Category Archives: Eastern Orthodoxy

Sunday Of The Prodigal Son

Stitching Together Heaven and EarthYesterday was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. I love Jesus’ stories, and the Prodigal Son is his absolute best in my opinion. It weaves together beautiful themes of mercy, repentance, resurrection, and New Creation, while expertly exposing the condition of the reader’s heart.

While the story arc of the younger son is beautiful and moving, I always find affinity to the older son. So much is said about the younger son’s attitude to his father. His request for his half of the inheritance was a “middle finger” in his father’s face. Yet, yesterday, I realized that the older son’s attitude was exactly the same. In fact, it was worse because he hid it behind a thin veneer of obedience and moral superiority.

And it’s only exposed by his younger brother’s transformation.

The older son is just as selfish and disrespectful as his younger brother. Despite the remarkable repentance of his brother and miraculous mercy of his father, the older son can only think, “I’ve been slaving for you and you never gave me a party.” Slaving!? The property upon which he worked was solely his inheritance! The other half had been cashed out and given to his younger brother. This was his land, his flocks, his servants — everything his father owned was his!

Now his younger brother had been resurrected from the dead! He had been delivered from the long exile of selfishness and self-destructive behavior and returned home a transformed person. The father is now embodying mercy and joy, offering his best for a coming-home party, and thus demonstrating how one truly blesses others. And all the older son can think is “I’ve been slaving for you and now you’re using my inheritance for this jerk and you’ve never thrown me a party.”

Think about to what the father is inviting his older son. The younger brother is being reconciled back into the father’s home and family on the older brother’s inheritance. The younger brother wasted his half of the inheritance.

Yet, the inheritance given to the older son was as freely given as to his younger brother. And while his younger brother wasted it in self-destructive behavior, the older brother was cooperating with his father to further develop his inheritance. But notice the different perspectives of the father and his eldest son. The father viewed his possessions as the means to bless and reconcile his younger son. The eldest son viewed it as his own personal reward for his diligent work.

This is how Israel was to be the blessing to the nations. It’s how Jesus’ followers become “mobile temples” of God’s presence and stitch heaven and earth back together. The mercy and joy of reconciling others is paid for by the grace freely given to us. The problem occurs when we start viewing God’s grace to us as our possession. Grace flows. It’s not owned or possessed. Grace is for others, not for ourselves.

We are called to grow in grace, but not for our own benefit. It’s for the sake of others and for the life of the world.


Let Him Be Measured By This Measure

Fr Stephen Freeman has provided a beautiful excerpt from Dr Alexander Kalomiros’ Nostalgia for Paradise. I would like to start with the final paragraph from that excerpt:

Such is the true theologian. If anyone wishes to be so named, let him be measured by this measure. Even he who simply wishes to be a disciple of such theologians must walk in their exact footsteps if he desires their words to be echoed in himself, and his eyes to see light.

Blessing Of The WatersLet him be measured by this measure…

When I was a professional pastor, I would have the occasional conversation with a lay-person who possessed either theological training or perceived a divine calling on their lives to be a pastor or teacher in the Church. The person’s self-perception was always the same — their education, calling or leading of the Spirit should entitle them to some form of recognition or position in the local church.

As a pastor in the local church, part of my responsibility was to discern not only knowledge or calling, but also the character of Christ’s likeness. And one of the hallmarks of a person who wasn’t ready for a leadership position was the sense of entitlement for a leadership position.

Let him be measured by this measure…

Here’s the catch: I knew then that I didn’t possess the Christlikeness to be a theologian, teacher or pastor despite my own theological training and perceived calling to ministry. While I never possessed any kind of entitlement for a leadership position, I was well aware of my own undeveloped virtue. In fact, this was one of the unspoken motivations of not returning to professional ministry. This decision took a few painful years to reconcile. Yet, I believe it was one of the best and healthiest decisions I ever made.

Let him be measured by this measure…

I am also well aware that removing myself from professional ministry doesn’t discharge me from the responsibility of following Christ, to yearn to be transformed into his likeness. In fact, it is for the very life of the world around me that I strain toward that which Christ has called me — the fullness and maturity of his likeness. To become by grace what he is by nature.

For this reason, I am always grateful for people like Dr Kalomiros, who can create fresh expression to what Christ’s likeness can be in ordinary human life. May the description below ultimately be formed within me.

Let him be measured by this measure…

Do not seek to understand God for it is impossible. Simply open the door of your soul so His presence may fill you and illumine your mind and heart, warm your body, and enter your veins. Theology is not a cerebral knowledge but a living knowlege that is directly relevant to man and sustains and possesses the whole man. A cold, cerebral man cannot know and discourse on divine things, even if his head contains an entire patristic library. He who is not moved by a sunset, a tree, or a bird cannot be stirred even by the Creator of these things. In order to grasp God and be able to talk about Him to others you must be a poetic soul. It means that you must have a heart that is noble, sensitive, and pure. You must be as an ear that is turned to the whisperings of the Infinite, and as an eye that sees through the bottomless depths while all other eyes see only pitch blackness. It is impossible for timorous souls and stingy hearts to discourse on divine things.

The heart that grasps the mysteries is one that is naive enough to think all souls worthy of Paradise, even souls who may have drenched their heart’s life with bitterness. It is a heart that feels and sings like a bird, without caring if there is no one there to hear it. It rejoices over everything that is beautiful, everything that is true, because truth and beauty are two aspects of the same thing and can never be separated. It has compassion for every living thing that is animate or has roots, and even for every seemingly lifeless stone.

It is a modest soul that is out of its waters in the limelight of men but blooms in solitude and quiet. It is a heart free to its very roots, impervious to every kind of pressure, far from every kind of stench, untouched by any kind of chains. It distinguishes truth from false hood with a certain mystic sense. Its every breath offers gratitude for all of God’s works that surround it and for every joy and every affliction, for every possession, and for every privation as well. Crouching humbly on the Cornerstone which is Christ, it drinks unceasingly of the eternal water of Paradise and utters the Name of Him who was and is ever merciful. Such a soul is like a shady tree by the running waters of the Church, with deep roots and a high crown where kindred souls find comfort and refuge in its dense branches.


Pascha & Pain

From The Cross

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tomb, bestowing LIFE!

Today is Pascha or Easter for us Orthodox Christians. At midnight, we greeted this momentous event with the hymn above, along with others, extolling the wondrous work of Christ’s resurrection.

The Gospel reading at every Paschal service is John 1. John begins his Gospel as a Creation story, echoing the themes of Genesis 1. For in Christ and His Pascha, God’s New Creation has begun. The resurrection of God’s people, which is to inaugurate God’s New Creation in the future, has suddenly and surprisingly broken into the here and now through one Man. In the quiet morning hours at a tomb outside of Jerusalem almost two millennia ago, creation’s trajectory was forever altered. The River of Life, as depicted in Ezekiel 47 and proclaimed later by Jesus in John 7, began to trickle from the empty tomb.

I did something a little different this Pascha morning. As my family slept, I watched Blood Diamond. And I prayed and cried. For me, this movie is not entertainment. Rather, it is a stark reminder that two “creations” overlap. God’s New Creation has been injected into a creation festering with greed, violence, lust, hatred, and pain. The very nooks and crannies of God’s good creation and the people he created to care for that creation writhe with evil and death.

The pain of evil is not abstract. It grinds against all of us. It throbs through our news, our communities and our lives. No one is immune.

But neither is the triumph and jubilation of Christ’s resurrection abstract. Nor is it a pie-in-the-sky dream we hold for some distant future. It is here. Where? In those who choose to embrace Christ’s life, to become people increasingly like him. For he is God’s Temple where heaven and earth intersect. And as we become more like him, we too are the Temple. We are God’s Temple from which streams of Living Water begin to trickle and swell, bringing health to a septic and feverish creation.

At the Paschal service, we sing anthems of Christ’s victory over evil and death and we hear about God’s New Creation in John 1. But more importantly, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. We consume his very LIFE. As he offered his LIFE to his Father for the life of the world, it now empowers us to do the same.

And so Christ’s Pascha transfigures the world’s pain.

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!


Trisagion

IconThis rendition of the Trisagion is absolutely beautiful and moves me to tears. If you have a few quiet moments, just let it wash over you.

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal.

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal.

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal.

Have mercy on us.

Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and ever and through eternity.


When The Paint Dries

St Isaac the SyrianMy best friend, Mark, posted on Facebook these sayings from St Isaac the Syrian:

“Rebuke no one, criticize no one, not even those who live very wickedly.”

“Spread your robe over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.”

“And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept their punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.”

I’ve recently had several conversations about a saying that John Wimber made popular in the Vineyard movement. He used to say, “I want to grow up before I grow old.” This pithy statement would always evoke a laugh from the audience. But now in my 40′s, I’m realizing how important a life-goal this should be.

Most of the posts on my blog basically say the same thing. The core desire of my life is to be reformed into a person that naturally and easily embodies Jesus’ character into the world.

Through his resurrection, Jesus has inaugurated his Father’s restoration of the world he created and loves. That project is being further implemented by those who answer Jesus’ radical call to follow him and become his apprentices.

From a human standpoint, Jesus’ call seems absolutely crazy. Love God with everything you are. Forgive everyone for everything. Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every circumstance. And the list could go on.

But this list is not a checklist of things to do. Rather, it’s a description, even a promise, of the kind of person we can be under Jesus’ tutelage.

Based on the average life expectancy of a man in the United States, I’m past the halfway point. This has caused a lot of internal reflection over the past couple of years. Much of my youth, even with my best intentions, was spent pursuing the wrong values; painting my life with colors I thought were attractive. But as the paint has begun to dry, I’ve realized I don’t like how it looks.

Sayings such as St Isaac’s, one of Jesus’ successful apprentices, remind me that there is a better way to live, a better way to be. And they compel me to repaint my life, hoping that when the paint finally dries in the latter part of my life, I will have chosen the proper colors that reflect Christ into the world and that help a bit in the renewal of this world that he loves.


Why Church?

The ChurchSometimes we can lose our focus on why we need the Church. Maybe we’ve been hurt or disappointed or disillusioned. Quotes like the one below remind us why God created his restorative family and community called the Church.

“The Church has been established in the world to celebrate the Eucharist, to save man by restoring his Eucharistic being. The Eucharist is impossible without the Church, that is, without a community that knows its unique character and vocation — to be love, truth, faith and mission — all of these fulfilled in the Eucharist; even simpler, to be the Body of Christ. The Eucharist reveals the Church as a community — love for Christ, love in Christ — as a mission to turn each all to Christ. The Church has no other purpose, no ‘religious life’ separate from the world. Otherwise the Church would become an idol. The Church is the home each of us leaves to go to work and to which one returns with joy in order to find life, happiness and joy, to which everyone brings back the fruits of his labor and where everything is transformed into a feast, into freedom and fulfillment, the presence, the experience of this ‘home’ — already out of time, unchanging, filled with eternity, revealing eternity. Only this presence can give meaning and value to everything in life, can refer everything to that experience and make it full.”  The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983, p. 25


The Lenses Through Which I See

I read a beautiful Paschal reflection by Fr Ted Bobosh. His reflection reminded me of how God has shaped me to view life through a few crucial lenses.

First, salvation, as experienced personally, is the entire process of God rescuing me from sin and death and restoring me as his image-bearer. In other words, salvation is the actual process of being transformed into Christ’s likeness. As such, “forgiveness of sins” is the doorway to salvation, but not salvation itself. Forgiveness is a necessary aspect of a far larger process of renewal, restoration and transformation. Therefore, I don’t possess salvation. Rather, I’m on a journey of salvation, a journey toward becoming like Christ in his life and likeness.

Second, God is saving his entire creation. There is a global dimension to salvation. The promised New Creation is this creation renewed and overflowing with God’s glory. The New Creation was inaugurated at Jesus’ resurrection and God is actively restoring his creation, primarily through the renewal of creation’s stewards — the human race.

Third, Jesus’ very being and life saves us. God’s salvific activity cannot be pinpointed to just one event in Jesus’ life. All of the events save us. He saves us through his birth, his circumcision, his baptism, his ministry, his miracles, his teaching, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, his return, his ongoing kingship, and all the bits in between.

Fr Stephen Freeman summarizes nicely, “The Incarnation of Christ and the whole of His work – suffering, death, burial, descent among the dead, resurrection, ascension – serve the same singular purpose – to deliver all of creation (including humanity) from its bonds and establish it in the freedom for which it was created – manifest in Christ’s own resurrection.”

The convergence of these lenses bring the world into pin-sharp focus for me and have helped me to shed much of the delusion from my past.


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