Tuesday, November 20, 2007

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

By the way, I pray you have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this year!

Connie, little Alexandra, and myself will be flying to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow to celebrate the holiday with my godson and his wife. We will also get to spend some time with family and friends while we are there.

Please pray for us as we fly on such a busy travel day, and know we are so grateful for your prayers.

Much love to the One for Whom we are most thankful,

Barnabas

THE TEXT!

I am honored to be taking the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans from Fr. Ted Stylianopoulos during this semester here at Holy Cross.

Fr. Ted has been teaching at Holy Cross for over 30 years and has also agreed to be my spiritual father while I am here at Holy Cross. It is an honor.

One of the reasons for this is that Fr. Ted's little blue Orthodox prayerbook that he edited and published many years ago was very helpful to me as I began the transition from Pentecostal pastor to Orthodox Christian. When I told him this story, he was both pleased and a bit embarrassed by the praise.

In any event, what has struck me about this Romans class, other than it being one of the toughest classes I have ever taken, is Fr. Ted's constant refrain "The Text!"

What he means by this is that one of his goals in this class is to get us to "live" with the actual text of the book during this semester, to read it over and over again, and to really work hard to enter into St. Paul's thinking as this saint pens his theological "magnum opus." Living with this text has produced some interesting insights.

First, Romans really is St. Paul's theological masterpiece. He is preparing for a trip to the Empire's capital and he wants the Christians there to be familiar with his theology before he arrives. Because of this, Paul systematically (or as systematically as a Semitic mind can be) lays out his vision of the Gospel and God's Righteousness. His vision is both cosmic and surprisingly personal. Paul's vision for the Gospel cannot be divorced from his experience on the Damascus Road. His life was radically changed, and he expects every person's life to be changed by this radical Gospel of Jesus.

Second, Paul cannot be understood outside of the very Semitic mind and the Jewish mentality that is so obvious in this book. Paul simply cannot be understood without an appreciation for the 1st century Jewish mind he possesses. This means any attempt to read into Paul and Romans some later theological position or to attempt to "prove" this or that theological point that would have never been dreamed of by Paul is disingenuous. "The Text!" It is the text as it stands that simply will not lend itself to being kidnapped by later theologians who want to foist some "reformed" notion of God or salvation in Christ. The "proof-texting" so popular in our western world would simply be a puzzlement to St. Paul and his Roman audience.

Finally, Romans is richer and messier than I ever imagined. Paul takes a huge shift away from his Pharisee roots and marks his departure from the theological understanding of the day in the Jewish world concerning Israel, the Messiah, and God Himself. And that cosmic shift is caused by an encounter, Paul's encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. You simply cannot read Romans and escape from the screaming truth that it is Paul's relationship with Jesus Christ that has radically changed everything in Paul's mind. But Paul does not abandon his roots. he sees them as completely fulfilled in this new and earth-changing Christ event. Paul wants the Roman Christians to know that this new and yet consistent faith in Jesus is not a denial of Israel's past but it's point and purpose.

Fr. Ted's insistence that we deal with "The Text!" has given me a deeper appreciation for the Orthodox understanding of God and our understanding of the very purpose of salvation - not to vindicate some juridical notion of justice, but to reveal that God's righteousness is seen in His making right that which had gone so horribly wrong and catching up all His creating in the work.

I will never read Romans the same again. Thank you, Fr. Ted!

Monday, November 12, 2007

PROSPERITY AND POVERTY

A recent article in the LA Times asked the question "Is Prosperity a Blessing from God, or a Crime?" In it the writer talks about mega-church ministries where the pastor drives a Rolls-Royce, lives in a mansion, and owns a private jet.

Having come from that world of Evangelical media ministries and having seen close up the challenges this lifestyle can bring, I was mesmerized by the writer's reporting on what was really the problem - Accountability!

Interestingly enough a US Senate oversight committee has asked several mega-church ministries to respond to a questionnaire sent to them by the committee to investigate whether these ministries are violating tax law and their non-profit status.

Good.

Of course some are arguing that this can portend an increase in governmental scrutiny of non-profits, but I think that's good too.

Why, you may ask? Well, because God loves His creation too much to allow theological sickness to continue forever unchecked, and if the Church won't stand up and exercise oversight then the "other deacon" of God will have to - the State. The lack of accountability, the abandoning of historic Christian theology, the absolute denial of a Christian view of poverty and possessions cannot be allowed to continue harming unlearned souls who fall prey to these broken theologies and spiritually poverty-stricken preachers. It has to be confronted and it has to be judged!

God loves us. This truth alone is enough to make even the most ardent "small government, States Rights, conservative, non-regulatory, free market" idealogical purest (yes, I'm talking about me) stand up and cheer when the Church has become so impotent that it can no longer prophetically shut the mouths of the gainsayers and heretics with a firm stand. When the Church's voice has become so marginalized by culture, cowardice, and ignorance, I rejoice that there is at least the godless government to shout "Hey that ain't Jesus!"

Now before you begin to think that seminary has pushed me over the deep end (a possibility that has occurred to me) I want you to know that I have no intentions of abandoning the philosophical and political mindset you all have come to know and love about me. However, I cannot simply sit by and continue to pretend that the "Christianity" being promoted by the "Prosperity Gospel" preachers I have known to continue to be passed of as a legitimate form of the Faith of Jesus Christ. Even if this brings some hardship on legitimate ministries, it is worth the price to speak very clearly to this culture that the rampant reduction of Christianity to just one more American commodity to be "bought" and consumed cannot be allowed to continue.

I prefer persecution to heresy!

Glad to be back! :-)

Monday, November 05, 2007

A RETURN AND A PRAYER

Well, dear ones, if there are any of you left out there, I wanted to let you know that I will be posting again to Sober Joy in the next few days.

Life has been hectic and full with the first semester at seminary. I have neglected writing because I wanted to get acclimated to our new surroundings and to observe a period of silence so I could foster a student's heart.

Not sure if I've succeeded, but I wanted to ask your continued prayers for Connie, little Alexandra, and myself as we approach our spiritual labors here at Holy Cross.

You may be surprised to learn that I have found Holy Cross to be a hotbed of spiritual growth opportunities! Filled with human persons, all struggling with their own failings and shortcomings, this environment is perfect for trampling down the foolish and childish notions of rose colored glasses.

Dealing with REALITY is the key to spiritual maturity and not allowing the Evil One to con us into falling into either ditch on either side of this "narrow road."

In any event, dear reader, I will attempt to send you regular updates from these "front lines" of my own war with selfishness and the passions. Consider them "postcards from the battle" and don't expect too much wisdom but do pray for this struggling student.

Who knows, perhaps he will turn and have mercy. I have known Him to do that very thing.

Barnabas (by the way, I'm the one in the shiny robe with the beard in front! I'm in front of the chapel with two former police officers in my class, John Ferlakas and Jim Kiritsis)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

NEW ENGLAND IS BEAUTIFUL THIS TIME OF YEAR

Well, we have arrived in beautiful New England to begin seminary next month! And my first comment to my dear bride after we unloaded the truck was "WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?!"

Seriously, it is just now hitting me concerning the magnitude of this leap of faith, but what joy to know we do not leap into the dark, but into the Light Himself.

Any test of faith is bound to involve fear and second thoughts, but our decision to press on anyway is usually matched and surpassed by the overwhelming grace of God to fill our fear with hope.

There will be much more to write soon, and I look forward to hearing from you all.

Much love,
Barnabas

Friday, August 03, 2007

BLOGGER ON THE ROAD

Dear Gentle Readers,

I know I haven't updated much since my grandmother's funeral, but life has been hectic preparing for the move to seminary in Boston.

It will even get more infrequent for the next few weeks, but I will try to drop in some notes from the road.

We are going to visit my family in Atlanta next week and Connie's family in Greenville the following week, then its off to Holy Cross were I hope to have a regular blog on life at seminary.

I am also hoping to produce at least a weekly podcast that will air on OCN's The Ark and the Rudder internet radio stations. Keep a look out for these developments.

Many thanks for the kind words of encouragement of late. Life is full but let us strive to make sure it is full of those things that will produce "fruit that remains."

Your intrepid almost seminarian,

Barnabas

Friday, July 20, 2007

SYMPHONIA AND SADNESS

A recent writer in the combox asked me to say more about the Orthodox understanding of "symphonia" in regards to humanity being in communion with God.

As I thought about this, my mind immediately went to the very present and real experience of grief over the recent falling asleep (do not read "unconscious") of my maternal grandmother, a woman that still, and always will, exert a strong influence on me. I thought about how my family stood by one another, held one another, and supported one another as we faced this sad time together, and I watched as a "symphonia" of communion became a source of strength and comfort.

Now, before you get too concerned, I don't want to push this analogy too far, but I do want to mine out of this experience some of my own thoughts (fallible, subject to correction) concerning the "symphonia" between God and Man.

First let's establish an unmovable truth - God does not NEED anything, including me. God, the holy Trinity, is complete within Himself. I can neither take from Him as to diminish Him, not can I add to Him to enhance Him. He is perfect and complete within Himself. He did not create the universe out of some sense of need or "loneliness." He was, is, and always will be inherently free. He is God. I am contingent. He is not.

So, how then do we Orthodox say that Man is invited to a "symphonia" of communion with God? Doesn't that presuppose give and take on both parts? Doesn't that idea lead one to believe he is contributing a valuable part of this (at least) two way relationship?

It certainly would seem so.

However, keeping in mind our unmovable truth, we are invited by the faith to radically reinterpret our static ideas of relationship between the Uncreated and the Created. We are invited by God Himself to enter into a communion where we know we will not "help" God in any way. We are also confronted with the truth that our rejection of this relationship with God will not diminish or hurt Him in any way. He is at peace and at rest. This relationship will wholly be for our benefit. God loves me, but He does not "need" me.

But, we will have to consistently make ourselves available to this deifying relationship and continually offer up our self-centeredness and our pride as sacrifice to consistently cooperate with this deifying, loving communion. We will offer ourselves as a "living sacrifice...which is our reasonable service."

It is in the offering of ourselves, not God confiscating our love and devotion, that the "symphonia" begins. God, being without fear that His giving all of Himself to me will not diminish or harm Him whatsoever, willingly calls out to me to share in the divine nature. He knows this sharing will destroy all that is temporary and "wooden" in my life. He knows this sharing will forever transfigure me into a companion that can survive eternity as heaven rather than experiencing eternity as hell. This sharing, this grace, this communion, this eucharistic participation is meant to "burn" away all that enslaves me to the temporary. Our God is, after all, a "consuming fire."

But it is an invitation I have to accept and willingly participate in by obedience and affection. I, like the Theotokos before me, am invited to allow Christ to take up residence within me, and the Holy Spirit waits for my freely offered "yes" before He overshadows me and mystically forms Christ inside me.

But we cannot diminish the importance of this free "yes." It is the one gift we can give to God. But remember our unmovable truth, this free "yes" is not for God's benefit, but my own. It is in recognizing that my free "yes" to God and His grace is ultimately for my salvation that will engender in my own soul such gratitude and love for God that my free "yes" will be offered over and over again as the grace of God continues to give me a deeper capacity and ability to enjoy and know God more and more.

Since God is infinite, this glorious "symphonia" will go on forever, but there will come a time when my free "yes" will become an eternal "yes" when time is made irrelevant in the light of His eternal Being. At the resurrection my "yes" will be forever "yes." Conversely a free "no" will become and eternal "no." Lord, have mercy.

So this "symphonia" is an invitation to die to my own devices and live in the eternal, unearnable, and free grace of God who wishes me to share all that He is by grace. No wonder the Apostle said "today is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time..." All moments are in this moment. I say "yes" once again, forever.

As I watched my family surround each other with unconditional love, I was drawn back to the Giver of Unconditional Love and once again overwhelmed with gratitude.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

MEMORY ETERNAL

Georgia Story Moore fell asleep in the Lord Wednesday, July 11, 2007 after a prolonged illness. Her two daughters were by her side.

I appreciate the kind prayers offered for my maternal grandmother over the last several days. Thank you.

Mawmaw (as she was affectionately called) was born in 1917 and lived her whole life in North Georgia. She was a child of her time, and knew both love and sadness as we all do. Her mother passed away early in her life but her father re-married a lady she and her siblings referred to as "Miss Annie." Miss Annie was a genuine god-send for mawmaw. Maw would tell us grandchildren stories of Miss Annie's goodness toward her. One particular story sticks with me today.

Miss Annie told Maw on several occasions "I spoke to your mother today in heaven and she is so proud of you and loves you so much." This was typical of Miss Annie as she sought to mother children who were not of her flesh. She told them often that although she was not their physical mother, God had called her to care for them on behalf of their real mom.

As I look back on my life with Maw, I notice a rural, southern attitude that is akin to the spirit of Orthodox Christianity. It is a spirit of faithfulness, a sense of wonder, and a simple love for God.

One of my strongest memories as a young boy was sleeping over at Maw's house with my brother and cousins and waking up at about 1:00 AM to go to the bathroom. Passing by Maw's room, I saw her kneeling by her bedside. She was praying and I heard part of her prayer: "Lord, bless Chuckie and make him a good boy." Frozen in my mind is an image of a woman kneeling by her bed praying for me. In many ways that moment defined the rest of my life.

Maw has now joined her husband and son who both preceeded her in death. She loved her family. She loved God. She loved me. Her love was totally unconditional, to the point of refusing to see my faults at all. She simply refused to believe that I could do wrong. That kind of love is reassuring and terrible at times.

I love you too, Mawmaw! Keep praying that I will be a good boy.

I leave for Georgia this morning to attend Maw's funeral. May her memory be eternal!

The blog will be silent for a few days and your prayers are coveted.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Prayer Request

Gentle Reader,

I have just learned that my dear grandmother, Georgia Moore, has been taken to the hospital emergency room.

She is something of a hero in my life, and while I ask God for mercy, I also realize that she has been bedridden for almost 4 years with various physical ailments.

Please pray for God to grant us the freedom of His merciful will.

Thank you.

B

THE DISCARDER AND THE KEEPER!

As I mentioned in a recent combox response, I am a "thrower-awayer" and my wife is a "oh that has sentimental value so I'm going to keep that receipter!"

It drives me nuts! :-)

This usually comes out when we are either doing "spring" cleaning (which, for me, is every 3 months!) or like now, when we are preparing to move.

I am amazed at how much "stuff" we have accumulated and how well we've hidden it from ourselves in our apartment here in South Florida. And accumulated stuff we have! So, I have devised a system for sorting said stuff. One box (actually several boxes) is for "Yard Sale and/or Goodwill." One box(es)is marked "Storage" and the last box(es) is marked "Boston Bound."

Going through our stuff I have discovered clothes that no longer fit (I'll let my gentle reader give me the benefit of the doubt as to why), books that not only don't I want, but, for the life of me, cannot figure out why I have them in the first place, and trinkets that seem to serve not other purpose but to take up space in the box where they currently reside. Throw it all out!!!!!

But then the sweet voice of my bride reminds me that I bought that for her on our second date when we went out to eat and that receipt is the first time we went to the movies together. That little item was given to us for our wedding. "What does it do?" I ask. No one is sure but since it was a wedding gift, it has now taken on cosmic significance and must be kept, else if the giver ever comes to our home they may ask after the well being of said gift!

Then there is the general clutter that humans, especially well fed well paid and well comforted Americans, seem to gather into their orbit. This is the clutter that drives me most insane, the stuff that simply is stuff for stuff's sake! TRASH! Throw it out!

But wait, did you look at that piece of paper? Wasn't that the warranty information on the rice cooker that was given to us by Aunt so and so? Don't we need to keep that doctor's note for future reference? Ugh!

Now, I hear you all out there. Create a scrapbook. Put that warranty information is a warranty file. Keep all the medical records together in one place. Well, ain't you sweet for saying so! God bless your heart!

That's the rub, and I think it is also a metaphor for our spiritual lives. Without diligence, we allow "clutter" to invade our lives physically and spiritually. The steady, boring, matter-of-fact attention to purposeful living doesn't garner the headlines either here or in heaven, but it sure does produce the peaceful fruit that has eternal value. But we have "so much to do." We are so busy with this or that event, project, relationship, etc. that we "forget" to pay attention to the discipline of living.

This is why I find the Divine Liturgy so instructive. Sure, it isn't "seeker sensitive." It doesn't change all that much. It doesn't "wow" the general crowd. But for those with "ears to hear" it provides the rhythmic disciplines necessary to keep me awake to the living of life as real life and not the delusions we all too often fall into. If I just will, the daily prayers of the faith will keep me conscious to authentic life and I will be given the wisdom to discern between "clutter" and treasure.

So, the Keeper and the Discarder face the task of moving and in it are invited by the Holy Spirit to know God and become by grace what He is by nature.

Who knew?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE BURDEN OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING

I have five (5) godsons. The other day one of my godsons called to tell me that another acquaintance of mine had become a catechuemen and this person was saying how much I had influenced their decision to explore Orthodoxy.

My godson then started naming off all the people he knew of whom I had influenced to look at the Orthodox Church.

As I listened to this precious man speak, my heart began to break. "What have I done? I thought to myself. Here I am with the chrism barely dry on my forehead and I am influencing others. What a fool! What an arrogant, prideful, fool! What do I know about Orthodoxy? Have I actually lived this faith? No, but I sure as hell can "talk" about it! O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I was actually surprised by the depth of emotion I felt.

A few years ago I would have been so "proud" that I had been able to "touch" so many lives the "the true faith." I would have mentally "kept score" of the number of people I had been able to "bring to Orthodoxy." Now, I listen to my precious godson speak and all I can do is weep. I weep with the full knowledge that I am, indeed, responsible for these precious souls I have influenced. Before, in my former life as a pastor, I would have gladly went out to "win souls" and thought nothing of leaving these "new converts" to their own devices. "God bless you! Be warmed and filled. Hope you find a good church."

But now, the act of spiritual parenting holds a more weighty import. Now I see that I simply cannot "pretend" I am not responsible for how my life affects others. I am responsible, and I will be held responsible. Lord, have mercy!

By God's grace, perhaps some of these dear souls will become Orthodox, but I have no illusions that I ever will be. I started too late in life and I have still too much baggage from my past that still needs either to be discarded or unpacked. The Church, in Her mercy, claims me as one of Her own, but it isn't so. I am simply too prideful to ever be an actual Christian.

Now, before you get carried away with either a "Oh poor soul" or "Man, what horrible false humility" let me say that this insight into my own sadness about how many lives I've influenced isn't despondency, but another invitation by the Holy Spirit to avoid the false path of "accomplishment" and the constant, healthy call to an honest assessment of my own poverty, WITHOUT shame.

Because, gentle reader, God has no desire to "shame" us, but He does desire our growing honesty of our own poverty and an equally growing awareness of His matchless mercy.

That awareness will not come if we allow the delusions of "accomplishment" or "despondency" to lie to us about ourselves. It is only when we can learn to weep for our own sins and allow others sins to go unnoticed by us that we can begin to enter into that healthy self awareness that invites the transfiguring power of the Holy Spirit to make us new.

If I have influenced others, what of it. Truth be told, I have influenced far more people against the faith than for it by my less-than-Christlike actions. No wonder we pray in the Divine Liturgy "for those who love us and for those who hate us." No wonder our Lord taught us to love our enemies for, many times, our enemies have a much more honest view of who we really are than those who love us.

So, precious reader, if you are foolish enough to allow one such as I to influence you, then please let my life serve as the bad example it so often is and avoid the arrogant fate of a fool.

B

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE LONG GOODBYE

Well, gentle reader, the time for departure for the Powell Family is approaching.

The reason for this post is at the urging of a dear friend. His insistence has overcome my reluctance.

Our parish, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale, will be holding an appreciation dinner for us this coming Sunday and they are establishing a fund (The Chuck and Connie Moving Fund) to help us with moving a living expenses for our first year of seminary.

As we approach this event in our lives, I am constantly being confronted with my own lack of faith and the temptation to abandon my peace for the anxiousness of the unknown. So far, I'd have to give myself a C-!

But this challenge is just what the Lord ordered for our lives at this point to force to the surface the tendency to lack faith when the path ahead seems dark. To be sure, all of this may be revealed at another time as complete folly. It may also become another invitation to leave behind the comfortable and press into God's peace in spite of circumstances.

Regardless of how it turns out, it will be another opportunity to allow the grace of God to overcome the fallenness of our lives and to fill up even what looks like death with His resurrected life.

This is the Power of Christ to grant true victory to His children in spite of any and all circumstances. But it is a vision we have to embrace. That way our circumstances are always viewed from the perspective of eternity and not from the terror of the temporary. It is a choice we are offered at every juncture in our lives. It is a Bethesda moment when the Lord turns to us and asks the question He constantly asks of us "Do you wish to be healed?"

So, no matter what we are facing, a move to seminary (how can we afford this? will we have jobs there? what will the married students housing look like?) a choice for a spouse, a (seemingly) incurable sickness, trouble with family, or any number of problems both great and small, we are offered a remedy to our worry and an antidote to our anxiousness. It will require our death to the fear of death, and it will call us to unconditional trust in the God Who loves us more than we, ourselves, know how to love.

It is within this choice, moment by moment, that allow us the freedom of spiritual maturity and ultimately theosis.

Pray for me, the fool.

P.S. Our current plans are to stay here in Ft. Lauderdale through July and use the month of July to prepare for the move (packing, yard sale, plans, utilities, etc.) and then head to Boston in August. We will stop for visits in St. Augustine, Atlanta, Greenville, Cincinnati, and then to our new home at Holy Cross in Brookline, MA. Hope to see some of you along the way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ABBA LAURENCE - MEMORY ETERNAL!

Dear and precious readers,

I have just learned of the falling asleep of a very important person in the story of my own journey to Orthodoxy - Father Laurence Mancuso, the founder of New Skete Monastery.

I could write literally pages of stories about Abba Laurence and how he affected my life, but I won't waste your time.

I will only say that a rag-tag group of refugees from Evangelicalism washed up on his doorstep at New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, NY and he, along with the monks and nuns and companions there, received us, washed our wounds, loved us, corrected us, instructed us, and gave us a safe place to decompress from one world to the new world of Orthodoxy.

His gruff exterior notwithstanding, this convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, along with his entire monastery, entered Orthodoxy and began to enliven the Church with their passion for worship, prayer, and service. He was a crusty old Italian man who opened his arms and heart to me and offered me fatherly wisdom and respect and counsel.

I will tell one story.

Having not been exposed to much liturgical worship in my past, I was visiting New Skete Monastery for the first time with my mentor and spiritual father, Father Joseph. We spent hours talking and I would ask questions and argue and wrestle with the responses of Abba Laurence and finally we had to go to sleep for worship the next morning. As I stood in the church building there on the grounds of the monastery and heard the liturgy chanted by the monks and nuns and faithful I was uncharacteristically speechless at the end.

I sat down in one of the few chairs in the back of the church building and was silent. Fr. Joseph sat down on one side of me and Abba Laurence sat down on the other side. We sat there in silence for what had to be at least 10 minutes or more. Later they both confessed to me that they thought the experience had been too much for me and were concerned that I was ready to abandon the journey.

Finally after the 10 minutes I turned to Fr. Joseph and asked him "What have you done to me?" As a look of sadness and fear came across his face I followed up with "Now I have no choice, I must have this beauty. My life as I have known it is over." I then turned to Abba Laurence and said "You have ruined me. I cannot go back to my old Christian experience of worship ever again. What am I going to do now?"

Tears welled up in the old Abba's eyes and he fell on my neck and asked my forgiveness.

There was nothing to forgive. My heart and soul had never been more alive.

I owe an eternal debt to Abba Laurence and the faithful of New Skete Monastery.

May your memory be eternal, Abba. Pray for your son who is left behind to continue the fight.

God grant rest to the soul of Your departed servant, Laurence!

I love you, Abba.

Barnabas, the debtor and fool

Thursday, June 07, 2007

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS

In just a few weeks my little family will be packing up and heading to Boston for seminary. I wanted to get down some random thoughts of late that might help you all know how to pray for me at this chaotic time.

First, my contemplation about the Church has morphed into a contemplation about Personhood. After reading several posts on Fr. Stephen's blog and some other discussions among some conservative philosophers and Roman Catholic thinkers, as well as some Reformed and Lutheran thinkers, I am more clearly aware of the sometimes vast divide philosophically that separates the East and the West.

The West has argued for many years now over the notion of predestination and freedom. Having to define their theology in light of the Pelagian heresy, the West has struggled with the whole notion of freedom and grace.

The East, on the other hand, has never had to define their theology in light of the errors of Pelagius and simply looks at the West and their arguments about grace and predestination with slack-jawed disbelief. Do some Christians really believe in double-predestination? Do some Christians really believe that grace is a created thing? Amazing!

Fr. Stephen recently quoted Fr. Dimitri Staniloae saying "To the extent that man does not use his freedom, he is not himself. In order to emerge from that indeterminate state, he must utilize his freedom in order to know and be known as himself.” This insightful and basic statement of Orthodox anthropology is telling in many ways.

First Orthodoxy believes man's freedom is still available to him even in a lost state. This freedom rests in his unchangeable reality of being created in God's image to be in His likeness. Man is a slave, but by his own hand. C.S. Lewis said "hell is locked from the inside."

Second, Man is enslaved by his ignorance of himself. Mankind living in the delusion of sin and rebellion perpetuates this slavery in all aspects of creation because of ignorance of God and himself. This slavery is eternal without the enlightening mercy of the Gospel to reveal mankind to himself.

Finally, Man's freedom must be achieved by a "symphonia" between himself and God through the Person of Jesus Christ and the present work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus the primary task of the Church is to both reflect the Face of Jesus (The One NEW Man) and to declare the Person of Christ to lost humanity so that man might recover his forgotten image and his own eternal value.

OK, now I am not a theologian and I certainly am no philosopher. I have no illusions that my three points above hold any weight at all. I am simply getting these thoughts down to look them over and contemplate them further. They are probably wrong on several key points and weak on many others, but it seems to me that this Orthodox anthropology and view of humanity squares better with the revelation of the Incarnation and the scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers than any notion I've read so far. I may be wrong (it wouldn't be the first time) but there it is.

This Orthodox anthropology has HUGE implications for our view of the Church, salvation, the Divine Mysteries, and every aspect of our ministry here on earth. Big stuff, indeed.

So, that's what's running through my ind of late as I look to dismantling my home here in South Florida and move my precious wife and daughter to Boston for seminary. Now, between my work at OCN, my dear family, and the deadline of our move to Boston, I confess, I may not be getting to this blog as often as I want, but you can rest assured that there is more coming.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Barnabas

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CHRIST BECAME MAN...

...so that man might also become man.

This interesting take on an old Orthodox saying by Bishop KALLISTOS Ware of Britain came home to me today more than ever as I listened to a popular radio program host lament the sad state of a sense of connectedness between people in this modern age.

The radio host/commentator went on and on about how we moderns don't know our neighbors. We don't know how to wait for anything. We want everything instantly. On and on he went about how we moderns have lost something valuable.

To some extent I agree with this assessment. But I don't think this is a problem only for we modern people. This is a human problem stretching back to the beginning of time.

It is the problem of our "forgetting ourselves."

Adam "forgot" who he was and fell, infecting the rest of us with this same tendency to "forget" who we are. St. James states "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25)

Our greatest need is to finally "come to ourselves" and wake from the stupor of self-centered ignorance and to finally become man as Christ has shown us.

This is not to reduce Jesus to simply our example, but to fully embrace the mystery of the Incarnation as a revelation of the true stature of humanity and the true nature of our creation. We were made for eternal things!

C.S. Lewis described it as sitting outside the palace, making mud pies while all along belonging inside the palace in the royal Presence of the King.

This contemplation of Christ as the new Adam, as the "new Man" is meant to shake me to the awareness that when I submit my dignity to ridicule through sin and rebellion, I mar that which was meant for eternity. Could there be any greater tragedy and loss than the potential of each man, created in the image of God, to either never realize his dignity or to waste this dignity on so base a "pottage" as temporary pleasure?

It is true that we moderns have tons of technological places to hide and separate ourselves from one another, but this is simply the continuation of the delusion humanity has been enslaved by since that fateful day in the Garden.

Christ has come, the Church has perpetuated, and the Orthodox faith demands, an awakening of the soul to the dignity each person possesses. A dignity give, not earned. A dignity that should draw from us grateful words and acts to a God Who became man so that I could become as He is and finally become what I was always meant to be.

Precious reader, now it is high time to awake from our slumber for our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. You, today, at this moment, were made for eternal things. Do not sell your birthright for anything less.

Friday, May 25, 2007

THE SPIRIT DESCENDS

It took me becoming Eastern Orthodox for me to appreciate the Feast of Pentecost. As a former Pentecostal pastor, I never gave much thought to the actual Feast of Pentecost, even though it was the Pentecostal event in the life of the Early Church that we, as Pentecostals, looked back on as the foundation for our particular brand of religious experiences.

But as an Orthodox Christian, I now see the Feast as much more than an excuse for ecstatic religious experiences.

Now the Feast takes on its escatalogical dimension as the continuation of God's divine redemption of His creation, His continual work in untieing the knots of the Fall.

It is no mistake that the Pentecostal Feast marks a time of harvest. The words of Jesus to his disciples before His ascension that they would be witnesses to the whole world tie right in to His teaching that the fields are "white unto harvest" and we are to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the ready field of souls. (see John 4) In this manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples of Christ and constituting the "ecclesia," the Lord of the harvest is empowering His laborers to do exactly that, reap the harvest of ready souls for the eternal kingdom of God.

The Feast also manifests again God graciously undoing the tangle of sin and rebellion. Just as the tongues of men were confused as they pridefully built the Tower of Babel, so God undoes the confusion at Pentecost and every man heard the Good News in his own language (Acts 2:7). The prideful men were thrown into confusion, and the humble men were given the ability to communicate with everyone. Another knot untied, another sad result of sin and rebellion overturned.

The Feast also empowers the fearful. St. Peter clearly ties this unusual event to the prophesies of Joel and the coming of the "terrible" Day of the Lord. Yes, the same Peter who was coward in front of the woman at the fire outside the house of the high priest, the same Peter who hid himself along with the other disciples after the Crucifixion, and the same Peter who, when he saw the risen Lord repented and was restored, that same Peter standing up with the other disciples on Pentecost shows no fear as he declares both the foolish guilt of the people of the day who with "lawless hands" crucified Christ, but God raised Him up again. This same Peter, infused with the Presence of the Risen Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit preaches to the city and sees 3000 repent and receive the new Christian Gospel. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!

As we approach this wonderful Feast, we Orthodox need to do more than just remember a dusty, ancient event. We need to appreciate and enter into our own personal Pentecost, given to each of us at our Chrismation, and allow that same Spirit to enliven us and empower us to be witnesses to our families, our communities, and our world.

The Spirit Descends and the World will never be the same again. Come, Holy Spirit!

Monday, May 21, 2007

O ABSALOM, MY SON

In studying the Old Testament, one reads many stories of heroism, courage, and honor, but one also reads of murder, rape and revenge. One of the most moving stories is the story of King David and his son, Absalom. While we could deal with the story in depth, suffice it to say that the brilliant and gifted son of King David dies, and the king, when he learns of the death of his son, gives us one of the most moving spectacles of a father mourning the death of his child when he cries out “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

I recently commented to a friend that there really is no pain like that a parent feels when he sees his child suffering. And there really is no way to describe it to someone else unless that person has faced the same pain. There’s something about experiencing the sorrow of the suffering or even death of a child that tests and strengthens our most deeply held faith.

Our faith declares that suffering can be an aid to becoming a mature believer, but it isn’t the suffering itself that is the difference. It is how one handles suffering and pain that transforms the sad event into a stepping stone of faith and love. I’ve seen as many people react badly to suffering, and agonized myself as they descend into bitterness and despair, to a loss of faith and even into madness.

So, what makes the difference? There are at least three principles that will help us transform tragedy into triumph if only we will have the courage to believe the Truth taught by our Church.

First is the Power of Perspective. There’s a great old saying that “it doesn’t rain everyday.” One of the greatest temptations in the midst of tragedy and pain is to get spiritual “tunnel vision.” The only thing your heart sees is the pain or the tragedy or the sad event, but this “tunnel vision” is false. Very rarely is our life totally defined by sadness. Even during the most difficult times in our lives, good things happen and joy still finds its way into our lives.

By understanding the power of perspective, we will be able to break out of the “tunnel vision” of seeing only the pain, to also see the joy that is all around us. St. Paul understood this when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:19,20)

Second is the Presence of the Paraclete. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus promises: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16,17) Jesus promises that He will send His disciples the “Counselor,” or in some other translations, the “Comforter,” meaning the Holy Spirit. The Greek word here is parakletos and is used in St. John’s gospel to refer to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that provides us with an inexhaustible Source of strength and peace in the face of sad times and difficult circumstances. This resource, given to us by God’s grace, is available to every believer in the wisdom of the prayers of the Church and the divine mysteries of the faith, as well as within the soul of every believer who calls on God in times of pain and loss.

Finally is the Promise of Peace. Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) We are Children of the Promise, the promise that not even death can separate us from each other in Christ. Because He has overcome death, and has now granted to all who would receive it the promise of eternal life and salvation, we live in the peace that Jesus has given to those who love Him, the assurance of oneness with God through Christ and His Body, the Church. This peace will confuse those who don’t possess it. They will ask you how you can face such tragedy and sorrow with such grace and peace, and you can say to them, “It is the gift of my dearest Friend.”

Tragedy and difficult times come to us all. Persons of faith (contrary to some popular Christian teachings of the "name it and claim it" crowd) are not immune from hard times. The man or woman of faith simply face difficult circumstances in radically different ways than those who lack faith. The paths could not be more different. One leads to hope. The other to despair. There is no "magic" here. Only the mystery of love for Another, and being loved by Another.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

OF UNITY AND DIVISION

Today marks a milestone in the life of the Orthodox Christina faith here in America and around the world. After 80 years of schism the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia based mainly in the United States, sign a reunion document restoring eucharistic communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad.

Some see this as the last healing of the Russian Civil War that occurred after the Communist Revolution in Russian at the beginning of the 20th Century.

In any event, all authentic Orthodox Christians have to rejoice at the healing of this schism in the Russian Church. The sad and lasting effects of the terrible times of persecution of the Church under communist oppression can still be seen in the jurisdictional chaos here in America as well as the perpetuation of ethnic Orthodox ghettos that seemed to have thrived since the revolution in Russia.

The truth is that before the Russian revolution, the Russian Church was moving her American mission toward unity and mature ecclesial and pastoral service for the Orthodox faith here in America. Under the leadership of St. Tikhon, before he was chosen as the Patriarch of Moscow, this wise and loving pastoral hierarch was putting into place an ecclesial structure that would allow for the pastoral needs of all the ethnic Orthodox immigrants under a common and united ecclesial structure here in America.

But all of that was short circuited by the communist revolution and the following civil war between the White and Red Russians.

In its wake we find the weakened Orthodox witness of today's jurisdictional chaos.

Now, in light of the reunion of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, ROCOR parishes all over the world (most of which are in America, but a few in other countries) return to full canonical communion with world Orthodoxy. Thanks be to God!

However, this reunion raises as many questions as it answers.

First and foremost is the status and meaning of the granting of autocephelous status of the Orthodox Church in America. In 1971 the Moscow Patriarch granted autocephelousy to the (then known as) Metropolia which became the Orthodox Church in America. If Moscow has granted this status to the OCA and now will have parishes here in America who are in full communion with Herself as the highest ecclesial covering, then how does that affect the Patriarch's understanding of the Tomos of autocephelousy of 1971?

It seems that this increases the chaotic nature of the jurisdictional problem in America.

But this may not be a bad thing.

In fact, this may be just what we need to throw into stark relief the administrative poverty of our current Orthodox witness in America. This additional "complication" just may allow the faithful in America to say "ENOUGH." The waste of duplicated agencies and commissions each trying to "serve" their respective "jurisdictions" continue to impoverish the limited resources of our Orthodox jurisdictions in the country. Imagine if we were able to pool our resources and administrative functions. We might actually see our faith begin to show up on the religious radar of America.

I, as a convert to Orthodoxy, am absolutely thrilled at the events in Moscow today. While I don't have the history of the communist revolution or the nationalistic pride of a Russian seeing compatriots reunited, I do have a love of the Orthodox faith and seeing this sad division healed is another witness of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

I am also thrilled at ANOTHER Spirit-led opportunity to deal with our own situation here in America.

So, to ROCOR: Thank God that your gifts and abilities are now added to our own. To Moscow: As you welcome these separated brethren back into your communion, please don't forget the brethren that stood with you during those years under communist oppression. If you are the leaders in the footsteps of blessed St. Tikhon, then renew his efforts to strengthen the witness of Orthodoxy in America.

May God add His blessings to our work toward unity and faithfulness to the One, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

WANNA BET?

In a recent report a study showed that gambling has become a $40 billion dollar a year industry in the United States. With the rise of State sponsored lotteries, Indian tribes building casinos, and more and more money being wagered on sporting events, the National Institute of Mental Health concluded 4.2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, 60 percent of whom have yearly incomes under $25,000.

All of this is harmless fun, right? After all, churches have been sponsoring raffles and bingo nights and even “casino nights” to raise money for years. So there’s really nothing wrong with a little gambling now and then, is there?

As usual, the answer is both yes and no. To occupy the extreme on either end of the issue is to both miss the point and to avoid the real dangers. The extremes represent the “easy” way out.

The real danger is the weakness of the human soul, not the gambling itself. The sad reality is that many times those who can afford it least are gambling in hopes of “hitting the jackpot” and “getting rich.” But the stories of big lottery winner ruining their lives are by now old news and getting “rich” quick is many times a recipe for disaster. But Father, I’ll give a big check to the Church if I win! O, well, in that case it’s OK.

Seriously, there are three Christian principles that should govern our choices and behavior when it comes to betting and games of chance. They are:

Work is more Valuable than Chance. St. Paul told the Thessalonians that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The fact is since the Fall of humanity in the Garden so many years ago, humanity has been commanded by God to work the earth to gain a living. This gift of work is another way God has blesses humanity with the means of our salvation. It is in working with our own hands that we, like our Creator, bring out of the earth our sustenance and livelihood. Work breaks the power of both pride and laziness that robs a man of his worth and his talent.

Faith is Stronger than “Luck.” No matter what the pay off in a game of chance, our ultimate security and our future can never be satisfied with the roll of the dice. Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus to His disciples (that includes you and me): "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:28-33) God loves us. He knows what we need. He is more reliable than any bet.

Finally, Eternal Wealth is not measured in Money. In that same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells us all to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20, 21) After all, we Christians believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, don’t we? If eternity is really at home in our hearts then we can never reduce our wealth to simple possessions or even the temporary comforts of today. No, our “riches” also include the wealth of spiritual blessings we have been given in our precious faith and in our eternal salvation. That’s what is truly valuable to us. A wise man invests in eternal things and doesn’t pin his hopes on cards and ponies.

Enjoying an entertaining weekend in Vegas is one thing, and wasting precious financial resources hoping to “hit it big” is another. My faith rests on a Savior Who loves me more than I, myself, know how to love, and it is that faith that is a “sure thing!”

Monday, May 07, 2007

WE CALL IT THE CHURCH

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times in July of 2005, a reader was commenting about how the Irish people supported America after the events of 9/11/2001.

She writes: On Friday, Sept. 14, the national day of mourning, we expected to see a few dozen people at the memorial Mass in Kanturk, Cork. To our surprise, hundreds, perhaps the entire town, streamed in. I asked a freckled-faced girl for the church's name. "I don't know, ma'am," she answered, surprised by my American accent. "We call it The Church."

“We call it The Church.” What a statement! In an age and culture where even religion is a consumer product, where religious leaders shape worship services, ministry services, and even sermons and ultimately their own theology to fit the spirit of the age to attract more “consumers,” it is nice to know that there are still places where The Church is the center of life as well as the center of town.

You see, there is real wisdom in giving some thought to The Church. We can see the fruit of the “designer spirituality” so popular in our nation today. It seems there is a new religious fad starting every day. From Madonna’s interest in Kabbalah to the latest religious fiction book hitting #1 on the New York Times best sellers list, we are a nation “tossed about with ever whim and wind of doctrine.” We truly are a religious people, but we demand that this religion be on our own terms and “designed” to meet “our needs” just like the other products we “buy” at our local Super Store.

But does this “designer religion” really just salve our souls instead of save our souls? Does this individualistic faith truly transform us?

In other words, is the “new and improved” Christianity being “sold” to us and our children on TV, on radio, in magazines, and in mega-churches all across the country a transforming, saving faith?

Do we really expect to be transformed by a religion that actually feeds the self-centeredness that got us into trouble in the Garden in the first place? No, the religion of self-help isn’t strong enough spiritual medicine to overcome the poverty of our souls. We need something more substantial. We need the timeless, tested, transfiguring faith of the Apostles, and so do our children.

That faith is a faith that allows me to say to a stranger in town “we just call it The Church.”

Here are four characteristics of “The Church:”

The Church is ONE. Just as there is no division in the Person of Jesus Christ, there is no division in His Body, the Church. The Church CANNOT be “denominated” and if CANNOT be divided. If it is divided then it isn’t the Church. Find the body of believers who’ve hung together since the beginning and you’ll find the Church the Holy Spirit has protected and led for 20 centuries.

The Church is HOLY. That doesn’t mean it is pure. No, the word “holy” means “set apart for a specific use” and that is exactly what the Body of Christ is. She is a new society set apart to be used by God to show the world what it’s like to live with God in harmony and peace. The Church understands Herself to be set apart by God for a specific work in the world.

The Church is CATHOLIC. This means so much more than “universal” in a geographical sense, and it isn’t reduced to some national expression of the faith. No, the word “catholic” is brought directly over into both Latin and English from the original Greek “katholikos” and it means “according to the whole. The Church is meant to be whole, complete, mature, healthy, and everywhere. In fact, that’s why we don’t try to translate “catholic.” It’s jus too big.

Finally, The Church is APOLSTOLIC. That means that the authentic Church of Jesus Christ has an unbroken communion with the Apostles chosen by Jesus to found the Church. This isn’t just a religious “pedigree” I’m talking about. This also means that we hold the same “faith” as well as succession from the Apostles.

These characteristics of The Church aren't meant to do anything but enshrine the unshakable tradition that The Church isn't some phantom of the imagination or, worse yet, left to the individual sensibilities of each "religious" person. No, The Church is a visible, identifiable Community. This is how She has known Herself from the very beginning, and no matter what the whim of the current philosophical fashion may be, She is still as visible and as present as She ever has been.

So, when someone asks you where The Church is, the answer is not "Well which kind of Church are you looking for?" There is only ONE Church and you will be able to identify it as such by the reflection of Jesus in Her people. Otherwise, it is just as legitimate to say "I'm sorry, we have no Church here."

Friday, May 04, 2007

IF I HAD IT TO DO AGAIN, WOULD I?

“If I knew then what I know now…” ever said that? Have you ever wondered if you knew the hurdles you’d have to overcome to achieve certain goals if you’d do it again? Are some victories worth any price?

As an Orthodox convert, and knowing many other Orthodox converts, many converts faced unbelievable challenges since converting to Orthodoxy and I have asked myself, more than once, if I thought it had been worth the effort to actually leave the church I was pastoring, deal with the misunderstanding of friends and family, and answer all those questions over and over again. The answer is “yes” it was worth it. Why?

Well, the scripture occurs to me: “Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

Jesus had just finished telling the crowd gathered around Him "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

The crowd gathered around Jesus because He had just fed them miraculously. They were drawn to Him because their bellies were full, not because they were spiritually hungry. And when Jesus confronted them with a “hard saying” they left Him. As the crowd dispersed, Jesus asked His disciples if they too would leave Him and Peter answer "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

I am continuing to learn a lesson about truth, and about being a true disciple of Jesus: Truth doesn’t mean ease, but it does mean peace.

The fact of the matter is that we are all really converts. All of us, especially those of us blessed by God to have been raised in an Orthodox home, have to make the faith our own. We have to come to grips with the claims of Jesus to be the Lord of our lives and not just a cultural security blanket.

We have to learn the lessons of converts.

First, conversion isn’t a one time event. To be sure, there are times in our lives when we make that first committed step of faith, but I pray it won’t be our last step. In our own lives, there are times when we have made a strong commitment to develop our faith and those times are precious to us, but we can’t sit on past events. Our spiritual journey is to be an ongoing growth in the life God has given us in His Son. As St. Paul said, we are to move from “glory to glory.”(2 Cor. 3:18)

Second, conversion costs. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and that is especially true of spiritual growth. We live in a world where it is easy to live a selfish life and hard to swim against the tide of “me first.” Jesus told His disciples “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (Luke 14:27-30)

If we place value on our spiritual maturing and spiritual growth, we’ll come to expect that our growth probably will cost us in time, effort, and even hardship. When we commit to growing in our faith, we face the opposition of the Evil One, the world around us, and even our own laziness.

Finally, conversion is worth it. You’ve heard me quote over and over again that we will “reap if we do not faint.” There are so many things in this life that try to draw your energy, things that, in light of eternity, just don’t deserve the attention and time we give them. But this is never true of the efforts we expend to grow in our faith and develop our spiritual selves. With all the wisdom and beauty preserved for us and available to us as Orthodox Christians, we can see our lives truly “converted” to that new life Christ gave the whole world on that first Pascha morning. It’s your birth right. Don’t forsake it for that which can rust and turn to dust.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I BELIEVE VS. I KNOW

Have you ever thought about the difference between “I believe” and “I know?”

Many today prefer “I know” to “I believe.” They want to know beyond a doubt that something is “true” and they will discount any opinion that may not be able to be “proven” to their satisfaction.

But faith isn’t like that. Faith says “I believe,” and its belief isn’t dependent on empirical proof. Faith doesn’t require proof; it requires love and trust. It is like a father asking a son to jump into his arms. At that moment the son decides what he believes about his father. Will my father catch me or let me fall? If there is love and trust, the son jumps.

That’s why so many arguments about the truthfulness of the Christian faith leave me a little hollow. It seems many even within the Christian community have accepted the notion that “I know” is more powerful than “I believe.” Books have been written about how this fact proves Christianity and that fact proves Christianity. They even offer some “evidence that demands a verdict” to show beyond a doubt that Christ rose from the dead. Right now there is a team of explorers planning another trip to Mt. Ararat in Turkey to “find” Noah’s Ark. And these so-called proofs of the faith simply create more opportunities for folks to disagree over the interpretation of these same “facts.”

Do I discount the importance of this evidence? No, not at all. But while it is encouraging to see these facts brought to light, even if this “evidence” didn’t exist, I would still believe. I believe because I love and know God. In fact, much to the chagrin of many modern day “thinkers,” the ancient path to understanding and true knowledge is to believe so that I might understand.

I know this attitude toward belief and faith frustrates some who feel more comfortable with indisputable facts, but how many truly indisputable facts do you really know?

The truth is that all of us “look through a glass darkly” and much of the things we think we know are really strongly held beliefs. That’s OK. It doesn’t diminish the truth or power of those beliefs at all. It is only when we believers capitulate to the spirit of the age – “unless I can see it I won’t believe it” – that we give up the most powerful proof of all, our faith.

It was in the arena where the martyrs for our faith proved to the world that what they believed was more important than their own comfort and safety – that their hope of eternity took priority over the beasts they could see and feel.

What is our belief based on? What is the foundation of our belief?

Is it the Scriptures, perhaps? Maybe, but what about the myriad of interpretations about the meaning of the Scriptures? Is it tradition? That would be fine, but which tradition?

No, our faith is based not on ideas, like the other world religions, but on a Person Who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” Our faith is centered on and focused on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

That’s why the Creed we recite each week at Liturgy is called “The Symbol of Faith.” The Creed accurately reflects the Face of Jesus Christ back to us. The Creed (the word itself means “I believe”) is the embodiment of what we hold to be true and what we declare as the foundation of our lives and our actions. This Creed helps us make visible what we believe about Jesus Christ and His Church.

"I believe" is actually more powerful than "I know..."

Friday, April 27, 2007

THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH AND MONASTICISM

In a recent exchange of posts and comments on Glory To God For All Things concerning monasticism, I commented that while monasticism is important to the Orthodox faith, there is always a danger in monasticism of "guruism."

This got me thinking about the occasional series on the Church I have worked on and how monasticism fits into that ecclesiology.

I think I've come up with a few thoughts I'd like to post to test my suppositions.

First, doing Orthodox theology in real life is always dangerous, but the danger is no excuse not to do the faith. The fact is we humans are handling things too great for us when we do the work of the faith, but that immensity is part of our ascesis toward making us both humble and awestruck, which serves many life-giving purposes. It also keeps us from the sad prelest that deludes us into believing we have ever "arrived" spiritually. To our very last breath we will labor with the truths of the faith. Period. Full stop.

Second, monasticism arose in the life of the Church as a charismatic response to the loss of persecution. It is the necessity of martyrdom (being a witness of the faith) that defines the move toward monasticism, a godly desire to take seriously the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ascesis of obedience, poverty, and physical discipline demand a grace to "die" to this world and live wholly in the next. This powerful and preservative witness of the Gospel of Christ is more necessary in times of affluence and secularism that any other time in history.

Finally, the balance of parish and monastery protects the Church from the extremes of both. Monasticism can tend toward guruism, that perpetual weakness of some to seek to never grow up and allow another to "master" their lives for them. This is balanced by the life of the parish that calls the faithful to live in the "desert" of daily life and still keep their faith. Parish life can tend, in our modern age, toward an unhealthy congregationalism that seeks to reduce the faith to it's "essentials." This creates a poverty of a perpetual spiritual kindergarten that never allows the faithful to struggle with the soul-maturing ascesis of the Orthodox faith. Monasticism stands as a lasting and visible rebuke to shallow Orthodoxy.

In both instances the enemy meant to be defeated is childishness and spiritual immaturity. But, just as the enemy often does, both these good remedies can be misused if we fail to appreciate the wisdom of God in incarnating the faith in real lives and not fall into the temptation for easy answers or reduce the faith to "rule keeping."

Fr. Stephen rightly observes that monasticism flies in the face of our modern penchant to see everything from a utilitarian attitude, but the whole of the Gospel attacks that small notion. Neither monasticism nor parish life were meant to be experienced in a vacuum, and both wise paths in Orthodox eccesiology were meant to work together in serving the spiritual needs of the faithful.

The main purpose, which cannot be forgotten if either of these gifts to the Church are ever going to produce what the Spirit has ordained them to produce, is to submit to the wise work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to and produce Christ in us so we can all be brought back to the Father. This is the work of the witness of monasticism and parish life. Anything less runs the risk of becoming an end in itself and ending up doing the exact opposite of its Spirit inspired purpose.

B

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A NOTE ABOUT METAPHORS

Fr. Stephen Freeman has a very good post on the power of metaphors on his blog Glory To God for All Things.

It is called Watch Your Metaphors.

Please go there and read it. Father puts into words what I have felt for some time. The West is slowly re-examining its use of metaphor when talking about salvation and the eternal state of humanity. This has been going on for some time now, and offers both the East and teh West an opportunity to see where we can serve one another toward fulfilling Christ's prayer that we be one and He and the father are one (John 17).

Offer your comments as well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

ABORTION AND THE ABOLITION OF MAN


The recent Supreme Court decision concerning the late term abortion method called partial birth abortion is bound to excite partisans on both sides of this debate.

However, the majority decision by the court written by Justice Kennedy lays the ground work for a clear understanding of the State's interest in curbing certain abortion methods.

From a historical Christian standpoint, this decision offers some much needed balance in this society's head long rush toward the pit of gross individualism and instant gratification.

Those who see any legal or societal curbs on the abortion industry will scream like "stuck pigs" that this is the beginning of the end! They will show pictures of coat hangers and drag out the horror stories of desperate women who resorted to "back alley" abortions in the "bad old days" when the "patriarchal system suppressed women" and "kept them bare-footed and pregnant."

All this hysterical language will do is bring out the hysterical language of the other side of the debate.

Both of these extremes, while possessing a kernel of truth, will not move the national discussion forward at all.

This is the greatest weakness in the Roe. v. Wade Supreme Court decision. It short circuited a national debate. What the Left could not do at the ballot box, it imposed through the courts.

But if this issue is ever going to be dealt with, it will have to be done with a culture-wide discussion.

In the end, abortion will be restricted. It will be restricted because medical technology is fast making it absurd and obviously immoral. It will be restricted because wise people will begin to see it as it is, demographic and cultural suicide. Already, there are doctors in Great Britain who are refusing to do abortions for that very reason.

But abortion will not be illegal. It will not be illegal because there are instances when a doctor and a woman patient have to make heartbreaking decisions and legislation ceases to be useful in that sacred space. It will remain legal because in spite of all the good intentions of the pro-life crowd, laws don't change the human heart.

Christian anthropology insists that life is a sacred gift of God. Because of this, we Christians must stand and declare that convenience never trumps human value. Ever!

But we also must equally declare that it is the heart of humanity that must be changed, not the penal code. Let us make more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and abortion will become irrelevant.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

THE DELUSION OF RELIGION

In an ongoing look at The Church, I have been challenged to rethink my notions of The Church. Taking as my launching pad of this spiritual effort, I hear Fr. Alexander Schmemann's (of blessed memory) words where he declared that Orthodoxy is the antidote for religion.

My first effort at confronting this new vision of The Church began as I came to understand that religion and Orthodoxy are, for the most part, incompatible.

Here, religion is defined as the efforts of humanity to medicate itself with God talk and rituals all meant to "help" man reconcile himself to his mortality. Religion, diffused as it is with the weakness of humanity, has degenerated into nothing more than a self-help plan with Jesus words added to medicate us further.

On the other hand, Orthodoxy (ortho = right or correct; doxa = belief or worship) confronts humanity with an absolute reality - victory over death. True Christian faith invites us to confront all the places where the stench of death has corrupted our "nous" (mind, or better "our deepest self") and teaches us a true "therapia" for authentic healing and victory.

This stark contrast lies at the heart of the differences between time bound traditions of men and the authentic, Holy Spirit inspired "paradosis" of the Christian Church through the centuries.

It also marks a clear contrast in the motivations of religious piety and effort.

But this most striking difference is seen in the idea of "Church" itself.

Taking into context this authentic therapy of the Christian faith to transfigure us from death to life, now we see the primary reality of the Church as the "healing community" where a man or a woman or a child is invited to the healing work of the disciplines of the faith, not to make him a "better" person, but to work the resurrected life of Jesus Christ into every aspect of his being. This work continues until there is not even the hint of mortality about the transfigured man.

So, the motivation of living the Christian life in the midst of this healing community is changed from acts of obedience to either make an angry god happy with us or to "help" us live a "better" life or be a "better" person, into a journey of healing and resurrection and preparation to encounter the Uncreated God and not consider that encounter a disaster.

The Church then exists to both administer this healing "medicine" and to bring men and women into the very act of communion that is meant to foster this healing of each person. The Church ,as a Divine Mystery, then becomes a concrete icon of that very process of "being transformed by the renewing of your 'nous'."

No wonder Fr. Schmemann entitled one of his greatest works "For The Life of the World." It is precisely for the life of the world that we Orthodox Christians pray for and participate in when we enter into the life of the Church and begin practicing the wisdom of the faith in the midst of the Church.

Religion and Orthodoxy are mutually exclusive. One is focused on creating a "better" man, and the other is focused on creating a "New" man.

Friday, April 13, 2007

IMUS AND SUCH

A quick excursion into modern pop culture and a bit of my politically conservative side to show! Hopefully, you'll see the connection to my thoughts about the Church.

I am sure everyone has heard the recent dust up among the chattering class here in America about the horrendous comments made by Don Imus on his daily morning show. No justification at all for comments that are made about innocent young women who had achieved some wonderful goals in their college basketball career! None, whatsoever.

Having said that, let me also add that at the very same time no one who has any familiarity with Don Imus and the shtick this guy has done for the past 30 years on his daily radio program should even remotely act surprised by his acerbic language.

Whether Imus should or shouldn't have been fired from his job really isn't the issue. A company has a right to terminate an employee for cause. There can be a discussion about whether the punishment fits the crime or not and that is a fine conversation, but I believe there are bigger issues here.

First, the culture has coarsened to the breaking point. While Imus' words were hurtful and crass, much worse is heard every day by young men and women on any hip hop radio station in America. But beyond the morally bankrupt hip hop culture, modern day society has continued to forfeit its sense of propriety on every level. That being the case, both the Left and the Right in this country are all too tempted by the shallow and hollow notion that a government law would fix this moral decay. It won't. It never has. It never will.

There is only one answer to moral decay and that is a vibrant witness by the Church. Period. Full stop. End of discussion. While some legislation may enshrine the intentions of a community, the heart of man will never be healed by statute. It is the leavening influence of the Church that heals a society. Hence, a weak witness by the Church precipitates a decline in culture.

Second, the culture has become too childish and feminized. I know this can be seen as incendiary language, and part of me wishes to go even further, but there has been a trend in this country over the last several decades that has enshrined "feelings" as the ultimate test of right and wrong. Where is the robust ability to maturely engage in frank and forthright talk with one another that doesn't devolve into someone accusing another of "hate speech" when all that has happened is a disagreement?

This is not to denigrate the positive influence of the feminine to soften and mediate the sometimes crude behavior of the masculine. But when the pendulum swings too far one way we get a culture so sensitized against having their "feelings hurt" that we weaken the soul of people to stand in the sometimes harsh reality of truth. Hence, they mistake truth for hate. This is a recipe for social disaster.

It also leads to the very childish behavior we see in modern young people. This perpetual emotional kindergarten never allows our young people to develop the mature skills and abilities of rhetoric and discerning thought. Life is reduced to what makes me "feel good" and that is also a recipe for social disaster. Even though the point of higher education was meant to give our young people these skills, the intellectual apartheid that exists in modern American institutions of higher learning trend toward indoctrination rather than critical thought.

Finally, our society is always a vast experiment. Can freedom really sustain itself without falling into the traps of either the dictatorship of the Left or Right? I believe we stand as a society at one of those defining moments in our history. Being confronted by the specter of radicalized Islam without and the weak and elitist socialism of the powerful within, we average Americans, and more importantly, we people of Faith, are confronted with the challenge to actually live out our faith in such a way that preserves righteousness and dignity and freedom. We will loose all of these if we remain silent and passive.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"YOU CAN"T INHERIT THE FAITH"

Here is a recent article by good friend and great religion writer, Terry Mattingly. Terry is a convert to Orthodoxy and his most recent article is a great way to discuss several issues:

The Need for a Genuine re-evangelism of our Orthodox people

The Clash between what is passing culture and what is timeless tradition

The Need to reach out to disaffected Orthodox and help them return home

And many others.

Blessed Holy Week to you all. We are purposefully traveling with the Lord to a dark night and a bright day!

WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 4/04/07.

When Peter Maris' father arrived from Greece the U.S. immigration officer couldn't understand his last name and "Margaris" became "Maris."

When his mother's Jewish parents arrived from Poland they added "ski" to their name because they thought "Rafalski" sounded Catholic and, thus, would be safer.

And when Kathleen Rafalski married Dennis Maris, she immediately joined the St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Hammond, Ind. "They were married in the Greek church," said Peter Maris, 42. "She learned to speak Greek. She learned to cook Greek. She did everything
she could to show her commitment to the faith."

Then came the parish Christmas party when his mother brought a plate of Polish cookies. His father didn't tell this story often, because it was too painful.

"Some of the women got upset," said Peter Maris. "They told my mother, 'What are you doing, bringing those in here? We don't need you and we don't need your Polish cookies. We are Greek.' "

The family walked out and never returned.

Now, nearly four decades later, Maris has come home to Eastern Orthodoxy -- just in time for "Pascha" (Easter in the West).

This is one man's story, but it contains elements of stories told by thousands of converts in an era when this old-world faith is growing in a land already packed with Protestant and Catholic churches. In most communities, Orthodox parishes are known as the "Greek church" or the "Russian church" or carry some other ethnic label.

This is one man's story and it happens to be a story that I first overheard in the fellowship hall of my own Orthodox parish. What is different about this minister named Maris is that his story combines both the joy and pain experienced by "converts" and "cradles" -- those born into Orthodoxy -- who are learning to live and worship together in an ancient church that is quietly sinking its roots into modern America.

Maris has tasted the bitter and the sweet.

There are an estimated 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide -- the second largest Christian flock -- but only 1.2 million in the 22 ethnic jurisdictions in North America. While a few leaders have raised eyebrows by claiming a 6 percent annual growth rate, an accurate count would have to account for ethnic members who are drifting out of Orthodoxy as well as converts who are joining.

It's safer to count U.S. parishes and watch clergy trends. The convert-friendly Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese has, for example, grown from 66 parishes to 250 parishes and missions in four decades. Also, a recent survey found that 43 percent of today's seminarians are converts, a percentage that must be higher among the Antiochians and in the Orthodox Church in America, which sprang from Russian roots.

Maris is unusual, since he was baptized Orthodox before finding his way into evangelicalism. He met his Baptist wife at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, did graduate degrees at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and worked in Korean Presbyterian and Chinese Christian churches before being ordained as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

"For the longest time, I could only see Orthodoxy through the eyes of my childhood," he said. "For me, Orthodoxy was an ethnic ghetto. ... In many ways, I came back to the church kicking and screaming. But in the end I knew this was where I was supposed to be. There was no
place else I could go."

Maris can still speak some Greek and he has been experiencing flashbacks to early memories of the taste of Communion wine, the smell of incense, echoes of Byzantine hymns and glimpses of an icon of Jesus, high in a sanctuary dome.

However, he also remembers his parents' conflicting emotions as their new American dreams clashed with old ethnic traditions. He witnessed similar dramas in Korean and Chinese churches.

"You want to keep the language and you want to keep the food and all of that, somehow, gets mixed in with the traditions of the church," he said. "Then the parents discover that they just can't communicate with their kids and the kids just can't appreciate what is happening in church because that's all wound up with the ethnicity thing. ...

"At some point you have to claim the faith as your own -- you can't inherit it. In the end, you have to believe."

Terry Mattingly (http://www2.blogger.com/www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

Monday, April 02, 2007

THE SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH


Fr. Thomas Hopko is one of my favorite Orthodox speakers. His immediate command of both theological and historical information and his disarming delivery make him a joy to hear. I've never heard one of his presentations that I haven't learned so much more than I had known before.

Plus, he has a balanced and gracious spirit that makes him hospitable to all kinds of people.

Here is a recent interview with Fr. Thomas that speaks directly to my investigation into the Church. His insight into the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church and his insight of the "organic" nature of the Church with a history is one of the strongest apologetics for the Orthodox Church as the continuation of the Church established by Christ and built on the Apostles and Prophets.


Enjoy, and a blessed Holy Week to ALL!


Commentary on social and moral issues of the day


Interview: An Orthodox Professor Ponders the Scriptures
Peter T. Chattaway


Fr. Thomas Hopko may have retired as Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York two years ago, but he still keeps quite busy. Last month, the author of numerous books and articles on Eastern Orthodox Christianity spent nearly three weeks on the road, during which time he visited churches in Victoria and Vancouver and spoke at functions hosted by Regent College, Trinity Western University and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The indefatigable Fr. Hopko sat down to talk about Orthodox-evangelical relations with CanadianChristianity.com at St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in Langley, B.C., after a day spent teaching children's Sunday school, preaching a sermon, and chatting with parishioners for hours during the fellowship afterwards about matters of the faith.


CC.com: A lot of people who are involved in evangelical-Orthodox dialogue -- such as Fr. Peter Gillquist and Frederica Mathewes-Green -- seem to be converts to Orthodoxy, but you are cradle Orthodox. What draws a cradle Orthodox to that sort of discussion?

Fr. Hopko: Well, I think if a person's Orthodox, hopefully whether cradle or convert, you're still very interested in Christian unity and you're very interested in making your witness to what you believe Christianity is -- which is, when all is said and done, exegesis of the Bible.
And then, of course, I love to go to those settings, because I know these people do respect the scriptures and usually know it, at least formally -- and they usually think that we don't! You know, they usually think, "Well, if you're Orthodox, you have traditions and you follow monks and elders and stuff, but you don't really know the scripture." So I like to show them that we do.
There has been a tendency of Orthodox to get away from their biblical roots, but none of the great saints and teachers ever accepted that. The very first booklet that I ever published in my life, in 1963, in my parish, was called 'Reading the Bible,' where I tried to prove to Orthodox people that to read the Bible and know the Bible is not [exclusively] Protestant. And I quoted every saint that I could who spoke about the scriptures and reading the scriptures, how the Holy Fathers were doing nothing but interpreting the scriptures. All the great theological controversies were about what the Bible taught.

So it's wrong to say, "Well, the Protestants have the Bible, but we have holy tradition" -- that's just ridiculous. Tradition is nothing other than the Bible properly exegeted and properly applied. That's how we would understand it. So I like to go among evangelicals to make that point.

CC.com: I've heard some Orthodox say that the Bible is part of tradition. It could sound like you're saying that tradition is in some way separate from the Bible, or comes after it.

Fr. Hopko: Well, I think what I would say, in three sentences, is that you first have a canon of faith that is orally delivered and preached. And that precedes whatever New Testament writings you have. But even that canon of faith is interpreting the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets, so it already has to be kata tas graphas [according to the scriptures].

I mean, St. Paul was converted by a vision, but he preached from the scripture, and he even chided people not to preach from visions and voices, in Colossians, and as soon as he had this conviction that Jesus was raised, he even says, I think in Galatians, that he went and studied the scripture and became convinced, and then he went around preaching from the scripture that Jesus was the Christ.

But then, the canon of faith, we would hold, was defended in apostolic scripture, and that would be the 27 writings of the New Testament. And there were lots of other scriptures at that point -- Gnostic and so on -- that our tradition would say were spurious, were just heretical, were wrong. So certain scriptures were canonized, but they were the scriptures that were in accordance with the canon of faith that was delivered orally. So you have in Thessalonians already, Paul speaking about "what I delivered to you both orally and in writing." So there isn't any competition between the two.

But you've got to go the next step and say, once the New Testament scriptures are canonized -- which took a couple hundred years! -- then they become the criterion by which tradition is judged. You can't have anything in church tradition that is contrary to the scriptures. You might have other things that are not specifically written there -- St. Basil speaks about oral traditions like, I don't know, using the sign of the cross or facing the east -- but they could not be contrary to what is in the scriptures.

CC.com: What do you think evangelicals see in Orthodoxy that would draw them to it?

Fr. Hopko: Two things. I think one is, evangelicals want a church that takes the Bible seriously as the Word of God, but they don't want a church where everybody can interpret it the way they want to, because I think they were frustrated over how many churches there were claiming to really follow the Bible. So they said there has to be some other criterion of exegesis than just picking up the Bible and reading it, with your Scofield commentary or something.

And then they discovered that the early Church and the Fathers were interpreting the Bible. Then they discovered that there were consensuses of interpretation. Then they discovered that there were whole councils that had battled over exegesis and had come to a common mind, and that there was like a history of exegesis from the time of the apostles that those in a certain church agreed upon, namely the one holy Orthodox Church.

So I think that they wanted the Bible -- they were convinced that the Bible was basic -- but they had a problem of how do you interpret it, and how do you maintain the proper interpretation. And then they found that the patristic and Orthodox tradition was doing that, at least in their conviction.

The other big thing is worship. You accept Jesus as your saviour, you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but then what do you do? What church do you go to? And I think for fellows like Gillquist, that was their main problem -- they said, "We all love Jesus, we all know this is the truth, but how do you worship? Where do you go? What church are you in?"

Then they came to the conclusion, if scripture is true, there's got to be a church around somewhere that's consonant with scripture, and then they became convinced it was the Orthodox.

So I think two things: biblical exegesis, a common biblical mind, and then the other was worship, a biblical worship that would be objective, Christian, communal, and that you wouldn't have to make up yourself. I think those were the two things that convinced them. And I think those are the two main cards that Orthodox would have with evangelical people.

CC.com: Is there anything the Orthodox would find appealing about evangelicalism? Does the attraction go both ways, or is it more of a one-way thing?

Fr. Hopko: I think -- I would hope -- that it would go both ways. I don't know if it often does. There was a joke that maybe contains kernels of truth, where it said, "Evangelicals come to Orthodoxy, and we teach them how to be orthodox, and they teach us how to be Christians." [laughs]

I don't know if you want to quote that. But in other words, their commitment to Christ, their zeal for Christ, their missionary enthusiasm, their enthusiasm for works of mercy -- helping the poor, the needy, sacrificing their life to mission fields -- well, Orthodoxy is definitely recharged by that, no doubt about it.

And that's incredibly admirable, because except for the Russian church, all the other Orthodox were under Islam and they couldn't do those things. The only philanthropy they could do was among their own people, and they couldn't preach at all, and they had no schools, and they couldn't even read, practically, so it's very attractive to see a very committed, vibrant, informed, people-who-memorize-the-scriptures -- I mean, that has to be inspiring.

And my own opinion is that the injection into American Orthodoxy from the evangelicals and other converts who join was a very, very critical element in the renewal of the entire Orthodoxy in America. Many, many cradle Orthodox were renewed in their faith by their contact with the evangelicals.

CC.com: Are there any concerns among Orthodox about evangelicals trying to "change" Orthodoxy?

Fr. Hopko: There are concerns. In fact, there were great fears in the beginning that these people just wanted to bring their evangelicalism into Orthodoxy and kind of teach the Orthodox how to be Christian and Orthodox and all that, and would never "get it", and that's a human concern. But I think that both faith and experience show that that was an ill-founded fear.

I was very much personally involved with Gillquist and that whole group in '86, before they were Orthodox, and they definitely had that idea -- "Oh, you know, we'll show them" -- but man, once they came in, and once they got into it, and once it went, it just worked itself out beautifully. It never was a problem. I think that everything that was of God and good, the treasures that they brought humanly speaking, were very important to Orthodox churches, but they also changed in remarkable ways themselves, probably in ways that they never would have imagined.

And I knew some people who joined the Orthodox church not liking it at all. I knew people who were at only two or three liturgies before they decided, "I have to join," and they didn't particularly like it, but they became convinced that it was the truth, and once they got in and began celebrating it organically, it kind of opened up for them. What they ultimately discovered after 10 years was far beyond what they expected that they were going to get when they first came.

There are Orientalisms in Orthodoxy that are hard on people, when they first come in, like doing prostrations in prayer, standing in prayer, using things like the sign of the cross or kissing the picture. People say, "Oh, what's that?" But it's more cultural than theological. But they get used to it after a while.

CC.com: Do you think things like that could ever be modified, in terms of church practise, when the church comes into cultures where people don't, for example, kiss as frequently as people do in the Orient, for example?

Fr. Hopko: Yeah, it could, but I think what happens is you have a culture of the Church itself, that is not bound to any human culture. The Church itself is a cultural phenomenon -- I mean, it's basically christened Judaism.

I happened to be at McGill University once when they were having one of these discussions -- they had an Orthodox priest, a Jew, an evangelical, a liberal Protestant, and a Roman Catholic, and they were talking and talking, and finally somebody in the audience raised a hand and said, "I'd like to ask that Orthodox priest a question. What religion are you closest to anyway?" And just, I guess, for the fun of it, the guy answered and said, "Judaism."

And they said, "What do you mean, aren't you Christian?" He said, "Yeah, but in our way of hearing the Bible, worshipping the way we do, you might say that we feel that sometimes we are closer to the Jews than we are to other Christians because of the way they approach the Bible, the way they approach authority, the way they approach worship," and I think there is a certain truth there.

But the Church itself has a culture. It has songs and icons and hymns and sounds. I think there is a kind of ethos, a culture of the Church itself, that is not just reducible to Slavic or Hellenic or Semitic, that people can relate to. And so a thing like giving a kiss, or making a bow, or lighting a candle -- that's kind of Church culture, it's not just human culture.

CC.com: Your remark about the Jewish parallels reminds me, a couple months ago I saw the Campus Crusade Jesus film for the first time in a long, long time, and when Jesus reads from the scriptures in the synagogue, at the end of that scene, he rolls up the scripture and kisses it -- venerates it, you could say -- and when I saw that, I wondered if the evangelicals who made this film, who wanted to be as authentic to the Jewish culture of that time as possible and showed Jesus himself doing that, ever asked themselves, "When did we stop doing that?"

Fr. Hopko: Yeah, right, right.

CC.com: These days people talk about post-modern culture and how thoughts and words are no longer enough -- we need experience now -- and the Orthodox worship has a sort of appeal there because it engages all five senses.

Fr. Hopko: Holistic, yeah.

CC.com: What would your response be to evangelicals who start using candles and incense and chants and possibly even icons -- all the accoutrements -- but without actually becoming Orthodox?

Fr. Hopko: It's interesting you should ask that, because the Evangelical Orthodox [under Fr. Gillquist] were doing that before they joined up, and I was there when they were doing it, and if you went, the ethos and atmosphere was very Protestant, but they had the words of the liturgy, they had icons.

I think Fr. Nicholas in Santa Barbara stood up that week and said the word that kind of did the trick. He said, "You can't imitate or mimic or mock the Church. You're either in it, or you're not." And Orthodoxy isn't a set of texts or a bunch of pictures -- it's a living, organic community that has texts and icons, and it's that living community where the power is that you need, and if you're not in that community, you can have the accoutrements, but you don't have the power. That's what he said.

And I think that made them realize they had to join up -- for better or worse, put up with all Orthodox ethnicisms and everything. You couldn't just imitate it, you had to be in it. Because it was a historical community, in history, that you had to enter into -- just like the Gentiles had to be grafted to Israel.

CC.com: Otherwise it just becomes the latest fad, in other words.

Fr. Hopko: Yeah, and it isn't any less individualistically self-willed than somebody who would get up in a polyester suit and necktie and bang the Bible and preach -- it's just, you happen to like these kinds of prayers and these kinds of pictures, but it's still not the Church that is doing it, it's you that's doing it.

I wrote in that book, Speaking the Truth in Love, that that individualism and self-will thing can even be very conservative. It's not always liberal to do what I feel I like to do, except my predilections happen to be for old things rather than new things, but it's still me. And the Lord said, "out of his treasure, the man brings forth things new and old," but it still has to be the Church, because it can't be mine.

CC.com: Yesterday you said Orthodoxy was not just one denomination among many. What is the dialogue with evangelicals trying to accomplish, or how do you make that point to evangelicals who do see Orthodoxy as one of many denominations?

Fr. Hopko: I deal with that issue in Speaking the Truth in Love also, because dialogical is the way that it's done. You encounter, you speak, you have to listen in order to relate, so there's always a missionary dimension to dialogue. But it's also a dimension of testimony, it's also a willingness to have yourself tested. Okay, you think that we're wrong -- say why. Let's talk about it.

If we're all Christians, we all love Jesus, we all want the truth, and we don't agree about what that is, we'd better talk about it, and try to have enough dialogue so that we know what we actually disagree about! John Courtney Murray once said, "We don't know enough about each other even to disagree accurately." We've been separated from the Latin West for 900 years!
However, there are all these dangers. The danger could be exactly toward denominationalism.

Even at Trinity Western the other night, when an evangelical who doesn't have a concept of the historical church and the sacramental church says, "I agree with everything you said," sometimes I'm tempted to say, "No you don't!" Because if you're inventing worship every week, and you don't believe that there's a church in history or that it all started in reality in the 16th century, you don't believe what we believe!

Now, the fact that we quote the Bible and talk about how Jesus saves us, you might relate to and believe in it, but the minute you come to how you access it, how it becomes yours, how you live it out -- I still think that there are incredible differences between evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox. Because for us, the Church is part of the gospel. Let me put it this way: The gospel implies the Church.

Fr. Florovsky used to talk about ecumenism in time, as well as in space. Who are you with in the past? You name any century, and we'll tell you who our guys were, and we'll tell you where we think the Church was, and we'll tell you where we think it wasn't, at least not in its fullness, where it became defective. In the early Church, we're with the so-called Catholics and not with the Gnostics and the Montanists. After the 4th century, we're with Athanasius, Basil, Gregory and the Nicene communities. In the 5th century, we're with the Chalcedonian communities, and in the later centuries, we're with Photius as against the papacy.

We have a history that we deeply identify with. We speak about Gregory and Basil as if they were our contemporaries, because mystically they are -- they are! And that's one thing that I think evangelicals, at least in their organic traditions, don't relate to.

In fact, a lot of times, as a matter of fact, they don't even know about it. They don't have the foggiest idea who these people even are. I've met United Church of Canada people who didn't know what the Nicene Creed was, and they were at a [World Council of Churches] Faith and Order Commission meeting representing their church! Seriously.

Then they say, "Why do you need it, it's Greek philosophy, it's old-fashioned, no modern person can relate to it." I remember in Russia once, I was there at a meeting exactly on the Nicene Creed, with Catholics and Protestants from all over the world -- it was an international meeting, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission -- and the English-speaking Protestants were always on my case every day, because I could speak English, about, "Why do you do this, this is irrelevant, la la la."

And then we went to St. Sergius monastery outside Moscow, and there were all these people -- it was under Communism still -- the blind, the lame, all these people were out there in the middle of the night singing and singing, and these Protestants were out there looking at them and they're crying and saying, "I never saw such a piety," and then they said, "By the way, what are they singing?" and I said, "Well, they're just singing the outdated Nicene Creed that no one knows anything about." [laughs]

They were singing the Nicene Creed! And these people were just arguing that it's irrelevant, nobody cares about it, nobody knows what it is -- well, the one thing you had to do if you were Orthodox was to memorize the Nicene Creed and to know how to sing it. So that's the kind of thing that people find shocking.

I remember Desmond Tutu and his wife were at one service, and I heard her lean over to him and say, "I didn't know white folks could sing like this." So that's what the meetings can hopefully overcome and produce, some kind of new understanding of things, not caricatures.


Read the entire article on the Canadian Christianity website (new window will open).