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.

Goodbye

This post is probably the most difficult one I’ve written. It’s a decision upon which I have reflected, prayed and wrestled for almost a year. Yet, as time passes, I am increasingly convinced that it’s time to close the door on this blog.

I began this blog in March 2003 as our family left professional ministry and embarked on a journey of theological exploration. This blog has recorded our joys and struggles as we explored a different form of Christian community. It has allowed me to deconstruct and reconstruct my theology and wrestle with my new identity outside of professional ministry. It has marked special events in our family’s life. And recently, it has recorded our family’s journey into the Holy Orthodox Church.

So why am I ending this blog?

There are a several reasons, but I won’t bore you with the details. Ultimately I believe I’m entering a time when my voice needs to be silent. For me, this blog has been a platform to share what I’ve learned and experienced as well as serving as a catalyst for conversations beyond my local relationships. During the past seven years, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing as well as participating in the conversations that various posts have sparked. I am blessed by the number of people who have contacted me to share their stories. I’m always startled by God’s grace and love in the midst of every person’s journey, struggles and joys. I feel like I was blessed with the rare opportunities to witness firsthand the remarkable transformations of faith as people searched for something deeper and more meaningful than their current church experiences.

But it’s now time for me to be quiet. And I had a choice to make. I could have simply stopped writing posts and let this blog fade away. However, as I’ve grown a bit older, I’ve realized that marking significant events has become increasingly important to me.

This blog has been a very n0table part of my life and I would have regretted not marking my decision to end it. This blog has sustained me for the last several years. It has been my journal and sounding board, allowing me to process my wounds, my theology and my journey. There are probably as many unpublished posts as published ones. But the discipline of writing all of them with prayer, reflection and discernment has been an essential part of the overall formative process in my journey. So because this blog has meant so much to me, I need closure.

As I say goodbye to this blog, some thanks are in order. First, I want to thank everyone who participated in our house church community — Mark, Barbara, Dan, Kerri, David, Jennifer, Angela, Gary, Anne, Thomas, Erika, Billy, Carol, Alan, Maribeth, Debbie and all of the kids and friends who been part of our extended family.

I also want to thank Steve for being a great friend and pastor to me through those house church years. And I want to thank David for being such a profound influence in my movement toward Orthodoxy.

While this blog comes to an end, my life-goals remain the same. I simply want to be a good man, husband, father and friend. I want to embody, demonstrate and announce Christ’s life and love to the best of my abilities. I want to incarnate Christ’s presence in a simple, quiet way to the people I love so that they may grow and excel in God’s life. In some small way, I want to follow St Seraphim of Sarov’s words, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

I want to thank all of you who have taken time to read my posts, leave comments, say prayers for my family, and be a little part of our journey. May God lead you ever further into his life, love and likeness.

Goodbye.

Bridegroom Hymn

During the last two evenings, our family has attended the Bridegroom Matins. These are such beautiful services, immersing us ever-deeper into Holy Week. One of the hymns we sing during these services is absolutely breathtaking. It succinctly captures the pathos of the Lenten journey of joyful repentance as well as the brilliant hope of Christ’s resurrection that awaits us at the culmination of Holy Week.

“I behold Thy bridal chamber richly adorned, O my Savior; but I have no wedding garment to worthily enter. Make radiant the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.”

I’ve attached a short clip of our congregation singing the hymn: