Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Only One Church

There is only One Church, just as there is only One Christ. How can we know this? Well, the Church is personified as ‘the Bride of Christ’ and Christ is ‘the Bridegroom.’ Christ is named ‘the Second Adam’ and so His Bride is named ‘the Second Eve.’ The pattern revealed in Genesis, ‘a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one,’ demonstrates that marriage is a joining of two previously individual beings. Plural marriage, both polyandry (several men, one woman) and polygyny (many women, one man), cannot be ‘marriage’ at all. By definition it is a joining of one with one to become one. There is one Bridegroom, Christ, and one Bride, the Church.

Does this bear any relationship to what we see in the world? No, it doesn’t. In America, as in most countries of the world today where Christians live, the concept of ‘One Church’ is completely unknown. ‘Church’ has become another name for a social expression of Christianity without reference to its historical source. Only in a very few countries, Greece, for example, does ‘Church’ continue to mean ‘the Christian community of this land which, with minor exceptions, means everyone.’ In other European countries which still maintain ‘state churches,’ a legacy of the Christian Roman Empire of Constantine the Great, the memory has not completely faded. The Church of England is still ‘the Church.’

Back to America, this country never had a state church or official religion, except ‘God.’ The cardinal tenet of ‘separation of Church and State,’ however, has radically changed from its original meaning of ‘no institutional church supported by the government to which everyone must belong’ and been gradually revised to mean ‘no introduction of any overtly religious activity into the administration of government or other public offices.’ Strangely, most legislative bodies open their sessions with a prayer, originally to ‘Almighty God,’ now to any supernatural being or force. Officeholders and witnesses in judicial proceedings still take oaths on scriptures, originally on the Bible but now on any sacred book.

This same country and its constitution, separate from any state church, curiously mandate the currency to bear the inscription, ‘In God We Trust,’ a motto which was only added after the Civil War. Hardly anyone objects to this because to do so would seem un-American. Even many of the unchurched in this country ‘believe in God,’ whatever that means. The freedom of religion that is the bedrock of spirituality in America has produced exactly what it intended, thousands, not hundreds, of small ‘churches,’ each promoting its own version of the Gospel. Entering into this multiplicity of denominations come the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and they cannot help falling in line with them.

Roman Catholicism is now seen as just a denomination, though from its point of view, it is ‘the Church.’ As a Greek Orthodox, I have no problem with that. Why? Because ‘they’re on to something,’ even though I’m not sure they know it. As for the Orthodox, split, in America, into multiple jurisdictions, most of them in intercommunion, are also seen as denominations if they’re recognized as Christian churches at all, though from our point of view, we are ‘the Church.’ Sounds familiar? Don’t the Catholics say the same thing? Well, they do, and they have an advantage that we don’t—their claim is almost believable. As for us, we are ‘the Church’ and so confident of that, that we can squabble all we want.

Proud of popelessness, but too humble to give even an inch to our opponent in any controversy where status quo might be in jeopardy, making our claim to be ‘the Church’ as we do should make us blush. St Paul, were he to visit us today, would be more than scandalized. To him, our differences would seem trivial. It was bad enough when ethnic biases separated us into Arab, Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian parishes. At least our ‘cradle Orthodox’ priests knew that there was still only one Church. Now, with so many convert priests carrying ‘the need to be right’ along with them and playing denominational rugby, pitting Orthodox against each other, and Orthodoxy against ‘the world,’ we too have lost our vision.

What vision? The vision of the Kingdom of God, ‘when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea,’ where the whole land and all its inhabitants belong to the Lord, where there is a single Church, because it comprises all people who believe in and follow Jesus. This is the charter of the Church, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ The church that knows that it is ‘the Church’ acknowledges all Christians in its territory (in this case, the United States) as its members, and treats them as such while ‘going and making disciples,’ opening wide its doors, because it knows, there are no other doors.

What might this look like? Start from either the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox Church. First, be completely united among ourselves, one hierarchy, one jurisdiction (these terms are meaningless from Christ’s point of view) because ‘there is only One Church.’ Next, put away all non-essential requirements for membership in the Church, make the Symbol of Nicaea the only test and testimony. Then, ‘send them out two by two’ to every Christian gathering as witnesses, named neither ‘Catholic’ nor ‘Orthodox,’ to announce the Message, ‘one Christ, one Church,’ as permanent ambassadors in every place. Make no demands on conformity of customs, but invite all to the unity of faith and accept all who do not resist.

Of course, this is a lot of work! This means that the Church—whoever decides to take on the responsibility for being in reality what Christ calls us to be—must again become twenty-four seven Johnny-on-the-spot, must be willing to teach, preach, pray, heal, reconcile, restore, rescue, adopt, make room for every kind of person and group of persons. This means that the Church cannot ‘pick and choose’ only those whom it wants, who fit in, who pay the bills, who give it a voice. No, for Christ Himself is the Voice, He is the Teacher, the Healer and Physician of our souls, the souls of all of us, leaving no one out, no one except those ‘who chose to be lost,’ not by accident, but on purpose.

Yes, this really is a lot of work! And wait, there’s more! The Church, being in theory, but becoming in reality, the people of this nation and the people of God, has a hand in every good work, not just the ‘religious’ ones. Why was the local parish the center of the life of Church in previous ages? Because there was only one Church, and it was essentially inclusive. All aspects of life were seen as part of its work, and all people. Today, what would that mean for the church that ‘steps up to the plate’ to show itself as ‘the Church’? That means ‘the parish becomes the world’ around it, instead of what we are seeing at the moment, ‘the parish against the world.’ In practical terms, we don’t protect Christ.

Because this is what the churches do, they try to protect Christ instead of letting Him protect us. The announcement is sternly made before delivering the Holy Mysteries, that they are ‘only for the Orthodox, who have prepared themselves by…’ cutting off many who need His help because they are now imprisoned by ignorant scruples, while infants, children, and others, quite possibly sinners and blasphemers, go up to receive, stating their baptismal name, ‘the servant of God…’ But the Church does not do this. The Church that knows herself and her place, God’s presence amidst the people, is Christ’s Bride and Mother of all who have faith, sinful and righteous, ignorant and learned, stranger and friend.

Make the way easy, remove all obstacles, before the path of those who are running towards Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and welcome them into the Kingdom. Make the way difficult, throw up barriers, before the route of those who are running away from Him, so that they may come to their senses, and return. Christ says, speaking to His holy apostles who complained of others, not of their number, promoting the Message, ‘Whoever is not against us, is for us.’ The Church that knows herself also knows that these words are spoken for her protection and also for the healing of the nation, binding up its wounds, restoring its sight, releasing it from bondage, and for the unity of all in Christ.

O Church of the living God, our Savior Jesus Christ, you are His Bride and our Mother. Open yourself now and receive all who seek to know your Divine Husband, and welcome them into the Paradise of Life.

Save, O Lord, Your people, and bless Your inheritance.


It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. 
And because of this I rejoice.
Philippians 1:15-18

What a strange thing for holy apostle Paul to say! How much stranger that even in the first generation of disciples the spirit of dysangelical competition arises, at a time when there are many still alive whose testimony includes knowing Jesus Christ ‘in the flesh.’ This is before the Church had taken on an institutional form. Even ‘imperial church’ is centuries in the future. Human nature, somehow tricked into the sin of betraying one’s teachers instead of remembering them (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14), asserts itself from the very start. Yet Paul, a genuine apostle, ‘called to be’ what he is, says he rejoices, because ‘Christ is preached,’ no matter what the motivation.

Such incredible faith! He doesn’t stop to fill our ears with recrimination. He doesn’t tell us who is teaching what false doctrine or compare ideologies of salvation. He knows that the Message will get through to those who are looking for it, even if the delivery is ‘from false motives or true.’ The seeds of factionalism sown by the enemy of mankind are always taking root in hearts full of envy and rivalry which, despite their flowering piety and religious fragrance, bear hateful fruit, hidden under biblical foliage. It is a dreadful fruit of judgment that is offered, though it seem ‘good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom’
(Genesis 3:6).

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

What is lacking in those who take it upon themselves to deceive and be deceived regarding divine things is, as the apostles writes, ‘to fear the Lord’—in modern terms, what we mean by ‘awe’—and that permits them to erect religious prisons in which they bind themselves and others. They may call their creations ‘ministries’ or ‘societies.’ They may paper their walls with Hebrew and Greek to affect an air of antiquity and authority, but they ‘take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart,’ and so betray not only their teachers, who themselves are only disciples, but the Teacher Himself.

Like the apostle before he meets the Lord on the Damascus road, they ‘live for themselves’ while persecuting the believers. As Paul is struck blind by the One whom he is, in fact, persecuting, they regard not only Christ, but the faith, and everyone to whom they preach ‘from a worldly point of view.’ Being thus blinded, even speaking the words of holy and divine scripture, they worship the words they speak, not realizing that ‘all this is from God,’ nor knowing that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ And what is this ‘new creation’? Christ living among us.

Reconciliation—a word and an idea that eludes them who ‘preach Christ out of envy and rivalry’—is the only ‘ministry’ given to the disciples by the Lord. How can that be? We can do only what we see Jesus doing, and He does only what He sees the Father doing, ‘who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’ How is this ministry expressed? Reconciliation to God in heaven is accomplished by reconciliation to the brethren on earth. ‘Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen’ (1 John 4:20).

Just as the holy apostles, as various as they were in personality, opinion, educational level and social status, worked together as sýnergoi, co-laborers, without dividing themselves or competing against each other, we live with them and with each other the life of the Holy Triad on earth, ‘not counting people’s sins against them,’ but for the sake of divine love ‘convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died,’ being willing to lay down our lives for each other. This is what the Holy Church was, is, and always shall be, everywhere ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ There is no envy or rivalry among us in the Holy Trinity.

So, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
1 John 4


There are no hidden meanings in our letters besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.
2 Corinthians 1:13

I have always been amazed whenever I read this line at the beginning of the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. Right here and in no uncertain terms we have a declaration by one of the writers included in the New Testament that the ordinary Christian can be confident of understanding the simple, saving message of the Word of God. Am I not stretching things a bit? After all, maybe the apostle was only talking about his writings, his letters. Maybe he was even talking only about this particular letter. No, he uses the plural, so that means all of his letters. Too bad we don’t have all of them, but what the Lord wanted us to have, we have.

And he says ‘our letters,’ as well. Doesn’t that mean letters written by the other apostles? And if that is true of the letters, might it not be true of the gospels? Well, they hadn’t been put down in writing yet: they were still being lived. Even so, I get the impression that it was a priority for the first generation of the Church to make sure that whatever was written down was written clearly, concisely, truthfully, simply and directly, in an idiom that the audience would have no trouble understanding. It was, I believe, the same spirit that imbued the reformers of the Church of England to provide scriptures and liturgies in a tongue ‘understanded by the people.’

This primitive protocol of the first generations of the Church was, I think, preserved for many centuries, but as society underwent decay and suffered the barbarian invasions, language changed, native intelligence was stifled, yet for those who could still read and think for themselves the same clear, clean light of the Word of God was still accessible and proved that ‘there are no hidden meanings in [the New Testament scriptures] besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.’

This precious deposit was guarded zealously by the early Church, and what escaped, or was expelled, from the community of faith was taken up and further mutilated by those who had religious principalities to build and fake mysteries to hawk, like frontier potion peddlers. All of this was so obvious even in the days of the holy apostles that they were warning us about people like this right from the beginning. Human nature will always produce spiritual counterfeits. Anything is preferable to the Truth, because Truth is not for sale, it’s free. But lies command a high price: they’re always in demand.

As it was in former times, so it is still today. Just as the attack was pressed home against the Church of the holy apostles, so it is directed against the Church of Christ today.

Be careful, brethren, of objectifying the Church as the ‘organized church’ and looking for esoteric truths. There are no esoteric truths in Christ that can be passed down from master to disciple as in the non-Christian religions, or even as in some forms of Judaism. Whatever makes the claim to be that is patently false. But I didn't say there are no esoteric truths in Christ, just none that can be passed down or handed over: that is what tradition is, and tradition is only the form that can be filled with faith, our personal faith, and through which we can commingle with other disciples of Christ.

Yes, esoteric truths there are, actually, not plural, truths, but only singular, Truth. Esoteric, hidden Truth in Christ there is, but it cannot be described or handed over to anyone, so you will not find authentic esoteric teachings among the church fathers. You may find one or two here or there who have come down to us through the memory of the Church because of their holding some idea that earned them notoriety. But these thoughts will not prove to be fertile soil for the life of the Spirit, only various kinds of poorly drained swampland for the delectation of the superstitious, or else hard, unwaterable clay from which a new man cannot be made, but only slept on by the tough-minded.

Stay close, always, to the words of holy and divine scripture, and follow behind the fathers and mothers of antiquity who followed Christ not with their heads alone but with their feet. There is no ‘formal church’ that became irreversibly corrupt most likely in the first century, either discovered by historical scholarship, or speculated into existence by idle and curious intellects. The very word of Jesus prevents this, for He said that the very gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, and who can imagine either, that the divine Bridegroom, the Nymphios, would hand over his turtledove to the Beast. Whatever the institutional Church looks like outwardly through its activities, the true Church still lives within that structure.

Back to the esoteric. I said there is esoteric Truth, and that there is only One. And I want to qualify that statement just once by telling you that it is the Cross.

One thing that a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus, can always rely on, no matter what church he belongs to or attends. You cannot go wrong, ever, if you imitate Christ, and do only those things you see Him doing in the gospels. The visible and institutional Church can be falling away around you, but with your eyes fast focused on Jesus, you would scarcely notice. What you would see, however, is what Jesus is doing right now to remedy the situation, and you, if you are following Him, are privileged to share with Him the work that He, not you, sets yourself to do.

Thinking His thoughts, loving as He loves, redeeming the time, welcoming the stranger, overlooking offenses, healing the sick, seeing clearly so that the blind around you may also see, suffering the humiliation of your own human weaknesses without abandoning the work or the discipline of the Son of God, keeping your heart free from malice: These are the worthy tasks, the fulfilling of the only commandment, that erases sin in both the Church and in yourself, because it is letting the fire of Christ burn all unrighteousness from the inside out, leaving only what He has recreated in you and in the Church—that is as close as I can get to pointing to what you will never learn from books, only from following the Son of God, walking with Him the way of the Cross.

So, brethren, as I always say, ‘Go with God.’

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Holy Apostles

Holy apostles, 
lovingly plant in us the seed 
that the Master planted in you, 
that you write to us 
who live at the end of time, 
that the Spirit, 
Lord and Giver of Life 
causes to sprout and grow in us, 
that we too may enter 
into the mystery 
of life in the Holy Triad with you, 
one mind, 
one will, 
one heart, 
one love.

— Romanós


Let God be God

God is our shelter, our strength,
ever ready to help in time of trouble,
so we shall not be afraid when the earth gives way,
when mountains tumble into the depths of the sea,
and its waters roar and seethe,
the mountains tottering as they heave.

Yahweh Sabaoth is on our side,
our citadel, the God of Jacob! Selah.

Psalm 46 Jerusalem Bible

Not weighing in on a pro- or con- basis with regard to the Supreme Court decision to give same-sex couples the ‘right to marry,’ there is one thing I have noticed in today’s news, coming from a Christian candidate for the United States presidency. He says that faithful, bible-believing Christians have no choice now but to resist this new ruling by non-violent means, imitating the tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr., using civil disobedience. What struck me very odd about this line of reasoning is, in the case of the civil rights movement, what was being resisted was not giving people rights, but withholding them. In other words, a black American did not have the same rights as a white American because of a variety of laws in a multitude of jurisdictions, as well as racial prejudices that were ten generations deep. To use civil disobedience to resist laws giving people rights rather than withholding them is a new thing.

If I am a Christian whose faith ‘tells’ me that homosexuality is a sin, and homosexual unions a form of blasphemy, then I should have the right to not cooperate with a law that contravenes what I believe is the moral law. In the case at hand, now pointing to myself personally, still without taking a position on the issue, there is nothing in my everyday life that the new ruling is going to change or challenge.

If I am offended by the sight of a homosexual couple pushing a baby in a shopping cart at the grocery, then I will be offended whether the couple is married or just cohabiting. If I run a catering service, and this hypothetical couple wasn’t married before, but are now planning their wedding and engage my company to supply the wedding cake and the feast, then, yes, if my faith tells me that assisting others to sin makes me an accomplice, I will have a problem. Fifty years ago I could have had the same problem if the couple were a black heterosexual couple, and my church supported segregation. If I had served the negro, my white customers might find out, and boycott me, ruining my business.

The two examples, though, aren’t quite the same, of course. We now know that black people are interchangeable with white people. Many of us know that heterosexual and homosexual people are also interchangeable.

In other words, except for what they do privately with each other, they live like anyone else, working a job, paying taxes, serving in the military, adopting children, perhaps even procreating them with the assistance of artificial insemination (a strategy used also by childless heterosexual couples), going to school, even becoming recognized leaders in every field of study, innovation, and government. I had to leave ‘going to church’ out of the list for reasons everyone knows.

Many of us also know that heterosexual and homosexual people are not interchangeable, whatever the evidence or reasoning, because ‘the Bible says so.’ Embarrassingly enough, the same argument was used to keep black skinned people at first in inhuman slavery, later in even more inhuman segregation. It wasn’t about who could or couldn’t live next door to me, a white man. It was about who could make a living wage, have his kids educated, and not be looked at as a ‘nigger.’ It was also about who I could or couldn’t marry.

So there are some similarities between the struggle for equal rights waged by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leaderless hordes of shameful gay people. In both cases, the struggle was, arguably, won by both communities.

When the black man was finally declared to have exactly the same rights under the law as the white man, what rights did the white man lose? Being able to have a black servant, eat in a café where the cooks and waiters were black, have a shoeshine from a black shoeshine boy, or have a one night stand with a black woman, all this and more without having to reciprocate?

A white man could still marry a black woman, but only if he went to live with the blacks. But a black man marry a white woman? Oh my God! Blasphemy! and maybe a lynching. Yes, the white community in America lost so many rights and is even now an endangered species in its native land, because the black community was finally invited to full participation in the life of the nation, to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Right!

I ask myself, again without taking sides, what rights do I lose by this ruling that grants ‘marriage equality’ to people who the country, maybe even the world, has never before dared to grant? If I, a man, am married to a woman and have a family, and the next door neighbor is two women married to each other, raising a family of children that might be mothered by either or both of them, results from failed man-woman marriages, or maybe even from artificial insemination with ‘off the shelf’ semen, how do I deal with that? What do I tell my children?

‘Don’t go there. Don’t play with those kids. Their mothers are lesbians.’ Right, that’s what I might tell them, opening up a Pandora’s box of questioning in their young minds, some of which they might be afraid to ask me. Worse yet, they might decide on their own, that what is going on next door, is quite alright with them. Or they might read the Bible and arrive at different conclusions. Or I might not tell them anything, except when they ask, ‘Dad, umm, Jamie next door has two moms!’ It would be then I might have to tell them what I, their dad, think of it all, and guide them gently to see things my way. Ain’t that what parents are for?

Before I finish this dialog with myself, I want to return to what I read in today’s news, about civil disobedience as the only choice for the true Christian in the face of this new legal reality.

Regardless of what I think about marriage, who is eligible, even what marriage is, I need to remind myself of one thing. In the past, protest movements were initiated to equalize social and legal rights, without taking away any real rights from anyone. That’s what the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was about.

This single ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS for short—are they slyly alluding to the philosopher Duns Scotus of the middle ages? and if so, why?), this single ruling extends the right to marry, that is, have a legally recognized partnership contract (whatever they call it is immaterial) between two consenting adults, irrespective of their gender, without taking away any of my real rights.

If no one is taking away any of my rights, no one is taking away any of yours. Except, of course, if the right to discriminate against anyone is a real right. The Gospel, I don’t think, sanctions discrimination in this case or any other. As for St Paul, well, he does write ‘have nothing to do with a brother Christian who does so-and-so,’ but he also writes, ‘I can judge people who are inside [the Church], as for those outside, God is their judge.’

Once again, I think all this that some are so furious over or at least anxious about is really just another challenge for us to ‘let God be God.’ If there is someone I do not personally like for whatever reason, I must be satisfied to at least know that I’m not them. If I don’t understand them or what they do, that’s precisely why. I can only understand someone if I love them. And if I don’t want to understand—it’s my choice—what then?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The pursuit of Orthodoxy

Οι τα Χερουβειμ μυστικως εικονίζοντες,
και τη ζωοποιω Τριάδι τον Τρισάγιον υμνον προσάδοντες,
πασαν την βιοτικην αποθώμεθα μέριμναν.
Ως τον Βασιλέα των ολων υποδεξόμενοι,
ταις αγγελικαις αοράτως δορυφορούμενον τάξεσιν.

We who mystically represent the Cherubim,
and who sing to the life-creating Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
escorted invisibly by the angelic host.

— χερουβικὸς ὕμνος, Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy

The pursuit of Orthodoxy. Yes, you heard me right, the pursuit of Orthodoxy. This seems to be what motivates most people who are airing the ancient faith and its church on the local and global internet. This is why, if one is an Orthodox Christian and uses networking platforms like FaceBook and Google+ to stay in touch with other Orthodox believers, one’s smart phone, tablet, or computer monitor screen rapidly fills up with religions icons and images of haggard old men in hoods and capes (reverently known as ‘elders’), as well as links to news items detailing how the faith is being promoted, or attacked.

Perhaps I am not typical, but to me it seems that before one can be Orthodox one must be a Christian. Of course, probably no one will disagree with me, but in practice this seems to mean concentrating on what the saints and elders tell us, and rehearsing these tidbits of spiritual advice in relays, daily. Very little time, effort or print is given to anything scriptural, except a barebones bible verse here and there and, as for Jesus, it’s certainly held to be sufficient if an icon of Him is posted along with the selected texts from one’s favorite ‘father.’ I know I am generalizing, but this is how it looks to me.

That is why, at the risk of being labeled a protestant, I either quote the holy scriptures directly and nakedly when their meaning is commonsensically obvious, or reveal my personal and interior meditations on them in my writings. Believe it or not, I am writing nearly always for no one to read but myself. The kind of mind I have needs to see its thoughts expressed in writing in order to verify or challenge them. I don’t like to slip into picture-thinking, which is what happens when we let our emotions or other irrational impulses form and direct our thoughts. First and foremost, I am a word man.

Fortunately, I am able to read and at least partly understand the Bible in the original languages, not as a seminary-trained scholar, but simply as a man who is in love with meaning, and cannot let it arrive in my mind through unrecognized filters. Outside the words of the holy and divine scriptures themselves, which I assert teach the devout reader ‘on their own,’ the other key to understanding when I read them in Hebrew and Greek is the presence in my active memory of the liturgical texts of Orthodox worship, both those of ordinary Sunday liturgies, and the special services of the Triodion and Holy Week.

Though I am technically a convert, having arrived at Holy Orthodoxy by accident at the age of thirty-seven (I am now sixty-four), from the beginning I was not drawn to it by any of its external manifestations—not by the ikons (though they intrigued me as non-verbal signposts), not by the mellifluous Byzantine chanting or the highly-charged ceremonies, not by the more reliable historicity or traceable and logical doctrine, not even by the more authentic ministration of the Holy Mysteries. What drew me to Holy Orthodoxy was the simple, unaffected faith of its cradle believers, and their pursuit of Jesus.

That is what drew me, that is what was impressed on me. Old men and old women, living in a new land alien to the lands of their birth—Greece, Anatolia, Macedonia, Africa, the Near East, the great Slavic northlands—I sought them out, stood or sat among them, and listened to their stories. Always Jesus, often in the company of the Theotokos, or one or more saints, but still, always Jesus. Their life stories spoke to me of a walk with Him closer and more genuine than what one usually hears from people who brag about their ‘walk with the Lord.’ The other thing I was impressed with was their knowledge of scripture.

They didn’t go to school, they hardly read any books though they could read, but they did read the Bible and ‘say their prayers,’ in a way that was so integral to the rest of their lives, that I could see how Jesus flowed into them, and they into Jesus. It was just like their prayer. Breathe in, ‘Lord Jesus Christ son of God,’ breathe out, ‘have mercy, upon me the sinner.’ Their lives in Christ reminded me of a song I used to sing, and sometimes still do, not a church hymn or even a religious song, yet true, ‘How can I say where I end, or where you begin, how can I say, what shall I play, shall it be you, or the wild wind?’

Their quiet, immutable faith expressed in their active, unpretentious lives sealed my conversion to Christ as one of their number, however unworthy, and I had no other ambition than to follow the same Lord that they did. Knowing the Lord intimately, and watching His every move, they mirrored those movements as easily and effortlessly as they danced to the Greek melodies at a wedding or panegyri. Clumsily I tried to follow, and the Word of God always came to my aid, teaching me from my first day as an Orthodox Christian to this. The intimacy and immediacy of this experience outshines all others.

So on this very hot night, windless, watching the ninth hour sky redden against retreating clouds that brought no rain, I think on Jesus, the Author and Finisher, not only of my faith, but of everyone’s. He, no other, is the bishop of our souls, and His Father our only, though we reverence those He has placed over us as His servants, calling one ‘your eminence,’ another ‘master’ or ‘father.’ He knows that we know, because He tells us, who is our Father, our Teacher, our God. That not the renown of saint or spiritual father makes their words of any effect, but only our faith and trust in Him, the only lover of mankind.

This is the Church and the Faith of the fathers: Not their words and acts, but the words and acts of Jesus revealed in them, as they pursued nothing and no one but Christ, running after Him without deliberation or delay, wanting us to join them, not busying ourselves with things of earth however spiritual they appear, but in peace and repentance. ‘They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever He goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 14:4). Thus, the pursuit of Orthodoxy is the pursuit of Jesus.

The Apostolic Rule: Living in Love

The teaching of holy apostle James, the Lord's brother…

You will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege.
James 1:2

Your faith is put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results, so that you will become fully developed, complete, with nothing missing.
James 1:3-4

If there is anyone of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given him. But he must ask with faith, with no trace of doubt.
James 1:5-6a

Never, when you have been tempted, say, ‘God sent the temptation.’ God cannot be tempted to do anything wrong, and He does not tempt anybody. Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire.
James 1:13-14

Be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper. God’s righteousness is never served by man’s anger.
James 1:19-20

Do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you. Accept and submit to the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. You must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
James 1:21-22

The man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit, not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice, will be happy in all that he does.
James 1:25

Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue.
James 1:26a

Pure, unspoiled religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
James 1:27

Do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ with the making of distinctions between classes of people.
James 2:1

Keep the supreme law of scripture: you must love your neighbor as yourself. But as soon as you make distinctions between classes of people you are committing sin and under condemnation.
James 2:8b-9a

Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom, because there will be a judgment without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgment.
James 2:12-13

If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well! Keep yourself warm, and eat plenty!’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.
James 2:15-17

Faith without good deeds is useless.
James 2:20b

It is by doing something good, and not only by believing, that a man is justified.
James 2:24

If there are any wise or learned among you, let them show it by their good lives, with humility and wisdom in their actions.
James 3:13

The wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure. It makes for peace and is kindly and considerate. It is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.
James 3:17-18

Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy.
James 4:4b

Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer He will come to you. Clean your hands, you sinners, and clear your minds, you waverers. Look at your wretched condition and weep for it in misery. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:7-9a, 10

Do not slander one another.
James 4:11a

Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and doesn’t do it commits a sin.
James 4:17

Do not make complaints against one another, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves.
James 5:9

For your example in submitting with patience, take the prophets who spoke in the Name of the Lord; remember, it is those who had endurance that we say are the blessed ones.
James 5:10-11

Do not swear by heaven or by earth or use any oaths at all. If you mean ‘yes,’ you must say ‘yes;’ if you mean ‘no,’ say ‘no.’ Otherwise you make yourselves liable to judgment.
James 5:12

If anyone of you is in trouble, he should pray. If anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm.
James 5:13

Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you.
James 5:16

The teaching of holy apostle Peter…

Free your minds of encumbrances. Control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13

Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learned the truth. Make a habit of obedience. Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’
1 Peter 1:14-16

Let your love for each other be real and from the heart.
1 Peter 1:22b

Be sure you are never spiteful, or deceitful, or hypocritical, or envious and critical of each other. You are newborn and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk, the spiritual honesty which will help you to grow up to salvation.
1 Peter 2:1-2

He is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him. Set yourselves close to Him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.
1 Peter 2:4-5

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light,
1 Peter 2:9

While you are visitors and pilgrims, keep yourselves from the selfish passions that attack the soul. Always behave honorably among pagans so that they can see your good works for themselves.
1 Peter 2:11-12a

For the sake of the Lord, accept the authority of every social institution.
1 Peter 2:13a

You are slaves of no one except God, so behave like free men, and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness.
1 Peter 2:16

Wives should be obedient to their husbands. If there are some husbands who have not yet obeyed the Word, they may find themselves won over without a word spoken, by the way their wives behave, when they see how faithful and conscientious they are.
1 Peter 3:1-2

Husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together, respecting a woman as one who is equally an heir to the life of grace.
1 Peter 3:7

Agree among yourselves and be sympathetic. Love the brothers. Have compassion and be self-effacing. Never pay back one wrong with another; instead, pay back with a blessing. That is what you are called to do.
1 Peter 3:8-9

No one can hurt you if you are determined to do only what is right. If you do have to suffer for being good, you will count it a blessing.
1 Peter 3:13-14a

Never let your love for each other grow insincere, since love covers over many a sin.
1 Peter 4:8

Welcome each other into your houses without grumbling.
1 Peter 4:9

Put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God. If you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders.
1 Peter 4:10b-11a

Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you. Watch over it not simply as a duty, but gladly, because God wants it, not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow.
1 Peter 5:2-3

Do what the elders tell you, and all wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other.
1 Peter 5:5

Bow down before the power of God now, and He will raise you up on the appointed day. Unload all your worries onto Him, since He is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things.
1 Peter 5:6-9

By His divine power He has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God Himself, who has called us by His own glory and goodness. In making these gifts, He has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the Divine Nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. But to attain this you will have to do the utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have, understanding to your goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness toward your fellow men to your devotion, and to this kindness, love. If you have a generous supply of these, they will not leave you ineffectual or unproductive: they will bring you to a real knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But without them a man is blind or else short-sighted; he has forgotten how his past sins were washed away.
2 Peter 1:3-9

Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it.
2 Peter 1:10

It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen His majesty for ourselves.
2 Peter 1:16

Depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds. Be most careful to remember that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. No prophecy ever came from man’s initiative. When men spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them.
2 Peter 1:19b-21

As there were false prophets in the past history of our people, so you too will have your false teachers who will insinuate their own disruptive views and disown the Master who purchased their freedom. They will destroy themselves very quickly, but there will be many who copy their shameful behavior.
2 Peter 2:1-2a

Be careful not to get carried away by the errors of unprincipled people from the firm ground that you are standing on. Instead, go on growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:17b-18a

The teaching of holy apostle John…

If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying, because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light as He is in the light, we are in union with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin.
1 John 1:6

If we say we have no sin in us we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth. But if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong.
1 John 1:8-9

If anyone should sin we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ who is just. He is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the whole world’s.
1 John 2:1b-2

We can be sure that we know God only by keeping His commandments.
1 John 2:3

We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in Him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
1 John 2:5b-6

You must not love this passing world or anything that is in the world.
1 John 2:15

You have all been anointed by the Holy One and have all received the knowledge.
1 John 2:20

Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning.
1 John 2:24a

You have not lost the anointing that He gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you: The anointing He gave teaches you everything. You are anointed with the truth, not with a lie. As it has taught you, so must you stay in Him.
1 John 2:27

We are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, since we shall see Him as He really is.
1 John 3:2

Do not let anyone lead you astray: to live a holy life is to be holy just as He is holy.
1 John 3:7

If you refuse to love, you must remain dead; to hate your brother is to be a murderer.
1 John 3:15

Our love is not to be just words or mere talk but something real and active. Only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth.
1 John 3:18-19a

Whatever we ask Him, we shall receive, because we keep His commandments and live the kind of life that He wants.
1 John 3:22

It is not every spirit that you can trust. Test them to see if they come from God. There are many false prophets now in the world.
1 John 4:1

Let us love one another since love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
1 John 4:7

Anyone who loves God must also love his neighbor.
1 John 4:21b

Loving God is keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not difficult.
1 John 5:3b-4a

If anybody sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner.
1 John 5:16a

Be on your guard against false gods.
1 John 5:21

If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what He taught can have the Father and the Son with them.
2 John 1:9

If anyone comes to you bringing a different doctrine, you must not receive him in your house or even give him a greeting. To greet him would make you a partner in his wicked work.
2 John 1:10

The teaching of the holy apostle Jude…

Fight hard for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude 1:3b

Use your most holy faith as your foundation and build on that, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves within the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you eternal life.
Jude 1:20-21

When there are some who have doubts, reassure them. When there are some to be pulled from the fire, pull them out. But there are others to whom you must be kind with great caution, keeping your distance even from outside clothing which is contaminated by vice.
Jude 1:22-23

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).
Click on the link below to download the book from which this post and the others in this series were taken.

The Apostolic Rule — Passages pulled from all the epistles of the New Testament and organized by book, that reveal how simple and direct are the instructions that the apostles have left us about how to live the Christian life.

Friday, June 26, 2015

But Jesus stopped

A great war has not now just been concluded, as many hope, but has only just begun. Forces that have lain hidden in lethargic heaps suddenly come to life, looking about frantically to see who is an ally, who an enemy. Volunteers emerge from their lairs armed with words, prepared to do battle, to join those who like them believe in culture war, rallying around tattered standards they themselves have quietly abandoned, until this moment. Eager to fight a war that they do not, cannot understand, because they have never fought it, against a foe that has known nothing but warfare from their very birth.

Born on a battlefield, at war with their own souls and bodies, deprived of good counsel, rejected as vile vermin deserving only of scorn and death, having no refuge in what they can be proud of, they have made their own way, kingless, unprotected, they are, to a man, like the blind man of Jericho.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Luke 18:35-43

Those who ‘led the way’ before Jesus, His followers, tried to silence a blind man, a man who wanted to see so badly, so urgently, that he went right to the only One he knew could grant him his request, paying no attention to those followers who would silence him. We have something similar going on today, but it’s hard to recognize and connect it in spirit to this story, because the followers have so ardently declared it a culture war. They actually know nothing of war. If they did, they wouldn’t fire so blindly, they would look for the real enemy, and target him, not their brother who has known nothing but warfare since birth.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

But Jesus stopped. He has a way of stepping through crowds of His followers as well as crowds of His foes, unscathed and without them noticing, to deliver and to show mercy. In the persons of those who ‘seek peace, pursue it’ and who thirsting after righteousness ‘free the captives’ He comes near, asking ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ even while His followers prepare for war. A blind man’s faith, He declares, heals him. The followers, too preoccupied with protecting Him, would have prevented the man from coming to Jesus, whose presence is the only place where faith is even possible.

But Jesus stopped. He heard the blind man’s plea. He validated him through his faith, and opened his eyes for the first time. That blind man followed Him, says holy and divine Scripture, praising God. ‘When all the people saw it, they also praised God.’

Maybe it’s hard for us to see how someone lacking a most essential faculty, sight, can receive it from Jesus, but we would never know if we kept them from meeting. Jesus validates a man’s faith, and opens eyes that have been shut since birth. How much more can He do for us, and for them who have known nothing but war since birth, if we only allow them to meet, for peace is costly enough when we pay for it with our own lives given in war, but He paid for the peace of all of us with His own life and, bidding us to pay it forward, makes us share in the Divine Nature.

How blessed are the peacemakers!
for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

The Apostolic Rule: Hebrews

The teaching of the holy apostles…

Take care, brothers, that there is not in anyone of your community a wicked mind, so unbelieving as to turn away from the living God.
Hebrews 3:12

Every day keep encouraging one another so that none of you is hardened by the lure of sin.
Hebrews 3:13

We shall remain coheirs with Christ only if we keep a grasp on our first confidence right to the end.
Hebrews 3:14

The Word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from Him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the One to whom we must give an account of ourselves.
Hebrews 4:12-13

We must never let go of the faith that we have professed.
Hebrews 4:14b

Be confident in approaching the throne of grace. We shall have mercy from Him and find grace when we are in need of help.
Hebrews 4:16

Through the blood of Jesus we have the right to enter the sanctuary by a new way which He has opened for us, a living opening through the curtain, His body.
Hebrews 10:19b-20

Let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our minds sprinkled and free from any trace of bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us keep firm in the faith we profess, because the One who made the promise is faithful.
Hebrews 10:22-23

Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.
Hebrews 10:24

Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, as some do, but encourage each other to go; the more so as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:25

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.
Hebrews 11:1-2

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily the race we have started.
Hebrews 12:1

Let us not lose sight of Jesus who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.
Hebrews 12:2

Think of the way He stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.
Hebrews 12:3-4

When the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when He reprimands you. The Lord trains the ones that He loves and He punishes all those that He acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as His sons.
Hebrews 12:5b-7a

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.
Hebrews 12:15

Be careful that there is no immorality, or that anyone of you does not degrade religion like Esau, who sold his birthright for one single meal.
Hebrews 12:16

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm, or trumpeting thunder, or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them.
Hebrews 12:18-19

What you have come to is Mount Zion and the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a first-born son and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus the Mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks.
Hebrews 12:22-25a

We have been given possession of an unshakable Kingdom. Let us therefore hold on to the grace that we have been given and use it to worship God in the way that he finds acceptable, in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29

Continue to love each other like brothers and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:1-2

Keep in mind those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in one body.
Hebrews 13:3

Marriage is to be honored by all, and marriages are to be kept undefiled, because fornicators and adulterers will come under God’s judgment.
Hebrews 13:4

Put greed out of your lives and be content with whatever you have.
Hebrews 13:5a

Remember your leaders who preach the Word of God to you and, as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be forever. Do not let yourselves be led astray by all sorts of strange doctrines.
Hebrews 13:8-9a

Jesus suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with His own blood. Let us go to Him outside the camp and share His degradation. For there is no eternal city for us in this life, but we look for one in the life to come. Through Him let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice every time we acknowledge His Name.
Hebrews 13:12-15

Keep doing good works and sharing your resources, for these are sacrifices that please God.
Hebrews 13:16

Obey your leaders and do as they tell you, because they must give an account of the way they look after your souls. Make this a joy for them to do and not a grief. You yourselves would be the losers.
Hebrews 13:17

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Who is waiting for us

Today, the greatest country on earth, by the decision of its highest judicial authority, the Supreme Court, gave the right to marry to the homosexual minority in a ruling, five for, four against. This decision finally gives ‘marriage equality’ to that minority which, whether rightly or wrongly, is sexually attracted to people of the same gender. Homosexuality used to be called a condition, and cures for it were explored, that is, when it wasn’t condemned as a crime and punished with prison or with death, but apparently none were found, and the medical profession dismissed it as a sickness. Some people are just that way.

Christ had as much trouble explaining this to His contemporaries, ‘For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it’ (Matthew 19:12), but He leaves it in our hands on how we choose to deal with it. By natural instinct and by logic, the human race wants everything to work as it is designed to work, one man plus one woman equals offspring and family. Homosexual people, though, have to deal with an anomaly.

That anomaly is, the universe is what it is, even when it doesn’t exactly fit our ideas of how it ought to be, from the biggest matters down to the smallest, that means us. What appears to be, or what looks like it should work in a certain way, isn’t always what it seems, doesn’t always work as we think it should. Two men can be examined physically and described as the same. You can even cut them open and their insides look as much alike as their outsides. But men are alive. They have souls. You can examine their souls and find that they are radically different. Those souls are not accidents. They are what they are.

People throughout history have feared what is different, in nature and in each other. Sometimes they have acted on this fear in very harmful ways, enshrining their fears in systems of law. Sometimes those systems of law have been written in the stone of sacred scriptures, in words that can in no wise be changed. Why? Because God would be angry. I don’t know what other scriptures say, but I am a Christian and know what the Bible says, or at least, I think I know. But as an Orthodox Christian I also believe that the Bible and the Universe are in agreement. Why? Because God is the Author of both.

As Christians we have to be willing to consider the real world from every angle, accepting the findings of science without abandoning the truths of God. As Christians we have to be ready to move when God moves because, unlike us, He is not static. If nothing else, the Bible shows us that we have to be continually prodded, encouraged, enlivened, inspired to keep moving, keep following, running after God. Not some static God whom we have made up and safely enthroned far away from us in ‘heaven,’ but the God who has entered our humanity, who is ‘on earth as in heaven,’ the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

The Lord of the Sabaoth has been revealed to us as the Lord of the Sabbath. He was, He is, and He is to come, the First and the Last, the Pantokrator, the fiery center of Being is revealed to live with us, within us, manifesting as us, pacing us as He runs alongside, making sure that all of us make it to the end of the race, all of us coming in first in a mystic tie with the Lord of the Universe, all of us champions, all of us to wear the crown that only He deserves, but which He graciously shares with us. ‘Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne’ (Revelation 3:21).

Back to earth. What are we to do with this earthly ruling by human judges judging by reason to give to those who are different from us the same rights that the majority of us already have by nature? Are we going to fight back if we disagree, using the same arguments as we always have, to safeguard what we think is ours alone? The ancient Hebrews had a law to put to death those men who used each other sexually as women. They had no law regarding women doing with women what only men should do, but the apostle Paul decries both just the same, as against nature, and against God. What are we to do?

Historically, modern societies have decriminalized homosexual activity and given homosexual people a minimum of tolerance. We look down on the Islamic and the black African worlds for not doing the same. The Church condemns homosexual acts as sin. In the minds of many, homosexuality is reprehensible. They are not homosexuals themselves and cannot imagine it as being good. Homosexuality is something we should be ashamed of. Well, what I say is, why not just kill them all, and be done with it, instead of just killing them spiritually as we have been doing for centuries.

Of course, I don’t mean what I just said, but I did say it because it is the truth. The Church, especially—and I can say this as a member of her—has been killing them spiritually by excluding them from salvation. How? By not giving them the means of grace to live moral and spiritual lives, by not giving them a sacred bond in which to live in faithfulness and love with each other, consigning them to a life of sexual fantasy and promiscuity from which marriage is designed to deliver them, but which is denied them. When Christ is brought into the picture, we bring Him in to condemn, as did the Pharisees.

Homosexual marriage cannot be biologically what heterosexual marriage should be, but if marriage was instituted by God for no other reason than procreation, then most married couples are not going along with His program. But I think all will agree there is more to marriage than making babies, otherwise why second marriages? If giving homosexuals the same rights to marry as heterosexuals will in some way degrade the institution of marriage, then we should expect to see this fairly quickly, and the judges, different ones to be sure, will reverse the ruling. Prohibition seemed for ever, yet it was repealed.

What I think all this boils down to, whether we are Christians or not, is are we willing to ‘live and let live’ and let others share the ‘life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’ that we want for ourselves, or is there something in some people that disqualifies them from it? In the past, black Africans in America were enslaved, and what made this reasonable and acceptable was the notion that they were in some manner ‘not quite human,’ almost a kind of hominid livestock. Oddly enough, we let them become Christians and be ‘saved,’ but I wonder if the thought was that heaven would be segregated.

Finally, as far as the Church is concerned, the challenge that I see is whether or not we will share with this subset of the human race the same life of grace and salvation we want for ourselves. We are so given to picture-thinking that if we cannot imagine ‘how it will look’ we are afraid to allow it. Myself, I have already seen, in some places within the Church, ‘how it will look.’ Actually, it doesn’t look very different. But ultimately, Church and the life of salvation is not so much about ‘how it will look’ but ‘what we shall be.’ In the life of the Holy Trinity, even marriage was only a foretaste of Who is waiting for us, the Bride of Christ.

The Apostolic Rule: Disciples

The teaching of holy apostle Paul…

Insist that people stop teaching strange doctrines and taking notice of myths and endless geneologies; these things are only likely to raise irrelevant doubts instead of furthering the designs of God which are revealed in faith.
1 Timothy 1:3b-4

The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith. There are some people who have gone off the straight course and taken a path that leads to empty speculation.
1 Timothy 1:5-6

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15

Fight like a good soldier with faith and a good conscience for your weapons. Some people have put conscience aside and wrecked their faith in consequence.
1 Timothy 1:18b-19

There should be prayers offered for everyone—petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving—and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right and will please God our Savior: He wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times there will be some who will desert the faith and choose to listen to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils; and the cause of this is the lies told by hypocrites whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself spiritually. Physical exercises are useful enough, but the usefulness of spirituality is unlimited, since it holds out the reward of life here and now, and of the future life as well.
1 Timothy 4:7-8

The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers.
1 Timothy 4:10

Be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith, and your purity. Make use of the time by reading to the people, preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 4:12-13

Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
1 Timothy 4:16

Anyone who does not look after his own relations, especially if they are living with him, has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

Never make yourself an accomplice in anybody else’s sin. Keep yourself pure.
1 Timothy 5:22b

Anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit, with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another, and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making money.
1 Timothy 6:3-5

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. As long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation. They get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils, and there are some who pursuing it have wandered away from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:7-10a

Aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle.
1 Timothy 6:11

Warn those who are rich in this world’s goods that they are not to look down on other people and not to set their hopes on money which is untrustworthy, but on God who out of His riches gives us all we need for our happiness. Tell them that they are to do good and be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share.
1 Timothy 6:17-18

Have nothing to do with the pointless philosophical discussions and antagonistic beliefs of the “knowledge” which is no knowledge at all.
1 Timothy 6:20

God’s gift is not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

You are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:8a

God has saved us and called us to be holy, not because of anything we ourselves have done, but for His own purpose and by His own grace.
2 Timothy 1:9

Keep as your pattern the sound teaching, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1:13-14

Accept the strength that comes from the grace of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1

You have heard everything. Hand it on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2

Put up with your share of difficulties like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3

Remember the Good News: Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
2 Timothy 2:8

If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with Him.
If we disown Him, then He will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but He is always Faithful, for He cannot disown
His own self.
2 Timothy 2:11b-13

There is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.
2 Timothy 2:14

Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from the true religion. Talk of this kind corrodes like gangrene.
2 Timothy 2:16-17

God’s solid foundation stone is still in position, and this is the inscription on it: “The Lord knows those who are His own,” and “All who call on the Name of the Lord must avoid sin.”
2 Timothy 2:19

Instead of giving in to your impulses, fasten your attention on holiness, faith, love, and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with pure minds.
2 Timothy 2:22

Avoid futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels. A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved.
2 Timothy 2:23-26

You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and grasping, boastful, arrogant, and rude, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, heartless and unappeasable. They will be slanderers, profligates, savages, and enemies of everything that is good. They will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Have nothing to do with people like that.
2 Timothy 3:1-5

Anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked.
2 Timothy 3:12

You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true. Remember who your teachers were.
2 Timothy 3:14

All Scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy.
2 Timothy 3:16

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be Judge of the living and the dead, in the name of his Appearing and of his Kingdom: Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience. Do all with patience and the intention of teaching. Be careful always to choose the right course. Be brave under trials. Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work in thoroughgoing service.
2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5

Bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion, and give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised long ago by God, who does not lie.
Titus 1:1b-2

Have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition.
Titus 1:9a

To all who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure.
Titus 1:15

Preach the behavior which goes with healthy doctrine.
Titus 2:1

In everything you do, make yourself an example of working for good.
Titus 2:7

When you are teaching be an example in your sincerity and earnestness, and in keeping all that you say so wholesome that nobody can make objections to it.
Titus 2:8

There must be no petty thieving. Show complete honesty at all times.
Titus 2:10a

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race, and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everthing that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions. We must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world while we are waiting for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be His very own and would have no ambition except to do good.
Titus 2:11-14

Be ready to do good at every opportunity.
Titus 3:1b

Be courteous and polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient, and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries.
Titus 3:2b-3a

If a man disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him.
Titus 3:10

Faith will give rise to a sense of fellowship that will show you all the good things that we are able to do for Christ.
Philemon 1:6

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).