons can represent only real events and real people. They are a graphic Bible.

So we were taught, and we accepted without resistance, that the right way to read the Bible and to view the holy ikons, is simply to accept them ‘as they are’ without raising the voice of dispute or dissension. This isn’t to say that we were forbidden to come to our own personal beliefs about either. On the contrary, it seemed we were quietly encouraged to ‘dig deeper’ and to ask the Lord, who is ‘the Only Teacher of mankind,’ to enlighten us. In fact, I would say, we had a sense that it was ‘very meet, right, and our bounden duty’ to study and seek, to further our enlightenment, not to teach others, but so that our lives would shine with the knowledge and love of God, not to argue, but to affirm.

What is at issue in controversies such as these is not really the rightness of one set of views over another, but the warfare of one barely concealed, nearly naked antagonism against another, both equally bent on personal triumph. Yes, let me reiterate, equally bent. In the debate I witnessed this evening, I was amazed at the ignorance of both the scientist and the creationist, displayed in their inability to cut through their own material spiritualism and spiritual materialism. In closing the debate, each was asked what was the driving force of his beliefs. The creationist answered first, predictably praising the Bible’s absolute, literal truth, tacking on Christ’s work of salvation as a final coup de grâce.

The scientist, or perhaps the evolutionist, for evolution is what he seemed to believe science itself is, offered as the reason for what he believed, science as an ongoing, adventurous, liberating, fulfilling, and victorious invasion and investigation by the human mind, his or anyone’s, of the material world, of all there is, and that is all there is. The universe, the whole show, and we as particularly favored to be, for no special reason other than we evolved, we fit in, the witnesses of this grand spectacle of which we are a part. He praised his teacher Carl Sagan by name, so we knew that even an atheist can look up to someone. If I seem to favor one debater over the other, forgive me, brethren. I found much to admire, and much to pity, in both.

You see, I myself am a scientist. I have no degree, but my primary and secondary education was in mathematics and the natural sciences. It was only when as a young adult at college I discovered that ‘the proper study of mankind is man’ that I switched over to history, political science, and philosophy. It suited me better, and there I have remained ever since. It was no accident, then, that when my heart awoke to love, I should seek Him, the Bridegroom of the soul, in His ancient habitation, Holy Orthodoxy. Also no accident, that in the faith of Christ and His holy apostles I should find no rend in the garment of either knowledge or wisdom. ‘Science’ and ‘religion’ are both at home here, interwoven in amity.

Let us grieve

Come, brethren, let us grieve together. We are locked in the tension between a world that has been irredeemably ruined by us and the gate to a world that is still what it always was and to which we have access if we only ever really desired it—Paradise. We know and live the only news we ever want to hear, the bad news, and avert our eyes from what we know is inevitable, but not for us because we can’t be trusted with it—the Good News. We do our daily rounds, wake, work, feed, forget, sleep, start again, never giving ourselves a moment to stop and see ourselves as we really are, only the world as it is, and if we are believers in whatever transcendent God, apply ourselves assiduously to escaping His impatient glare. We feel our failure but do not know how to please. We turn away and accept yet another day.

Not far the time is coming as the year cycles round again, what the revelator John repeats with untiring voice, ‘for the time is near.’ For us who believe in Christ or attempt, at least, to follow Jesus, the time allotted us as preparation, as pre-judgment, even as repentance, the time we do not give ourselves to stop, and turn around instead of away, is close at hand. ‘There,’ holy and divine scripture says of Him, ‘He proclaimed the Good News from God. “The time has come,” He said, “and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”’ So we have Holy Church, that strange country which we say is ‘what salvation looks like’ coming to us with its tales, as it leads us patiently back onto the battlefield where we were born, this time with eyes open, and offers us the way out, and in.

Great and holy Lent. We hear its name mentioned and inwardly cringe as at a lion’s roar while outwardly we seek to escape by conforming to the ‘joyful sadness’ and the litanies of self-denial both spiritual and physical that lie ahead. Suddenly, in a moment, we are shown whatever one sin we are guilty of committing night and day with all our being, that for all our unconscious self-justifications we remain ignorant of, thinking ‘I am okay, I’m a good person, I haven’t killed anyone.’ Now we have something to tell the priest at our annual confession, leaving us only to worry whether we will have enough money to assist our hand-picked poor, whether we will be able to subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and lentil soup for six blessèd weeks, and whether we can apply our paltry efforts at prayer to fulfill our obligations.

Yes, let us grieve together. We are not Jews, who yearly repent for ten days, confident that they will be just as saved as we think we are, by these acts. Lucky for them, their Temple has been destroyed, is no more on this earth, and they need only repent, no longer offering bloody sacrifice. But luckier still, the Messiah whose name they dare not know stands before the only Ark of the Covenant there ever was to sprinkle His own blood, not that of bulls and rams, on the Mercy Seat, and so save them who know Him not as well as us who say we do. We are not Muslims, whose fast follows the moon as it migrates around its shortened year, impatient of the day when their Mahdi appears, accompanied by our Jesus who stands behind him. They know better than to wait for someone else to straighten out the world.

No, brethren, we are Christians, who confess the God-man, who says ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing,’ and yet who tells us, ‘You will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.’ We are caught between His words, paralysed by our doubt, but we have our excuses. Doubt Him, no. Only doubt ourselves. We can’t believe that He has entrusted us with the keys to the Kingdom. That He has added us to the angels who guard the entrance to Paradise. ‘The world, just like us, is evil. We can’t make it better. We can only watch as it burns, and weep. Yes, just as we weep for our sins, even as we stand in them, bathing in our own blood. The old man must die before the New Man can be born. The old world must be destroyed, so the City not-made-by-hands can descend. It is all God’s work, not ours.’

And so the year keeps cycling round. It will be Lent soon, a time of Light, not of ‘night, when no one can work,’ but a season to prepare our soil, to plough it, to fertilize it, to seed it for the only crop worth planting. Yes, the old man must die in us, but we need not kill him, only keep our eyes on the New Man who we are to become, as we follow Him. Yes, the old world is evil, but that is not the world Christ comes to save, nor the world He calls us to live in. For the path He treads He walks in us, and that land is redeemed by our footsteps, or not at all. Come, brethren, let us grieve together. Then, arise and take hold of the ploughshare. Yes, we were all born on this battlefield, yet not to fight but to plant, for the prophet declares, ‘These will hammer their swords into plowshares, their spears into sickles…

‘O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh.’ 
Isaiah 2:4b-5 Jerusalem Bible