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.
One day while digging up my backyard to create a garden for my wife, I ran into a stubborn spot in the dirt which contained a host of old-west artifacts including an irritating number of square nails and richly rusted barbed wire of strange design. Despite the hinderance they presented to me, I really enjoyed finding them and am sure that I saved a few of the nails - though I don't think I could specifically locate them at the moment (but then again there are many things I am unable to locate in this house!). What I find interesting is the attraction I felt toward these old rusted items and how they really caused me to sense and connect with the past - it was somewhat moving for me to hold the very same nail that some 19th century farmer used to build a fence around his livestock in what was then a bustling Northwest logging town. I don't think I am unusual in sensing this, am I?
Consider how we humans often connect to the past through physical items: we have gigantic museums built around the storing of artifacts, we collect tons and tons of memorabila from just about every historical age, and we identify and make sacred fields, forests, and buildings in or upon which significant history has taken place. Who can hold in their hand a minnie-ball taken from a Civil War battlefield and not feel at least a slight notion of awe? Who can walk amidst the artifiacts of the Titanic and not feel themselves transported back to that horrible night? Who can walk the streets of a ghost town and not sense that in some other reality it is still alive? Who can walk through a cemetary and not have a sense of reverence (perhaps even fear!) for the bodies that there lie?
(Yes I know what you are thinking, there are plenty of people who can ignore such things...but I ask you to consider their character in general and realize that this post - amongst many other things - are not intended for them.)
I can also recall a time in which my wife and I were seperated by a great distance and we left with one another a simple object with which to remind each other of our presence, despite our absence. And as I sit here and type I am reminded that there need not be a great seperating distance for us to need such connections: there is a ring on my finger! I think if I were to go on, and if you the reader of this post would attempt to, we could come up with a host of other examples in which we humans strangely attach seemingly immaterial (I use this term cautiously) and profound significance to physical objects and I am beginning to wonder if we do this because of a God-given and inspired inclination to such. Furthermore, I also am wondering if there is an ontological reality to the significance we place in physical items...is there a reality to the magic we seem to allow them to perform on us? Maybe?
A couple of Biblical items come to mind to perhaps shed further light on this concept.
The modern symbol we have for medicine (a snake wrapped around a staff) comes from the biblical story when God told Moses to make a bronze seprent and place it upon a high staff and that whoever was bitten by a poisonous snake could look at the serpent on the pole and they would not die. Strange story isn't it? I mean why didn't God simply command the people to just have faith in God and they would be healed? Why the need for this physical intermediary?
When Joshua led the people accross the Jordan river, God commanded that they collect stones from the river and save them as a memorial for the children of Israel forever.
I also recall the strange physical means by which Elisha brought a dead child back to life, and I also recall a protestant preacher explaining the scientifc/medical reasonings for Elisha's actions...hmmm. I'm not sure how this guy would explain Elisha's dead body touching and resurrecting a dead man.
There are hosts of examples of God commanding the use of physical items not only in worship practices, but also to literally do miracles in the Old Testament. Perhaps you say that such things ended in the ushering in of the New Testament? That such physical items were no longer needed. First, let me point out the Incarnation, which is THE most intense example of what I am talking about. But then we have other instances to worry about, such as: the Insititution of the Euchairst and Baptism, St. Paul sending out prayer napkins to heal people and St. Peter's shadow apparently falling on people and healing them. And I'll not even begin to demonstrate the patristic tradition in which we even see the bodies of martyrs being heavily revered and honored.
So, what's the point? In the very early Church, the Fathers fought long and hard against the Gnostics who held to a very complex and intricate religion which they claimed to be true apostolic christianity. However, the foundation of their belief as generally outlined in the teachings of Marcion was that the physical created world was evil and that only in the spiritual realm was to be found truth and holiness. Religion for them took place in the mind and in the spirit...for all else was sinful.
While I was a protestant, I walked a very close line to this sort of thinking...too close. I laughed at the catholics ( I didn't know about other groups that espoused any sort of sacramental theology) and their silly belief in the effectiveness of sacraments, I KNEW ( I was soooo smart) that to worship in spirit and truth meant that we needn't do things like trace crosses on ourselves or bow, I KNEW that the only path to salvation was to have something happen in my heart and spirit and that what my body did was for the most part irrelevant, and I had a general sense in which my spirit was at war with my flesh and that only death would free me from the burden of the flesh. I shudder to think how ignorant I was.
I believe we are a priestly people who bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual. And we look for the resurrection of the Dead and the life to come and not some spiritual utopia. In the meantime we continue to live a physical faith in which God meets with us through the Holy Mysteries. We use physical objects in our worship (that connect us to apparent unseen realities?), we honor the bodies of the departed saints and we often times see miracles associated with them, we touch and we feel in the very same way that God through the Incarnation reached out, touched, and restored the physical world. The Incarnation is the hinge to all of life, I think, and when we recognize our inclination to connect with physical items I think we testify to the Incarnation in some mysterious way that I am still working out.
Perhaps that strange connection I sense in handling those old nails is not something that takes place only in my mind. Maybe there is some means of literal connection in such physical items...somewhat like the sacraments? What I mean is that maybe more is going on than just my own private memorial? I don't know.
I am sure, however, that it is quite deliberate that the official title of the Christmas feast according to the Orthodox is thus:
The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the Eve of Nativity, admidst the candle-lit and incense smoke ridden Nave of the Church we were blessed to hear the OT readings of the prophets who proclaimed the coming Incarnation. And I do not mean just the standard prophecy such as: "behold a virgin shall...", rather nearly a dozen different passages were read - some of which I never knew to be messianic. It was a lovely time, even in the midst of my antsy kids. But it struck me as we all sat on the floor of the pewless Church listening to these ancient words, just how connected I felt to the past - as I Iooked around, really only the clothing we wore and perhaps some architectural aspects of the building betrayed the age in which we actually lived, otherwise it might as well have been the 3rd century. There is something in this unchangingness that I find wonderfully attractive - stable and reliable. I needn't worry much about how the service will be done and what might be said during its conducting...perhaps it is the former conservative Episcopalian in me reacting to what I've experienced in the past - I dunno.
The next morning, before the kids dove into their presents we went back to Church to receive the gift of Christ's Incarnation through the Eucharist. (By the way, Clifton's Dec 29th post is well worth reading). I think it is REALLY good for the kids - and ME - to put aside the presents and thereby recognize where the real value of Christmas lies.
Some words from the Liturgy that morning that still haunt me in a very good way...
How can a womb contain Him whom nothing can contain?
How can He remain in His Father's bosom, yet rest in His mother's arms?
It is His good pleasure to accomplish this!
Having no flesh, He purposely assumes it for our sake.
He who is become what He never was.
He shares our substance without forsaking His own nature.
Desiring to make us citizens of the world in high,
Christ, the only-begotten of the Father, is born on earth as a man.
The Creator shaped man with His own hands,
but when He saw us perishing eternally,
He bowed the heavens and came down to earth,
and clothed Himself completely in our nature,
truly incarnate from a pure and holy virgin,
for He has been glorified!
Heaven brought the first-fruits of the Gentiles as a gift for You;
A star summoned the wise men to the babe in the manger.
They were amazed to see neither throne nor scepter.
But only abject poverty.
What is more humble than a cave?
What is more lowly than swaddling clothes?
Yet the riches of Your divinity shone through all these.
O Lord, glory to You!
You have borne the Savior, O Virgin Theotokos.
You have overthrown Eve's ancient curse.
You became the mother of the Son of God.
The Father is well-pleased in Him.
You carry at your bosom God, the Word, made flesh.
We cannot fathom this mystery.
We can only believe, and give glory to you:
O Lord, beyond all explanation, glory to you!
Well as I thought, the "all christmas" radio station is back to its contemporary soft hits. News stories both on radio and TV are full of advice on recycling dead christmas trees, how best to return gifts, and how to beat the "christmas is over blues." Traffic is returning to normal and the pretty lights are beginning to come down. (sigh...)
Well, here's one way to beat the "christmas is over" blues: don't follow the mainstream commercialized - dare I say secularized - holiday seasonal calender. There is an alternative, an ancient one at that. Recall the proverb listed under the title above.
On the Evang-Ortho Forum, my brother Silouan is engaged in trying explain some aspects of Orthodox apophatic and mystical theology. He writes the following:
Mystikos literally means secret. It's used to speak of things that don't
happen in the "marketplace" of Christian discourse and fellowship but in the
"closet with the door shut." Makes me think of the line in the Revelation
about Christ giving us a stone on which is written a name only He and we
know; or the psalm that says "the Lord confides in those who fear Him."
Intimacy with God can be compared to the shared secrets and intimacies of a
marriage union (another use of the word "to know") but that's a metaphor
that needs to be used with care.
Some of our saints have become frustrated trying to wrap up in language
their encounter with the Godhead. It's a little like Lao-Tzu's comment that
"The Dao which can be described in words is not the true Dao." Aside from
divine Scripture-writing inspiration, language is not always a good tool to
communicate something that only one of the parties involved has experienced.
So we tend to learn the metaphors and do the praxis the saints give us and
assume that when we get where they are - Theoria - we'll also know what they
This icon speaks to me as I still find my heart (and less so my mind) drawn to the contemplation of the mystery of our Lord's Nativity and specifically the Mystery (Mystikos = secret) of the relationship between our Lord and His mother, the Theotokos. As a Protestant AND a single childless man I would dismiss this "relationship" as simply a neccesary aspect of getting Jesus born, raised, and finally at last to His ministry where the REAL work begins of teaching us how to live and then finally the cross wherein lies our salvation. But now that I am Orthodox and a father, I feel compelled to look deeper into these things. How so, you might ask?
As a father, I have seen the power of the relationship between a mother and child which I believe is particularly enunciated through the feeding of said child. In the peace and quiet of breastfeeding, there is a very powerful bond between the child and mother. Indeed, during this time a mother is literally giving a portion of her life to her child. Furthermore I cannot negate the special bond all of my children seem to have with my wife, an intense bond I sense and yet apparently do not share...I can only speculate as to the origin and reality of it. My heart aches at the thought of Mary and her Jesus, mother and Son - yet servant and her God. These words (some of which I know to exist in Orthodox hymnology, but I haven't the where-with-all to find them at the moment) come to mind:
How is it that I give life to the Life-Giver?
How is it that I nourish the nourisher of all the universe?
How is it that I hold in my hands, the One who holds the universe in His?
How is it that I swaddle in cloth the One whom swaddles all the earth with the heavens?
How is it that I witness the first breath of the One who breathed Life into Lifelessness?
On and on the Mystikos can go...there is no end to this marvel which has happened, is happening, and will happen. By witnessesing the relationship my wife has with her children and vice versa, I am forced to understand that Mary cannot just ignore the relationship with the One who is eternally her Son and Savior. I can no more explain all of this than I can explain the person of Christ being FULLY human and FULLY Divine...it is Mystikos! And I am also reminded of a brief and yet most lovely passage from the words of Saint Luke:
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
And I truly truly believe that these things she kept she handed down to the Living Tradition of the Church...and here is where my being Orthodox has compelled me to also ponder "these things" in my heart. Our Liturgy, our Calender, our Hymnns, and indeed all the life of the Church preserves and makes alive "these things" which I in the past ignorantly deemed irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth....thanks be to God!
May we all be inundated with the power of the Christmas Mystery, that Christ - our God - is truly born of a Virign Mother thus taking upon Himself human nature and thereby restoring us!
What shall we offer you, O Christ?
For our sake, you appeared on Earth as man.
Every creature made by you offers you thanks:
The Angels offer a hymn;
The Heavens, a Star;
The Wise Men, Gifts;
The Shepherds, their wonder;
The Earth, its cave;
The Wilderness, a manger,
and we offer you a virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Maker of All!
Eden offers a cave.
To those in darkness, a star reveals Christ, the Sun!
Wise Men are enlightened by faith, and worship with gifts.
Shepherds behold the wonder, and the Angels sing:
"Glory to God in the Highest!"
Sing O Jerusalem!
Make Merry, All who love Zion!
Today, Adam's ancient Bonds are broken;
Paradise is opened to us;
the serpent is cast down.
Long ago, our first Mother was deceived by him.
Now he sees a woman become the mother of the creator.
O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Through Eve, woman became the tool of sin,
bringing death to all flesh,
But through Mary, she becomes the first fruits of salvation for all the world,
for God, the all-perfect, is born of her.
By His birth, He seals her virginity.
He is bound in swaddling clothes to loose the bonds of sin!
Through His birth, the pains of Eve are healed.
Let all creation sing and dance for joy,
For Christ has come to restore and save our souls.
As has become my custom is recent years, I am sitting here alone after everyone has gone to bed and find myself contemplating life - and more specifically the Incarnation, my own unworthiness, and how I am only now beginning to "get it." The full weight of Christmas began to be laid upon me tonight - despite being at the rather lengthy Vesperal-Divine Liturgy with my four rambuncious kids. The Incarnation is not simply a means of getting a sinless body to the cross...(which I must admit is what I believed) NO NO NO...it is salvific in and of itself! Furthermore, our salvation is NOT obtained via the sacrificial satisfaction of an angry, albeit righteously so, God - but alas that is another post.
The Incarnation is an amazing thing and not just in the sense that God is teaching us a lesson in humility - more than that, it is the most profound mystery of all of God's mysteries. It is the beginning of our restoration. And as I did last year I find myself staring at our Nativity Icon and trying to grasp hold of the wonder of beholding Mary feeding a newborn infant - all the while knowing that this helpless babbling baby was in fact almighty God - maker of heaven and earth - suckling her breast! My goodness can we imagine this?
I ask for the Theotokos to pray unto her son and our God that He might stretch forth His hand and touch our hearts with just a minute taste of the wonder she must have felt that night in the cave...I don't think I could handle much more than that. I just want to contemplate this mystery and let it break me.
On my knees with my forehead smack against the hardwood...it's all I can think to do in just beginning to really "get" what Christmas is all about. O wonder!
It is now well after Midnight and I need to get to bed. When I awake and after literally ingesting Christmas into myself through the Euchairst, the fast will have ended...and then: Let the Feast begin!
Troparion of the Forefeast Make ready, Bethlelem, Eden has been opened to all
Prepare Ephratha, for the Tree of Life has blossomed in the cave from the Virgin.
Her womb was a spiritual paradise whence came the Divine Plant.
If we eat it we shall live and not die like Adam.
Christ is born to raise up the image that of old had fallen.
Kontakion of the Forefeast He Who holds the earth in His hands
is seen in Bethlehem wrapped in swaddling bands.
We sing before the feast to her who bore Him.
She rejoices as a Mother as she nurses the Son of God.
Kontakion of the Forefeast Today the Virgin is coming to the cave
to give birth to the eternal Word.
Rejoice at the message, O earth;
with the Angels and Shepherds give glory
to Him Who was willing to be seen as a Child
while remaining God throughout all ages.
Kontakion Sunday before Nativity O Bethlehem, rejoice! Make ready, Ephratha!
The ewe is hastening to give birth to the Great Shepherd Whom she carries in her womb.
The Godbearing Fathers rejoice at seeing Him,
and the Shepherds praise the Virgin who suckles Him.
Today at our Parish we welcomed a new convert home through the sacrament of Chrismation, and it was a wonderful time especially for about last year's batch of about 20 of us, who I am sure to some extent relived our entrance into the Church. I love witnessing Chrismations because it represents for many people the culmination of many many years of seeking, exploring,and wrestling. As the newly illumined Macrina's voice cracked this morning as she made her affirmations I could surely relate...I really believed that I was at last embracing the fullness of the Faith...still do.
Also, a very BIG "Many Years!" and "Welcome Home" also to the Newly Illumined Jeremy and his soon to be wife Kate. I look forward to seeing a post on what must have been a most wonderful day for you both...though perhaps not quite as wonderful as next week's event! How exciting!
St. Ignatios tells us about Church and Community...in 107AD...
...as excerpted from The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatius by Fr.John S. Romanides
The Church or the Community.
Since for Ignatius the Eucharist is the formative and manifest center of
corporate love unto immortality, and at the same time the weapon which
insures the continuous defeat of the devil, it is quite clear that the
corporate liturgy is the very pivotal point of faith in action, the
participation of which is the only sure sign of continuous communion with God
and neighbor unto salvation. This unity of selfless love in Christ with each
other and the saints is an end in itself, not a means to another end. The
existence of any other utilitarian and eudaimonistic motive other than
unconditional selfless love for God and neighbor in Christ simply means
slavery to the powers of Satan. "... love nothing except God." (Ign. Eph. 9,
11; Mag. 1.)
In the Eucharistic life of selfless love is thus understood as an end in
itself and the only condition for continual membership in the Church, it
follows that the relationship of one community to another cannot be one of
inferiority or superiority. Nor can one community be considered a part to
another community because the fullness of Christ is to be found in the
Eucharist which itself is the highest and only possible center and
consummation of the life of unity and love. " ...whether Jesus Christ is,
there is the Catholic Church." (Ign. Smyr. 8.)  Besides, the devil is
not destroyed by an abstract idea of unity and love. He can be defeated only
locally by the unity of faith and love of real people living together their
life in Christ. An abstract federation of communities whereby each body is a
member of a more general body reduces the Eucharist to a secondary position
and makes possible the heretical idea that there is a membership in the body
of Christ higher and more profound than the corporate life of local love for
real people and thus the whole meaning of the incarnation of God and the
destruction of the Satan in a certain place and at a certain time in history
is destroyed. Each individual becomes a member of the body of Christ
spiritually and physically at a special time and in a certain place in the
presence of those to whom he is about to be joined.  Those who share in
one bread are one body. (I Cor. 10:17.) This sharing in one bread cannot
happen in general, but only locally. There, are, however, many liturgical
centers each breaking one bread, but together totalling many breads.
Nevertheless there are not many bodies of Christ, but one. Therefore each
community having the fullness of Eucharistic life is related to other
communities not by a common participation in something greater than the local
life in the Eucharist, but by an identity of existence in Christ.
"...wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church." (Ign. Smyr. 8.) 
A rather interesting article can be found HERE, which is based on research which purports to show that the Christian celebration of December 25th as Christ's birthday does not neccesarily find its origin in the "conversion" of a pagan festival, but instead may more truthfully reflect ancient Judaic-Christian thought in regards to time. A thinking, which I believe the Orthodox Church has preserved in the use of her living Liturgical Calender.
Warning, the news reporter who wrote this article makes a huge factual error - albeit a very very common one. Let me, once again say very loudly: CONSTANTINE DID NOT MAKE CHRISTIANITY THE OFFICIAL RELIGION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE! (sigh)
When I first started looking for the New Testament Church (and by that I do not mean the one that looked the most like it), I read a great deal of early church history books from just about every perspective you could imagine - except from the perspective of the Eastern Church...not one of the many early church history texts I read (initially) were written by an Orthodox Christian. Pelikan doesn't count because he wasn't Orthodox at the time he wrote his history of Christian doctrine series.
Anyway, sometime afterwards I decided I needed to read some of the extra-New Testament works of some of the people I had been reading about in all these different history books. I imagined that I might find a few works that dated to maybe the early third century, and so you can fathom my pleasant suprise to find out how wrong I was. Enter St. Ignatios.
Today is the feastday of Saint Ignatios of Antioch - aka Theophorus, the God-Bearer. St. Ignatios was the bishop of Antioch beginning in about 65AD and was martyred around 107AD and you can no doubt imagine how frightening this fact is to someone who didn't really "believe" in bishops per se. Well, the situation becomes even more frightening, for not only do we have record of a bishop existing as a hierarchial head of a citywide church well before much of the New Testament was written, we also have seven extant letters from this very early bishop and saint. Finding out that there were Christian writings that existed as early as the 1st century really floored me...I had no idea. Then I made the mistake of reading them.
All my Christian life I'd believed that church hierarchy, sacraments, and frankly anything decidedly un-protestant evolved in the faith after Constantine the Great had "compromised Christianity." But here I was reading St. Ignatios who wrote about a Christianity that was utterly foreign to me and that reeked of all the pagan things that I believed infiltrated the true faith - and this being related to me from just this side of the first century. How could this man who knew the Apostles have gotten so off track?!?!?! Well, as bad luck (divine providence) would have it, I started reading other writers from very early dates and it all went downhill from there. St. Irenaios would ultimately seal my fate and I eventually came to undertsand that I ought not to be judging these early Christian leaders...on the contrary, THEY should be judging ME and MY protestantism!
St. Ignatios was martyred in Rome around the time of 107AD. As he was being led to Rome from his home in Antioch he wrote a series of letters to a variety of churches throughout Asia Minor. All of these letters (as well as numerous other early works) can be found in Silouan's Library.
Holy Saint Ignatios of Antioch, whom our Lord Himself lifted up onto His lap, please Pray unto God for us!
Oh yes, every Easter and Christmas we start seeing such programs and articles being circulated with all of them purporting to reveal the REAL Jesus. Usually what is revealed to us from all the quoted and interviewed “scholars” coincidently falls right in line with the maggot infested fecal matter (Am I wearing my feelings on my sleave here?) being shoveled by the folks from the Jesus Seminar. Basically what we have here is simply a complete capitulation to “science” and "reason" as well as modern self-apologetic thinking (you know: No one is special, I sin and therefore everyone else sins…even Jesus….ahhhhhhhh I feel better now). Consequently: no virgin birth, no resurrection, no miracles, and the default position on any tradition (including SCRIPTURE - take heed all) is skepticism or just flat out denial. And so thus they create Jesus in their own image. Well, okay, they can have him.
What I’m more interested in, is how us normal Christian folks (outside the Jesus Seminar) tend to create Jesus in certain images that appeal to us. Isn’t it interesting that so many people who claim to have a “personal” relationship with Him each somehow see Him differently?
Here are a few of the Jesus’ I’ve come across:
The Revolutionary Radical Anti-Authoritarian Jesus. My Jesus was always kicking the verbal-shit out of those self-righteous and pompous religious leaders. I love that my Jesus made it so clear that we don’t need authoritative leaders. And by example He showed us not to bow to their traditions
Jesus said: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”
"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that "by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Here is Jesus’ example in regards to Jewish tradition: he participated in and/or supported MANY Judaic traditions such as circumcision (Luke 2:21, John 7:21-23), customarily attending synagogue (Luke 4:16), pilgrimages to the Temple (Luke 2:41 and many others), allowing Himself to be called Rabbi by His disciples and others (John 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 20:16) , encouraging people to keep the Law (Mat. 19:17), encouraging a young man He healed to go to a priest and make an offering according to the Law (Mat. 8:4), wearing the traditional Jewish tzitzit (tassels) (Luke 8:43, Mat. 14:36), He observed numerous traditional Jewish holidays including Passover, Succoth, Hanukah, and probably Rosh Hashanah (John 2:13; 7:2,10; 7:14; 5:1)
The Healer and Forgiver Jesus My Jesus is such a cool guy…always full of forgiveness and love. He doesn’t judge me, He loves me and forgives me. I’ve no need to worry, no need to work, no need to struggle…I am redeemed just like the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus saved and in doing rebuked the self-righteous crowd.
Jesus’ often forgotten last words to the woman “Go and sin no more.”
The Jeans and T-shirt Jesus who just “related” to people and would likely hang out at Starbuck’s if Starbuck’s weren’t an evil corporation bent on taking advantage of the poor. My Jesus was a contemporary guy who just kinda hung out with people and related to all people on their level – wherever they were. He spoke simply and plainly and was a man for all people
Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."
These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
I’ve often wondered why He doesn’t call them back to say: “Dude, I was just speaking metaphorically… what I mean is…”
Everyone has his or her own little REAL Jesus, all based on what is plainly seen in Scripture…right? I think I can honestly say that I do NOT have a so-called “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ…I don’t even know what that means anymore…can someone send me a tract or something?
I have just this moment received an email from my internet acquaintance Ephrem who has recently settled into his new home over at LiveJournal, you should check him out HERE. Amongst many other things, he offers some great poetry - in my ever so humble opinion. Thanks Ephrem!
Well my good "cyber"-friend Huw-Rapheal once again posted another gem back on friday - which I have only now just read. My brother is indeed a "Super" blogger (or should I say live-journaler?) and it's all I can do to keep current with him! Anyway, enough lauding of Huw-Rapheal (hehehe) - for the time being.
His post reminds me of when I was in the Assemblies of God (ooooo....scary times, well okay...at least sometimes) and I can recall massive politicization and a general call for us kids (kids?) to "Take a Stand for Jesus!" which generally meant - or at least was interpretted by most us - to be exceedingly vocal and active in proclaiming Christ. To not be a wimp for Jesus but to take advantage of our LEGAL rights to have bible studies, prayer meetings and even hand out tracts at school! Heck, some of us (not so much me...really...honestly) even liked the The Power Team! Take a look at that pic on the front page of that former link - ahhh yes the perfect example of Christian asceticism and humility. Oh dear...cynicism is rising, I'd better move on.
I can even remember some sermons that attempted to dispell the "myth" of a wimpy Jesus, though thankfully I cannot recall their overall point...something along the lines that Robert Powell shouldn't have played Jesus of Nazareth, rather Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been more appropriate. Well Arnold is a good Republican, which of course Christ Himself would have been. Oh no...more cynicism...I'm telling you it sneeks up on me!
Anyhow...go and read what Huw-Rapheal wrote, for he has put into beautiful words what my cynicism could not resist capitalizing on. Persecution is coming, I really believe it, and then we shall see who will "Stand up for Jesus!" I am willing to bet that it will be the quiet, humble, frail, and poor persons of the world who have no idea how to break bats in half for Jesus. As for me...well I am neither...so off I go to Morning Prayers with the Jesus Prayer readily at hand...
A local radio station makes it a habit of playing nothing but Christmas songs throughout the month of December - presumably AND most unfortunately until December 26th I'd wager. But I suppose I have already done enough complaining about our culture's means of celebrating the "holidays", and as a wise friend recently wrote me (excuse the paraphrase): I'd like to think I am more than the sum total of my gripes. (Thank you for that, by the way, if you are reading this...I still find that very applicable to my life!)
Anyway...the popular song by Harry Belafonte Mary's Boy Child is frequently recycled throughout the day (at least enough for me to catch it now and again - despite the infrequency with which I listen) and there is one line in the chorus which reminded me alot of Orthodox hymnology:
And man shall live for evermore, because of Christmas day
Simple enough, I know, but at the same time it really speaks to the wholistic nature of our salvation. In the past, if you were to ask me what comes to mind when I thought about how God saved us I would not have hesitated to say: The Cross. I'm not sure that I would have thought of the Incarnation at all...or at most seen it as a simple means to an end. I mean, He had to become man to die for us, right?
Perhaps I was ignorant or just taught wrong, but I feel as though I am just now beginning (beginning mind you!) to really have an understanding of the vastness of our salvation, and while it has certain crescendos (such as Christmas) which are celebrated throughout the Liturgical year, the entire history of the world has been and is the playing field in which our salvation is continually being accomplished. The final crescendo, I suppose, will be the Second Coming. In a way, I think perhaps this is part of the reason we Orthodox hesitate to answer the question: Are we saved? It ain't over yet.
Harry Belafonte's song is true...Christ assuming our human nature is one of the great crescendos in our salvation story. Yes, Harry, we shall live forevermore because of Christmas day, and because of the Annunciation, and because of the Conception of the Theotokos, and because of the prayers of Joachim and Anna, and on and on it goes - a never ending spiral of interactions between God and humankind which has made possible our restoration and healing.
A contributor to a forum I belong to linked us to an article entitled Emerging Church makes 'Contemporary' Obsolete which basically revolves around Robert Webber and his examination of what is popularly coined as post-modern christianity. I have a number of friends - for whom I have a great deal of respect - who count themselves as a part of this movement (typically involving house churches) and I noticed that some of them have made mention of some of Webber's more recent works. Why I find this interesting is because Robert Webber played a sugnificant role in leading ME to the Episcopal Church years ago with a book called Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church. In this work, Webber really reverberated with me feelings at the time which basically can be surmised by saying that I yearned for majesty and mystery in my Christianity - and more specifically in my worship. Based on this article and what I have heard from my friends this is also true amongst those in the post-mod movement.
I wonder if Webber is an Episcopalian still?
Anyway...as I read this article and some of Webber's quotes, it all still rings as being very familiar to me and further reminds me of why I am Orthodox today. While I too, like the post-mod's, feel a real affinity for ancient forms of worship - I went a step further (right or wrong as opinions vary) and considered their associated theology and ultimately became apart of the ancient Church. Why? Well, frankly, I did not want to be another branch in christendom...I did not want to be the newest and latest schism - no matter how inclusive I felt I could be. I felt within me a need to figuratively (and in some sense - literally) travel back in time. I wanted to embrace the totality of the Faith which delivered and maintained all these cool Traditions I was learning about and loving, I wanted to be apart of that LIFE that continues to be lived there: where community is made real through the participation in the Holy Mysteries as it had been from the beginning. Most every Sunday morning as I apporoach the Temple and I smell the incense and hear the chanting, in a very real sense the doors represent to me a portal to the past...no, let me correct that...not the past, but rather to eternity.
Today is the feastday for Saint Herman of Alaska, who was the first person to bring Orthodoxy to America back in 1794 when he came to Alaska to illumine the Aluets. Many stories of his life full of profound wisdom and extreme acseticism abound and a few of them may be found here.
From a letter by Saint Herman (taken from previous link)
Without exalting myself to the rank of teacher, nonetheless, fulfilling my duty and obligation as an obedient servant for the benefit of my neighbor, I will speak my mind, founded on the commandments of Holy Scripture, to those who thirst and seek for their eternal heavenly homeland.
A true Christian is made by faith and love of Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the word of the Savior Himself. He said: I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety and nine just ones. Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet, He said to the Pharisee Simon: to one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be demanded. From these judgements a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and not in the least accept the torment of despair. Here one needs the shield of faith.
Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the word of the Apostle, our homeland is in heaven; and about the warrior he says: we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph.6: 12).
The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland; love of them and habit clothe our soul as if in a hideous garment. This is called by the Apostles the outward man. We, traveling on the journey of this life and calling on God to help us, ought to be divesting ourselves of this hideous garment and clothing ourselves in new desires, in a new love of the age to come, and thereby to receive knowledge of how near or how far we are from our heavenly homeland. But it is not possible to do this quickly; rather one must follow the example of sick people, who, wishing the desired health, do not leave off seeking means to cure themselves.
Troparion O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ's holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds
Guides those who follow the Orthodox way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing his holy Resurrection.
Troparion O joyful north star of the Church of Christ,
Guiding all men to the Heavenly Kingdom;
Teacher and apostle of the true faith;
Intercessor and defender of the oppressed.
Adornment of the Orthodox Church in America,
Blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
Pray to our Lord Jesus Christ
For the salvation of our souls!
Kontakion The eternal light of Christ our Savior,
Guided you, O blessed father Herman,
On your evangelical journey to America,
Proclaiming the Gospel of peace.
Now you stand before the throne of Glory;
Intercede for your land and its people
Peace for the world and salvation for our souls!
Holy Father Herman, please pray unto God for us new converts in America!
More excerpts from a conversation with a beloved Atheist (Agnostic)
>This principle (always seeking truth)
>certainly doesn't justify atheism, and I do not profess to know the
>truth about the existence of god. I am not an atheist. Science
>cannot prove that god does not exist, therefore, as a good
>scientist, I have to keep that possibility open.
Well, yes it is impossible to prove a negative. I think my concern is: what happens to the "beautiful" things of life when they are subjected to a sort of totalitarian "science." As we have discussed before, I think our western “enlightenment” notion of dissecting and categorizing in the name of seeking “truth” can in fact destroy the beauty (and might beauty be where real truth is found?). Like dissecting (destroying) a flower into it various biological parts in order to determine the true “nature” of the flower – when in fact its true nature is found in the brilliance of its color and gentleness of structure. Can we not have both, you might ask? Of course…it is a matter of emphasis and what conclusions we draw and what both of these mean to our personal paradigms.
Science says nothing of value (in my humble opinion) about beauty (or love – or indeed many things!). These things, I believe, transcend science and any attempts to subject them to science will doom their true nature to at least misinterpretation and at worst destruction. Again, science has boundaries – I believe. It is not the sole mechanism by which truth can or ought to be discerned.
>However, I think
>that (1) the lack of supporting evidence and (2) the fact that its
>so attractive an idea (i.e. we should be especially suspicious of
>our objectivity), leads me to strongly doubt its authenticity.
I used to be big on Christian apologetics and I could go on and on about “evidence” that has led me in the direction of believing. But, I believe God transcends science in the same exact sense that love and beauty do. I think we miss Him if we try and analyze Him like a frog on a dissection table. (Recall what I said earlier about coming to know the nature of God….once you think you have it nailed down, you’ve lost it.) I think there is something in us all that calls us to a lofty plain of being which is above science, above logic, yes even above our emotions – an internal realm in which we perceive the true nature of beauty, love, and even a small taste of the divine. It is here that we meet with God and I believe that this is God’s intent…for us to break out of the Matrix and see reality, just as Christ taught: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
As an Atheist, I think I often experienced this realm in times when something struck me as deeply profound, moving, or beautiful…but I could not explain such things or reconcile them to my scientific world view which seemingly dismissed them as being much less than what I actually perceived them to be: something of phenomenal proportions, something of the utmost importance, and yes even something that I would call divine.
As he said he would, my good friend and fellow Lost Dogger, Basil has erupted onto the blogging scene as Fly in the Holy Oil. Basil happens to be the first Orthodox layperson I ever met, and also happens to be a fellow alumni of the dreaded Northwest College of the Assemblies of God (no link offered quite on purpose.) I look forward to reading what this exceptionally creative guy will write about as his blog continues to get up to speed. Fasten your seatbelts, I think.
So, would the fly be considered Holy after soaking in the oil Basil? If it were a spider we could call it an arachnamandrite? (Oh that's bad, real bad.)
The Sound of Silence....more wisdom from Unseen Warfare
The greatest neccesity of all is to control and curb our tongue. The mover of the tongue is the heart: what fills the heart is poured out through the tongue. And conversely, when feeling is poured out of the heart by the tongue, it becomes strengthened and firmly rooted in the heart...Good feelings are silent. The feelings which seek expression in words are mostly egotistical, since they seek to express what flatters our self-love and can show us, as we imagine, in the best light...Silence is a great power in our unseen warfare and a sure hope of gaining victory. Silence is much beloved of him, who does not rely on himself but trusts in God alone. It is the guardian of holy prayer and a miraculous helper in the practice of virtues; it is also a sign of spiritual wisdom.
This really struck home this morning. Read again this part:
...when feeling is poured out of the heart by the tongue, it becomes strengthened and firmly rooted in the heart...
I cannot possibly agree with this more. So often in my life as I get frustrated (for example with the kids), if I verbalize that frustration it almost always seems to set the stage for the rest of the "frustration show" to follow. The wheels are in motion and there is no stopping the train of anger and frustration as it's speed and mass continually increases with each of the ugly words that foam from my lips like thick bellowing black clouds of smoke and soot. How sweet the sound of silence can be.
On the positive side, this really says something about what I used to discredit as "canned prayers", no? That in allowing these wise and profound words to flow from our lips while implanting even a minute quantity of the associated feeling of the prayer in our hearts, we can allow the prayer to take root in our hearts and it can begin to change us in the exact same way that uttering our passions inspires more of the same.
Conception of the Theotokos by Righteous Anna and musings about Incarnational Theology
When we converted my oldest daughter was offered the choice of chosing a patron saint and she decided quite easily that she really liked St. Anna, the mother of the Theotokos (hence: the mother of the mother of God...I love the sound of that). St. Anna is remembered today on the feast of the conception of the Theotokos in which Sts. Anna and Joachim's righteous prayers (which we must always remember God says "availeth much.") asking God to end their barreness were at last answered. Interesting that the Icon above, which represents the conception, shows the couple embracing atop their bed - I have heard that some married Orthodox couples keep a copy of this icon in their bedroom.
In nearly every Orthodox service you will hear Sts. Joachim and Anna remembered, and frequently they are referred to as the "Ancestors of God." Wow! Think about that for a moment...no doubt some will find it as offensive as referring to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (God-bearer...or simply Mother of God), but it is in truth a powerful, faith-filled, and dare I say neccesary proclamation of the reality of the Incarnation of God and His taking our WHOLE nature, without subtracting from His own. Herein is seen (at some point) the errors of gnostics and those who reject(ed) any of the seven ecumenical councils. I am learning more and more how important the Incarnation is, and how it plays into every nook and cranny of Christian theology: from the real presence of the Eucharist to the understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ. It's deep, very deep...but I'm treading water thus far - barely. Clifton in his writings I mentioned earlier has some very candid insights into what he perceives to be some underlying gnostic tendencies in his old theology, and I can certainly attest to this. Even the general protestant understanding of the "dichotomy" between faith and works is birthed by it...I believe.
You'll notice in Orthodox theology that there is no mention of an "immaculate" conception of Mary. Combining the Orthodox understanding of original sin and the Incarnation, we find ourselves at odds with the Roman Catholic Dogma on the Immaculate conception and understand instead that the Theotokos not only did not need to be protected from original sin, but HAD to pass the fallen nature of us all on to her Son so that He could fully redeem us by overcoming it all.
Righteous Anna, the ancestor of God, please pray unto God for us.
Troparion of St Anna Today the bonds of barrenness are loosed;
for God listened to Joachim and Anna.
He promised them - although it was beyond hope -
that they should bear a divine child.
From this child was born incarnate the Infinite God,
Who told the Angel to cry to her:
Rejoice, full of grace; the Lord is with thee.
Kontakion of St Anna Today creation celebrates Anna's conception which was effected by God.
For she conceived the Maiden who conceived the Word
Who is beyond all words.
Once again, this Christmas, the Ovation Channel will be showing the program entitled Holy Russia Celebrates the Festival of Christmas on December 24th and 25th. It's a sort of documentary - with NO commentary - on how the Orthodox celebrate Christmas and Theophany in Russia. It has a great deal of liturgy and music from a variety of Churches and monasteries...put simply it is a beautiful program and very much worth watching. I accidentily saw it a couple of years ago and negelected to tape it and have ever since regretted not doing so, as I have been unable to find a distributor of the video here in the USA. And since I cannot afford the cost of premium digital cable I will miss it again this year. However, I appeal to my readers out there: anyone have the Ovation Channel in their Cable package who'd be willing to tape it for me? I'd certainly pick up the costs of the tape and shipping. E-mail me to let me know.
Also, the Greek Archdiocese will be televising a special about the Orthodox feast of Theophany (aka Epiphany) on a variety of NBC affiliates, you can check listings HERE. From what I understand it will also be shown on the Hallmark Channel on Jan 5th at 6:00am EST and PST, and coincidentally enough, my poor-man's $10.00 a month cable package offers me the Hallmark channel!
Today is my son's nameday and the feastday of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Bishop of Myra. Indeed a very popular and well known saint who has in recent years (decades...perhaps a centuries?) been secularized and fattened up into Santa Claus. Unfortuantely, Santa, though being a jolly fellow, is not the same ascetic who is also reported to have slapped (or punched - depending on translation) Arius for his offense against the Lord, at the council of Nicea. However, he landed in some hot water for doing so, so I would not advise doing the same to the JW's (modern Arians) on your doorstep.
But this little event aside, St. Nicholas is very well known for his love of and generosity toward the poor. The most well known story involves a poor man whose daughters were likely doomed to a life of prostitution for lack of dowery money and facing starvation. On three seperate nights St. Nicholas secretly left bags of gold for each of the man's daughters so that they would have food and a dowry - which if you think about it, is a bit different than little johnny getting a Playstation from Santa, but this is certainly where the "santa" tradition originates.
Much more is available to read about this great Saint's life, and one can begin HERE if they should so wish.
Troparion You appeared to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence.
Because of your lowliness, heaven was opened to you,
Because of your poverty, riches were granted to you.
O holy bishop Nicholas, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.
Another journey toward the New Testament Church...
I met (in the online sense of the word) Clifton Healy quite a while ago via the Orthodox-Convert Yahoo Group (which, by the way, now boasts 700 members!). He was, and is, on a quest for the New Testament Church and has - luckily for us all - started his own weblog entitled This is Life: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis. A very cool sounding name, albeit one that I am not sure I fully understand...but then again I am not pursuing a doctorate in Philosophy!
Anyway, Clifton has really documented his journey in great detail on his webpage and you can read about his most recent Journey to Antioch.
Furthermore you can read what Clifton says he has learned during the course of his journey so far HERE. I have just begun reading through these series of essays and they are excellent - highly worth your time and certain to raise alot of important questions.
Sometimes my lab being located at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance can make for some interesting experiences. The SCCA has a ministerial program to assist patients with their spiritual needs. This morning, as I arrived, I noticed that a display had been set up to show the varied religious holidays taking place this time of year. A hand-out was provided which gave an extensive listing of churches and their worship services throughout the Seattle area - a huge section devoted to Christian Churches, a smaller one for Jewish, and a scattering of others such as buddhist. I skimmed through it to see what listings may occur under "Eastern Orthodox."
I looked and looked and looked to no avail...no Orthodox Churches were listed under the heading "Christian." I couldn't believe it, but just as I began to be flabergasted I found the listing for two Orthodox churches. Under the heading of "Additional Faith Communities" is to be found the Orthodox, the Unitarians, and the Baha'i!!!
The Mormons are labelled by this document as "Christian" but we Eastern Orthodox are apparently not? Hmmmm....
The Epsicopalians are in with the "Christian" and we Eastern Orthodox are in with the Unitarians? Hmmm.....
Ahh such is the life...always interesting to see what people make of us Orthodox. My email to the "clergy" here at the SCCA shall be departing shortly.
Orthodox Community and the influence of American Culture
I really enjoyed what Karl had to say here in regards to Orthodox community. I think he and his father-in-law have hit the nail on the proverbial head in the sense that American culture has too much influenced orthopraxis here. Consider, what role the world's religions have played in developing their respective neighboring cultures (and I suppose vice versa in many cases)? We here in the US are in the presence of a culture predominantly formed by a relatively narrow variety of protestant theologies and values - and we have grown from this into a world in which it is ill-advised to talk to our neighbors about little more than lawn care because of our ever-present quest for "celebrating diversity." (read: ignoring differences and contradictory opinions for a photo-op.)
But Orthodoxy is a religion which until relatively recent times existed in its own cradle-culture sharing the same situation that we have seen here where religion shapes its culture and I think vice-versa - though to what extent is not entirely clear since we see Orthodoxy existing for quite a long time in a variety of cultures and still maintaining a great deal of theological and liturgical continuity. I suppose those differences which do exist can be attributed to culture. I'm on a tangent here...."stay on target."
We Orthodox converts frequently find ourselves in conflict with our American culture, which as I said developed with absolutely no influence from the Church of the East. A case and point is Thanksgiving Day falling in the midst of a period of religious fasting for the Orthodox. Or a relative of mine, who isn't even a christian, having a hard time understanding why I spent so much time at my Parish instead of with them when Holy Week and Pascha happened to coincide with western Easter. Sometimes it is a struggle to balance things - thank God we calculate Pascha differently (a gift given by God in anticipation of us western converts? hehehe)
And it seems - as I read and experience more - that there really is a different understanding of community as perceived through Orthodox theology and I am still trying to figure it all out. I wonder if a role may be found in the lack of diversity in traditionally Orthodox countries where one would expect to see everyone's neighbors regularly at Matins, Vespers, and Liturgy. During fasts and feasts everyone you met on the streets would likely be participating and it would not be viewed as strange to greet the cashier at the local market during Christmas with: "Christ is Born!" and they would respond :"Glorify Him!" (or some variation thereof). And that pilgrimiges to Monateries or the shrines of wonder-working relics would be encouraged, perceived as admirable and not at all crazy.
The Faith was/is more than a personal affair...it was/is a community affair and it encompassed and indeed should encompass daily life.
My wife and I are grieved over the fact that we live so far from our Parish and have anxiously sought to find affordable housing closer, but alas our fiscal situation simply will not allow it. We really feel a need to participate more fully in Orthodox community....how nice it would be to even occassionally meet a fellow Orthodox Christian on the street and be able to greet one another with an appropriate seasonal greeting...bringing the liturgical life into the streets! I am certainly grateful that I have a coworker who also is a convert and we are able to share the burden of a fast while surrounded by all manner of pre-Christmas goodies.
One more note: a very definitive sign of too much American influence on Orthodox churches can be summed up with one word - pews.
Okay, enough rambling...Karl's post really got me thinking...obviously.
Having children is unfathomably salvific in so many ways. Whether it is the martyric life of a devoted mother or simply the sudden realization that our parental frustrations at our children's seemingly absurd failures cannot compare to our own very similar failings from the perspective of heavenly things, children constantly provide us with little icons (windows) of the Kingdom.
Our Icon corner is set up in such a way that when we begin our evening prayers, I have to pull down the Icons of Christ and the Theotokos from their small corner shelves and pass them reverently into the hands of my children for them to offer their love and veneration. And last night as Charissa (my unbelievably hyper and troublemaking three year old) took the icon of Christ into her hands and instead of crossing herself, she very strangely paused and peacefully gazed at it for a moment. My wife and I watched, perhaps even abit put-out by the unusual delay, as her face suddenly illumined and a smile burst out: "Momma," she almost laughed, "Jesus is loving me!" And she quickly hugged the icon tightly, pressing it to her cheek. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end!
Remembering the words of our Lord ("Suffer the little children to come unto me...") coupled with a certain fear of the numinous associated with this unusual event, I easily beat down the sinful impatience in me and decided not to return the icon to its home until she felt quite certain that her special moment with God had "finished". I think for all of us, it was a special moment with God. Here is the icon, through which God spoke so wonderfully to Charissa...may it be a conduit for us as well.
1. Jeremy offers a couple of great quotes on Apostolic Tradition by Pelikan.
2. Humility is truly understood when you realize what you think of yourself at times when you are all alone. Consequently, I know nothing about humility. Ever feel like standing on the bow of a great ocean liner and screaming "I'm the king of the world!" Uh-oh...iceberg right ahead!
3. The Monastery of St. Isaac of Syria Skete has agreed to allow me to officially use their extensive library of Icons and so now I will have each icon linked directly to the monastery's website where you can obtain your own reproduction of the icon we currently have displayed. You will obtain an excellent high quality mounted icon while at the same time supporting a wonderful and much needed religious community here in the US.
I am continuing to read Unseen Warfare and have come to a section in which the author spends a good deal of time discussing the five senses and how they can all be an avenue to the passions. The eyes can behold items or persons which appeal to us (on many levels) and entice us into desire, our ears can hear words or tones which can enflame us, our skin can feel a touch from another or the soft leather interior of a new Lexus and fill us with yearning, our nose can inhale the sweetest of perfumes or the "new" smell in the same Lexus and send us into oblivion, our tongues can savor the sweetness or richness of extravagance and send us spiraling into slothful self-indulgence.
My memory sucks, put as bluntly as I can. But of all the things I am able to occassionally recall, I find no problems in recollecting those sensations which have incited my passions. Think about it; who can forget what a new car smells like? Who fails to remember the warm fuzzies associated with a passionate kiss? Who can disregard the memory of the taste of an OREO cookie? And from my own personal experience I can tell you that all too often my mind will suddenly bring to remembrance a pornographic scene which I may have viewed many,many years before! We humans are EXCEPTIONALLY good at recalling what our senses have experienced and indeed very often (actually nearly always) we allow said sensations to dictate our accompanying behavior. This is precisely what the author of Unseen Warfare warns us about.
Instead, we are encouraged to allow our senses to experience Holiness and to allow such sensations to call us into remembrance of the wonderful things of God. Oh and how Orthodoxy provides such tools for us: the Icons, the Incense, the Eucharist all connect with us on the level of our senses and as time passes we begin to remember them just like we remember the sensations which have fueled the passions...only these Holy things fuel our pursuit of Holiness. I can certainly affirm this, for many times I have been dissuaded from entertaining lust, hatred, and anger (amongst other things) by the sight of one of God's Holy Saints or the sweet heavenly smell of incense lingering in the house. I look forward to the time when my mind begins to spontaneously recall those Holy sensations (as a sort of Christian Porn) which will continually cause me to rethink my life.
Coincidently today a visiting priest delivered to us a homily, which in part reminded us that a more than 2,000 year old path leading to Theosis has been paved for us! We stand on the shoulders of giants and we are given, as a wonderous gift, the collective learning of the Fathers and Mothers.