What I’m “About”.

April 21, 2008

On our Myspace, someone requested our friendship and simply said: “Hey man, what are you about? Sounds intriguing.”

Let me tell you first what I’m not about.

I’m not about the modern expression of Christianity, little more than self-help seminars, visions of health, wealth and prosperity, and hedonism, all wrapped up in pretty walls and powerpoint presentations with a cacophony of modern music with a veneer — an idea — of what Christianity should be to the self-taught, undisciplined, prideful man.

I’m not about the idea of the Church being a place where you go simply to feel good on Sundays. I’m not about the idea of foolishly assuming that all we have to do is “believe” and we are eternally secure in salvation. I’m not about the idea of debasing the Christ, the Eternal Logos, ineffable in might and glory, to some “buddy” — I shudder at the thought.

I’m not about to think that God’s plan of salvation for man is entirely evident in what modern day Pastor Bob or Brother Jim has to say, nor do I think it can be found within our own biases, ideas, or assumptions. I’m not about asking “What is true to me”, I am about “what is true.”

To date, there are literally tens of thousands of ‘denominations’ expressing entirely contradictory views of Christianity. I’m not about to believe they are all true, as Christ says “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and the Apostle Paul said “let there be no divisions amongst you” to the Corinthians.

It began with One Church, it will end with One Church.

I’m not about to say that God is not going to save anyone outside of His Church, for God’s love is as an infinite ocean, and our sins are as a handful of dust in comparison — however both Biblical and secular history point towards One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church.

In Acts we find that the Church began at the feast of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, where God the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples according to His Divine Providence around 33 A.D. From the point, after Christ gave the world what the West knows as “The Great Commission”, these disciples went into the world, building the Church, Baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Three Persons, One God.

In a nutshell, as years passed the Church grew into larger proportions. The Apostles had formed Apostolic ‘Sees’, in 5 major places: Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople(modern Turkey) and Jerusalem. In 1054 AD in a tragic event known today as the Great Schism, the Roman Patriarchate broke away from the other Four, thus forming the Roman Catholic Church. This Schism is where things tragically began to go downhill…

After Rome split, they started the Crusades in 1095. In 1517, the Protestant Reformation began, and by this time of course the Roman Catholic Monk, Martin Luther, had started his church, then came the Church of England, so on and so forth. All these years later, so many churches exist, and given the state of this world everyone is free to open a building, name it what they wish, and preach whatever gospel people want to hear.

No matter what one may believe today, there is a church to fit their specific idea, when in truth they only worship themselves, their own egos, their own ideals and mentalities.

What I’m about, is in opposition to all off this. It is the established, recorded, faith which lacks nothing. It is the Church of the Apostles, of the Creed, of the Councils, the Faith which established the universe.

Orthodoxy.

The Faith undistorted, unchanging, unmoving, and unwavering.

It is the answer to the void we seek to fill with carnality, hedonism, materialism, money, pride, adornment of self and self-gain. It is the path trodden by the Saints and Apostles, as paved by the Cross, as watered by the blood of the radiant and victorious Martyrs. It is what we were all born to find, it is among the hardest things you will ever do, yet beyond compare more free and liberating than anything this world can offer.

It is the descent into one’s own heart, and the ascent into the Kingdom. It is the renewal of the Fall of Adam, communion with God, growing in Christ. It is dying to the world and death to the self, forsaking the “do what thou wilt” philosophy of our nihilistic age and embracing the call to “Take up your own cross, and follow Me” as we read of in the Scriptures.

It is forgetting what WE are about. It is saying, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives within me.”

It is the ancient way, the straight and narrow way, which few shall find and fewer shall walk. It is the careful and strong preservation of Spirit-given knowledge, which none can know, unless he is in the Spirit.

And what I’m about, is infinitely nothing in comparison. I am a sinner, and I am seeking to walk the Way.

… Whether or not this explanation was to the liking or disliking of this person, I cannot say. All I can hope is that I at least partially represented what Orthodoxy has come to mean to me personally.

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The Pilgrimage

April 19, 2008

We rounded the turn just as the clouds began to give a soft drizzle, providing a welcome comfort from the hot North Carolina sun. The sun was still shining, most obviously noticeable on the white triple bar cross in the clearing — the harbinger of our arrival to the Panagia Prousiotissa monastery, a treasure of spiritual wealth, where a handful of nuns have been called to work out their salvation…

The Abbess and the nun beneath her welcomed us with the warmest smiles and gentlest eyes I had seen since my childhood. It was no task of obedience for them to greet us warmly, nor was it an act of obligation for them to welcome us as pilgrims to a part of their inner life, they were genuinely happy to see us, we were their joy, and we were their blessing. From the moment we stepped foot onto the grounds, it was as though I found a small paradise, where the earth itself was sanctified, and nature, in all ways, glorified its Creator… from the soft drizzle of rain, the gentle southern wind, the pine trees and the beautiful gardens which the nuns there had labored diligently for — how manifold are Thy works, O Lord! In Wisdom You have created them all.

The moment of arrival in and of itself was worth the trip, but truly, beauty had not even begun to reveal itself.

I bowed my heads humbly to the nuns, honoring them as the angels that they were, and they smiled back to me. The peace and love they seemed to show, and their gentle eyes, seemingly windows into their very souls, haven’t left me to this day. I count it a blessing to know that they remembered me even for a moment in their prayers. They led us all after their warm greetings to a place where they had prepared a wonderful Lenten meal, a pasta with shrimp sauce, some fresh cut fruit, and homemade bread, all served with water. The nuns left us to our meal, whether because they had their own obediences or as was their custom, I could not say. I was blessed to sit next to Father, who told me stories of his own obediences at this very monastery.

He had helped plant many of the flowers that we were now seeing fully bloomed, which was more than a blessing to Father Mark. He asked the nuns, humbly, if he could just put his face in lilacs and smell them. Seeing Father, with his cassock, pectoral cross and hat bury his nose in the lilacs as a warm smile grew across his face is an image that has also stuck with me to this day. Truly it is a blessing from God to find such happiness from such a relatively simple creation. We went into their small bookstore, where they had icons, incense, charcoal, censers, candles, Lenten foods, and other such things ready. I left with a beautiful prayer rope, an icon of St. Elias, of St. Paul the Apostle, and the Transfiguration. The nuns were happy with my choices, telling me that I had picked such beautiful icons.

After we had made our purchases with them, we sat for a small dessert with the nuns, who naturally touched nothing but were eager to serve. This, my friends, is where the most beautiful and striking part happened. It’s hard, even now, to not be visited with joyful tears at the recollection of such a beautiful thing. I won’t share it all, as words cannot rightly do it justice, but I will do my best to recall some of what has stayed with me to this moment.

The nun under the Abbess, who seemed to do a little more of the speaking, welcomed us once more with a smile. To this point, none of them seemed to say very much, but now was the time when their grace-filled mouths would bless us with the edification we came so eagerly seeking.

We spoke of several things…

Father Mark told us of how he began to come to Orthodoxy, and it set the tone for all of what was to come. He is a convert from Roman Catholicism, who, in a nutshell, visited holy places of Russia. He had lapsed from his faith, and went to confess to his priest of the time… and as he recalled this, he said in a soft whisper, “I always loved confession…” tears filled his eyes, as they grew distant, and I knew that he was recalling something of spiritual importance. It wasn’t long after this that he was Orthodox. He went on to tell us of how, visiting places such as those are by no accident, they are not mistakes, nor was it an accident or mistake that we were are Panagia Prousiotissa, but Divine Providence had led us here. I looked at my surroundings as one of the nuns began to speak after him, that “Here at the Panagia’s monastery, she visits us and blesses us in a very special and individual way… many come here and ask us, ‘What is this peace I feel?’ ‘What is this beauty I see?’ and we know that it is the Panagia smiling warmly upon us all.” She went on to tell us of how this was all built under the care of Father Ephraim, who told them upon leaving that their obedience is to show sheer love and hospitality to everyone, let this monastery be known for these things, and surely they had been succeeding in this for some time.

The nun under the Abbess, upon being asked by one of our parishioners, “When did you feel called to this life?” She spoke, after going silent and tears filled her eyes, and recomposing herself enough to speak: “I believe that the Almighty inscribed upon my heart the desire for this life before I was conceived. It is the hardest thing I have ever done… but it is the most peaceful, the most free…” the room was peacefully silent for a short time afterwards, as I glorified God within my sinful heart.

This was not armchair theology. This was not something I was reading in a book. This is not something to be pondered with the mind. This was living Orthodoxy.

A nun asked the Abbess, “Would you like to say anything?” Nothing. It was silent. At first thought, my sinful mind moved me to think that perhaps it was rude of her to not respond to such a question, but I remembered the story of the Desert Fathers, and of the Abbot who told his novice “If they are not edified by my silence, they will not be edified by my words.”

Father asked the Abbess, softly, “Can you tell us about prayer?” She looked down, and Father added, “If this is an unfair question please forgive me.” She was very quiet, and only seemed to say what was beneficial. She leaned towards the nun next to her and spoke perhaps 8 seconds in the Greek language.

“She says that she cannot answer, for this is something that is so new to her. She is only beginning herself.” Father again asked her forgiveness, slipping his prayer rope through his fingers.

Forgive me, for all of this is only a glimpse into what took place, and so much of this I have to lock within my own heart.

Upon leaving, I went to the nun who spoke more often, as her edifying story of being born to be a nun edified me so greatly. I thanked her for showing me such sincere hospitality, and told her that I am greatly blessed simply to have stood in this place. She held my arm and smiled at me, a smile which nearly causes me to weep, and told me that we are their joy, and I am always welcome to come back. She gave me a small card which I keep in my wallet, with a phone number which I intend to call very soon, if only to hear the voice of angels.

Know only that this brief recollection cannot possibly do justice to the visit… make an effort to visit this place for yourself and know, with certainty, you will be standing in a new Eden. Know that if your heart is even slightly open to it, it will be filled with such graces as will never leave you.

Forgive me a sinner.

“Why do you fast?”

March 18, 2008

A boy once approached his father, ‘Old man, why do you fast?’

The father stood silent, bringing heart and mind together, and then:

‘Beloved boy, I fast to know what it is I lack.

For day by day I sit in abundance, and

all is well before me;

I want not, I suffer not, and I

lack but that for which I invent a need.

But my heart is empty of true joy,

filled, yet overflowing with dry waters.

There is no room left for love.

I have no needs, and so my needs are never met,

no longings, and so my desires are never fulfilled.

Where all the fruits of the earth could dwell, I have

filled the house with dust and clouds;

It is full, so I am content—

But it is empty, and so I weep.

 

‘Thus I fast, beloved, to know the

dust in which I dwell.

I take not from that which I might take,

for in its absence I am left empty,

and what is empty stands ready to be

filled.

I turn from what I love, for my love is barren,

and by it I curse the earth.

I turn from what I love, that I may purify my loving,

and move from curse to blessing.

 

‘From my abundance I turn to want,

as the soldier leaves the comfort of home,

of family and love,

to know the barrenness of war.

For it is only amongst the fight, in the

torture of loss, in the fire of battle,

that lies are lost and the blind man

clearly sees.

In hunger of body and mind, I see

the vanity of food,

for I have loved food as food,

and have never been fed.

In weary, waking vigil I see

the vanity of sleep,

for I have embraced sleep as desire,

and have never found rest.

In sorrow, with eyes of tears I see

the vanity of pleasure,

for I have treasured happiness above all,

and have never known joy.

 

‘I fast, beloved child, to crush the wall

that is my self;

For I am not who I am, just as these passions

are not treasures of gold but of clay.

I fast to die, for it is not the living who are

raised, but the dead.

I fast to crucify my desires, for He who was

crucified was He who lived,

and He who conquered,

and He who lives forever.’

 — Desert Fathers.

What we have…

March 17, 2008

Consider this…

Moses, who spoke with God through the burning bush, who removed his sandals on the ever-holy ground… who led the captives out of Egypt, who ascended the Mount and saw what can only be described in our frail human terminology and way of thought as the ‘back side’ of God… then descended with the Commandments… Moses, who by the power of God, parted the sea and freed the captives from Pharaoh.He did not have what we have.David, the Prophet, the King, who wrote most of the Psalter from which we chant and sing, who understood repentance and was considered the apple of God’s eye — David who slew Goliath, being exalted from a young shepherd boy, to Israel’s greatest King…

He did not have what we have.

King Solomon, who excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom, who built the temple which held the Ark of the Covenant, who wrote the powerful Song of Songs and the Book of Ecclesiastes…

He did not have what we have.

John, the Baptist of the Lord, known to be the holiest man who walked the earth… who in shambles dared to touch the untouchable, in fear that he may be consumed as wheat to fire in touching God the Son! John who preached from the desert, sustaining himself only on honey on locusts, clothed in animal skins and very much dead to the world, who many believed to be the promised Messiah…

He did not have what we have.

Isaiah, the Fifth Evangelist, who saw the Lord seated high and lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died… Isaiah who felt contrition in a vision of the Lord, though he had seen the coming of divine worship, he still knew himself to be unclean. Isaiah, who was visited by the Seraphim with the burning coal, that glorious foreshadowing of the Divine Eucharist — the first to have heard “Behold, this has touched your lips…”

He did not have what we have.

Though these were undeniably holier than we, stop and consider — we have seen the fulfillment of the Promise. What Isaiah saw a foreshadowing of we have access to! Where Moses had to ascend in fear and trembling our God now descends! The path in which John preached to walk is manifest!

… How we must grieve the Lord, that we take our faith so casually.

How we must grieve Him that in the Old Testament, the days of waiting and expectation, there were those holy enough to look upon the Chalice with true, undeniable piety… reverence… Godly fear… and tears. How often we approach the Chalice with indifference, and hardened hearts, and mindlessly attend the Divine Liturgy which so many righteous died waiting for, without even knowing of it’s future revelation.

How would these Saints and righteous ones have approached the Chalice? How would they have stood within the beauty of the New Israel, God’s Church? In fear, in awe, in extreme piety and devotion, in ways that we would possibly never even come to understand… these Saints who lived before the God-man, before the Promise of Salvation had been completely made manifest, even as a Child to a Virgin. I must stop for a moment and consider Moses, how would he respond to that call, “with faith and with love come forward”? Would he be able to move at all? Would he tremble in fear, rejoice in tears and thanksgiving? That we can’t say for sure…

… but consider, if he and the others were to watch us in our stoicism, in our inattentiveness, and our hardness of heart, as we check our watches and shift our weight and worry for comfort… they would rend their garments, and sprinkle ashes on themselves. How easily we take it all for granted! We stand within the Church of Acts, of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Church of Pentecost, of the radiant and victorious martyrs! The faith which established the universe is ours!

How much do we give, how much do we strive, how much do we hurt, how much do we show that we want it? Do you know the difference between a man and a Saint? Effort. God has revealed to us the Church and the Sacraments, and the power in which His grace can turn us from men into angels… we have so much more than the Old Testament Saints. We stand on holier ground, we are beyond compare richer, we have the complete fulfillment of prophecy and vision…

… but we simply, lack, the effort.

May God visit us during this time of struggle and preparation, that when the Royal Doors are once again opened, and the King of all is invisibly escorted in… we may remember our immense blessings. May we turn from Pharisaical hypocrisy, false struggle, vanity, pride, selfishness, delusion, hardness of heart, and embrace humility, patience, understanding, and the wisdom which God offers to those who seek after it. May we take it upon ourselves to break ourselves from laxity and comfort, to free ourselves from the delusion of “freedom” and become a slave in Christ, that we may finally understand what freedom truly is…

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Desert Calling

March 4, 2008

We are plagued by incessant ramblings, abyssal doctrines spewed forth unbeknownst from impressionable carnal minds, swimming, spiraling downward, into the delusion of egotism and self-exaltation. Where is refuge? We ponder, stoic in expression yet aflame within, effort poured into the taming of our passions — nomads, in a world abased. Today’s “great minds”, armchair theologians from vain academies, self-help modern gurus, new-age deluded garbage spewers, ecumenist spineless death-speakers, they sell vanity and infernal whispers with the veneer of wisdom, a faux-intelligence traced in death, all coming to nothing.The blind lead the blind. Mega-churches sell health and prosperity to itching ears, leaving all to seek what’s fleeting and exterior to flee the Kingdom within. Men chase religion as opposed to true spirituality, and self-ordained spiritualists fall into the clutches of the powers of the air. Our voices from the desert, rarely permeating the spirit of this age of hedonism, fall onto ears deafened by virtue’s decay, heart’s left cold and dead in the clutches of dehumanization.

The ineffable Godhead, spoken of casually; God the Father made to be a tyrant, God the Logos into a prophet alone, God the Holy Spirit into an expression of ecumenist spirituality, our God blasphemed in too many ways…

The Lion of Judah thought of as an equal…

Will there be faith left in the world?

My soul, my soul, look East — you will find refuge there. Israel is still within God’s mighty hand. A cloud of witnesses is with us still, the desert remembers our names. Hold your peace, bridle your tongue, partake of that mystery of the world to come, in silence, in which God is still exalted, even on the wings of a dove, even by the wind in the tree, even by the steady flow of the stream. Watch and pray, as our fathers prayed, as our fathers pray for us still, that you be delivered from the seductions of this age. Turn away from the temptations of Sodom and Gomorrah, rebuke the infants of Babylon, bear your cross for glory, bear martyrdom for a crown…

Not all who say “Lord, Lord” shall enter into the Kingdom.

If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own. But you have been called to leave the world behind.

For the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

Desert Calling: Know humility. Love silence. Die daily.