Assaulting God, Part 1

A Biblical Defense for Christ’s Deity

Jehovahs Witnesses evangelizing (from wikipedia)Several years ago, I heard a knock on my door and saw a fairly young couple close to my age on my front deck. After greeting them, I found that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to spread their message. I asked them, “Why would I want to study the Bible with people who aren’t even Christians?”

They responded, “But we do consider ourselves Christians.” This surprised me. I knew little about the JW’s except that they were considered a cult. My question gave them an opportunity for making a few arguments and they said a few things that I found to be interesting. At that time, I was in my spiritually restless stage and looking for something deeper than the Sunday Morning Show of American Christianity. Continue reading

Understanding Through Action

StNikolaiVelimirovichIn today’s culture we like to talk about ideas.  We, or at least I, sometimes talk more often than is necessary.  There’s a tendency to theologize and philosophize about God and Christ, rather than doing the simple but difficult work of knowing Him through action.

Below is today’s homily from the Prologue of Ohrid by St Nikolai Velimirovich as translated and published by the Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Western America.

Homily from the Prologue of Ohrid, January 21

Whoever chooses to do His will [God’s Will] shall know whether my teaching is from God” (St. John 7:17).

It benefits little to prove by human logic and words that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God. The fastest and most reliable way to know this is truth is to do the will of God in the same way that Christ proclaimed it and testified to it. Whosoever would do this, that one will know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God.

If you cry for the sake of God, you will know what kind of comfort He is. If you are merciful, you know the mercy of God. If you build peace, you will know how it becomes you to be called the Son of God. If you forgive men, you will know God forgives you.

Never can anyone be able to know that the teaching of Christ is the teaching from God, except he who does the Will of God. For only doing the Will of God, fulfilling the commandments of God, that is the key for unlocking Paradise in which God is seen. That is the key for understanding Holy Scripture and all the mysteries of revelation.

St. Basil writes: “In order to understand that which is hidden in Sacred Scripture, purity of life is needed.”

What else does the Lord want from us when He teaches us that through doing His will, we arrive at the understanding of the divinity of His teaching? He simply wants that we, by our deeds, become convinced of the divinity of His teaching. He does not want that we be convinced of this in an easy manner, but rather in a more difficult manner, not only by listening but by doing, because whoever is convinced in an easy manner will easily waver and change his mind and for him who is convinced in a difficult manner, it would be difficult for him to change his mind. Brethren, that is why we must endeavor to fulfill the Will of God in order that we may know God and save our soul.

O Lord, All-Wise, help us by the power of Your Holy Spirit to do Your will.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

SOURCE

The Sea of Darkness: A Parable

ocean 279 by He ngki24I arise from my deep slumber, my feet standing upon a rough, rocky surface. Before me lays an ocean that stretches as far as eye can see. But the ocean does not glow with the colorful light dancing about in the sky above me, nor does it reflect a deep blue or green. Instead, it seethes in blackness, and consumes the light that would have otherwise played upon its surface.

Something is amiss about this water, so I step forward for a closer inspection only to leap back to where I stood before. What lay before me is not an ocean of water, but rather an abyss of vermin and foul creatures crawling upon one another. Behind me is no sure footing, it seems the rough rocky surface upon which I stand is the only place left in this love-forsaken world.

Suddenly, an angel stands at my right side. “Where am I?” I plead.

“The place you would not understand,” he replies with solemn countenance.

“What is this terrible ocean that surrounds me?” I ask fearfully.

“This endless, abysmal sea,” he says while extending his hand about us, “is filled with the sins of your entire life, from youth to old age.”

“Certainly I could not have sinned that much!” I protest, not because I think him a liar, but because of the fearful truth in his words. Continue reading

My Journey into The Ancient Church, Part 2

Part 1 // Part 2

LOSING INTEREST

Old Cells by Sergey Kompaniychenko - Valaam MonasteryAfter months of what felt like dry liturgical services, my quasi-Pentecostal mindset wondered: where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? I recognized the validity the Orthodox Church’s claims to have the same beliefs and practices as the early church, but what good is that if the Holy Spirit has abandoned them and their services are dead and boring?

It was then that I somehow came across the book The Way of a Pilgrim. It is the story of a young Russian peasant during the late 1800’s who set out on a quest to experientially understand St Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing.” Continue reading

My Journey into The Ancient Church, Part 1

Winter by Hieromonk Savvaty (Valaam Monastery)

Part 1 // Part 2

My journey into Orthodoxy was not easy.  But it is not meant to be easy.  It challenged me (and continues to do so) to become the person God has created me to be, and to recognize my place in His Body, the Church.

When one becomes Orthodox they are called a “convert,” which helps to emphasize just how much of a change one must experience.  Becoming Orthodox is not simply acknowledging one belief system as being superior to another.  It is an ontological change, meaning it regards your entire being. Continue reading

A Timely Homily

Coptic Nativity iconThe following is a homily I recently read that was originally intended for the Feast of the Annunciation, but because that feast is so closely tied to Nativity in its themes, I decided to share it here at this time.  It is the third homily on this subject by the bishop St Gregory the Wonderworker, probably written sometime around AD 260-275.

It was one long paragraph and I have divided it into several sections so that it is much easier to read.  All of the bold type is my addition and the italics my emphasis.  In particular, I wanted to emphasize that salvation in early Christianity was understood to be God rescuing his beautiful creation from death, which had entangled it due to sin.  In that regard, it is full of poetic love and (like all Christian writings from antiquity that I have read) it lacks any concept of a wrathful God desiring to take out his anger and justice upon His son on the cross.  Especially enlightening is the dialogue between Gabriel and the Lord. Continue reading

The Everyday Martyrdom

Christ being taken down from the cross“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.(Jn 15:13)

I was reminded of the words of Christ while reading last night.  The Christians in the ancient Roman Empire (third century) were being persecuted, turned from their homes, burned, tortured, and beheaded.  A civil war broke out and then a plague infested the area, which distracted the unbelievers from the persecution.

I was deeply moved by the account which St Dionysius the Great wrote* regarding the total selfless and divine love the Christians displayed.  I will quote him at length here:

DIONYSIUS TO THE ALEXANDRIANS

Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.
Continue reading

The Key to Unlocking the Scriptures

http://www.deviantart.com/art/Hipster-Kitteh-295639576In my Protestant years, I dabbled in a subculture of hip, intellectual Christians.  They knew a bit of Greek, a dash of Hebrew, Jewish customs of the New Testament era, and history and culture of the Judea region during the Roman rule. When studying the Bible, we would ask, What are the underlying Greek/Hebrew words used here? What is the sociological and political context? Who is speaking and who is the audience? What are modern scholars saying about this passage?

TWO UNSPOKEN CONFESSIONS

Now that I am Orthodox, I do not engage in such activities quite as often. It is not that those things are wrong. In fact, when one looks past the intellectual pride of unlocking and parading some unknown meaning in the text, these questions truly reveal an unspoken confession. Namely that we realize a literal, straight-forward reading of the biblical text only reveals partial meanings.  When one’s entire faith relies on the right understanding of a book, that can be problematic. Continue reading

The Fly and The Bee

from http://30-noir.deviantart.com/art/Honeybee-155189173Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.

Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow. Continue reading

Feeling Frustrated with the Spiritual Struggle

from http://joan-kagami.deviantart.com/art/Frustrated-47950294When I began my spiritual struggle shortly after converting to Orthodoxy, I felt frustrated. I had joined a church that felt too demanding: fasting every Wednesday and Friday, pre-communion prayers Saturday nights, an expectation to actually change and live a holy life, morning and evening prayers, feast days and periods of fasting. It all seemed like too much.

There is a rhythm to the life of the Church; entering into it takes time. But I wasn’t used to that. My Protestant upbringing and the American culture made me want instant results, even for sinful habits that were deeply entrenched. In charismatic circles, we would always pray for instantaneous miracles and deliverances from evil. To expect anything less could mean one had weak faith.

At a few points, the temptation entered into my mind: “This is too much for you, and for anyone except the most saintly. You know you can’t settle for mediocrity, and you’re certainly not a saint, so just give up on Orthodoxy. Don’t keep pushing yourself into a lifestyle that is simply too pious for you.” Continue reading

Living in Evil Times

by RadojavoDuring my childhood, I remember hearing adults speak of this world being full of evil.  Many believed in an imminent return of Christ due to the intolerable corruption with which they were surrounded.  I believe it is that sentiment that drives many religious sects to dwell on the book of Revelations and hold the plethora of “end times” discussions that we observe.

Now that I too am an adult I cannot ignore the fact that there is an abundance of evil in this world.  If I am ever in doubt, I have to look no further than a news report regarding whatever events are happening in the Middle East.

THE WORKS OF THE LORD

Yet there is something that has irked me for many years about people becoming hysterical (in its more extreme forms) over the sins of the world.  I don’t believe in the modern myth of progress, but I don’t believe in a fear-based myth of severe regress either.  When surveying the history of mankind and the Church, it seems to me that there has always been evil, yet it permeates culture in varying forms. Continue reading

St Gregory The Wonder Worker

Gregory The Miracle WorkerToday we celebrate the feast day of St Gregory the Wonder Worker (also known as Gregory Thaumaturgus).  I wanted to write about St Gregory because there are many people who believe that the concept of the Trinity was introduced into the Church at the Council of Nicea by Constantine and his “cohorts.”

I remember reading some pamphlet produced by the WatchTower a few years ago that was given to me by Jehovah’s (false) Witnesses.  At that time, I was attempting to figure out what I believed.  Was the church corrupt by the time of Constantine?  Was the doctrine of the Trinity a heretical concept later introduced?  I felt that Jesus was likely God incarnate, but I wanted to be open-minded to counterarguments.  The pamphlet was so full of historical flaws, misquotes of ancient Christian texts, and bad philosophy that I tossed it aside. Continue reading