30 December 2010

The Orthodox Church and the modern world

Recently I came across a paper by Pantelis Kalaitzidis, the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies. I don't have the time or inclination to address the entire paper. I would like to address, briefly, the interrelationship between Church and world that Kalaitzidis discusses. One brief quote may suffice:

the Church and its theology cannot move forward in the world while ignoring or devaluing the world that surrounds them, just because this world is not ‘Christian,’ or because it is not as they would like it. Similarly, the Church and its theology cannot motivate the people of today, the people of modernity and late modernity, so long as the modern world continues to be scorned and disparaged by the Church, and ignored as revelatory material and flesh to be assumed."

In the Holy Scriptures and the rest of the Church's tradition, "world" has two sense. In one of those senses, "world" is the object of God's creation, redemption and sanctification--e.g. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." But in the other sense, it is the fallen system whose head is the devil and whose internal ally is our sinful flesh (another word with two main senses). Thus, St. John says, "Do not love the world, or the things in the world. Whoever loves the world is at enmity with God."

The real contrast that Orthodox theologians have to address is not the contrast between the ancient and modern worlds. The real contrast is that between the world in the two biblical senses.

In which of those two senses does the world "function as revelatory material and flesh to be assumed?"

28 November 2010

Homily on the Rich Ruler

I was struck, when reflecting on our Gospel for today, with its connection to what comes immediately before. Some people brought little babies to Jesus, that he might touch them, but the disciples tried to prevent it. The Lord responds by saying, "Let the little children come to me, and don't forbid them, for of such is the Kingdom of God." And then he adds, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."

Then follows our text, at the end of which the Lord says "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" There's a common thread here, between these two: entering the Kingdom of God. And what do we learn? Little ones, babies, get it. Rich people have lots of trouble.

You see, beloved, the Lord Jesus stands all the values of this world on their head. Elsewhere he says, "I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and hast revealed them to babies. Yes, O Father, for such was your gracious will."

From the time we are small, we want to grow, to gain: in wisdom...in strength...in popularity...in financial security. We work out in the gym. We go to school. We friend others on facebook. We try to increase our bottom line. We do all that we can to stop being babies.

And in a certain sense, that's good. It's ok to work out...to learn and study...to be sociable...even to have a healthy bank balance. Wealth is not morally wrong. It's better to be Solomon than a fool...to be strong...to have friends. The trouble comes when we hold those things with a clenched fist, instead of in an open hand...when we try to make them ours...when they enter our inmost heart. Then the things that are relatively good, become absolutely bad. For they come between us and Christ.

In our text, the Lord tells this ruler, "You lack one thing." But that one thing was everything. This rich ruler's heart had grown attached to his wealth. It is not the wealth, but the attachment, that the Lord rejects. I cannot open my hands to receive from Christ, when they clutch my wealth, my wisdom and strength. I cannot be justified by God when I try to justify myself. I cannot receive the Kingdom as a gift, when I think it's something owed to me.

Nor can I be saved without works. The Lord does not condemn the ruler for his striving to keep the commandments. Christ does not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Real faith shows itself in action. St. James says, "Faith without works...is dead." And St. Mark the Ascetic says, "Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken."

The Lord Jesus stands all the values of this world on their head. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than at his cross, where he dies weak, and friendless, looking foolish, utterly bereft of anything good. If you would see true wealth, see the Lord of heaven and earth suspended on the tree, giving himself completely for those who hated him. If you would know wisdom, see God himself hanging there, becoming a curse for us, that we might be blessed. If you would know strength, you must know it in his broken body--as he later told St. Paul, "My power is perfected in weakness."

We understand the Lord's words rightly only when we can say, with Christ's disciples, "Who, then, can be saved?"...when we take with complete seriousness his reply:"the things that are impossible with men are possible with God." He doesn't say "necessary'; he doesn't say "certain"; he doesn't say "actual." He says "possible." I cannot presume on salvation, because it is impossible for me. I do not despair of salvation, because it is possible with God.

So in this life, I must be content to plead for mercy, like the publican...to detach myself from following after wealth, and wisdom and strength that I might follow after Christ...to be a little child, a nursing baby, who entrusts himself completely to the goodness of the crucified God and risen man. He who led his people Israel through the Red Sea as on dry land...he who passed through the womb of his mother without disturbing her virginity...who rose from the dead without breaking the seal of the tomb...is able also to bring me through the eye of a needle to the joys of his heavenly Kingdom: to which may we all attain, through his grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

05 October 2010

Nicholas Cabasilas on the ancestral sin

"...each man's soul inherited the wickedness of the first Adam. It spread from his soul to his body, and from his body to the bodies which derived from his, and from those bodies to the souls.

This, then, is the old man whom we have received as a seed of evil from our ancestors as we came into existence. We have not seen even one day pure from sin, nor have we ever breathed apart from wickedness, but, as the psalmist says, 'we have gone astray from the womb, we err from our birth.' We did not even stand still in this unhappy lot of the sin of our ancestors, nor were we content with the evils which we had inherited. So greatly have we added to the wickedness and increased the abundance of evil that the primal sin has been covered over by that which came later and the imitators have shown themselves to be worse by far than the examples."

The Life in Christ, Bk. 2 section 7 (English translation pp.76-77)

29 September 2010

Subterranean Scribble: I'm glad to see he finally recognizes it

Title of a post on Rev. McCain's blog:

Leading Sheep Out of Danger is Not Sheep Stealing

20 September 2010

A cracked quia?

The "semper virgo" issue is, once again, making the rounds on Lutheran blogdom; the chief post is found on Gottesdienst Online. Written by my friend and former colleague, John Stephenson, it incisively shows the problem inherent for someone wishing to maintain a "quia" subscription to the Lutheran Confessions and, at the same time, to reject the teaching that Mary is perpetually virgin.

What is at stake in this issue, for Lutherans? Nothing less than the continued existence of Lutheranism itself, as Lutheranism! In order to see that, we have to understand the notion of what I call an "organizing principle."

Each of the western confessions of faith has an organizing principle--a fixed point around which everything else revolves, the loss of which would mean the implosion of the confession itself.

For Rome, this principle is the papacy. This explains why Rome allows the Byzantine Catholics not to use the filioque in the Creed, and even, as some tell me, not to have to assent to it (or the Immaculate Conception) as dogma. All that is necessary to be Catholic is that one yield supremacy to the Pope. Ideally one also subscribes to the views of the pope, and not to do so may make one a "bad Catholic"--but the operating word is the noun, not the adjective.

For the Pentecostals, this principle is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking with tongues. While I still taught in Canada, word got out of a high-level delegation of the Assemblies of God paying a visit to the Toronto Vineyard church (home of the so-called "Toronto blessing"). Those leaders wanted to see what was happening in Toronto because over half of the AoG young people could not claim the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" or "speaking with tongues." The problem was critical, because when the organizing principle of a body is broken, its death is inevitable.

For Lutherans, this organizing principle is a "quia" subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. That means that Lutherans, especially pastors, are to subscribe to the entire doctrinal content of the Lutheran confessional writings because (Latin "quia") those writings agree with the Scriptures. It is contrasted to a "quatenus" (Latin for "insofar as") subscription to those texts.

Issues like the semper Virgo strike at the heart of this organizing principle. Although many early Lutherans, like Luther himself and Johann Gerhard, believed in the semper Virgo, Lutherans on the whole since Gerhard's time have rejected it as dogma. (There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule. But the Lutheranism of the ordinary pastor and layperson has no room for it.)

Here is the problem: The Lutheran confessions assume and teach the semper Virgo. Stephenson documents well the fact that the formulators of the Formula of Concord, including Chemnitz himself, held to this dogma. Even Herman Sasse recognized that they teach it, although he himself rejected it.

Writing forty or fifty years after the Lutheran confessional writings were drafted, Johann Gerhard formulated the so-called 'sola Scriptura' principle--the notion that all dogmas must be traced from clear passages of Scripture. Because Gerhard's exegetical method allowed for typological exegesis, he had no trouble affirming both the "sola Scriptura" principle AND the semper Virgo.

But many Lutheran theologians after Gerhard reject the typological approach to the Sciptures. This puts otherwise faithful Lutherans in the unenviable position of admitting that the Confessions teach, as dogma, something that to them seems to have no biblical foundation. What to do?

Some of them deny that the Confessions teach it as dogma. But articles such as Stephenson's certainly seem to shut that door.

Others return to Gerhard's typological approach to the Scriptures. But this approach seems deeply suspicious to many, who wonder how far the interpreter's cleverness can be allowed to go. Certainly as a Lutheran one cannot use the Church or her teachers as a check, because all that the Church and her teachers say and do must be normed by the Scriptures. To allow those teachers to guide authoritatively on what the Scriptures mean is to reverse the roles of the Scripture and traditon.

Still others stare at the problem "like a cow at a new gate," to use Luther's expression.

Pr. Weedon proposes a solution to the dilemma: a "cracked quia" subscription to the Confessional writings. He comments:

"The discomfort that arises for those who hold a quia subscription to the Symbols is not eased by lying to one's conscience that the Symbol cannot say what it plainly does simply because I do not believe it. One can take the Sasse route and have a bit of a cracked quia but at least honestly admit that it says what it does."

But a "cracked quia" is, eo ipso, an admission of failure with regard to the organizing principle of Lutheranism. When that which serves as organizing principle is, in principle, broken, disorganization and decay must inevitably follow. If Rev'd Weedon and his ilk can remain in communion fellowship with those who hold a different notion of the dogmas to which they are committed, then in principle the LCMS has become the unionistic fellowship that Franz Pieper warned about.

The recent election of Matthew Harrison as President of the LCMS has brought a lot of hope to those who subscribe to the Lutheran confessional writings. Confessional Lutherans got nearly everything they wanted, from the presidency on down, as well as greater centralization of authority in the president's office.

The institutional crisis, however, will trump any personal good will that Rev'd. Harrison is able to bring to bear on the problems facing the LCMS and confessional Lutheranism in general. Time will tell whether Rev. Weedon's crack is in fact the breakdown of the dyke which held Lutheranism together.

27 August 2010

Recent developments

Not a little electronic ink has been spilled over recent developments in the Antiochian Archdiocese—first by Orthodox, and now also by Lutherans of the Missouri stripe.

The recent LC-MS convention went the “confessional” way. Up and down the ticket, those aligned with traditional Lutheran worship and doctrine were elected to office. The Antiochian Archdiocese, on the other hand, appears to be going through some serious difficulties. It now seems that the Holy Synod in Antioch has designated all diocesan bishops as mere auxiliaries, and further that the much-vaunted self-rule of the North American archdiocese no longer applies.

In other words, things appear to be as good as they can get for confessional Lutherans, and (apparently) not too good at all for Antiochians.

Maybe this is the best time, then, to note:

1. The nature of the problem.
The least well-functioning family is better than the best corporate governance. The problems that face Orthodoxy are, as always, personal in nature; the problems that face Lutherans and other Protestants are structural.

2. The infallibility of the Church
When we teach that the Church is perfect and infallible, we do not teach that each individual in it—be he leader or follower—is perfect and infallible. We are in the midst of something here, and we do well to remember that God writes straight with crooked lines. If he were to remove all imperfect people from the Church, I would be the first to go.

3. The continuity of the liturgy
The liturgy we celebrate—apart, perhaps, from a change in the commemorations—will still be the same next Sunday, and next century.

4. To whom the Church belongs
Some well-meaning Orthodox blogs are calling for action and condemning priests for remaining silent. I remain convinced of two things: a) the Church is the body of Christ; b) the Orthodox Church is the Church. Christ will heal his body with gentleness, and in the proper time. My task is to pray for my leaders, to honor them, to follow them as they follow Christ. Even when Christians were put to the sword by pagan emperors, they did not cease respecting the emperors’ legitimate authority. How much more should we respect our fathers in Christ!

10 August 2010

Subterranean scribbling

Any argument against the intercession of the saints is founded on a pagan notion of death and, at its root, is an argument against all intercessory prayer.

09 June 2010

Zernikav blog begun

I've begun work on a major project, a translation of Zernikav's work on the Holy Spirit. Those who are interested may like to consult my other blog, devoted to the Zernikav project.

22 May 2010

Cleaning house: Lutheran books available

I'm going through my library to cull it. I'll list books for sale in this space; from time to time I'll add more. (Note: Buyer pays shipping too--usually < $4.00)

Lindemann, Fred H. "The Sermon and the Propers" 4 vols, hardcover, 1959. Some minor underlining, otherwise in good condition. $40.00

Koestlin, Julius. "The theology of Martin Luther." Philadelphia, Lutheran Publication Society, 1897. Hardcover, mint condition. $25.00

Kirchenagende fuer Ev-Luth Gemeinden ungeaenderter Augsburgischer Konfession. St. Louis: Concordia, 1922. 329 pp. *Mint* condition. $20.00

Luther, Martin. Kirchen-postille (2 vols). Stuttgart, 1845. Available on Abe Books for $79; I'm asking $50 plus shipping.

Schmucker, S.S. American Lutheranism Vindicated. Baltimore: T. Newton Kurtz, 1856. $40

Various authors. Various old LC-MS writings--including "Die heutigen Arbeiterverbindungen und die christliche Ortsgemeinde" (Graebner), "Fuenf Thesen ueber die Ehe mit der Schwester der verstorbenen Frau" (Hoenecke), "Captain William Morgan: Ein geschichtlicher Beitrag zur Beleuchtung des Logenwesens" (Krafft), "Ich glaube, darum rede ich" (Pieper) etc. Binding poor. Make an offer.

Die Bekenntnissschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. Berlin 1868. Binding needs work. $20.

Die unveränderte Augsburgische Konfession, deutsch und lateinisch, nach den besten Handschriften aus dem Besitze der Unterzeichner, Text-Ausgabe von Paul Tschackert, von Paul Tschackert. Good condition. $25

Pieper, F. "What is Christianity? And Other Essays..." St. Louis: Concordia 1933. $60.

LCMS. "Another Fraternal Endeavor". ?1950's? $5.00

Reinboth. "Calls and Vacancies". St. Louis: Concordia 1967. $5.00

Gerhard. "Sacred Meditations" Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1896. 2 copies: one (good binding) $60, another (poor binding) $25.

Jacobs. "The Book of Concord." Vol 1 only. Good shape. $25.

Lilje, Hanns. "Luther" (in German). Some spotting inside front cover; otherwise fine shape. $5.00

04 May 2010

Subterranean scribbling: the meaning of "espouse"

Pr. Weedon has quoted the following words of AC Piepkorn on his blog:

Because of the confessional position of the Lutheran Church, there is no reason why Lutherans should not still be Lutheran. Espousing the catholic and apostolic faith with Christ as center and Scripture as source, Lutherans are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, they do not have to ask whether they should be part of a church body with a name other than Lutheran. They do, of course, need to be concerned about the barriers that divide Christians from each other and must listen to other Christians for what the Holy Spirit may have to say through them. But they do not need to be concerned, as some other Christians have insisted they should be concerned, that they are somehow not the true church of Christ. -- A. C. Piepkorn, *The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions* pp. 195, 196.

The argument beneath this paragraph seems to be as follows (I welcome any correction):

Lutherans espouse the catholic and apostolic faith with Christ as center and Scripture as source.
Therefore, they are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

I note at least three things about the quotation and its underlying argument:

1. What does Piepkorn mean by "Church"? How does his "Church" (whether "Lutheran" or "one, holy, catholic and apostolic") relate to actually existing bodies (e.g. the LCMS, WELS etc)? How do the members of those bodies relate to it?

2. Does the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church have "parts"? There are, to be sure, jurisdictions in the Church. But are those jurisdictions "parts"? And how is that unity demonstrated, if not in the sharing of one font and one cup?

3. What does "espouse" mean? Is espousing a matter of mere words? Or does it also require actions in accord with those words? There is a move among some Lutherans, for example, to moralize their confessional position--i.e. "We are trying/we strive to be the Church described in the Confessions." But when confessions are moralized, they show themselves to be vacuous. Imagine, for example, someone saying "I try my best to believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth" etc. It just doesn't ring true as a statement of faith.

I welcome thoughts and responses from either of my readers.

03 May 2010

Subterranean scribbling: Two rites, one wrong

"I would argue that when the documents comprising the Lutheran Symbols, the Christian Book of Concord, are no longer permitted to critique and challenge current teaching or practice; when instead our Church's Confession is relegated to the museum as an interesting artifact of what was once the case, then we have lost the right to the name 'Lutheran.'" Rev'd. William Weedon

Some six or seven years ago, when I was still an LCMS pastor, I was a doctrinal reviewer for the hymnal--specifically, for the rite of baptism. I rejected the proposed rite, because it didn't include exorcisms. When I argued that the baptismal rite should include exorcisms, since Luther's rite (which is found in the Book of Concord) had them, I was told that Luther's rite exercised 'no normative role' in regard to current Lutheran baptismal practice.

Someone may note that the agenda has the exorcisms included. What's relevant, however, is the reasoning for not including them in the hymnal's rite.

Let the reader draw his conclusion.

02 May 2010

Sermon from the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

One of the many ways the Lord proved himself to be alive after his passion, was all the different places and occasions he appeared. He showed himself to the women at the tomb…the disciples on the road to Emmaus…the apostles in the Upper Room, and at the Sea of Galilee, and on the Mount of Olives. He came at morning and at evening; he came not just when they gathered for prayer, but also when they went fishing. When God the Son who fills all things became incarnate, he made his humanity to share in his divine omnipresence. To put it in simple terms, any place, any time can be the occasion for an encounter with the crucified and risen Lord.

We get a foretaste of that in today’s gospel, the account of St. Photini. She went to the well at midday for water, to slake her thirst; but she met Christ, who gave her the spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Did you notice that in the middle of the conversation she brings up “our father Jacob”? Jacob was Isaac’s son, the one who had dug that well so many years before…who left it to his son Joseph and his heirs. How much this woman shows herself to be a child of Jacob, who met the pre-incarnate Christ in a wrestling match!

Like Jacob, when she met God she was on the run.
Jacob, from Esau…had stolen Esau’s blessing…lived by taking.
She, from the townspeople…married five times, now with another.

Like Jacob, she wrestles with God.
Jacob, literally, as he struggled against the Angel of the Lord.
She, figuratively, as she enters a discussion with Christ.
“Where should we worship? I know that Messiah comes…”

Like Jacob, she is wounded in the encounter.
Jacob had his hip thrown out of joint…for the rest of his life he limped.
She, when Christ reveals her source of deepest pain: 5 husbands.

And like Jacob, she receives a new name.
Jacob becomes “Israel,” the one who wrestles against God and man.
She becomes “Photini,” the enlightened one.

Enlightened, she bears witness of Christ to the people of Samaria.
Later, she even bore witness to Nero, and ended her life as a martyr by being thrown down a well.

Let us learn from Photini, beloved.
* We can meet the true, Triune God in any and every situation of life. Western thought began to fall when men made a distinction between the “sacred” and the “secular.” And now the secular has taken over the sacred. A week ago, a school board in Rhode Island was sued because they held their commencement in a mega-church. The head of the school board, a minister, argued that the suit was without merit because the mega-church building looked nothing like a church!
But that’s not the Christian view! All of life belongs to God, and our call as Christians is to sacralize the world—not by political action, but by constant prayer and acts of love
* He uncovers our deepest hurts and pain, not to humiliate us but to heal us. Christians always walk with a limp: the glory belongs to him, and he shares it with us.
* He leads us to worship the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Truth and the Spirit.

(Note: the audio of this sermon is available on our website: holycross-aoc.org)

27 April 2010

Sermon from the Sunday of the Paralytic

One Russian priest says that today is the feast-day for all us paralytics. That’s what we are, isn’t it?

Beside our mortality, which leads us to fear, and bondage to sin…
Beneath our sin, which leads us to put ourselves at the center…
There’s also our weakness, which leads us to despair.

Weakness was the paralytic’s problem. Thirty eight years he lay near the pool. Throughout that time, he saw the waters stir, and others enter, and come out healed. But he himself could only watch: so close, and yet so far. No wonder that when the Lord said, “Do you want to be made well?” he answered “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Do you know your weakness? I’m often struck by the words of Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Weakness isn’t the same as sin. Weakness refers to those parts of our nature which have become exposed because of our ancestral sin. Weakness was no problem before the Fall, because we were covered with the glory of God. But when we fell, we lost the glory and so became weak. That’s why the Scripture says that the first thing our first parents noticed after the Fall was that they were naked…vulnerable…weak.

We are, all of us, weak. Some of our weaknesses are natural, common to us all: we all hunger and thirst, we all grow tired, we all die. And some of our weaknesses are personal, unique to each individual. Some struggle with physical limitations; others deal with depression. These things aren’t sin. But they remind us of our death, and can lead us to sin.

How do we deal with our weakness?
Some folks deny it. “Everything’s fine!” they’ll tell you…even when it’s not.
Others cover it. The schoolyard bully…the brash business man…the politician who says he’s retiring ‘to spend more time with his family’ when the polls go down…
Still others sink under its weight. “That’s just the way I am,” they’ll say, and thereby excuse themselves from ever growing, or changing.

Not so with the paralytic. He didn’t deny his weakness, or cover it up: how could he? Nor did he sink under its weight, and despair. He persevered. He waited patiently for the Lord. St. John Chrysostom says, “Astonishing was the perseverance of the paralytic, he was of thirty and eight years standing, and each year hoping to be freed from his disease, he continued in attendance, and withdrew not.”

Let us learn from the paralytic, beloved.
Let us not cover our weakness. Let us not deny it, or despair of it.

But let us learn to wait for the Lord…to bring it before him in prayer, as did St. Paul. He wrote the Corinthians: “lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It may be that the Lord will heal us by his word, as he did with this paralytic. “Take up your pallet and walk,” he said, and at once the man went home.

It may be that the Lord will tell us, with Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is perfected in weakness.” Indeed, may God deliver us from thinking we have no weakness! We must all be afflicted with some weakness in this life, and even when we are healed of one, we will have still others until the work of Christ is completely finished, and we see him in glory.

And let us beware, lest our weakness become a cause of sin. When the Lord encountered the paralytic after the healing, he said, “See, you have been made well. Go and sin no more, lest something worse befall you!”

No matter what, let weakness teach us humility…let it teach us to trust Christ who can sympathize with our weakness, because, being God, he became man, and bore our common weakness—he hungered, and thirsted, and grew tired. He even embraced our death, not because he had to, but willingly, freely, and full of love. Let us look to Christ, risen from the dead, who trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.

26 April 2010

If it looks like a...

Interesting article in USA Today, 26 April 2010 on using church buildings for commencement ceremonies. The ACLU is threatening to sue a school board in Enfield, Connecticut for using an area megachurch as the location for the Enfield commencement. Here's the relevant quote:

"Greg Stokes, a pastor who chairs the Enfield school board, says The First Cathedral, a Baptist megachurch in nearby Bloomfield, Conn., is a generic space. 'If you...walked into the main auditorium, you would not recognize yourself as being in a church.'"

I was reminded of the Orthodox cathedral in Almaty, Kazakhstan--the second-tallest wooden building in the world. When the Bolsheviks took over, they couldn't figure out what to do with the space. They tried it as an art gallery...a lecture hall...but it was made to be a church, and is useless for any other purpose.

What does architecture confess about theology?

06 April 2010

Things I was reminded of...

...during our Paschal celebration.

First, how I feel or think at a given time isn't the most important thing. The fact is that the tomb is empty and Christ is risen. Everything else, all our spirituality and singing, our ascetic labors--all is founded on Christ's actual resurrection or it is worthless.

Second, we need each other. When you walk around the outside of the church, and a breeze blows out one's candle it's not so bad when there's someone else around from whose candle one's own can be relit. "We are damned by ourselves. We are saved in community."

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

21 February 2010

Who found whom?

Jesus decided to go into Galilee.
He had a plan…a purpose…and that purpose and plan was to find Philip.
So John tells us, “He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
Jesus found Philip. He called him.

When Philip heard the Lord’s call, we’re told, Philip found his friend Nathaniel and said,
We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote—
Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph!”

So who found whom? Did Jesus find Philip, or did Philip find Jesus?

The answer, of course, is “Yes--both.”

Our text is a delightful example of synergy: of God’s will coming together with ours.

A few years ago, there was an evangelistic campaign called “I found it!”
Those words appeared on billboards, along with a phone number.
Those who called the number received a gospel presentation.

At the time I criticized it; I said, “We shouldn’t say ‘I found it,’ but rather, “He found me.”
Like many, I thought that the relation between God’s will and mine was a “zero-sum game.”
I was wrong.

When you play poker with your friends, that’s a “zero sum game.”
If you win money, they lose money; if they win, you lose.
There’s only so much money involved.
But if you play poker with Bill Gates, that’s a “non-zero sum game.”
If you win some of his money, he’s lost nothing,
Because in the time it took you to win, he already made more.

The relationship between our will and God’s will is a non-zero sum game.
If I say, “We have found him,”
It doesn’t take away from his glory, his honor or his might.
It doesn’t mean that he didn’t find me.
Both are true: He found me, and I found him.

But how can that be?

How can God, the one who made everything, including me, from nothing—
How can God let himself become an object of my will, my creaturely will?

The answer gets to the heart of our Christian faith:
The incarnation of God the Son.
Without ceasing to be who he is,
He became what he was not.
He who is the Son of God, forever blessed,
Became the Son of Man, and took our curse.

He made himself an object of our senses, our mind,
And yes, our will.

That’s why St. Mark the Ascetic could say,

"Wishing to show that to fulfil every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own Blood, the Lord said: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say: 'We are useless servants: we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17: 10). Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants. A slave does not demand his freedom as a reward; but he gives satisfaction as one who is in debt, and he receives freedom as a gift."

We work, but we receive freedom as a gift. We find him, and he finds us.

That’s also why we reverence the holy icons. St. John of Damascus says, “Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I [16] worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

The Christian life is simply a life of hide and seek:

He seeks us, and knows us before we know him, and finds us in his holy Church;
We seek him, and find him where he wills to be found—
In his holy Church,
And in the bodies of the poor.

So let us seek him, beloved; let us not become proud when we see him wrapped in lowliness.
Let us not stumble at the lowly appearance, but honor the hidden majesty.
Let us honor him in the images,
Let us honor him in each other,
And let us honor him in the poor.

"When He is hungry, let us feed Him; when He is thirsty, let us give Him drink: though thou give Him but a cup of cold water, He receives it; for He loves thee, and to one who loves, the offerings of the beloved, though they be small, appear great. …
One who is beloved desires love to be shown, not by words only, but by deeds also. For to say that we love, and not to act like lovers, is ridiculous, not only before God, but even in the sight of men. Since then to confess Him in word only, while in deeds we oppose Him, is not only unprofitable, but also hurtful to us; let us, I entreat you, also make confession by our works; that we also may obtain a confession from Him in that day, when before His Father He shall confess those who are worthy in Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever, and world without end. Amen."

15 February 2010

Sermon from 14 February: Forgiveness Sunday

The root of the word “disciple” is “discipline.”
And to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is to take his yoke upon ourselves:
the disciplines of prayer, and fasting and almsgiving.

But why these three disciplines?
Why prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving?

There are two reasons, beloved:
First, because they call us back to the life of paradise.
Adam prayed…he spoke with the Lord on a daily basis. He was not surprised, after the Fall, that the Lord would come to walk in the Garden in the cool of the day.

Adam fasted…or at least, he was called to fast from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to show his obedience and love for the One who made him in his image. When he broke that fast, he lost Paradise for himself and for us.

And what of almsgiving? There were no poor in the Garden, only Adam and Eve, supplied with everything they needed. But almsgiving is precisely the confession that God provides and has provided us with all we need to love and serve him.

So when we pray, when we fast, when we give alms,
We remember the life of Paradise, the life from which we have fallen.

The second reason we pray, and fast, and give alms, is because they draw us to the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All his life is a life of prayer
He prayed in the Temple…before choosing the disciples…in his time of deepest woe in Gethsemane—yes, and on the rough wood of the Cross, where he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At all times and place, he prayed.
Even after he rose again, St. Paul tells us that Christ “lives to make intercession for us.”

He fasted.
When Christ came to redeem us and restore us to Paradise,
The first act of his ministry for us
Was to fast for forty days and nights.
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me,” he told his disciples.

And he gave alms. Though he had no place to lay his head, he freely gave of his time and his life, to help those in deepest need. He taught the poor, he healed the sick, he raised the dead, he cast out demons.

By his prayers, by his fasting, he gave to us the alms we need the most:
Not this life, extended out longer, with a little more comfort;
But his own indestructible life, a life in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Today, this Forgiveness Sunday, we take those disciplines on ourselves in a deeper way.

In a few moments, we mark Forgiveness Vespers.
Each of us asks every other one for forgiveness;
Each of us responds, in return: “God forgives, and I forgive.”
We cannot soar to the heights of discipline, if our leg is fettered with bitterness.
And how we respond to others’ faults will determine how our Father deals with ours. Freed from resentment, we can devote ourselves to prayer.

For the next number of weeks, we will fast from meat, and fish, and dairy.
Not to “earn points” with God—he doesn’t need our fasting
Not to show ourselves better—remember, the Devil is the best fast-er of all—
But to raise in ourselves a hunger for God,
A remembrance how totally we depend on him for our daily bread.
Beware of self-chosen fasting: “I’ll fast from this, or from that.” Let us rather submit ourselves to the mind of the Church, the mind of Christ, and take his yoke on ourselves.

And we give alms: maybe through “Food for Hungry People,” or “OCMC”, or even more local avenues of ministry—God grant us an Orthodox “Project Hope” some day! We give up things that will perish, to gain things that last forever. We lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

During this Lent we enter into spiritual combat with principalities and powers—
Or rather, we remind ourselves of the never-ending battle
which began when we were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism
and anointed with Holy Chrism,
and first tasted the life-giving flesh and blood of the Son of God.

We embrace the way of the Cross, the Holy Passion of Christ our God for us,
So that we might rejoice in his glorious Resurrection.

So come, beloved of God,

Let us lay aside the cares of this life
Let us take on ourselves the gentle yoke of Christ
And let us journey with him to Jerusalem, where he must suffer.

Let us see, as he suffers for us with outstretched arms on the Tree,
His gracious invitation for us to return to Paradise.
Let us go with the women to his empty tomb,
and awaken from our normal slumber of doubt and laziness,
to the great glad tidings that the Son is risen!

As St. Paul tells us in today’s epistle: “Brethren, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

18 January 2010

It gives no joy...

...to read this thread over at Weedon's blog--especially the comments. The tune sounds familiar.

The Church's purpose

"The Church's purpose is to lead man to deification. When we release the Church from this purpose, we will make it more an ideology, a religious and human organisation. And we know very well that there is a great difference. I would say a chaotic one, between ideology and Church. The former has ideas, while the Church has life, a life which is an overcoming of death."
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, "The Mind of the Orthodox Church," p. 45