An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
First time back on the river for quite a long while and it was great to feel the rush of fighting a 10lb Coho Salmon. It never ceases to amaze me how strong and fierce these fish can be - it is no wonder they threw my elbow out last year. On top of this, a beautiful Fall day in the Pacific Northwest capped off a fantastic time.
Today I went to Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Kenmore in order to watch my good friends the Pflager family get baptized/Chrismated into the Church. My meeting Daniel Pflager makes for an interesting story which will explain what initially led me to leave the Episcopal Church.
When I became an Episcopalian I was pretty naive about my own denomination - I knew there were some liberal priests and dioceses and such - but I had no idea HOW liberal and HOW high up the liberalism went. Frankly, homosexuality was not the most dominant liberal issue in my mind, but rather when I found out about the existence of a so-called "bishop" Spong who made it a point to bring about a "new reformation." In Spong's reformation we'd do away with archaic ancient beliefs such as the virgin birth, miracles, and the resurrection in favor of a new christianity...a sort of "Jesus Seminar" Christianity. Spong turned Jesus into little more than a sort of 60's flower child whose ONLY priority was to love everyone. It seems everyone likes to develop in their own minds exactly what Jesus was like and then they can create their Christianity around it. In keeping with the age, religious truth (in Spong's mind) contains no absolutes and thus not only are all denominations equally right - so also are all religions.
Much to my suprise, the Epsicopal Church saw no need to kick the WHACKED heretic out on his ass. (sorry) How dare this church claim any understanding or ownership of Apostolic Succession with such obviously non-apostolic teachings being promoted by one of their bishops - and not raise a finger to let him go off and start his own "church." I have no idea how important doctrine is, but I know it is not unimportant. I could have been a gnostic and no one COULD possibly have told me I shouldn't be.
Anyway, I met Daniel Pflager on an Episcopal E-Group in which we found ourselves frequently engaging in lively conversations with some of the liberals in our denomination. Come to find out, Daniel lived nearby and as he knew I was struggling with the lack of solid discipleship in my ECUSA Parish, he invited me to attend a small group (Called "Alpha" in the ECUSA) which met in his home. I attended a few times (which was a breath of fresh air) and then left for a month long vacation in Minnesota. Also, I began my classes at Regis University to finish my degree in Religion and this is how I was introduced to Orthodoxy. I never went back to the Alpha group and I never went back to my ECUSA parish.
Much later, I happened to drop back in to the Episcopal E-group and found a post by Daniel in which he mentioned that he wished he could get back in touch with me. I wrote him and apologized for dropping off the face of the earth (he graciously accepted) and then he proceeded to tell me that he was on the verge of leaving the ECUSA himself, but was planning (with certain reservations) to head for Rome. I told him that he had other options.
And so today, three of his children were reborn and the baptisms of all the others in his large family were fulfilled by the annointing of Holy Chrism. It was a day of rejoicing as we welcomed them all home.
"As many of you who have been baptized into Christ,
have clothed yourselves with Christ. Alleluia!"
I was overjoyed to hear recently that Hieromonk Jonah of the Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco Monastery was given permission by his Bishop to establish possibly two different monastic communities up here in Washington. Fr. Jonah made a VERY profound impression on me when he came up last summer for a conference. He oozes with Holy Wisdom.
A monastic community nearby would be wonderful and I am anxious to play a role in assisting them to make it happen - sadly I have not the fiscal ability to help, but intend to fully offer whatever labor might be needed. What a blessing this will be! And if this were not enough, they are actually looking for property in the very near vacinity of our home!
Fr. Jonah and the other monks down at Point Reyes publish a fantastic periodical called Divine Ascent. It is a very worthwhile investment to subscribe!
I have begun rereading CS Lewis' The Great Divorce and it reminded me that I didn't like it the first time I read it. It seemed to me that Lewis was not taking a very biblical approach to heaven and hell (which means he wasn't being literal enough nor was he perfectly matching my understanding of protestant theology.) I think what disturbed me the most was the very notion that those already "condemned" to hell could ever have the chance to get out - like Lewis' fantastical bus ride represents.
BUT, now as I come to understand Orthodox theology better Lewis' book seems to be not a fantasy writer's speculation about the after-life, but actually right in line with Eastern Christian Theology! His whole premise is basically that some people are simply unable to experience heaven - that to them, God's love and truth is too much to bear. Lovers of darkness who cannot love the light...to them the light is hellfire.
Also, I think the book would make for a wonderful movie...certainly better than any of the other rubish we have seen from Hollywood theologians.
Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God Irreparable State of Being
I can vividly recall reading this sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards in my High School literature class. We, as a class, made fun of its “fire and brimstone – repent or die” context, marveling at the naivety of the mid 18th century. I was not a Christian at the time, but once I became a Christian I still viewed Edward’s notion of God’s wrathful justice as being overly zealous. Curiously, his sermons (many of which shared a similar theme) were fuel for what would come to be know as a period of “Great Awakening” in America. Hmmmm....
Here is an excerpt:
They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.
But, honestly, I have to admit that in my time in Youth Ministry with the Assemblies of God, I preached a few sermons that carried a similar theme – desperately trying to get teens to “sign on the dotted line (aka "praying the sinner's prayer") I regret those sermons now, and I would certainly take them back if I could. But really can we say that Protestant theology with its emphasis on substitutionary atonement contradicts Edwards’ sermon? Is it not God who is angered and offended by our sin? Is it not God who “sends” people to eternal torment? We break God’s law and we do the time…unless we “sign on the dotted line” BEFORE we die. So it is said.
Yesterday I made the mistake – again – of listening to the “Bible Answer Man” on the way home. And Hank was talking about atonement. The plethora of legal terminology that flowed from him was nothing less than astounding to me! He even used courtroom analogies and words found nowhere in scripture, but everywhere in modern legal documents. And then we are told how Christ essentially takes the lethal injection in our place and the wrath of God is poured out on Him instead of us. YIKES! It is as if the resurrection was kinda of a neat little trick God played after redeeming us so that we could ooh and ahh.
Now the Orthodox believe that atonement is ultimately a mystery and that the scriptures and the teachings of the church give us IMAGES (Icons if you will) of atonement. In other words, not literal or clinical or legal definitions of how it works but instead literary facets of a diamond which we cannot fully comprehend. Substitutionary atonement is certainly one of those facets, but it is not emphasized in Orthodoxy and in fact is downplayed a lot in favor of the other facets, which I will discuss in another post. The point being we cannot turn these facets into the whole nor can we give to them life unto themselves. One facet does not a diamond make, and for the Orthodox, the Resurrection is the very carbon of the stone.
I am reminded today that we are NOT “Sinners in the hand of an angry God” but instead sinners in a bad situation…a predicament. Unfortunately for some it is an irreparable predicament in which it has become ontologically too late. But as I have said before, it is never chronologically too late.
My very good friend Chance started a blog not long ago and he offers quite an interesting perspective. He was a member of the Reformed Anglican Church and is now in the process of migrating Eastward. Interestingly enough, Chance and I knew one another when we were both in the Assemblies of God, but after I moved to Washington we lost touch for the most part. Only later did we find out, upon re-establishing contact that we had both left the AG for Anglican traditions (I was in the ECUSA for a time.) And now we once again find ourselves on similar paths. Check him out and read more about his journey!
We cannot create community anymore than we can create personhood
There are two little songs for kids on a tape my daughter has which apparently relates the experience of the songwriter in a small village in some traditionally Orthodox country. One of the song laments: "Take me back to the village, I want to stay." In such villages, it seems, community comes naturally as they all share the same beliefs and values. They are united by the Church in every aspect of their lives, all of them gathering together for daily prayers, Great Vespers, and Divine Liturgy. Sharing the same periods of fasting and feasting...dancing the same dance to the same music....unity.
But we here in America are taught to value diversity, dancing different dances to different music. And thus we cannot find community...we seek to invent it like mad scientists seeking to genetically engineer life. The fact is, the little villages do not create community either...rather I suspect they simply realize community. Human community exists as naturally as our spleens do.
I continue to read Bishop KALLISTOS' book How are we saved? and I continue to glean a great deal from this humble little work. In it Bishop Ware reminds us that "salvation is not solitary but social."
Underlying this approach there is the conviction, deeply rooted in the Orthodox conscience, that we are not saved in isolation but in union with our fellow humans from every generation.
But I am not sure I understand this entirely...in a sense, somehow, our sins belong to one another and this is in part why we Orthodox have Forgiveness Vespers at the beginning of Lent - to remind us of our inner-connectedness and need to forgive one another even if we perceive that we have done nothing to cause a grievance. THAT perception would be wrong, for we are constantly grieving one another whether either of us knows it or not. In our fallen state, perception of reality is seriously flawed. This is why community escapes us.
As I know I've mentioned before, in the story of creation the Orthodox generally understand IMAGE and LIKENESS to be seperate concepts. Wherein during the Fall we lost the LIKENESS (or potential to be like God), and have tarnished the IMAGE of God in us. Through the all encompassing life work of Christ (from Incarnation through Ascension) the IMAGE is renewed and the LIKENESS is restored to us. Now, as coworkers (says St. Paul) with God we move toward fulfilling that LIKENESS: Theosis.
God, through Christ has revealed Himself to be Community. Yes, God as Trinity is Community! And as we are made in His IMAGE and LIKENESS we might assume that Community is apart of our nature as well. But since most of us have not reached Theosis, perfect community comes to us only in short revelatory spurts.
We are called to wake up to the reality of our God-IMAGE and then by God's Grace we progress toward the LIKENESS of God. When we begin to perceive the reality of our God-IMAGE we also awaken to the reality of community. How do we awaken this? There are 2000 years of experiences to guide us...give your ancestors a vote. The music is playing...the dance steps are hard, but we learn.
We are members of one another St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Ephesus 4:25
Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. G. K. Chesterton
Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Jaroslav Pelikan
This man wrote what is arguably the definitive work on the history of Christian Doctrine - a five part series. He, in no small way through the first two volumes of his wrok, convinced me that the church I was in was radically dissimilar from the ancient Church - even though he himself was a Lutheran (so the back cover of the books informed me). Come to find out, since originally writing this work, Jaroslav became Orthodox. Well DUH, he musta read what he wrote!
It's pretty trendy nowadays to check out Celtic Christianity - I mean who doesn't think Celtic Crosses look really cool? Anyway, having been Anglican for sometime, I too, was quite fascinated by Celtic practices. It is amazing how Celtic Spirituality and theology meshes with the Eastern Fathers' mindset - so much so that many have proclaimed Celtic Christianity up until the Norman invasions of the 11th-12th centuries to BE Orthodox. Much of the reasoning for this western remnant of Eastern Christianity - it is theorized - was because of the isolation from Roman (papal) authority which afforded it a fair amount of self-governance. Who brought Christianity to the British Isles? None other than my son's Patron: Noble Joseph of Arimethea in 63AD.
Return of the Salmon and Return of me to the River
The three big "F's" in my life: Faith, Family, and FISHING! In honor of the return of the Salmon to my beloved Skykomish River, I have added a temporary web pet: Sammy the Salmon. He is a Sockeye and we have no Sockeye in the Sky, but he'll have to pretend to be a Coho. I used to go fishing nearly every weekend, but in the last few months circumstances have insisted on alternative plans. Next saturday I fulfill my McArthur-esque promise to my fishing partner. This is a pic of a beautiful - albeit average sized - Steelhead I caught last summer. So it's clear: I'm the fat guy with the fishing rod.
Beauty will save the world A Continuation of my conversation regarding the New RC Cathedral…
We humans differentiate ourselves from animals in a number of ways and I think that one of the biggies is our concept and appreciation of beauty, and I certainly do not mean to bring to mind an image of pin-up girls as an example of such appreciation. Rather I am speaking of transcendent beauty, and by using such terminology I do not intend to imply invisibility. Beauty like our faith is real and can be seen and touched. As such, beauty calls us to transcendence on many levels.
Furthermore, we are creatures who not only appreciate beauty but are actually able to bring it into existence through the creativity of every aspect of our lives: music, art, writing, architecture, acting, and even our everyday actions. We create beauty and the act of creation of anything (physicists remind us) costs resources.
Ahh and here is the pinch of the matter. Do we sacrifice huge portions of our unique vocation for creating beauty in order to more effectively engage in the beauty of assisting the poor? Do we tell the songwriter, the author, the poet, or the artist that their resources would be better served elsewhere? From a strictly utilitarian perspective – we MUST! How much money and time we waste in the pursuit and experience of beauty. How unnecessary…or is it?
Utilitarianism prevails today and my mind is brought to the 16th century image of a western church being “cleansed.” The altar, the golden chalice, the stained glass, the icons, the statues, the paintings, and many other ascetic items are tossed out into the streets and we are left with four white-washed walls and a pulpit. A colossal paradigmic shift has occurred here. Reductionism. I think it occurs under the guise of theological reasoning, but is in reality serving the god of utilitarianism. A philosophy that pollutes our theology.
At the same time, we maintain our propensity for beauty but we steal much of it away from our religion. In our religion we make beauty primarily a product of the mind…invisible…mere concepts. Our protestant theology of the Church followed suit. For our secular lives having beauty expressed concretely in every aspect is deemed fine, but it seems for Protestantism only music remained.
In the last few decades, utilitarianism is being taken to its logical conclusion in not only “cleansing” the church, but getting rid of the church altogether. I have a number of friends who are involved in such movements and I very respectfully disagree with their theological and historical assessments of such things. One of the principle arguments offered by house church proponents is quite similar to the one my friend gave in regards to the new RC Cathedral – it is a waste of money. If I were a utilitarian, I would agree…but I am not and I believe instead in the necessity of beauty and am willing to accept its inherent tax on resources.
There is a wonderful and intriguing movie called The Navigator in which a group of men from the early 14th century are mysteriously transported to the late 20th. There is one scene in which they are confronted with the skyline of a modern city and are shocked to learn that the towering skyscrapers are NOT churches. On the contrary the churches are the tiny buildings humbly tucked in between the great monuments devoted to finance. Again, what a paradigmic shift! In their culture, your resources were utilized to demonstrate what was important (“Where your heart is, there will your treasure be…”) to them as a society. THAT concept has not changed, rather what we hold as important as a society has changed.
Why is it that the most prominent buildings in our culture are not churches? What does this say about us? Religion has become merely “a personal thing” and as such its meeting places are going the way of our ability to express our opinions on such matters. From the ancient perspective, Churches were built to inspire and to manifest worship through beauty of architecture and art. They were also there as oracles to proclaim the truth through their very existence. We were to see in them the creative and transcendent beauty that gives glory to God…and furthermore they were to last for generations.
Did you know that long before TBN got there, Russia was arguably converted to Christianity by a building? Emissaries from Russia were ordered to Constantinople as apart of their mission to seek information on the religions of the world. While there they attended a Divine Liturgy in the great Church called the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and they were so taken aback by the beauty of it all that they wrote to their monarch: “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth…God dwells there among men.” The Hagia Sophia, some 1500 years old, still stands today.
I wear a gold wedding ring on my finger. I could have chosen any other metal, but as with most of us, I chose some metal that is of relatively significant value. Why? Because it represents something of importance (my marriage) and we humans have a natural (God-given?) habit of laying resources upon the altar of things we deem to be important or significant. Please remember this concept if you are tempted to criticize what YOU deem to be extravagant in any church. Consider the altar upon which YOU lay your resources.
Our Orthodox Church buildings do not exist to keep us out of the rain, but rather for the sake of beauty. A waste of resources? Perhaps, but what cost for beauty? Do we shut the recording studios down? Do we close the schools of performing arts and send the students to earn degrees in economics? Do we tell the poets to put their pens down and pick up a shovel to dig latrines in villages with no running water? Do we tell the architects to save resources by always designing simple square structures? Do we stifle creativity and chain it to our utilitarian outlook?
It is not at all funny that this is EXACTLY what the atheistic communists did to the Church in Russia. It can kill a people’s spirit to live without “frivolous” beauty.
I believe that a magnificent Church building can be built, bring glory to God, and there can still be enough money left over to feed the poor of the world. Perhaps if the average Joe Christian would quit pointing utilitarian fingers and maybe cancel their cable TV subscription in order to give that money to the poor, then there would be no such thing as starvation in the world. The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of resources in the world, but not enough beauty.
The Seattle skyline looks lovely tonight, but I don’t see any churches amongst the buildings…although the Bank of America tower looks magnificent. Maybe I should bank there.
A friend of mine called me recently to tell me about the new Roman Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles which cost some 200 million dollars. My friend went on and on about the elaborate décor and design of the building while continuously referencing the poor that would have been better helped by the money. Eventually, my friend grew silent - wondering why I was not joining him in the dialogue, which normally would have been a bandwagon I’d be happy to hop onto. He waited for me to explain.
“How much money did you give to the poor last week?” I asked – being acquainted with the person well enough to know the answer in advance. I was amazed to see not a defensive stance, but rather their face fell – like a dog tucking its tail between its legs. Indeed it is a humbling thing to find you have no ground to stand on. The question was directed to myself as well and I had not even begun to make my point to both of us.
How much money would the big screen TV, Home theatre system, and DVD player have provided to the poor? (I actually don’t have a big screen or HTS – but I’d like to have them!)
How much money would all those DVD rentals last month have provided for the poor?
How much money would that Honda Accord have provided to the poor if I had opted for a Geo Metro, a used car, or Public Transit instead?
The list goes on and on. Think of all the unnecessary luxuries we have in our homes…would a starving child in Bosnia even care to tell the difference between our homes and the new Catholic Cathedral?
Furthermore, I asked my friend if he had any idea whatsoever how much money the RC Church actually does give to the poor and what his attitude would be if he discovered on a strictly percentage basis that they give much more than we do?
I recall a lecture by Fr. Hopko in which an inquirer asked a question in regards to the perceived lax participation of laity in old world Orthodox Churches as compared to the seemingly more enthusiastic participation of protestants. Fr. Hopko paused after giving some preliminary insights and then says: “Do you have any idea of the danger we put ourselves in by making these sort of judgments?”
Let’s be careful out there so that we don’t sound like the publican.
The most common Orthodox Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
The Greek word Hagia, which we translate as "saint" is literally "Holy."
Tomorrow, September 17th, is my wife's nameday. To her I offer a heartfelt Many Years! I am extrememly grateful to God for my wife and for the wonderful spirit she posesses. She ranks me in so many ways, that I haven't the room here to list them all. But, I will offer this much...Sophia, meaning wisdom is so befitting for indeed she maintains a Holy Wisdom which all too often sees right through me.
Susan was slower to accept the Orthodox faith than I, but in time she came to truly love that which she had once counted as too foreign. As we were enlisted into the catechumenate, it became neccesary for us to seek a patron saint and upon reading the story of Saint Sophia and her three daughters, Susan was moved to embrace this wonderful mother-martyr.
During the very early persecutions of the emperor Adrian, Sophia and her three daughters: Faith (12), Hope (10), and Love (9), were all horribly tortured because they all refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan goddess Artemis. Holy Sophia was forced to watch as they tormented her daughters:
from the OCA website:
Then the emperor gave orders to fiercely torture them: they burned at the holy virgins over an iron grating, they threw them into a red-hot oven and then into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord by His Unseen Power preserved them. The youngest one, Love, they tied to a wheel and beat at her with canes, until her body was covered all over with bloody welts. And undergoing unreported torments, the holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the faith. They subjected Saint Sophia to another and grievous torture: the mother was forced to look upon the suffering of her daughters. But she displayed adamant courage and during this whole while she urged the girls to endure the torments in the Name of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens with joy met their martyr's end. They were beheaded.
In order to intensify the inner suffering of Saint Sophia, the emperor decided to let her take up the bodies of her daughters. She placed their remains in coffins and reverently conveyed them on a wagon beyond the city and buried them on an high place. Saint Sophia sat there for three days not leaving the graves of her daughters, and finally she gave up her soul to the Lord. Believers buried her body there also.
It's no wonder American Christianity is so screwed up - we have too much luxury and too much free time. As I have said before, we have no idea what suffering for Christ is and yet I believe our religious selves are withering away. There is no need for persecution here....satan has given us a worse enemy: wealth and leisure time.
I believe it was Fr. Hopko who I heard once say in regards to the religious life of Russians (my lame paraphrase): "What the athiestic death camps of the communists failed to do, McDonalds and video games may yet accomplish."
And here I sit, lazily, amidst my luxuries.
O Holy Saint Sophia...please pray unto God for us!
Faith, Hope and Love, holy branches of noble Sophia,
by grace made Greek wisdom foolishness.
They have contested and won the Victory
and have been crowned by Christ the Master of all.
Elevation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross and Indiana Jones
The pagan emperor Hadrian (117-138AD) made it a point to "paganize" the Holy city of Jerusalem (recall that it was all but leveled in 70AD) by desecrating many sacred Christian sites via the building of pagan temples thereupon. Interestingly enough the emperor changed the name of the city to Helio-Hadrianopolis and forbade that it be called Jerusalem ever again. Well, things didn't quite go as he hoped. After the Edict of Milan (which contrary to popular belief did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire) granted legal recognition to all religions, St. Constantine sent his mother St. Helena to Jerusalem in order to destroy the pagan temples and to restore the sacred Christian sites - in particular those of Golgotha and the Holy Seplechure.
While there, the engaged in archeological digs in a quest for Christ's actual cross which it had been said had been buried near Golgotha in an attempt by rulers at the time to do away with any rememberance of the man Jesus. After some time of no success, St. Helena was directed to an elder Hebrew by the name of Jude who told her that the cross would be found under the Temple of Venus - in a scene which I imagine might not have been too different from something out of an Indiana Jones film. Indeed, while excavating the sight they found no less than three crosses, a plank with the well-known inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails. In order to determine which cross was that of Christ, they touched each of them to a dead man - one of them immediately brought the man back to life. Many other miracles followed which further verified the identity of the discovery and the Patriarch of Jerusalem Saint Makarios was asked to elevate the cross for all from afar to see, contemplate, and venerate. The Hebrew Elder Jude would be converted by witnessing the many miracles of the Cross (as were apparently many others) and he would accept the new Christian name Kuriakos. Later he would become Bishop of Jerusalem under the cruel reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) during which time he was martyred.
St. Helena returned to Constantinople with a portion of the cross and she died a year later in 327. St. Constantine ordered that a great Church be build in Jerusalem over the sites uncovered by his mother and in 10 years the Temple was completed. On Spetember 13th 335 the Church was consecrated and the following day the feast of the Elevation of the Holy and Life Creating Cross was established. We have kept the feast ever since.
Tomorrow, in my Parish, I will also venerate the Holy Cross in the same way that the people of Jerusalem did nearly 1700 years ago. A small fragment of that wood discovered by St. Helena resides in a small cross kept in our Temple. I am frequently asked why I believe such "fantastic tall tales" and I simply reply that I trust the Church and I believe in the miracles of relics in the same manner that I believe that St. Peter's shadow fell upon people and healed them, that St. Paul could pray over a cloth and send it out to people to touch and be healed, that a man could be raised to life by touching the bones of Elisha, that people could be healed by looking upon the statue of a snake on a pole, or that by simply touching the Ark on accident could get you struck down.
Again, it has to do with our Christianity being in our heads alone. It isn't and it shouldn't! Our religion is REAL and you can feel it with your hands.
Ya ever notice that in the Nicene Creed (and if you don't like that one, pick any other ancient Christian creed) there is absolutely NO mention of believing in the Bible? And yet it does mention believing in The Church. I think that is intriguing.
I'll not forget the Divine Liturgy I attended shortly after the September 11th attacks when a large candle was placed in front of the Iconostasis and Fr. James processed around it, censing it, and singing the Orthodox funeral hymnn: "Memory Eternal." I was not yet Orthodox at the time and I found myself abit overwhelmed by the symbolism and the mournful tone of the chant. Quite simply it was beautiful.
But, for the life of me, I could not figure out what was meant by the term: "Memory Eternal." Were we simply asking that we remember those we lost? No.
A very interesting article answers my question (and some) by examing the concept in the context of Dostoevsky's great novel The Brother's Karamazov. Check it out here.
Recall what the wise thief asked of Christ while they were being crucified together: "Remember me when you come in your Kingdom." In the article Donald Sheehan (himself a convert to Orthodoxy) quotes Fr. Pavel Florensky:
And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: "Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." In other words, "to be remembered" by the Lord is the same thing as "to be in Paradise." "To be in Paradise" is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. Without remembrance of God we die, but our remembrance of God is possible only through God's remembrance of us.
And so you will often hear the Orthodox say of those who have died: "May their memory be eternal." And on this profound day, the rememberance of the meaning of this prayer seems very appropriate.
The night before last I got myself involved in an interesting discussion with a friend of my mother-in-law. She had attended Joseph's baptism and because she had been staying with us in our home, had also seen our icons, prayer books, vigil lamp, candles, etc etc etc. I could sense that she, as a "non-denominational" protestant converted from Roman Catholicism, was uncomfortable with some aspects of what we Orthodox do. She tried her best to be polite and respectful and for that I honor her, but eventually she had to say something.
In the wee hours of Sunday/Monday, she spilled her theological guts. And, in a nutshell, what I discerned from her lengthy and somewhat incoherent (she had drank a little too much at Joseph's party) soliloquy was that much of what we do is not so much wrong as unneccesary. To her, all that really mattered was prasiing Jesus and loving Him with your heart. It doesn't matter what you wear to church, the bowing and crossing doesn't matter either, the only thing that counts is apparently what happens internally. She told me emphatically: "James, all you have to do is praise God and love Jesus with all your heart, you have to accept Him into your heart as Lord and savior." I could almost hear the can opener whinning to a halt.
Sometimes I think we have turned Christianity into SPAM. We reduce it to its bare "essentials", package it nicely, market it, and then try to convince people that it still has some nutritional value. Then, when people open the can and find it empty we tell them that all you have to do is believe in your heart that you are being "fed."
ANYWAY, the main thing I mean to communicate here is not the content of our conversation, but rather what it has since brought to my mind. We've all heard the phrase: "Don't judge a book by its cover" and this is sound advice...for a book. Books, you see, are inanimate and unable to express internal realities and attitudes with external actions. We look highly upon ourselves, as human beings, for our intellectual capabilities but we must NOT forget the wonderful means by which we are able to manifest the unseen. In the end, I think how we externalize more accurately reflects what is going on internally. Of course anyone can stand before an Icon of Christ, bow, cross themselves, and kiss it. Indeed anyone can dress up in their finest linens to attend church. Hypocrisy is not the issue, however.
Do you realize that America is one of the few countries in the world that has virtually no physical means of showing respect or honor? A friend of mine suggested handshakes, but I poo-poo'ed him on that one - I don't buy it. I wonder if our high regard for "equality" has lead us to the point that you pretty much have to be a dead American to receive any honor! There is something to this, indeed this is part of what makes Orthodoxy seem so foreign to those of us in America (perhaps even in all of the western world.) We physically manifest our prayers, our respect, and our honor. We cross ourselves, we bow, we prostrate, we kiss, we externalize. They are all tools to manifest and actualize the internal reality. Sometimes, and this is very important, these physical manifestations actually CREATE internal realities that were not there to begin with. I have experienced this first-hand.
I was always taught that to worship "in spirit and truth" meant that worship took place in the head (heart). But it's not true. We humans are unique in that we occupy both the physical and spiritual realm and neither is better than the other and neither is MORE our "home" than the other.
And so when she says that the things we Orthodox do are uneccesary, I disagree. In our mad rush to curb the potential for hypocrisy or to reduce our Christianity to its so-called essentials, we cut our own noses off to spite our faces.
Joseph was baptized and churched this morning. While most of you no doubt know what baptism is (even if you adhere to the erroneous belief that baptism is reserved for "adults" - hehehe sorry couldn't resist), many of you probably have no idea what being churched is all about. Whereas Baptism is indeed one sort of a very profound churching, there is also an formal rite by which the newly baptized child is brought into the Church. And it goes something like this...
Standing at the door to the Nave of the Church, Sue hands Joesph to Fr. James who lifts him into the air making the sign of the cross, while saying: "The servant of God Joseph is churched in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The newly baptized one enters into the church, and through it into New Life, into the Kingdom of God." They then enter into the Nave as the priests announces: "He entereth into Thy house, to worship toward Thy holy temple."
They then both proceed to the middle of the Nave where once again the child is lifted into the air and the sign of the cross is made: "The servant of God Joseph is churched in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." And then the priest proclaims: "In the midst of the church shall he hymn Thee."
And finally Fr. James, with Joseph in tow, approaches the opened Royal Doors of the Iconstasis. He once again lifts Joseph skyward, facing the altar and making the sign of the cross: ""The servant of God Joseph is churched in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." And then Fr. James knelt down and gently laid our little boy upn the stairs leading to the Altar between the great icons of Christ and the Theotokos - an offering to the Lord.
Fr. James then moves away, faces the congregation and recites the hymn of Simeon the God-receiver, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart". This is Susan's cue and she approaches her son laying on the steps. She pauses before the Iconostasis and offers three half prostrations before picking Joseph up and bringing him back to us. It was hard to hold back the tears. What a joy, what a responsibility...thank the Lord for the instituion of God-parenting.
Thy Nativity, O Mother of God,
has brought joy to all the world;
for from thee arose the Sun of Righteousness,
Christ our God,
Who, having dissolved the curse, has given His blessing,
and having abolished death, has granted us life eternal.
The icon above depicts the birth of the Theotokos to Joachim and Anna. Some of the hymnology of the Church which relates to the Theotokos are amazingly profound and never cease to wow me - especially the Christmas hymns. I think in my "old" days I never really thought through the intensity of the Incarnation and how it must have worked in the life of the one who bore Him.
Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness
and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death, O Immaculate One, by thy holy nativity.
And thy people, redeemed from the guilt of sin,
celebrate thy birth by crying to thee:
the barren woman gives birth to the Mother of God and the nurse of our life.
Yesterday in the lab I found myself on a quest for some old lung tissue samples that a doctor wanted tested for Cytomegalovirus. Such quests are often frustrating because we are in fact inundated with many samples in many freezers. But as I sorted through freezers and boxes therein I began to notice that many of the handwritten labels on these various boxes make note of the individual who was in some way related to the samples or reagents within.
In semi-academic lab like ours (we are in part affiliated with the University of Washington), we frequently see under-grad, grad, and post-doc folks come and go. And as I see their many names show up during my quest my mind is flooded with remembrance of the person - sometimes for good and sometimes for bad! None-the-less, my quest became a trip down memory lane because of the marks these people had left...some as long as 6 years ago.
It got me thinking about how this applies to life in general and how we all leave our "mark" with people and places we leave behind. Years later these people will at some point call us into remembrance and we ought to strive to make sure that such a memory brings warmth and a smile.
Abba Agathon said, "I have never gone to sleep with a grievance against
anyone, and, as far as I could, I have never let anyone go to sleep with a
grievance against me."
I have been listening to a taped lecture by Fr. Thomas Hopko entitled The Church and Salvation and I am learning quite abit - despite the fact that he quotes alot of Greek and my Greek from Bible College days is pretty stinking rusty. The issue of Hell is brought up by an audience member's question and Fr. Hopko offers some fascinating insights. He says without hesitating: "God punishes noone" AND "It is never chronologically too late for the sinner...it can however be ontologcally too late."
The Orthodox concept of Hell is quite different from the common western perspective. One of the reasons that St. Mark of Ephesus refused to affirm the council of Florence (a potential east/west unification council in the 15th century) was becasue he recognized that the Church had always denied a material hellfire. Hell is a state of being for the Orthodox, not a geographic place. AND, the point I wish to make in particular, it is NOT seperation from God (for such a thing is impossible) but rather being in the presence of God and not wanting to to be.
Fr. Hopko mentions 2 Thess. 1:9, which the NIV renders:
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
And the NASB:
These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Frankly, these translations are dead wrong. Fr. Hopko points out that there is nothing in the Greek to imply any sort of exclusion from God's presence...in fact just the opposite! Hold on to your seats folks, cuz the dreaded King James translation gets it right!
"These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."
A big difference and I think it should make us think about theological presuppositions that make their way into the Bible. The NIV also has trouble translating the namesake of my blog: paradosis. When the word is used in a negative light it is apparently tradition, but when it is used positively it is teaching. Hmmmmm
The Newest Issue of the Orthodox Women's magazine The Handmaiden contains one of the best articles I have read in quite sometime. Written by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green,it is about human relationships, marriage, sex, and how our societal and cultural morals of today are undermining us all. The article is actually an excerpt from her book Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion and I have found that excerpt online: HERE. Give it a read and let me know what you think. The more I read Khouria Frederica's writings, the more impressed I am. I wish I could write like her.
For my non-Orthodox friends: "Khouria" is one of the respectful titles we give to the wives of Priests.
To all my Orthodox friends out there.
I didn't realize that the January 1st New Year was actually the Roman pagan New Year and that the Early Church maintained the hebrew tradition of a late Summer/Fall New Year. Now, how's that for role reversals, because American protestants often accuse the Orthodox of incorporating pagan practices into their faith - but when do THEY celebrate the New Year? I suppose in the great scheme of things it doesn't matter a whole lot when one celebrates the New Year, but if we Orthodox followed the pagan tradition do you think we'd get grief for it?