The Glorious Burden and Joy of Language

God communicates His grace in manifold ways.

I am in the midst of re-reading Your God is Too Safe, by Mark Buchanan. In Eugene Peterson’s foreword to the book, he says: “An accurate understanding of the formation of the Christian life requires three things: stories well told, Scripture sharply imagined, and language skillfully used.” He goes on to briefly unpack what he means.

Now, let me say from the start that I do not think for one minute that Eugene Peterson believes that those three constitute what we need for a complete understanding of the formation of the Christian life. They are, however three of the most important components that provide for that understanding.

I love words and the use of language. I especially love the use of language in the Scriptures. One of the reasons is that the Scriptures present me with the challenge and joy of beholding and participating in the Mysterious power of the Holy Spirit at work (the use of the “M” is intentional and should alert you to the idea of “sacramental”) in and through the spoken and written language and its translation from one tongue to another for the purpose of effective communication.

I just received, via email, Fr. Patrick Reardon’s latest pithy “Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings” on the subject of Scriptural language and translation. It is dated June 5, 2011 and is not up on his parish website yet. He does a great job of portraying the challenge and Mysterious power of God’s purposes that can be unlocked and encountered in the midst of wrestling with Scriptural translation. I was thoroughly blessed by the “pondering.”

I recommend it to you. I can be soon be found here.

Fr. Thomas

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Every Hour on the Hour – St. Dimitri of Rostov

“Dimitri was a great hierarch, preacher, author and ascetic. He was born near Kiev in the year 1651, and reposed in the year 1709. Among his many glorious works of instruction, he was known especially for his translation and publication of The Lives of the Saints. He foresaw his own death three days in advance, and died while at prayer. Dimitri was a great light of the Russian Church and of Orthodoxy in general. He had heavenly visions during his life. He served the Lord zealously and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (The Prologue, October 28th)

I recently learned that St. Dimitri had an interesting habit. Every hour at the same time he would stop and chant the hymn “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice.”

What was the wisdom of such a practice? As I go about the activities of my day if find myself slipping into a spirit of forgetfulness. When I am in this “mode,” temptations, distractions from the path of Christ assail me. Of course, since I am “asleep to Christ,” I am unaware of the true nature of them. It is too easy to end up in this dangerous place as I move through the day.

I need to stay in an attitude of remembrance and awareness of the presence of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit in the present moment.

St. Dimitri has become an example to me. I need to deliberately and formally come to a complete halt and acknowledge God – his presence, love, and involvement love in the lives of all those I will encounter and my own current circumstances in the next 60 minutes. I need to set my cell phone to chime on the hour, say the Jesus Prayer ten times and dedicate myself anew to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit by reciting the Prayer of St. Dimitri.

Would a practice such as this be helpful to you?

Prayer of St Dimitri of Rostov, Before Communion

Open, O doors and bolts of my heart, that Christ the  King of Glory may enter! Enter, O my Light, and enlighten my darkness; enter, O my Life, and resurrect my deadness; enter, O my Physician, and heal my wounds; enter, O Divine Fire, and burn up the thorns of my sins; ignite my inward parts and my heart with the flame of Thy love; enter, O my King, and destroy in me the kingdom of sin; sit on the throne of my heart and reign in me alone, O Thou, my King and Lord.

God grant me, a sinner, grace to keep this resolve.

Fr. Thomas

The Forerunner’s Question

Today, May 25th, is the Feast of the third finding of the head of St. John the Baptist. The reading associated with it is Matthew 11:2-15.

As has been mentioned a number of times on this site, my daily discipline of scripture reading corresponds with the Eastern Orthodox lectionary and my devotional aid in reading comes from “Dynamis,” which can easily be found on the internet. I highly recommend it. I never leave home without my old beat up maroon binder in my backpack or auto.

I have said for many years that since the pursuit spiritual transformation in Christ involves the illumination of the mind, (the unlearning of those things that do not adhere to the Holy Tradition) “I reserve the right to disagree with myself.” This is one of those times. Up until recently, I was of the “opinion” (I use that word deliberately) that the Forerunner was sending his disciples to ask about the Messiahship of Jesus for his own clarification. I was wrong. The devotional for today makes it quite clear that Jesus did not and the Apostolic Church does not proclaim such an idea. I share the devotional in its entirety with the kind permission of its editor, David Patton. Here it is in italics…

“Matthew 11.7: “As [John’s disciples] departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’” Forgive the pun, but it is important to realize how spiritually ‘level-headed’ the all-famed Baptizer and cousin of Jesus was when, from prison, “…he sent two of his disciples and asked Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” Be clear: Saint John was not seeking information concerning the Lord Jesus that he knew very well. He understood Jesus was the Messiah prophesied to come (Lk. chapter 1) and the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:6-8, 24-34). Frankly, John was continuing the ministry that God gave him: to bring everyone to repentance that all might gain salvation through the Lord Jesus (Mt. 3:11).

Why then did John dispatch two of his disciples with this question? What was the significance of asking a question, the answer of which he already knew? Had the Baptist’s thinking become distorted after being imprisoned by the murderous Herod family whom he had offended by speaking against their licentiousness? Saint John Chrysostom devoted an entire homily to this spurious issue, firmly repudiating the notion. As he says, “For it belongs not to John to have doubt hereupon….” The Baptizer faced a different problem: his disciples “…knew not who Christ was, but imagining Jesus to be a mere man, but John greater…were vexed at seeing the former held in estimation, but the latter, as he had said, now ceasing. And this hindered them from coming unto Him, their jealousy quite blocking up the access.” John had not dissuaded them; yet he remained “…diligent…to bring to Christ all that pertained to himself.”

The keen biblical expositor, Saint Jerome, understood this point very well. As he says, “…when John was about to be killed by Herod, he sent his disciples to Christ intending that when they met Him the disciples would observe His appearance and powers and believe in Him, and they would tell this to their teacher when he questioned them.” Saint John Chrysostom caps off the issue: “Jesus knew the mind of John who sent them, for He knew, as God knows, our inner thoughts. There He was actively healing the blind, lame, and many others. He healed not to teach John, who was already convinced, but those who had come to Him doubting. Having healed them the Lord Jesus said, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see…’” (vs. 4).

After John’s disciples departed, Christ our God Himself turns to the defense of the great Forerunner before the multitudes. He asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (vs. 7). Meditate on that line; its metaphor packs a punch. Who in his right mind would go into the wilderness merely to see a reed shaken by the wind? Along the Jordan watercourse probably there are thousands of reeds. We cannot speak about the winds in the Jordan Valley with meteorological knowledge, but given the valley’s depth and the heat generated over the Dead Sea, at times there must be good, strong winds that blow north up the river and whip the numerous reeds that grow along the banks. What is extraordinary about a reed shaken by the wind? “Absolutely nothing,” has to be the answer. The Lord’s question is an alert: He is disabusing any thought that there was vacillation or uncertainty in John the Baptist, facing his death. In Saint John’s disciples, there may have been a problem, but the Lord gave them evidence of stability (vss. 4-6). Christ shares His assessment: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist…” (vs. 11).

To all this Saint Jerome adds, “So John the Baptist is called Elijah….because…he came in the spirit and goodness of Elijah and had either the same grace or power of the Holy Spirit.”

Since thou becamest the voice of the Word, make an end of my voicelessness that with gladness I may acclaim thee, O blessed Forerunner, thou heavenly man.”

Praise be to the Holy Spirit for his compassionate illumination of my mind!! All honor and glory to the Undivided Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!!

Fr. Thomas

Sharing in God’s Life is Life

In today’s (May 19, 2011) reading in the Eastern Orthodox lectionary (Jo. 8.12-20), Jesus says of Himself, “I Am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”

I was struck by the fact that Jesus does not say, “you will walk in the light” but, “have the light of life.” I believe there is something radical being said and offered by Christ Jesus – the Light which He is ! ! In Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes a similar statement about the quality of life that His disciples will enjoy when He says, “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5.14). Even the passage in which Jesus actually encourages His disciples to walk in the light, He makes it clear that they are to share the quality of walk that is His, “…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (I Jo. 1.7). So, we are being invited to live a life in which we kind of “bask in the glow” of His life (light) but to actually become partakers of His life (light).

The “Dynamis” commentary on this passage leads the reader through a progression in the Divine plan of salvation. Here are the salient points:

  • “God is Light in Himself… The Light of God is, like God, uncreated and not sensible, not formed of photons to make Him visible to physical eyes.”
  • “God also directly reveled Himself as Light, even though no physical eyes shall ever see Him… Rather, the Son of God, the Eternal Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, became Man. It was by becoming a man that men gained ability to ‘see’ Divine Light.”
  • “…when incarnate, God gloriously revealed Himself as Uncreated Light to the hearts of Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor in dazzling light.”
  • “What happened when the Lord Jesus was transfigured? He did not lay aside His humanity. Rather He illumined His humanity with His Divinity. This they saw.”
  • “That transfiguration of human nature has important consequences. The nature of all men has a capacity to be illumined by the Divine Light! The Lord Jesus demonstrated the possibility that any person who acquires the grace
    of the Holy Spirit may himself become an actual participant in Divine radiance. As Saint Simeon the New Theologian says, ‘The Father is light, the Son is light, the Holy Spirit is light…. And by contemplating it, we can receive it.’”

This in the true nature of salvation and the transformation that occurs as we not only dwell in the Light but live as the Light by grace is partof our journey of salvation. As a matter of fact, Upward Call Ministries is founded on that bedrock theological conviction. The icon I chose for the informational pamphlets is “The Transfiguration”.

A number of Christian writers: Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory the Great, John of Ruysbroeck, Jacob Boehme, Richard of St. Victor, and Martin Luther used the image of the iron plunged into fire, to describe how a disciple shares the life of God.

What occurs when an iron rod is placed into a furnace?  A transformation occurs. The fire begins to inhabit the iron and share an aspect of itself with the iron – its energy. The iron rod begins, gradually, to glow more and more. The iron becomes a partaker of something outside itself. At one and the same time, the iron does not become fire and the fire does not become iron. And yet, the iron does participate in a real way in the nature of the fire

I remember when I first read that description in seminary. I was so enamored by the image that I shared it with my best friends… Some “got it” and others just said, “Oh, neat image.” and seemed unaffected by it. I was hooked…

Through Upward Call my desire is to share with you the invitation to understand salvation and the everyday Christian life sharing the life of God.

There are a huge number of articles and books that treat the doctrine of theosis or deification. I include selections from a variety of sources, ancient and contemporary to help (pardon the pun) “flesh out” the doctrine and whet your appetite.

As always, my prayer is that you will seek to find the place where this intersects your life in a practical way or follow the path toward an application that these quotes offer.

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I could not find the excerpt from Evelyn Underhill’s book that articulates the doctrine of Theosis online. So, I refer you to Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, E.P. Dutton, 1961, pg. 413-443 especially page 421.

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A wonderful little volume, available in downloadable form entitled, Theosis, the True Purpose of Human Life, by Archimandrite George is available here.

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“God on earth, God among us!  No longer the God who gives His law amid flashes of lightning, to the sound of the trumpet on the smoking mountain, within the darkness of a terrifying storm, but the God who speaks gently and with kindness in a human body to His kindred.  God in the flesh!  It is no longer the God who acts only at particular instants, as in the prophets, but one who completely assumes our human nature and through His flesh, which is that of our race, lifts all humanity up to Him.

How then, you will say, did the light come everywhere, through one sole person?  In what manner is the Godhead in the flesh?  Like fire in iron: Not by moving about, but by spreading itself. The fire, indeed, does not thrust itself toward the iron, but, remaining where it is, it distributes it own strength to it.  In doing so, the fire is in no way diminishes, but it completely fills the iron to which it spreads.  IN the same manner, God the Word who ‘dwelt among us’ did not go outside Himself; the Word which was ‘made flesh’ underwent no change; heaven was not deprived of him who controlled it and the earth received within itself Him who is in heaven.

Look deeply into this mystery.  God comes in the flesh in order to destroy the death concealed in flesh.  IN the same way as remedies and medicines triumph over the factors of corruption when they are assimilated into the body, and in the same way as the darkness which reigns in a house is dispelled by the entry of light, so death, which held human nature in its power, was annihilated by the coming of the Godhead.  In the same way as ice when in water, prevails over the liquid element as long as it is night, and darkness covers everything, but is dissolved when the sun comes up through the warmth of its rays: so death reigned till the coming of Christ; but when the saving grace of God appeared and the sun of justice rose, death was swallowed up in this victory, being unable to endure the dwelling of the true life among us.  O the depth of the goodness of God and of His love for all of us!

Let us give glory to God with the shepherds, let us dance in choir with the angels, for ‘this day a Savior has been born to us, the Messiah and Lord.’  He is the Lord who has appeared to us, not in His divine form in order not to terrify us in our weakness, but in the form of a servant, that He might set free what had been reduced to servitude.  Who could be so faint-hearted and so ungrateful as not to rejoice and exult in gladness for what is taking place?  This is a festival of all creation.” —from a homily by St. Basil the Great

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“It is like iron, or other such material, when it is put in contact with a raging fire. It receives the fire into itself, and when it is in the very heart of the fire, if someone should beat it, then the material itself takes the battering but the nature of the fire is in no way injured by the one who strikes it. This is how you should understand the way in which the Son is said both to suffer in the flesh and not to suffer in the Godhead.”–St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Fr. Thomas

“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?!”

The gospel reading in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Eucharistic lectionaries is John 10:22-30.

“The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’ (Jn. 10.22-30)

The question that the opponents/critics of Jesus were asking was, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” I could distance myself from THAT question and say, “At least I know THAT much. Those poor, pitiful, misguided Jewish leaders. Why couldn’t they SEE what was SO obvious?!”

But, if I am really honest, I need to consider where the question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is present in my life.

Honestly, I find myself asking that question quite often. Jesus has a tendency to “push my passion buttons” For example, my over active “need to know” and use of that knowledge as my source of security in the midst of difficult circumstances. Contrast that need with the invitation and challenge to do what He says and trust Him for the “results.” I am one of opponents and critics of Jesus when I demand (subtly of course) that He play according to MY rules of timing, results, approval, success, etc.

Jesus answers His critics by saying, “I told you …” What?! The fact is Jesus DOES tell me He is the Messiah. He tells me MORE than enough to satisfy genuine faith. But, He is telling me in ways that refuse to satisfy my “passions.”

What are the passions? They are those drives or needs, sin and death active within me that deny the Lordship of Christ and desire to keep me off track in my discipleship. They war against the work of the Holy Spirit. And, when I am living, asking, and seeking to hear the voice of God from the place of my passions, I don’t hear it. The passions are the opponents/critics of Jesus that roam around inside me asking questions of Jesus that sound like a desire to continue to acknowledge His Lordship but are, in reality, looking for ways to effectively deny His Lordship in how I live my everyday life.

There is a sense in which my question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is really a question about the Lordship of Christ Jesus in my life. In other words, “If you are the Messiah, then act like one by telling me everything I BELIEVE I NEED to know in this circumstance.” I think that is exactly what I am doing – doubting His Lordship. IS He my Messiah/Lord when I am unwilling to obey/follow Him without “knowing everything” or, at least, the amount I THINK is reasonable for Him to tell me?? Today’s passage is about testifying to the Lordship of Jesus in those times when a greater degree of trust is required of me by the Lord God. The Holy Spirit makes no compromise or peace with the passions. His desire is to seek and destroy them, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances when my passions are most obviously active and the stakes are the highest in my life and the life of others.

The urge to ask Jesus, in the heat of the difficult circumstance, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (and, I would add, from John 6.30, “… what sign do you do, that (I) may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?”) betrays a need, on my part to repent. It is an opportunity to turn my self-centered question into a true yearning for the Lord to powerfully act in whatever way is suitable to accomplish His purposes, so I might rejoice in the revelation of His glory.

Fr. Thomas

Fourth Sunday of Pascha – Sunday of the Paralytic – “Do you want to be made well?” — “Sir, I have no one…”

Healing of the Paralytic

The Sunday of the Paralytic… Human paralysis, the mystery of suffering and the redemptive purposes of God, human excuses, a legitimate desire for healing, delusional confusion of means and ends, learning from our past sin, and Divine provision. They are all there!! Wow, all in one story/event.

I found the following reflections on the meaning of the Fourth Sunday of Pascha – The Sunday of the Paralytic in the Cathedral Bulletin of Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA., dated April 25th, 2010. I was moved… So, I decided to find the Bulletin for the same Sunday this year (May 15th). I was not disappointed. The reflection on the meaning of the Sunday of the Paralytic by Bulgakov and the “welcome” were there. Instead of “The Cave,” this year the editor of the Bulletin decided to include an inspirational story. It offers a profound perspective on the paralytic’s statement, “Sir, I have no man …”

When taken together, these four communicate; I believe, the profound invitation, challenge and promise offered to us by the Holy Spirit on the Sunday of the Paralytic.

Here they are for, I pray, your edification.

…………….

Bulgakov’s Reflection   “On this Sunday the most wonderful healing of the paralytic by the Sheep’s Pool, who for 38 years languished in severe illness is glorified. According to the explanation of the Synaxarion, this miracle is celebrated on this Sunday because Christ did it during the Jewish Pentecost. In the healing of the paralytic the Holy Church sees the paradigm of the renewal of life of all humanity through the resurrection of Christ. “Christ”, she sings in the hymns of this day, “the first-born of creation, and the Creator of all things that have come into being, is risen from the dead as the first-fruits of them that slept. He renewed in Himself the corrupted nature of our race.” “On this day is death despoiled and Hades brought to naught. And the race of men is vested in incorruption. We therefore cry to Thee with thanksgiving: glory, O Christ, to Thy arising”. Together with this the Holy Church, reminding us about the paralysis of our souls through sin, calls each of us to appeal: ‘O Most Gracious One, heal my soul which has been ailing for many years, as Thou healed the paralytic before, that I may follow Thy way, which Thou hast shown to those who love Thee’; ‘As Thou raised up the paralytic, O Christ, so also make whole my soul which is paralyzed by transgressions, and help me to walk in Thine upright ways’. As the miracle remembered now was accomplished by the Savior at the Sheep’s Pool, in which for the healing of sufferings, ‘an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons and troubled the water’ in some troparia of the canon he is glorified as the Holy Archistrategus Michael. Praising him as the ‘chief of angels’, ‘leader’ of the ‘highest ministers’, the Holy Church hymns him as the ‘guide for the erring’ and, in view of our spiritual paralysis, prayerfully appeals to him: ‘pray for our enlightenment’, ‘pacify our life, which is ever troubled by the assaults of the serpent and by the circumstances of an ever unstable life’, ‘with us pray for the deliverance of our sins and correction of our way of life’, and ‘the enjoyment of eternal blessings’.”

((Just for the sake of information, here is the original source for the quote. S. V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed., 1274 pp. (Kharkov, 1900) pp 0591-2, Translated by Archpriest Eugene D. Tarris © May 13, 2005. All rights reserved.))

“The Cave   When David told God, ‘You are my only place of refuge’, he’d no way of knowing there was a crown in his future, or that he wasn’t going to die in hiding. For all he knew, the cave he was in right then might be as good as it would get. When you’re in a situation you can’t fix, can’t heal and can’t escape, you have to learn to trust God. That’s not easy because it means becoming so immersed in God’s Word, so convinced of His goodness, so submitted to His lordship, that wherever you are is fine – as long as He’s here! Jesus knows all about caves; He suffered too. His life was in constant danger. He lost His position as a leader, His status as a teacher, and even His friends. Then things seemed to get worse; He went to a cross and died. With Him, the dreams He’d inspired in others seemed to die too. What started as a shining success appeared to end up a shameful failure.

Jesus Christ understands your feelings of isolation and loneliness better than anybody, because nobody else ever descended into death the way He did. But His enemies made the mistake of putting Him in a cave. They didn’t know that that’s where God resurrects dead things – like dead hopes, dreams, marriages, ministries and relationships. They didn’t realise that He does some of His best work in caves! If you’re in one today, be encouraged, Jesus came out victorious – and His plan is to bring you out, too!”

“Two Horses”  Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looks like and other horse. But if you get a closer look you will notice something quite interesting… One of the horses is blind.

His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made him a safe and comfortable barn to live in. This alone is pretty amazing. But if you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. It is coming from a smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter is a small, copper-colored bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two friends you’ll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, he will stop occasionally to look back, making sure that the blind friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect. Or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse, being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives.

And at other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way. Author unknown

((The same Cathedral Bulletin includes the following invitation… The consistency is obvious)).

“Welcome!  To all who are tired and need rest, to all who mourn and need comfort, to all who are friendless and need friendship, to all who are discouraged and need hope, to all who are hopeless and need sheltering love, to all who sin and need a Savior, this church opens wide its doors in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

http://ukrcathedral.com/2010/20100425.pdf       http://www.ukrcathedral.com/2011/20110515.pdf

God Bless You,

Fr. Thomas

Back to the Tomb. What or Who are You Seeking? What Do You Expect?

Myrrhbearing Women

Today is the 3rd Sunday of Pascha. We are moving away from the tomb toward the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost ten days later. Any yet, the Church brings us back to the tomb. Listen to another account of the visit of the Myrrhbearning women to the tomb from St. Luke.

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Mag’dalene and Jo-an’na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles;” (Luke 24.4-10)

Who were these women whose encounter of the angels and the risen Lord are recorded in some form or another in all four gospel accounts? Of those whose names are known: Mary the mother of James and Joses; Mary Magdalene; Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna; Salome, Mary Magdalene, and another woman referred to as “the other Mary.”

Why are we taken back to the tomb? Why go back to the place of death? Why, in the middle of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, should we be commanded by the Holy Tradition to consider the example of these women?

The answer has to do with our need to constantly be reexamining our expectations. In essence, the angels ask them and us, “What and/or who do you seek?” Do we understand the relationship between what we seek and what we expect? One follows naturally and inevitably from the other. What we expect defines what we seek and what we are able to see and understand. To quote myself, “Nothing will change if nothing can change.”

The Myrrhbearing women were expecting to find a dead body at the tomb. That is what they were seeking. They could not find what they were seeking and ask the angels what they had done with the body!! The Myrrhbearing women are driven by love for Jesus that is among the greatest expressions of it to be found in the Bible. But, that love was set within the context of expectations that are “out of sync.” with the truth of God’s purposes.

I believe it seems best to the Church and the Holy Spirit to remind us, in the midst of our Pascha excitement, of the need to ask the question of “expectations.” What do you expect to find in the lives of others, in your job, in your children, in your spouse, in yourself? That expectation/conviction of the truth will govern what you seek and what you offer and what you can see.

The women did not recognize the angels as angels. Mary does not recognize Jesus as Jesus in another passage. The women are “perplexed.” They are expecting to find what they are seeking – death and defeat. Instead, they find life and victory.

Their eyes and ours need to be opened. Their expectations and ours need to be challenged and changed. How else can they and we live in the midst of this present darkness with hope and resolve? How else can join with Christ in the expansion of His Kingdom? Are we trapped in our delusion; in the dead end of our delusional expectations? Is there no hope for God to break through? This question is crucial.

Can a breakthrough happen? If so, how can it happen? God respects the integrity of our free will. He does not violate the boundaries we set. However, the light of His love, as we have learned, PRESSES upon us, seeking to find a place of entry. How were the eyes of the women opened? What made it possible for them to be changed?! How can the breakthrough into New Life occur?

I propose there are a number of points in life where transformation is possible.

• Yearning to know and receive the truth – “cost what it will, lead where it may”

• Desperate need

• Mercy in the response to deserved condemnation

• The speaking of our true identity/name

• Love

Our gospel for today sheds light on how the desire to show love can become the entry point for the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Let me quote from a wonderful homilyon the subject of the Myrrhbearing women:

“… in the face of hopelessness, these women act. They buy ointments that will help his body dry out as it decays, and sweet spices so that even in death, his body is honored. Their actions show their steadfast love for Christ, that even after hope is shattered, they go the extra mile to honor Jesus. Such is their love for this dead man.

In their actions, we see that the myrrhbearers came to anoint Christ not out of a desire for any recognition or reward from Jesus, nothing that they could get out of it. He is dead. The women probably have no recollection that Christ said he would rise again, so they probably have no hope of triumph in Jesus’ death. They come not to receive, and probably not consciously to give either, but they are motivated by their love for Him, that they want His body to be blessed with sweet smelling fragrance.

Yet these women are honored with being the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. They were the first to know the joy that Christ had defeated death, that hope was fulfilled, that despair and grief were not all that was left to them. And, they were the first commissioned with going and telling others that Christ had risen from the dead.

These women were not seeking the excitement of some great commission, but they received this as a result of their desire to love and serve Christ even after death.

Both are present in the resurrection accounts. In the account of the myrrhbearers we have the presence of love. The women sought to express their love for Jesus even in His death. (The homily in its entirety can be found here.)

The Myrrhbearers were motivated by love. The love of the Myrrhbearers was shown in the context of what they believed was a massive and tragic defeat. They were not there to “get something.” They were there to give all they believed they could give. They were there to offer something – loving care for the dead body of their beloved Lord. Misguided expectations and convictions formed the context for their expression of love for their Lord. But, God used that serving love, misguided by inaccurate expectations though it was, to bring them to a deeper relationship with their Lord.

What is the entry point the point where transformation is possible in your life? Where are your misguided expectations keeping you from seeing and responding to the risen Lord? You have been gathered to this Holy Table in this place, at this time, with these brothers and sisters. What and/or who do you seek? That depends on what/who you expect to find? What /who do you expect to find?

Repent and believe the gospel – Christ is risen and so have you!! Expect resurrection and seek it. Seek and serve Him who is risen in all persons and all circumstances.

How easy we forget. How often we need to be reminded. We need to visit the tomb on a regular basis, not just once. Thanks be to God for His merciful reminder and challenge. Repent and believe the Gospel. Christ is risen! He goes before you in whatever you face. Serve Him in the place to which He has instructed you to go. He will meet you there!!

Fr. Thomas

Doing vs. Trying

One of my favorite movies, if not the favorite, is “The Matrix.” A good reflection on one aspect of its many messages can be found here. The video clip can be accessed via Youtube if you type in this search, “The Matrix – Morpheus vs Neo – Dojo Training.”

I touched on, in my last post, “From Pascha to Pentecost – NEW LIFE Not Just A Second Chance,” the subject of trying in the Christian life. “Effort” is essential, but “trying” in the sense of attempting to do something on my own, alongside the Holy Spirit that is “mine” to please God or entice God to love me more is antithetical to the disciple’s life. “Trying” is the tragedy of me dressing up the corpse of the dead me and parading around pretending it is the new me. “Doing” that issues from a union of will and effort between my new self and God in which my effort is Spirit-breathed effort. “Trying” is living the “old way,” the dead way. “Doing,” as Morpheus says in the clip is the “new way,” the living Way.

I would also encourage you to view the film clip from “Star Wars,” which can be found on the Vopod list on the right side bar of the blog.  In that clip, Yoda says (in a rather frustrated tone) to Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Another cinematic way of saying the same thing.

Fr. Thomas

From the Pascha to Pentecost — NEW LIFE Not Just A Second Chance

One of the readings last week (4-28-11) from the gospel in the Eastern Orthodox lectionary was the story of the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-15). It is significant for many obvious reasons. I would like to briefly explore one of those reasons. Let me do so by posing a question: “What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to the way I live my life right now?” Another way to put it is: “Where do I go from here?”

Implied in that question are a couple of presuppositions. First, the dissatisfaction with the conviction that the saving death and resurrection of Jesus is just about accomplishing the forgiveness of sins. Okay, so I am REALLY grateful that my past sins are forgiven and my sins in the future are forgiven. But, dare I say it?  That is not enough! I am just the same old sinner racking up sins as I go along. Grateful but not changed.

Second, if the death and resurrection of Jesus is about MORE than just forgiveness of sins, i.e. “eternal life” then to what degree is the rest of my life on this side of my physical death not just “waiting around” trying to “not sin” with no hope of ever succeeding until I am released from the torment of trying not to sin and never succeeding?

Third, quite frankly, it is hard, “well nigh impossible,” to keep the Pascha flame burning inside me in the midst “this present darkness” that is all around me and very much inside me. The glow is inevitably fading. At least it feels inevitable. And, it will be inevitable unless there is more to the gospel that just: 1) right the scales of justice 2) a promise of something better out there somewhere.

Get the idea?

The “Dynamis” reflection on John 3.1-15 (4-28-11) establishes an essential aspect of the Easter/Pascha proclamation. The death and resurrection of Jesus is about more than just forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. It is about NEW LIFE…
The proclamation of Pascha is that the risen Christ Jesus desires to bestow on all who come to Him NEW LIFE which includes the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Let me share an excerpt from the reflection. And then comment on it to establish the gospel point.

‘…one must be ‘born again’ to ‘see the Kingdom of God.’  Nicodemos understood the Lord’s miracles or signs as a function of God being ‘with Him’ (vs. 2).  ‘Rather,’ intervenes the Lord, “…the Kingdom of God is present, but is not seen nor perceived,” because those, like Nicodemos, who see only results or effects are not ‘born again.’  Because they are not spiritually regenerated, they do not see the Kingdom.  Nicodemos completely fails to understand.

The Lord then proceeds to deepen the topic of regeneration further, speaking of how one becomes spiritually regenerated.  New birth is required by ‘water and the Spirit’ (vs. 5), by receiving what we have learned to call the Christian Mystery: Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, and Holy Communion.  Subsequently, the Lord Jesus explains how it is that these Mysteries transform a person spiritually.  Rebirth is an action of the Holy Spirit: ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…” (vs. 6).  It is beyond human manipulation or management.  “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vs. 8).  Nicodemos is utterly baffled and perplexed (vs. 9).

The Lord Jesus continues into the depths of spiritual regeneration: He Himself is the One by Whom men are reborn, and it is He Who teaches men how to receive the Mysteries of regeneration (vs. 11).  These ‘earthly things’ by which men may find the ‘heavenly things’ must be learned from the One “Who came down from heaven, that is, from the Son of Man” (vss. 12-13). The Lord concludes this teaching with the life-giving message that Nicodemos and all men need: “…whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (vs. 15).

NEW LIFE is the point of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not just a motivational story to rev me up to “try harder” or to “make it all better” when I screw things up or a “pie in the sky by and by” promise to invigorate me to grit my teeth and tough it out until I am “raptured” by the Lord one way or another out of the miserable tribulation of living in a broken world that has no hope of getting better.

The point of the death and resurrection is also not just about me. It is about what God is doing to and in the midst of the whole universe. It is about change. About new birth. About the new that replaces the old. Not just with regard to me. Not just regard to even us. It is about everything being new – all things!! A new heaven and a new earth. I new universe – invisible and visible – spiritual and material.

NEW LIFE is a change. Opps, I said it. CHANGE… NEW LIFE requires change. But, it would be incorrect to just assume you know what is meant by the word “change.” It requires TOTAL change not just some “adjustments.” The death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ mandate my death and resurrection not just a methodology of moral or ethical improvement. Not just resolutions to “do better this time.” Not just adjustments. Not just starting over as the same “me” that I was before. Why? Because if I am just a “well adjusted me” I will find a way to become a “not well adjusted me.” There is really nothing in the gospel thus portrayed that offers me any hope of having things turn out the same this time as last time, if not worse.

I must die and be reborn. The story of Nicodemus and Jesus joins the baptism of Jesus with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The events that serve to initiate and fulfill the ministry of Jesus are found in the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. The “would-be” and “long-standing” disciple of Christ Jesus must die and be raised with Christ Jesus. The epistle reading that goes along with  the gospel reading, Acts 2:38-43, is perfect – “repent and be baptized” Peter says to the crowd on Pentecost when they ask, “What must we do?” It is what begins and fuels the ongoing Christian life. Without Pentecost, the Christian life is just one more “motivational” methodology or “self-help” formula. Without Pentecost, the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus is relegated to the “spectacular and powerful” event I admire but in which I have no investment or participation. That is blunt but true. I must participate or it is just an big “Divine drama” that fails to change humanity no matter how much it changes the rest of the created universe. If I do not enter into the baptismal waters and stay there by living a Eucharistic life then I am not part of the NEW LIFE in which the rest of the created universe is participating.

In Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist I offer my essential participation. Baptismal regeneration that results from the union of Divine initiative and my essential participation is, simply put, really dying to the old life and being born again – raised to new life not just “fixing up the old life in a major way.” The old life is not fixable. It must be discarded – die and be buried – completely. This is what baffles Nicodemus. He has (I have) been taught to “try harder” in so many different ways, all of which appear to be, and are to some degree, commendable. But, they are not the Christian life. They are a shadow. They fall short. They are not what Jesus is talking about with Nicodemus. That is why the story is, I believe, like so many other stories in which Jesus seems to be talking about something completely different than what the person has asked, jarring and upsetting. The disciples are talking about making the old better and Jesus is speaking about complete newness of life!! No wonder the stories seem so disjointed and nobody “gets it” – Nicodemus or us.

So, where does all of this place me? It places me (and you) in the position of needing to ask “how?”… And that, brothers and sisters is the point of the fifty days between Pascha (compels us) to go. The Holy Spirit drives us – prods us (one of the connotations of the verb “comfort”) – toward Pentecost.

Rebirth is an action of the Holy Spirit: ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…” (vs. 6).  It is beyond human manipulation or management.

The point of the resurrection of Jesus is for me to do the same!! I am enabled by grace to be all that Jesus is by nature – resurrected. The resurrected life – NEW LIFE not just renovation or sin management – is the point of Pascha or there is no point to Pascha.

The empty tomb points me to the Holy Mystery of Pentecost – baptism by water and the Holy Spirit and the ongoing fulfillment of that baptism by identifying with the Lord via His life-giving Body and Blood in the life of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

This is the TRUTH regarding the WAY that is LIFE (not just a means for receiving life but also an aspect of the very life itself). The form and the content of my (our) salvation are one seamless whole. The Christian life cannot be lived “any old (or new) way.” The Holy Spirit has fashioned the identifiable WAY which is the LIFE of Christ the disciple is to live. It is called the Holy Tradition. It a living reality not a dead methodolgy. (It can, of course, be a dead thing if it does not remain what it truly is, the gift of the Holy Spirit to us that must be “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-lived.”) It forms THE WAY WHICH IS LIFE. The life of Christ Jesus Himself is the WAY WHICH IS LIFE. My dying and being raised with Him and in Him is LIFE. It does not take me “somewhere else.” It is not just a means or a beginning toward another end. It is the end and it is the
beginning.

Dying and being raised with Christ Jesus by the baptism of the Holy Spirit – water and fire – and the NEW LIFE that it brings – bread and wine – becomes REIGNING with Him. It is a Lamb who was slain and raised victorious that reigns at the right hand of the Father.  Not one or the other. Both. The same is true for me. I must be, in the Holy Spirit, dying and being raised unceasingly in order to be REIGNING.

Before I close, let me spiral back to the issue of forgiveness of sins and eternal life lest anyone go away with the misconception that I have trivialized their importance in the saving work of Christ Jesus. When placed in the context of NEW LIFE “forgiveness of sins” ceases to be the effective proclamation of a distant (albeit compassionate) judge in a courtroom and becomes relational reconciliation between three persons who yearn for a new union and the fruit that it will bear – God, me, and others.

The meaning of “eternal life” changes as well. No longer is it a distant hope of being snatched out of the broken world. I am no longer consigned to living “in between” what I was and what I will become someday. The “future” and the “past” permeate the present by being taken, blessed, and filled with the new reality of the Kingdom of God. The past, present, and future are united in the Kingdom of God. The fullness of God’s saving actions are available to me now. They are not locked away in the past or the future. The fullness of all of God’s saving action is present in each and every saving action. The present becomes full of the life of Christ (the fullness of the saving action of the Father by the Holy Spirit) and therefore, abundant by being permeated with the Kingdom of God – with God’s love. Eternity ceases to be an indication of “when.” It becomes a quality statement. Eternity is a statement about the victory in which I am already fully a participant. Eternity is about becoming who I already am. Being and becoming.

Let me illustrate. The moment my son, Joshua, was born he was fully Joshua. He was not missing and of his “Joshua-ness.” He will spent his whole life consummating his identity, who he already fully is – Joshua. Likewise, I am becoming more and more who I already am in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Eternal life is a term that addresses the tendency to try and live a life more than “just historical” as if it were “just historical.”

As I continue to surrender myself to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, who is fully present in the midst of time – all moments – I grow up into the fullness of who I already am. My physical death ceases to be a “crossing over” moment from mortality to immortality. From “not-eternal” to “ever-more-fully-eternal.” Instead, death becomes one more (albeit more profound than perhaps any other) event that is used by the Lord to promote and deepen the quality of my participation in eternal life.

I invite you to read the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus with all of this in your mind and heart. Notice how Jesus is pointing His disciples and apostles toward Pentecost. Notice how he is mentioning and beginning to establish in their minds and hearts the WAY of NEW LIFE in the Holy Spirit that will be initiated on Pentecost.

This, I believe is the answer to the inevitable question that Pascha prompts us to ask, “What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to the way I live my life right now?”

Christ has died and Christ is risen to be our NEW LIFE by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in the Mystery of Pentecost in which we die and are raised with Him and in Him.

Let us journey toward Pentecost with the risen Christ…

Fr. Thomas