Sunday, July 25, 2010

Words heard "on the street"

Some things heard in the agora of ideas, and some Holy Scripture -


Consider who Jesus is. We know that He is fully God. We know that He is rightly called prophet, priest, and king. We know that He not only represents, but in a certain sense is the true and holy Israel of God. It should not be lost on us that God's people are now called "the Body of Christ." This Man who is God walks up to the River Jordan. And what happens? What should we expect to happen? Well, a man who is versed in the Old Testament and who also knows Who this Jesus is might have a very reasonable expectation. In the Old Testament when the people of God, the Israel of God, come up to the waters while running from pharaoh, the waters part. In the OT when the prophet of God comes up to the river Jordan, the waters part. In the OT when the ark of the covenant, which was God present to His people, came to the river Jordan, the waters part. This man well versed in the OT, when seeing Jesus come to the waters should have every expectation that they too will part. Jesus is the fullness of the presence of God, He is the fulfillment of all prophecy, He is the true Israel of God, all people of God are in Him. But the waters do not part. Instead, God enters into the chaos and death of the water, and He is covered. With Christ, all bets are off, the rules of the game have changed. God is now not seeking a people for whom to part waters. He is seeking a community of the drowned.

When you enter through baptism and chrismation the Orthodox faith, and are therefore baptized into Christ, do not think that God is in the business of going about separating waters for you. No, this is not the path you have chosen. You have chosen to hold fast to the One for whom the waters do not part. You die with Him, in Him, through Him, as Him, for Him. Orthodox Christianity is the exact opposite of "health and wealth" spiritual economics, which infects not just Pentecostalism, but much of American Christianity. God will heal whom He will, God will allow the deaths of those whom He will, but in a real and certain sense, friends of God, as those who are the dead in Christ, you have given up any right to claim that God must part waters for you. As Bonhoeffer said, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." A dead man can claim nothing as his own.

The mystery takes us further. That day not only does Jesus come up to the water and the waters stay still to swallow Him up, but it is this very day that for the first time God reveals Himself in His fullness: Father, Son, Holy Spirit to humankind. The threefold nature of the Godhead is revealed to us at the moment in which God reveals Himself as the God for Whom the waters do not part. In the feast of Theophany we learn that God reveals Himself formally and most clearly in the very midst of human suffering. Indeed, we may even speak with St. Cyril of this mystery of the suffering of the impassible God.

Throughout Christian history so many faithful have been led to seek some sort of magic help potion from God or his agents, or at the very least thought that God would give them a statistical advantage, as if they were a bit more likely to have things go well if God were in their corner. Both are lies. Of course we pray that God bless us, and we have faith that he will. But we may seek blessing in a different spirit when the waters have already passed over our heads. Most Holy Theotokos, joy of all who sorrow, pray for us.

From here.


Let’s just be honest with ourselves and admit that we never wanted to be saints, if that means to live our earthly lives as though the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, and if that further means that we do what He tells us to do.

From here.


2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

- Epistle of St. James, Ch. 1 (NKJV)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vanity of Vanities - all is Vanity

A line from a song I like goes like this:

At times life's unfair and you know it's plain to see. Hey God, I know I'm just a dot in this world, have you forgot about me? Whatever life brings I've been through everything And now I'm on my knees again

But I know I must go on,
Although I hurt I must be strong,
Because inside I know that many feel this way


I had occasion to fly to LA recently on a short business trip. I am always amazed at the lack of interest people have in the fact that they are cruising through the heavens faster and higher than any bird, and able to see the world laid out below them in a way that was inaccessible to mankind generally prior to the Jet Age. People are now so immune to wonder that they'd rather think or talk about anything but this incredible marvel of zooming through the heavens.

Flying past cities, particularly as we skirted to the East of the Bay Area and Sacramento, and as we crossed the coast east of Point Conception and the massive megalopolis of the Los Angeles area spread out to our Southeast, I was reminded, as I am often when flying, of the myriads of people down there (and sitting around me) with their hopes and fears, worries and stratagems, and how insignificant all of these concerns are, and yet how precious each one of these souls are, with all their foibles and farces that are pursued with great seriousness.

There are so many people, it staggers the imagination. Next time you are in an airport, just sit and people watch and consider all the people rushing to fly somewhere and wonder - where are they going in such haste, each one feeling that their journey is of great importance (perhaps of greater importance than yours!)? Then get in your plane, look out the window (if your neighbor doesn't rudely close the blinds to blot out any distraction created by the real world so that they may enjoy their cocktail, reading light, and banal conversations), and consider that those forests have been there, those rivers have flowed, and those mountains have imperceptibly crept along while we, like mayflies, rush around in futile pursuits.

And then . . . be still . . . and remember God and marvel that he might deign to remember you.

It's a marvel.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

I Have an Elder Brother . . . or . . . I pledge Allegiance to my King

I have an elder brother.

Well, I say he is my brother, although actually I am adopted. I was born in an impoverished state, and although distantly related to my adopted brother on one side of the family tree (his mother's), I have no relation to his father, except through him.

While I am proud of my brother-by-adoption, I don't see him too much, for our life and lifestyles often diverge. You see, he is a King and a Great Lord of a nation, and thus his station is far removed from my humble origins. He is also a priest, the spiritual leader of his people, and has been known to give great prophetic utterances.

Frankly, I am lucky to be called his brother.

His mother's side was, like me, of humble origin, but she was the best, and most fair Lady of that entire side of the family. If it hadn't been for her, I don't suppose there would have been an adoption.

My brother, being a King, is owed allegiance by his people and, although I am a U.S. Citizen by birth, I ultimately owe him my true allegiance, being family-by-adoption. Blood is thicker than water, as they say.

Sometimes I forget that I am the adopted brother of a King, and fall into acting like someone who grew up in a rougher part of town - bad language, bad tastes, and all sorts of uncouth behaviors. I have to remind myself constantly that my life as it was is not at all becoming of being the adopted brother to a King. I'm often worried that my brother will one day tell me "I know you not" (like Prince Hal to Sir John Falstaff in the play by Shakespeare) if I don't clean up my act and start doing what he keeps asking me to do.

Not that he's a tyrant - he asks some seemingly simple things, you know? Feed the hungry, help the sick, and visit those in prison. Some things are harder - like praying unceasingly, or not striking back in anger when someone strikes you. But he doesn't ask for anything immoral or improper. He's not that sort of King.

Fairly regularly I get to gather in one of his many palaces where we await a brief audience with him. Usually there is a lot of pomp and ceremony surrounding these gatherings, as is fitting when a Great Lord comes to town. I rather like this and it reminds me just what sort of family I've been adopted into - it's a real honor to be there.

Surprisingly, my brother really doesn't care that I'm a U.S. Citizen, or a military servant of the U.S. So long as I know where my true allegiance lies, I think he's fine with that. Of course, so far this government hasn't expressly asked for me to deny him or something like that. Nevertheless, I worry that some day in the future he will be seen as sowing sedition in this country. It's happened to other countries from time-to-time. In the end, you can't have two sovereigns and one has to submit - some nations (or their leaders) just don't want to admit to doing that and become jealous of him and hate anyone who's associated with him. It's caused a lot of trouble in the past and it could happen here. In the end, he doesn't want us to fight about it - just don't deny him and our allegiance to him. He really doesn't want their power and their glory anyway, and he keeps reminding us that such things are empty.

Because there are a number of people out there in the world that don't like him and his people, sometimes it feels as if I'm out on a mission in enemy territory. It's sad to say it that way, but sometimes that's how it feels. One day he'll call me back in from field operations (so to speak), but for now I'm "on orders." But they are odd orders -

"do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."

"He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you."

"from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back."

"be merciful, just as your father is also merciful."

Sunday is Independence Day in this country - Independence from Great Britain, who ruled the Eastern States (then Colonies) for a little over a century. Now the U.S. and Great Britain are fast friends. It's a good country, ours - good land and generally peaceable. I was born here and owe a natural allegiance to the country of my birth as a result, and I am proud to serve its people.

But my adoptive brother rules a different Kingdom, and a far more important one. So this Sunday, I will go to his palace, bow my knee and make obeisance to Him, and make my allegiance known - I pledge allegiance to the King:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and of earth
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made;

Of one essence with the Father;

By Whom all things were made;

Who, for us me and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man;

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried.

The third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead;

Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the world to come.