I was glad when they said unto me

I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122, KJV)

As I drove to church for the Monday morning Liturgy (for the Holy Spirit, since it was the day after Pentecost), I looked at the gridlocked traffic around me and had a few moments for reflection.

So many of my fellow drivers were on their way to somewhere they didn’t want to be. During evening rush hour, people are coming from places they didn’t want to be and have the cares, aggravations and frustrations from that place piled high on their shoulders. In a few hours, they know the cycle will repeat.

In the midst of this, here I was driving to God’s Holy Orthodox Church for a liturgy with people I love – and who love God deeply.  And the sweet melody of divine theology sustained me on the drive home, too.

 

Blessed art Thou, O Lord God of the universe!

Advertisements
Comments Off on I was glad when they said unto me Posted in Uncategorized

Sanctisbovis YouTube Channel cleared for takeoff!

I’ve been focusing the bulk of my energies on my YouTube channel, which covers issues relating to Orthodox Christian prison ministry and to American Christianity in general. I do still plan to keep this blog alive and well – hopefully once things calm down a bit I can update it more regularly. Anyway check out the channel and please SUBSCRIBE!

S.M.H. (I Shakez Muh Headz At U)

I just heard a single person express the following within about three minutes:

  • I’m not very religious. I just understand the Bible. (The person who said this is a church-going Catholic with an interest in volunteer ministry.)
  • Satan is a figment of your imagination.
  • Think about it logically. Why would a demon be interested in you?
  • There is way more good in the world than evil. God is love, end of story.

Before writing the first draft of this entry I spent some time shopping around for a new, perkier layout for the blog. I thought maybe it would brighten my spirits and lower my blood pressure a bit. Didn’t work; the free themes are ugly.

Anyway, we need to address this craziness. Follow me, ya’ll, buckle your seat belts and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle.

I’m not very religious, I just understand the Bible. …No, such a statement actually demonstrates a profound confusion about what the Bible is and its place in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. You cannot understand Holy Scripture in isolation from participation in sacramental Church life. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession, Holy Communion above all – without these, you are attempting to interpret the Bible according to your own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20), which assuredly means you’ve gotten turned around and headed off in a funky direction.

Satan is a figment of your imagination. A person who claims to understand Scripture must have read it thoroughly, and read it regularly on an ongoing basis. A thorough reading of Scripture reveals and confirms the existence of Satan. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1:12-13) and spoke of him many times (Luke 10:18, Luke 22:31, John 12:31-33). Satan is also mentioned in many of the Epistles, including those by St. Paul, St. Peter and St. John the Theologian, (Acts 5:1-5, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and 11:13-15, Ephesians 2:1-7, 1 John 3:4-9, Revelation 9:1-2, 12:3-17, 13:4-12, 14:9-11, 20:1-10).

Think about it logically. Why would a demon be interested in you? Demons are keenly interested in all sincere Christian souls because humanity was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), meaning that we have the potential for unique hypostatic personhood and were, in fact, created for that purpose. Demons are also created beings – fallen angels – (Ezekiel  28: 13-19) who lack this potentiality for personhood and have an intense hatred for God’s image in any form. Consequently, they wish to entice souls off of God’s path of salvation because (a) they hate God, and therefore his image, and (b) they understand that it grieves the Lord when a person chooses death over eternal life. If you are a sincere Christian, you are a walking target for demonic persecution. Get used to this. 

There is way more good in the world than evil. God is love, end of story. This viewpoint has no scriptural or apostolic basis whatsoever. Since the Fall, corruption has held dominion over all of creation, not just humanity. (Romans 8: 20-21) Jesus Christ did not come to redeem a small sliver of an otherwise uncorrupted world. (Luke 5:32) No. He freely chose to take flesh, preach to those covered in the darkness (Isaiah 9:2) and shadow of death (to wit, all of us), and submit to death by torture because without such healing and redemption you and I and everything else that ever was, is or will be ARE SCREWED. Do you get that? Screwed. (John 3:16, 14:6) This is the reality of God’s great love and ineffable condescension. Without Him, there is no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) God IS love, yes (1 John 4:8), but what is the nature of that love? Does it take away our free will or remove our ability to sin? Is sin no longer a thing? Not so, friends, not so. (Galatians 2:17)  God’s love is the grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) that takes us by our wretched and outstretched hands and lifts us up out of the mire of our own creation – of our own choice. It is not the negation of sin, but the path away from it, and we must choose to walk that path. Our hands are wretched and outstretched, yes, but they are our hands and we must lift them up and cry to God to save us, for we cannot save ourselves. (John 15:5)

Until the end of time (which is itself God’s creation) the Uncreated Light shines in the midst of great darkness (Isaiah 9:2, John 1:1-5). Until the Lord returns and inaugurates the Great and Glorious Eternal Day, the majority of the world remains under the sway of its ignominious prince, Satan, whom Christ Himself called “the Prince of this world.” (John 14:30) Only once he and those who follow him are cast into the eternal prisons of hell (Jude 1:13, Revelation 19:20)  by the Incorruptible, who for our sakes put on corruption (1 Corinthians 15:50-57), will wickedness cease from under the sun. (Revelation 21: 1-22:7)

Until that time, friends, we wage war!

The Depravity of Apathy

Orthodox Christians acknowledge seeds of truth in all major world religions. The Church is the sole repository of the fullness of God’s personal revelation to humanity, but there are truthful elements in other faiths that are intended to bring worshippers into an understanding of Orthodox truth when it is presented to them.

There are many people who have never encountered the Gospel. Our Lord tells us that these will be judged according to their God-given conscience, the divinely appointed moral compass and rudder of souls. Sincerity counts for a lot with God, Who alone knowest the hearts of men. God, after all, is the One who gave each of us a desire for Him – to know Him, love Him and be loved by Him.

The thinking, aware human being recognizes the eternal significance of this quest for God. People search for Him in diverse ways, but the point remains – they are searching. Urgently. They care deeply about their eternal destiny, and are wise to do so. Some of these really do welcome the truth when they hear it – if not immediately, then perhaps a seed is planted and germinates in the future.

Then we have the rest of the world,

The ones who are apathetic.

It is utterly absurd.

Spiritual apathy has nothing to do with growing up in an agnostic or atheistic family. No. Don’t give me that crap. Many faithful Orthodox never set foot in a church until they were approaching middle age. The issue is not a lack of facts, but a lack of yearning for the truth.

The enemy is complacency, the mother of depraved apathy and one of the billboards on the road to damnation.

Think about it. You’re an atheist – just pretend – and you have heard parts of the Gospel message but you write it off as superstition. You and your atheist friends – pretend again – think that there is no way that a personal Creator a) exists and b) would allow souls to suffer in Hell for eternity.

DON’T YOU THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO VERIFY THAT?! You know, check some facts? Explore the issue a bit? Send the jury home for the weekend? After all, if you are so sure that you’re right, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove it, right? Right?

…*crickets*…

If you have investments and you hear a lot of crazy talk about your stocks getting ready to implode, no matter how crazy it sounds, don’t you think you’d pick up the clue phone and call your broker just to make doubly sure? You’ve got six figures riding on it. Do you just sit there twiddling your thumbs and hope that you’re correct? Or do you search for information while you still can, before financial  ruin comes upon you?!

‘Kay, you can stop pretending to be an atheist now. Whew. Go have a glass of water and walk it off.

Feeling better? Good.

Now.  Rest easy while I re-caffeinate.

Courage to See and Do

The Gospel for last Wednesday’s services (new readers: the weekly prayer services and Scripture studies are on Wednesday evenings up at the Big House) was an excerpt from Luke 16, the parable of the unprofitable steward. This got us talking about the courage to do things on Earth that will store up Heavenly blessings for our souls. Doing works that bear good fruit. It’s a frequent theme, and with good reason. Orthodox Christians believe in synergistic salvation, which is to say that we require God’s grace and mercy for salvation and cannot earn it on our own merits, but we are expected to cooperate with God’s grace and act accordingly.

A defense of synergistic salvation is beyond the scope of this post. If you’re still with me, good!

There are two major errors we can make in our quest to behave according to God’s commands. (Actually, there are probably more, but I’m going to write about two of them.)

They are: 

1. Cowardice

2. Egomania

Cowardice is the more obvious of the two. God’s holy laws have always been unpopular in the world, and they will always be unpopular in the world. To be a Christian is to go against the grain, to swim up stream against a mighty torrent of opposition that all too often includes our own will. It is a radical thing. It’s easier not to bother with it, and we are frightfully adept at generating excuses for our spinelessness. We adroitly twist Scripture for our own purposes, including the words of Christ Himself. Consider Matthew 6: 5-6:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly I say to you that they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in the secret place, and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.

The cowardly soul quotes this passage and others like it as an attempt to justify spiritual sloth and inaction – and not only that, but to subtly imply that any Christian whose good deeds are visible is a vainglorious Pharisee, not someone whose righteousness puts the slothful to shame. Did you catch that? They’re sneaky monkeys. Fortunately, the corrective is right here:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Let me break it down for ya. Let me be abundantly clear.

We are commanded to do righteous works as a grateful response to God’s undeserved grace, and as an evangelical act. Do not run from opportunities to do good in front of others, but refrain from doing so because others are there.

*****

On to egomania.

Egomania is pride by another name and, therefore, the most pernicious of sins because it is the original sin. Lucifer rebelled against God because he wanted to be God, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Egomania is often difficult to detect because we love it so much. So great is our kinship with this wickedness that we initially find it almost impossible to be alarmed by it. If we persevere in prayer, however, God eventually blesses us with the understanding that we have to change our lives dramatically. We gradually stop loving our sins and start replacing them with activities and thoughts with greater spiritual benefit. So far so good. We develop a warmth of heart toward our neighbor and desire to help her find the spiritual comfort of holy peace. This love of neighbor blossoms into a desire to impact the community – even the world – for Christ with our good example.

Woah. Back that trolley up.

Did you catch it?

This love of neighbor blossoms into a desire to impact the community – even the world – for Christ with our good example. 

Uh-oh, spaghetti-o’s. This is where that selfless ivory tower comes crashing down.

Read any treatise on Orthodox monasticism and you will learn that one of the greatest temptations facing monks (especially newer ones) is this inner voice that whispers, “You have the potential to do so much good in the world! Leave this monastery and go back to your city and set a good example for everyone around you.” The Holy Fathers counsel that this suggestion is not from God, but from demons who wish to thwart the monk’s attempt to live the angelic life. (Note to non-Orthodox: by the “angelic life” we mean monasticism, which is an angelic existence within the bonds of created time that prepares the monastic to life the angelic life in eternity).

Such thoughts are dangerous, not because it is wrong to do good in the world, but because most of us don’t do it for the only acceptable reasons – to glorify God and save the souls of others around us. Lamentably, when we say, “I love others and want to help them by setting a good example that they can admire and emulate,” what we actually mean is “I am addicted to the approval of others and I desire to manipulate them into parroting my behavior.”

The sting in a rebuke is the truth. – Benjamin Franklin

“Cradle Orthodox” isn’t actually a thing

Hang around Orthodox Christians long enough and you will hear the term “cradle Orthodox.” It refers to those born into Orthodox families and raised in the Church, as opposed to converts such as yours truly. That’s where the meaning should stop, but sometimes you can detect a smear of smugness about it. Not often. Anyway, I recently had a chat with a 12 year-old “cradle Orthodox” (the daughter of two amazing people also from my alma mater) and she said something absolutely brilliant about it. I don’t remember exactly how we got on the subject. I was spending the night with her godmother, so the three of us were getting ready to hop in our bunk beds (yay, seminary dorms!) and somehow we got talking about the fact that both of us adults (her godmother and I) are converts.

Eventually, M. (the girl, whose real name I have not asked permission to use online) said, “Miss Daria? My dad says there’s no such thing as a cradle Orthodox.”

Me: Yeah?
M: Yeah. He says that even if you grow up near a monastery in a house full of icons, you have to be a convert in your heart, or none of that will help you. Every Orthodox soul is a convert.

I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!
True words, people. Those are true words.