September 26, 2008
It seems recently that accusations of “triumphalism” have been thrown around pretty wildly. I find it curious that it is being used by (presumably) Orthodox to denigrate other Orthodox, most especially when, on the first Sunday of Great Lent every year, we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. If we make our boast in the Lord, or in his Cross, what is the harm in that? Did not the blessed St. Paul do the same?
Perhaps we need to turn our attention to what is meant by triumphalism.
It seems to me that, when I look at accusations of someone being “triumphalistic,” such an accusation normally occurs when one is chiding another about scaring off inquirers. Such people argue that it is unkind, even not Orthodox, to disturb the delicate sensibilities of those inquiring about the Faith, even to the point of not clearly saying what we believe. Don’t mention the ever-Virginity of the Theotokos, don’t mention full immersion baptism, and, whatever you do, don’t say anything about there being only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church—we don’t want to offend people by telling them that they are not part of the Church, as they might “take that the wrong way.” In the approach the anti-triumphalists would take, we would lie to people—either blatantly, or by omission, or by presenting them with long, circuitous explanations that explain nothing—to bring them to the True Faith.
I must say, I most stringently disagree with this approach. There is a god who is the father of lies, but he most certainly is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who became man, who died to set the captives free from Hades, and will return again with glory to judge the living and the dead. The Christian God is the God who is Truth incarnate, and what congress can Truth have with lies? How will you bring someone to the Truth without telling them the truth? If, by refusing to lie to people to “bring them to the Church,” one becomes a triumphalist—by all means, let us all become triumphalists. Better that than a liar.
If the Orthodox Church is not triumphant, then the gates of hell will prevail over her—and Our Lord is made a liar. If the Orthodox Church is not triumphant, then she is just one more “church” among many, and there is therefore no truth to be found in the world. If the Orthodox Church is not triumphant, plainly stated, Christianity itself is a lie; and, if that is the case, St. Paul was right, and we are the most wretched of all men.
Often I am told “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” My answer to that is, the purpose of catching flies is to kill them; the Lord did not call us to catch flies, but to become fishers of men. We are to pull them out of the deep water of sin in which they are downing, and give life to them—how can we do that if we are deeper in the water than they? If we do not believe that there is one truth, one cross, one savior, one Lord, and one Church, then what have we to offer anyone that cannot be found elsewhere—and, elsewhere, requires less of people? Vinegar is bitter, yes, and sour tasting; but so, too, is the Truth to those who are accustomed to imbibing lies. Yet, that bitter draught of repentance, indeed, leads to nothing other than the Living Water of Christ Himself.
Are we afraid that the exclusivity of the Church will turn people away? Are we ashamed that the Church is exclusive in her understanding of those who are part of her and those who are not? If so, perhaps it is because we have forgotten that it is not we who exclude them; those outside the Church exclude themselves from her communion. If we were to say to a person “You cannot be part of the Church”—that would be sin. But it is no sin to tell someone “You are not part of the Church,” especially if you do so in the context of telling them how they can become part of the Church. The door is open, the table laid, and all are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb; but those without a wedding garment will be cast out, for many are called, but few are chosen (St. Matthew 22:13-14).
It is no sin to say what the Lord said Himself. This is made plain in the Gospel of St. John, in the sixth chapter; there are hard sayings, and many who followed turned away, because they could not bear them. The servant is not greater than the master, after all. If we would lead men to worship in spirit and in truth, we tell them the truth, the whole truth, about our Faith. We tell them, up front, what we believe. If they cannot receive it, they cannot—and that is not the fault of the Church. All are bidden equally to the feast; those who do not come, or who send excuses, are excluded; others will be brought in, from the highways and hedges.
For this particular sinner, nothing I can imagine is as full of life or joy as this understanding: that God became a man, so that I might become like Him. In return for this great gift, I will do whatever He asks of me, for as long as he gives me the strength to confess Him, and the Truth of His Holy Church, that is what I will do. If that is triumphalistic, so be it.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
March 17, 2008
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.
March 9, 2008
In so many ways I have sinned against you all, against God, against my neighbor, against my family, my Church, my soul. Were the souls of us all laid upon my shoulders I would’ve dragged us all to hell many times over, and I apologize from the depths of my heart for the many ways I’ve fallen short. Forgive me, if not for the good of my own wretched soul, for the good of your own, that the Lord have have mercy on you and forgive you also. God forgives.
Today the Royal Doors have been closed, a reminder that through the guilt of Adam’s sin death has entered into the world and paradise has been shut… not to chastise, not to punish, but as a sign of ineffable mercy. Knowing that we have shared in Adam’s sin, knowing that we have wasted our lives as the Prodigal, knowing that we have denied Him more than Peter, and betrayed Him more than Judas… knowing that we have loved ourselves more than Him and have even at times entertained the thought that we are somehow ‘righteous’, let us enter into the great humility of the Fast that we may be found worthy of paradise, when the Doors are once again opened, as Christ has Risen. Let us endure this time of abstinence that we may be satisfied, let us be slaves in Christ that we may experience His freedom, let us strive for penitence, silence, peace as we run from sin, that we may be found rejoicing on His Resurrection rather than unmoved, unchanged, stoic and lifeless.
It’s worth it to leave the table before being satisfied. It’s worth it to turn off that TV awhile and turn away from the computer screen. It’s worth it to go for a short walk or drive if only to experience peace and silence. It’s worth it to avert your eyes from sinful entertainments, avert your ears from gossip, and avert your mouth from slander… for as St. John the Chrysostom said, is any man fasting? Let him prove it by his works… for what does it mean if we’re fasting if we devour our brother?
There is a whole. There is a completion. It’s one thing to abstain from meat and dairy… it’s one thing to run from the occasions of sin… it’s one thing to increase in spiritual readings and decrease in sensory pleasures, but consider this; he who does the least of the expectation is an abomination. Don’t try to skim by with the minimal expectation — commit violence to yourself, to your passions. Give until it hurts a little. Silently endure accusation. Attentively pray. Wholeheartedly give alms of time, patience and love. Practice humility. Bear your cross and receive the crown, and treasure the grace awaiting you… please, for the love of God and His holy Mother, treasure it. Don’t give it up so easily, as a moment in grace, a second in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, is beyond compare more precious than a lifetime of hedonism.
Let us remember the holy Martyrs who endured the horrors of pain and torture, in our efforts to abstain from bodily, sensory pleasures. Let us remember the example of the Forerunner in the desert, before we go for “just a little more on the plate.” Let us remember, above all, the Passion of Christ, God the Son, Who endured humanity for us, humility, pain beyond pain, even Crucifixion, to make us free… before we cut ourselves some slack, before we decide we’re too good for the Fast, before we give in to the passions or entertain demons…
Let this be the season where we recognize ourselves as Orthodox Christians, and let this be the season where others can see Christ within us. Show your worth. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, if you ignore the Fast you aren’t an Orthodox Christian… no matter what you think you may be.
+ Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Forgive me brothers and sisters.
March 6, 2008
Justinian recently posted a blog entitled The Value of Tears over on his blog. Here we will post the blog in its entirety:
I’ll start this post with a profound confession: I can’t remember the last time I cried.
This really troubles me, and did long before I became Orthodox. I simply don’t emote this way, and this is probably a result of childhood conditioning. My father, God bless him, didn’t believe that boys should ever be seen crying, and so anytime I did cry as a kid, I got his infamous stare of displeasure. Over the years, I suppose, I really internalized this to a new level. I emote, sometimes very strongly, but my emotions usually come pouring out in my writing. Since, however, I gave up my poetic idolatry in the last year, I’ve been even more disturbed. I half-way expected that, once my substitutionary outlet was removed, without another outlet, surely tears would come.
They have not.
I say all this with the fact that I am very mindful of the value of tears in our Orthodox tradition. Quotes abound from the Fathers about them being the fruits of genuine repentance. St. Isaac the Syrian even has this to say about weeping:
The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears. When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path which leads toward the new Age. Your spirit begins at this moment to breathe the wonderful air which is there, and it starts to shed tears, The moment of birth of the spiritual child is now at hand, and the travail of childbirth becomes intense. Grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, God’s image, bringing it forth into the light of the Age to come. And when the time for the birth has arrived, the intellect begins to sense something of the things of that other world–as a faint perfume, or as the breath of life which a new-born child receives into its bodily frame. But we are not accustomed to such an experience and, finding it hard to endure, our body is suddenly overcome by a weeping mingled with joy.
Where does this leave me? Certainly, I have felt deep sorrow over my sins; certainly I have sat in prayer, reciting the Canon of Repentance, the 50th Psalm, and praying with my own words that Christ would help me achieve this repentance–that the Theotokos would visit my ailing soul and show me the path to true metanoia.
And yet, no tears.
The Fathers say that man who cannot weep cannot be saved. This thought terrifies me, and I can’t help wondering if my inability to get beyond the merely psychological realm of belief–which is shallow, hollow, and no-where near the goal of theosis–isn’t somehow connected here.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
March 4, 2008
“Let us not, who would be Christians, expect anything else from it than to be crucified. For to be a Christian is to be crucified, in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. His life is the example–and warning–to us all. We must be crucified personally, mystically; for through crucifixion is the only path to resurrection. If we would rise with Christ, we must first be humbled with Him–even to the ultimate humiliation, being devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world.
“And we must be crucified outwardly, in the eyes of the world; for Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, and the world cannot bear it, even in a single representation of it, even for a single moment. The world can only accept Antichrist, now or at anytime.
“No wonder, then, that it is so hard to be Christian–it is not hard it is impossible. No one can knowingly accept a way of life which, the more truly it is lived, leads more surely to one’s own destruction. And that is way we constantly rebel, try to make life easier, try to be half-Christian, try to make the best of both worlds. We must ultimately choose–our felicity lies in one world or the other, not in both.
“God give is the strength to pursue the path of crucifixion; there is not other way to be Christian.”
— Blessed Father Seraphim Rose of Platina, Heiromonk
Father Seraphim, our voice ringing harmoniously with the earliest Fathers, provides a blatant and soul-striking glimpse into what Christianity truly is. In these ecumenist, modern days of faithless and weakened Christianity, we have a voice from the spiritual desert calling us, still, to dying to the world. Blessed Father Seraphim Rose exhorts us to crucify ourselves and our passions, be humble, even to the point of ridicule, in the eyes of the world, and in accord with his Patron Saint Seraphim of Sarov, he teaches that holiness isn’t in doing good deeds, holiness isn’t in almsgiving, holiness isn’t in ‘being a good person’, holiness is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which leads to all good things. And how, one may ask, is the Spirit acquired? Putting on Christ. In death to yourself and to the world, in the watery, mystical burial, in the resurrection and the life, followed by holy chrismation, and walking the ever-so-narrow path of the wearied, God-pleasing Saints before us. We have been spoonfed by self-appointed teachers from modern and dead theological academies that Christianity is believing in Jesus. Your get out of hell free card lies in spending a couple of hours in church, reading your Bible a bit, having a little faith, saying a sinners prayer at an ‘altar’, which nowadays is the equivalent of a stage.
When asking, “How does one follow Christ?” You again get taken back to doing good deeds and having trust in God, but this is nothing. We so eagerly ignore the words of the Christ, God the Son, when He says “follow Me”. We add our own interpretation. His interpretation, Scripturally, is “Pick up your own cross, deny yourself, and follow Me.” How willing are we to deny ourselves? How heavy are our crosses? How strong is our faith? How often do we seek esteem from modern society, run by television, money and music? What is it if a man gains the entire world and loses his own soul? What is a little over half a century on earth denying yourself for the sake of Christ in comparison with an eternity in the presence of our glorious and exalted God?
As it is written… when Christ returns, will there be faith left in the world? As it is written… the hearts of many have grown cold. And many are being deceived. Let us expect nothing more out of Christianity than to be crucified, therein is life. Flee from the health and wealth gospel, this life has been given to you for repentance. Paradise is within our reach, but how far will we stretch our arms? Let us look to the example of the outstretched arms of Christ, the King of Glory, as He painfully, and shamefully endured the Passion.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us… and as Father Seraphim says, may God give us the strength to endure the path of crucifixion. Amen.
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.