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I recently read an Orthodox blog post about the revolving door that we converts have created in the Orthodox Church, especially here in North America. The post is titled: Leaving The Orthodox Church. I won’t rehash the whole thing, as I would do it an injustice. But here is the gist: all of us modern converts come from a broke, postmodern, individualistic context, in to the Orthodox Church. As such we see “Our Journey” as something wholly our own, and with no other context. The tendency is to become disillusioned and “move on” in our journey, to another equally valid path, or to create a sort of cult out of trying to keep purely external Orthodoxy, in an attempt to get back to the kind of tribal life all mankind experienced before the modern era.
The thing I found so fascinating about the post, was that I was thinking about this very thing in regard to my own journey to the Orthodox Church. I have asked myself if I would simply “move on”, as I had done from an Evangelical, to a Presbyterian, to Orthodoxy. But as Peter asked our Lord, in the Gospel According to St John chapter 6, “Lord to whom shall we go? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life.” so I think to myself, “Where else would I go?”
I just found out that a priest/monk I used to read reflections and articles from, left the Church, and became a Protestant minister. I have to admit I was very surprised, as it seems it was quite sudden. Again, I ask myself if my own Orthodox faith is transitory, provoked by reflecting on this priest’s departure from the Church.
While I feel the tendency within myself to get the “Ho Hums” about some of the repetitive aspects of Orthodox liturgical rubrics, tones, hymns, etc. And while the private prayers themselves can become a mindless recitation, if I’m not being attentive and present in them, I know that I am home, though still on a journey, as it were. But the journey is not a road I am on alone, but the Ark of Salvation, traversing the sea of this present age. The sea gets rough, and the journey becomes uncomfortable, but the Lord Himself is present. If He is here, this ship will not sink!
I understand, and sometimes find myself faced with feeling disallusioned at times. I find myself wishing “more could be done” by our hierarchs to do out reach (internal and external), or rolling my eyes at our own glib “Orthodox platitudes”, or yet another convert podcast (or even my own blog). Or how about the continuous cycle of fasting? I see this as a temptation. Not a “trick of the devil”, but the laziness, judcgmentality and evil in my own heart and mind. So, I get why people decide to find their way back to the door, and show themselves out.
But for myself (and I say this as no pat on my own back, because it just happens to be where I am right now) I continue to say, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” And I believe this Church is the place where the fullness of that salvation is. The road that goes on and on, yet never moves.
P.S. Any of you who follow this blog, or find/found it encouraging, I apologize for the near two-year gap since I last posted. To be honest, I felt (and still feel, really) that I have nothing to say that is worth putting out there; just one more voice, taking up space on the internet. There’s a better than 99.999% chance this was my pride, but I’d like to think there was some semblance of purity to my motives… but probably not.
MP3 Audio: WS330316_Fr-Michael_Spiritual-Warfare.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, November 24, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.
Epistle Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.
The author of the epistle of Hebrews in the twelfth chapter reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, which reminds us that the distinction between this creation and heaven is extremely thin, is in fact diaphanous, should be something actually that we can see to the next world through as it begins to break in into our lives. There’s no wall between us except the walls that we put up for ourselves. So the angelic hosts, the angels, the archangels, the thrones, dominions, powers, principalities, cherubim and seraphim are all around us.
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This is a promotional video for a book edited by a friend and fellow parishioner of mine. The title of the book is: http://www.amazon.com/Turning-East-Contemporary-Philosophers-Christian/dp/0881414158/
This book can be found on Amazon (as the link above takes you) and also on the Saint Vladimir Seminary Press website.
The book is meant for the philosophically minded person looking into the Orthodox Faith, or wanting to learn from the journeys of others.
I do not personally have any philosophical training or studying, but I find the perspectives and journeys accounted in this book very fascinating. My lack of philosophical background does have its challenges in understanding the content of the book, however, I find this perspective very refreshing, as I want to develop an understanding of philosophy. As such this book opens a door for me to do so.
I hope you enjoy this book.
Anyone who does buy and read the book, be sure to offer some feedback to the editor. As he is a professor at a university, he can be contacted through the university email. He has asked for my feedback to improve any future editions or other works of the same sort. I am sure other feedback would be welcome.
In reading a comment posted to my blog yesterday, I was struck by the observation that our Orthodox Faith never demands a blind obedience. In fact that obedience cannot be blind, because our faith calls us to see.
The call of Jesus to His disciples was, “Come and see.” The call of the apostles, and therefore of the Church is, “Come and see” as well. The call is not to just come and believe, “because I say so, so just do it!” This is a wonderful freedom of this life in Christ that we have in the Church.
But sometimes we lose focus (I should say I lose focus) on what it is we come to Christ and His Church to see. Sometimes the beauty, hymns, prayers and sacraments can feel like “new toys” to a kid, especially for a former Protestant, like myself, with no solid tradition in my upbringing. It is easy to treat them as an end in themselves. It reminds me of Christ addressing the multitudes:
Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft [clothing] are in kings’ houses.
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. (Matthew 11:7-9)
Many of the Jews who had come out to hear John the Baptists were coming out as if to be entertained. Jesus goes on to say of John:
For this is [he], of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if ye will receive [it], this is Elias, which was for to come.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11: 10-15)
This was the very prophet who was the Forerunner (his official title in the Orthodox Church) of the Messiah of Israel, yet they did not see it. For myself, I know that if I am not careful, I can treat the holy things within the life of the Church in the same way. We can see them the way Sam thought of the Mirror of Galadriel; as a bit of “elf magic.” We see the Church as something of a “magic mirror” that can show us things. For myself, I know that I have learned so much from the Church: history, the ancient teachings, desert fathers, sacraments, icons, prayers, etc. Yet, I see that I can become distracted, not by any fault of the things in the Church, but, like the Jews with John the Baptist, the fault is within myself.
I hope that I am not rambling too much, and making a confused mess of something that seems so clear in my head. Let me try to tie this together…
The comment on my blog, about obedience not being blind, was in the context of stating that Confession compels us to see. It causes us to see, because it bids us to see ourselves. It calls us to see ourselves for what we are. We do look into a mirror, but that mirror is not far-seeing elf-magic, it is the mirror in the face of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. As the Scriptures say:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1Corinthians 13:12)
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Corinthians 3:18)
The key to this mirror (“glass” in KJV) is that we not only know Him, but ourselves. This knowledge changes us into His image and likeness. In the first Chapter of the Pedagogy of Saint Clement of Alexandria, entitled On The True Beauty, he writes:
It is then, as appears, the greatest of all lessons to know one’s self. For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God, not by wearing gold or long robes, but by well-doing, and by requiring as few things as possible.
THIS is the true meaning of all that the Life of Christ in the Church is all about. THIS is what all our obedience and love for Christ is meant to accomplish, to know ourselves, and therefore know God. To be sure, this is not putting down any of the beauty, liturgy, or any other thing we have in the Church. This is just stating what I said above, that they are not ends in and of themselves. It is NOT stating, “You don’t need any of that stuff” as I once thought as a Protestant.
I was reflecting over this in relation to how I react to certain situations. As I was saying my evening prayers, I realized that my frustrations with and reactions to certain people or situations says more about me than the person or situation. And this is what confession should be about. Recognizing something sinful and defective within myself, and boldly bring before the throne of grace, in the presence of my father confessor. Accusing myself, not my fellow man or circumstances. It’s a very humbling endeavor, but one that is, by God’s grace, bringing us “from glory to greater glory.”
So thank you for the comment. I was blessed and edified by reflecting on it throughout the day. I hope that this rambling reflection might do the same for someone else.
The most recent time that I read The Lord Of The Rings, I came to very much appreciate and admire the character of Samwise Gamgee, or as Frodo called him, Samwise The Brave. I was struck by his great love and devotion to Frodo and the mission of destroying the Ring. His dutiful resolve caused him to leave the Shire, follow Frodo through countless perils over hundreds of miles, as well as facing one of the most terrifying creatures is all of Middle Earth (Shelob).
I thought to myself, “I think that Sam is a great example of what a Christian should be. We should love Christ even more than Sam loved Frodo, for Sam most surely had phileo for Frodo, while we are called to have agape for Christ, as He has for us.” I thought that perhaps if I had more love towards Christ, I would, like Sam, follow Him anywhere. Even though I would be terrified at times, love would compel me on.
Most recently I read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Upon coming to the last book, That Hideous Strength, I read a conversation between Ransom (The Director, as he is called) and the charter Jane Studdock. In discussing the difficulties of her situation relating to her marriage, she tries to explain why she has a poor relationship with her husband. To this The Director tells her (and I have to paraphrase here) that she does not have a difficult time obeying her husband because she does not love him enough, she has trouble loving her husband enough, because she does not obey.
To give a very brief description of Jane, let me say that she is an independent minded, college educated woman married to a college faculty member named Mark. Her independence and his constant focus on career have made for a weak marriage. Both Jane and marriage are decidedly agnostic. Jane is particularly antagonistic towards Christian ideals about the roles of men and women in marriage.
Even though this book is a work of fiction, these words struck me with almost the power of a Scripture reading, a verse in a Church hymn, or a statement in one of liturgical prayers. Wow! It’s not that I haven’t loved Christ enough, I have not obeyed. I have known that the words for belief and obedience are etymologically the same in Greek, but I had really never paid the idea much mind. I thought of it as a nice concept to keep in mind, as a motivation in following Christ.
Jesus Himself told us that if we love Him, we will obey Him. I think that because of the order that those words are written in, for years I had the idea wrong in my head. I don’t need to try to drum up more love in my heart in order to obey, I need to obey and the love will be there.
One of the things that living the life of an Orthodox Christian has meant is obedience. I made a decision a few years ago to submit myself to the teachings of the Church instead of trying to figure them all out first. That was the best decision I have ever made. As I have endeavored to be in obedience to Christ, His Church (her Traditions, teachings and “praxis”), the Bishop and Priest, and indeed my brothers and sisters in Christ as well, I have noticed that the love for all those things continue to grow.What an amazing treasure, no better, what a key to unlock the treasures, is the key of obedience. Obviously the obedience is not blind, foolish and pharisaical, but it is done as unto the Lord.
I notice that in the areas of my life that are more prone to my pride and therefore disobedience, my love is cold. I pray that I am willing to be obedient in all things, as unto Christ, that His love may be perfected in me. As I purpose to do so, may I become less like a Jane Studdock and become more like Samwise The Brave!
Today is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine
with the Feast! Let us embrace one another. Let us say, Brethren!
And because of the Resurrection, let us forgive all things to those
who hate us, and in this wise, exclaim, Christ is risen from the
dead; trampling down Death by death, and on those in the tombs
These words struck me like lightening. I realized I had not really payed very much attention to the words of the praises before. This verse is an exhortation that echoes the very words of Christ: “A new commandment I give to you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34, 35. I’ve known this verse for years, but have never connected it to Pascha. The connection was a very powerful one to me. As sometimes happens, especially during the Paschal Praises, I was a little choked up as this realization hit me.
Later in the afternoon, I found the text of the praises on my archdiocese website (antiochian.org) and read it to my girls. I wanted to share the realization that our love for one another and forgiveness of our enemies is the basis for our proclamation, “Christ Is Risen!” I wanted to make sure they understood the words, so I asked my oldest daughter if she knew what embrace means. She seemed to be trying to deduce the meaning by looking at the root word “brace”, but missed the meaning. So I looked it up:
embrace |emˈbrās|verb [ with obj. ]
1 hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, esp. as a sign of affection: Aunt Sophie embraced her warmly | [ no obj. ] : the two embraced, holding each other tightly.
2 accept or support (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically: besides traditional methods, artists are embracing new technology.
3 include or contain (something) as a constituent part: his career embraces a number of activities—composing, playing, and acting.
As a noun:
1 an act of holding someone closely in one’s arms: they were locked in an embrace.• used to refer to something that is regarded as surrounding, holding, or restricting someone: the transformations brought about by the embrace of mass media.
2 [ in sing. ] an act of accepting or supporting something willingly or enthusiastically: their eager embrace of foreign influences.
ORIGINMiddle English (in the sense ‘encircle, surround, enclose’; formerly also as imbrace): from Old French embracer, based on Latin in-‘in’ + bracchium ‘arm.’
As it turns out, my daughter’s definition was pretty close. In reading the definition of the English word Embrace, it made me think of the fact that our salvation id dependent on one another. My brother IS my salvation. I hold them, accept and support them, I include and count them as a constituent part. It is so much bigger than just having kind affections for one another. It encompasses all that the New Testament says about what it means to love one another: forbearing, bearing one another’s burdens, exhorting each other, etc, etc.
On the issue of forgiving our enemies (or “those who hate us”) I used to always pay that lip service. I have noticed in Orthodox theology, the words of Christ in teaching us the Our Father are taken very seriously, along with the instruction, “…for if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you.” I think of how at the end of the Liturgy, the priest prays the words, “…Thou blessest those who bless Thee, and sanctifiest those who put there hope in Thee…” I find that to be a stunning difference for the near joy that I used to take in the words of God to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless thee, and I will curse those who curse thee…” No vengeance in the mind and heart of God. Neither should we have any such thing in our hearts.
All this is the very basis, the real manner in which we exclaim that “Christ Is Risen.” I hope for myself that this realization doesn’t just become another “nice thing that I learned from the Church”, but a life changing course of action. I am blessed to go to a parish that called together a parish meeting, just so we could find ways to be more than just a group of people that are Orthodox and worship and pray together. I pray that I can live up to these words. By God’s grace and mercy, in His Church, I can live up to His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.
The lesson I found in the praises of Matins is a great example of what I love about the Orthodox Church. The very services themselves are a catechism in the faith. The thing is, I have to be listening. I was discussing the issue of repetition within the services with someone recently. The contention of the person I was talking with was, the services are very repetitive, boring and therefore, frustrating. But as the words of the Praises show, each service, each part of the service, has something to teach a Christian that comes to “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (as we read in the Gospel for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman). I think that hand-in-hand with the reading of the Holy Scriptures, we Orthodox Christians could glean so much for our salvation by simply paying attention to the things we sing and pray. Or if we aren’t singing, at least listening attentively to the choir and/or priest.
Lastly, I like that the end of the exhortation in the Praises say, “…and in this wise let us exclaim…” Our life in Christ is meant to be a bold proclamation to the world about out Resurrected Lord. It’s not a whimper, a humble word whispered in secret, it is exclaimed. This is more than “telling someone about Christ” (i.e. “Where are you going to go when you die?”) or being obnoxious with “the Gospel.” As I have stated elsewhere, one of the things I love about Orthodoxy is that it has a “come and see” ethos, rather than the kind of anxiety-ridden mentality that tells everyone they need to decide “RIGHT NOW!” or else they might find themselves in hell at any second. Not that we aren’t concerned for souls, but it’s an invitation to experience, not a high-pressured sales pitch. But either way, our love and forgiveness shout out the glory of Christ’s trampling down Death by His death, and His life that He gives to all, by His Resurrection.
Lord, let my very life exclaim, “Christ is Risen from the dead…”