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Preliminary Thoughts on the Eucharist, on Sola Scriptura and on Icons (Un-Protestantism 101)

March 29, 2013

This is a concise summary of what we Orthodox believe and how it differs from Protestantism. The author came from the same tradition as myself. His posts are well worth a read.

Luminous Darkness

The Eucharist

The center of the Faith, as we know from Scripture and from 1,500 years of Church history (i.e., until things changed during the Reformation for some Western Christians), is the Eucharist. All Christians gather together around the Body and Blood of Christ. The Liturgy revolves around it.

The liturgyEucharist is where our “eyes are opened” in the “breaking of the bread,” (Luke 24) for “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6).

That is why all the fathers of the Church, the very disciples of the apostles, emphasized it as such. For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 50 –…

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Canon of St Andrew and Orthodox Worship

March 13, 2013

beforethycrossI was recently listening to a “children’s worship” song, from a VBS compilation. Here are a portion of the lyrics:

“Let’s sing about the LORD, the greatness of our God
For He’s the King of everything.
We’re wild about His love and all the He has done
For He’s the King of Everything.

I know God, I talk about Him every single day
I pray to Him at all times, He’s the only way
I love Him, He loves me, no matter where I go
And everything I do will be for God and God alone”

Something struck me as I heard these words. These are dishonest lyrics. What do I mean? Let me first share that these lyrics brought me back to another song that was a regular part of my “worship”, when I was an Evangelical, attending Calvary Chapel. Here are the words of the chorus:

Amazing love, how can it be
That you, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true
And it’s my joy to honor You.
In all I do, I honor You.”

I will admit that the chorus I just shared and the song above have great truth in them. God is the King of Everything. He loves us, no matter what. It’s amazing to think that the King of all creation died for me, because of His love. There is no arguing with that. But here is the problem, a lot of what follows is not true about ME.

I remember when I first learned the words to Amazing Love, I sang it with joy. But then came the words “‘In all I do, I honor You.” I immediately realized I was obviously singing a lie. Truth be told, 1% of my actions, words and thoughts honoring God was a pretty exaggerated estimate of my piety (especially back then). I remember being sick to my stomach when I would sing those last words of the chorus. I simply stopped singing that line. While it is a joy to honor God, I rarely do it.

I had this conversation with my friend Jonathan, who posted about it on his blog, The Prayer Of Saint Ephrem. We talked about how innately dishonest the modern worship songs tend to be. Not because they are attempting to deceive people, or speak heresy, but because they seem to convey great lyrics, rather than great humility. My friend does a better job than I at communicating the conversation we had. We agreed that much of what is sung in the modern Praise and Worship genre suffers from emotionalism, egoism and a false sense of security in a one-time confession of Christ salvation.

This is obviously a broad overview and does not reflect the fact that there are many, many songs of deep, humble devotion to Christ and are not only based on Scriptural ideas, but are sometimes adaptations of Psalms. Even though I know that I desired to worship God in Spirit and Truth, and do not doubt the heart of anyone I worshipped with, I would always find myself saying to myself, “I sing these words, but they are not even close to being true in my life. Lord help me!” I found it distressing and discouraging

One thing my friend and I also both agreed on, was how refreshing we find our Orthodox worship to be. I should say Apostolic, because the Orthodox are not the only ones with such prayers and worship. I especially remember my first time attending the services with the Canon of St Andrew. I finally felt like I could connect with the prayers and hymns I was singing and hearing. These were not high ideals I hoped to one day live up to, these were broken-hearted confessions of failure to live up to even the least of God’s Commandments. These are pleas for God’s mercy. Refreshing, to say the least, and words I could finally say without feeling like a hypocrite.

Beside the specific beauty and humility of the Canon of St Andrew, my friend and I also mused on the more general humility in our weekly worship. We plea, “Lord have mercy” ceaselessly, as well as ask God to, “Grant this, O Lord.” The prayers of preparation for communion are humble as well. And I am always amazed by the prayers of the daily Matins, and their powerful exhortation to give up sinfulness and sloth, in favor of living a life in obedience to God.

I know that all prayers and hymns have an element to them that reaches for an ideal, and doesn’t necessarily reflect to lowly present state. Even the Psalms are full of such imagery and poetry. To be sure, I still have much hypocrisy in my life, but I no longer have the sense that my words of worship have no business coming out of my mouth. Yes, none of us is worthy to worship God in and of himself, but anyone can say the words, “Lord have mercy!”

With the Great Fast just a few days away, I am glad for these prayers and hymns during the Bright Sorrow.

Of Roast Mutton And Unmasked Conspiracies

March 9, 2013

britain-ireland-sea_25698_600x450.jpgI was recently thinking about the beauty and wisdom of this season of preparation we are in for the Great Fast of Lent. I have been thinking about it more keenly than the last few Lenten seasons, because this Lent be the final countdown for the baptism of my three daughters on Great and Holy Saturday. I want to help them participate in the fast, but not just because we do it. I want them to understand the spirit and meaning of it. Unlike poor Bilbo, who was thrust into his adventure unexpectedly, we are prepared for our journey by degrees, much like Frodo and his “conspirator” friends.

The first of the three Parables that prepare us for Lent is the Parable of The Publican and the Pharisee. Beside the obvious lessons of the parable itself, (don’t trust in your own righteousness, don’t judge others, but rather stand in repentance and humility before God) the Church shows us that we are not to trust our own righteousness (“I fast twice a weak…”) by specifically telling us to not fast the usual two days during the week. Also, the icon of the parable itself shows us the final words of Christ, that if we humble ourselves we will be exalted, but if we exalt ourselves, we will be humbled. And just when we are tempted to judge the pharisee, we are reminded that even though we are just as arrogant as he, we are not even nearly as righteous.

The second parable is the parable of The Prodigal Son. We are shown the reality of our lives to be that of the prodigal son, who took what was given by his Father, wasted it and returned to him in humility, only to received warmly. The prodigal son himself seems to me to be an expanded illustration of the Publican, from the prior parable. Realizing what a sinful state he is in, he returns to the Father in humility, expecting nothing, but receiving everything. But even if we have not gone astray, we have the prodigal’s brother as a warning. We need to rejoice at the repentance of others, not judge them. I like that Jesus leaves the parable open-ended. He doesn’t say whether he relented and went in to the feast, or whether he refused. Or, even if he refused to rejoice that night, did he finally come around? Just as Jesus never gave us the answer in the story, He leaves the ending up to us. What will we choose? Unlike their father, my girls have not lived foolishly like the prodigal, but are like the faithful son. I make it a point to show them that they have a place in the parable too. That they have access to all that is the Father’s, and that they should not deprive themselves of it by not forgiving others (especially each other).

Thirdly is the Parable of The Last Judgement. In this parable I learn that every person is a living icon of Christ, and that how I treat them is really how I treat Him. A great reflection of this parable stated that goats and sheep act in opposite manners, in relation to their owners: Sheep follow their master, rely of him (or her) and give back in the form of of wool and milk, while goats are willful, eat whatever they can get their mouths on, and are generally takers. What’s more, given the opportunity, they can lead a sheep into a dangerous area. For, while a goat is quite nimble and sure0footed, sheep (domestic sheep) are not suited for rocky environments.  What a fitting picture of the two camps we could potentially be in. What a reminder to my family and I, that whenever we encounter our neighbor, we not only encounter ourselves, but Christ.

Lastly is the Sunday of Forgiveness. I have to admit, due to my work schedule, I have not been able to be at Church on any of these Sundays (I am a fireman) since I have begun attending Orthodox services (catechumenate, as well as after baptism). The Sunday of Forgiveness is one I am particularly looking forward to. Forgiveness Vespers sounds like a wonderful way to begin the Lenten Struggle; for this is the crux of the matter: forgive, as you are forgiven. I don’t know exactly what to expect (other than what I have been told about it), but I am excited for myself and my girls.

When I piece the flow of the preparation for Lent together, I see it as one, powerful exhortation: We should not congratulate ourselves on our own righteousness and look down upon others, but remember that we are sinners, who have squandered the Father’s gifts to us, and are in need of repentance. Even if we do not stray from God, we should rejoice at the repentance of our brothers and sisters, and not refrain from the feast out of jealousy. More important than all the acts of religious piety, is to see Christ in everyone around us, and to treat them accordingly, not withholding our hand of mercy in time of need. Finally, we are to forgive. Forgive from the heart and let the burden of offenses done to us, or by us, be left at the foot of the Cross. I hope that my life and my words communicate that truth to my daughters. Obviously I need to learn it for myself first, but in doing so, I want to take seriously the charge to nurture them in the most holy faith.

A great podcast that speaks about the preparation period before Lent begins, and communicating that to our children and youth, is called Raising Saints. The three most recent podcasts (Parables that prepare Parts 1&2 and Teaching Why We Fast) are particularly excellent, and illustrate what I have said in this post with far more eloquence and simplicity. More than all the rules of fasting itself, is the need to pass on the spirit of the fast and how it leads us to reliance on God’s grace, focuses our attention on prayer and showing the love of God to others, in a way that is a little more deliberate than we might be prone to do most of the year. As we teach this to them, we are bound to learn it for ourselves.

Illustrating this point of not viewing the fast as a food restriction only, is a statement my oldest daughter made when she heard someone say how people act distraught, when they realize Lent is almost upon us. She said, “How can anyone not be excited about Lent? It leads to Pascha!” She doesn’t know it, but she gets it. The joy of the journey is in the destination. If we miss the opportunity to draw nearer to God, be kind to others, pray, etc, etc, because we are focused on staying away from foods and being bitter about it, then we have missed everything. Even worse, as I realized this past Wednesday, when I found myself speaking ill of others and acting like a general grump while fasting, we participate in the “fast of demons.” Not that we can’t repent, but it’d disappointing to realize that I have missed the point entirely.

Even though, regardless of whether or not this journey is simply thrust upon us or not, it is still fraught with danger, as were the journeys of Bilbo and Frodo, we are given this wonderful heart-check before Great Lent. I am truly grateful for the wisdom God has given us in His Church. Maybe it’s just the excitement (as I mentioned before) of knowing my this is the final countdown to my girls being received into the Church, but I relish this season of preparation more than before.

One final note. I know that in past posts I have mentioned that my wife has chosen not to convert with us. I have also mentioned that, following my spiritual father’s wisdom and guidance, I came into the Church a little over a years ago, though no on else did at the time. This has been a challenge for us as a family, but, through patience, grace and love, God has brought us through to a good place. While my wife is still not interested in converting with us, she has been excited with me about the girls being received this coming Pascha. What’s more, she is going to participate with us in the fast, though the Presbyterian Church she works at is fasting on the Western calendar. I am blessed by her willingness to participate with us and for her supportiveness during this time.  This season is and has been a great preparation for our whole family.

God grant us strength for this Lenten journey, which is about to begin…

Misty Mountains

January 18, 2013

I took my girls to see the new Hobbit movie a few weeks ago. When this song came on, my 7 year old said, “Daddy, that sounds like our songs at the Orthodox Church!”
I have been hearing my 3 year old chanting “Allelujah” around the house lately too.
I love that we sing our prayers in Church, as well as speak them. I don’t know if my three girls get everything they hear during the Liturgy, or other services. Whenever I hear them singing the hymns of the Church though, I hear their love for the things of Christ.

Veneration

January 17, 2013

In my parish, we just celebrated our Patronal Feast. Our Patron Saint is St Peter the Apostle and we commemorate the chains, which were removed by the angel when he was imprisoned by Herod (See Acts 12).

As the priest came out with the parish icon, in procession, and put it on display for public veneration, I was struck a thought that was a powerful reminder to me. As I approached to venerate the icon with my children and my parish, I was reminded that this veneration is an act of love. Love for who? Well, the most obvious answer is – Christ. But I am going to go out on a limb and say it’s “more” than that.

What do I mean by that? In 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 Paul tells us that all things are ours, that we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. As an extension of my love for Christ, I love the saints. I love my parish and the brothers and sisters I worship with. I love my priest. While worship and adoration belong to Christ alone, I love and honor what He has given me in His Church. I know that I get into the rhythm of “doing the things Orthodox Christians are supposed to do” and mechanically venerate an icon, or make the sign of the cross, or say the prayers. But the sense of love that I had as I watched my priest hold that icon of St Peter’s Chains aloft, was a good refresher for me.

In fact, it was a great topic to bring up to my daughters, who just started their catechism in preparation for Holy Baptism on Great and Holy Saturday of this year (God willing). I had a great time sharing the love we express through veneration with them. I need to remember that their experiences of the faith are just being formed. They don’t need to just know “what we do,”  but also, why we do it. It’s a joy to see the lights click on during our talks.

Heck, it’s nice when my own lights click on. Thanks be to God for the “all things” we have in His Church and in His Saints, for they and we consist in Him, who is our Life.

Joyful Exiles

September 13, 2012

Below is a link to a blog with a very painful story. The title of the blog is the title of my post. It initially looks short, but scroll down farther and click on the link. The letter written by the blogger’s wife is long and painful, but beautifully redemptive. However, the need for exposure of this kind of abuse is all too real. While I know the Orthodox Church has many, many issues among leaders, I am grateful for the hierarchical structure that allows this kind of abuse to be rooted out (though it doesn’t always get done).
Share this with anyone you think may benefit from it. 

http://joyfulexiles.com/?blogsub=confirming#subscribe-blog

 

The World Below

July 31, 2012

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My good friend and Orthodox brother Christian Gonzales put together this short seminar for youth workers, parents and clergy. The World Below is a term used to describe a life that kids lead “below the radar” of their family, clergy and church family. I found the talks eye-opening and disturbing, yet not without hope. The life in Christ as found in the Orthodox Church can reach these kids, but only if we are living the life in Christ ourselves. Here is the link to that seminar on AFR: http://ancientfaith.com/specials/the_world_below

 

What are your thoughts on what the speakers have to say?

If An Aborted Child Could Speak

July 13, 2012

This is an amazing testimony. If we view life as a Holy Mystery, then we should never try to argue when exactly a life is a human life. That is like trying to say when exactly bread and wine become the Body and Blood. There’s just no point.
I know that I normally don’t share “controversial” stuff on this blog, but I was too amazed by this woman to not share.

June 20, 2012

In connection with his last blog post on the lives of the saints, as it relates to the general communal nature of salvation and even our identity as humans, this post talks about life as more than knowledge and concepts. His final couple of sentences hit me the most. There is enough in these two posts to keep me occupied for some time.

Glory to God for All Things

Some questions are so obvious we fail to ask them.

Is it all in the head?

The question is whether the sense of spiritual, refers to anything other than ourselves. Is there any connection between myself and others, between myself and God, between myself and nature, or is such a perception only a set of ideas in my head?

In classical theological/philosophical language, the question is between realism and nominalism. Nominalism, a philosophy that generally dates back to William of Ockham (1288-1348), holds that universals (ideas, concepts, etc.) only exist in the mind. Realism holds that universals have an existence outside the mind. These divisions, inside/outside, may be increasingly problematic in a post-Newtonian world.

For Christians this question is more than “angels dancing on the head of a pin.” At its heart, the question asks about the nature of sacraments and relationships. For many Protestant Christians, nominalism…

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June 18, 2012

This is a wonderful reflection about the way we participate in the sacramental life, and by extension, one another. This is our life in Christ!

Glory to God for All Things

Biblical interpretation and doctrine based on Scripture have certain parameters that anyone rightly handling the word of truth must observe. The particular rule that I have in mind in this posting is the simple avoidance of anachronisms. That is, if an idea did not exist at the time of the New Testament, or shortly thereafter, but is, in fact, a modern development, then, whatever the writer might have meant, he could not have meant something that wasn’t an idea until the modern period. This is a fairly simple rule. If it can be shown that an idea is uniquely modern, then, if it is used as an interpretation of Scripture, we can be sure that the interpreter is reading back into Scripture something that is not there nor can be there.

In no case is this sort of anachronism more flagrant nor more distorting of Christian doctrine, than the notion…

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