Showing posts from December, 2019

When Even Meals Are Measured

This is a total aside. This has nothing to do with anything. Then again, in a collection of "selections from seminary", there are bound to be a few random tid-bits that do not fit in anywhere else. Something has to break up the monotony from time to time. (You would think that on Christmas Break, I would not need to break the monotony.) Regardless, here it is. "Everything is best in moderation." Or maybe "All in good measure." How would I say that in Greek? Well, I was reading the eighth letter of St. Basil, and the last sentence said, "...let me make an end to this letter, since everything is best in moderation, as the proverb has it." Then, the footnote says "This saying was attributed to Cleobulus, one of the Seven Sages, who lived in Lindus in Rhodes at about 580 B.C." Too cool. And since this book has Greek on the opposing page, I can look up the Greek saying for "All in good measure"? That would be the ultimate n

Can I Change My Prayer Book?

Reading through pre-Communion prayers tonight in preparation for Sunday morning Liturgy, I was reminded again of a little edit I made to my prayer book. I did not used to write in books...ever, but this is different, like marking music. So, here is why I changed the wording in my prayer book. In our family, we like to sing the prayers before Communion (at least, that parts that I know of that can be sung). The Canon in Preparation for Holy Communion (starting on page 159) states that it can be sung in tone 2. So, the irmos for each ode can be sung in irmos tone 2 , and there is a kontakion after ode 6 which can be sung in troparion tone 2 . Just one problem: it is close to impossible to consistently sing this wording accurately. The "unfathomable abyss" is, at least for this poor tongue, a mount too high to climb. So, I thought through several variations of the same meaning, but variations that would be easier to sing. A depth is like an abyss, and just as an unfathomab

In Preparation for Christmas

The Nativity of Our Lord is such a beautiful time. It is so much more than the birthday of Christ. It is the opening again of Paradise. It is the restoration of our fallen nature. It is an invitation to the whole world to come to Christ. These words of a hymn of the forefeast of Nativity say it much more beautifully: Make ready, O Bethlehem,      for Eden has been opened unto all. Adorn thyself, O Ephratha,      for the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the divine Fruit;      if we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image He made in the beginning. Rejoice in the glad tidings of Christmas, on this great and wonderful day, for God has become man, righting the once-wronged image of God imprinted in mankind, and in so doing, we now again have access to Paradise itself. Glory to God!

Tangible Life in Christ

This union and one-ness with Christ, what is it? How do we become one with him? There is a need to ask this question again, because “life in Christ”, or “becoming one with him”, or “communing with him” can descend into mere catchphrases. If we only hold to these as concepts or illustrations, as theological constructs, they remain in the world of theory and imagination. Then, our faith is a fantasy. The incarnation of God himself is no fantasy. Here we are in the Christmas season: this is not Christ's birthday, but rather God himself becoming man. If we could find salvation through theological theory, then there is no need for God to become man. If what we believe in our heads and hearts was enough, then all God needed to do was send down some tablets with the appropriate confession of faith for us to dutifully learn. If that is all we needed, then the Old Testament contains everything we need. No, our faith is solidly, firmly, concretely, distinctly, palpably, physically, subst

The Theme throughout the Scriptures

At the beginning of that same prayer in John 17, Jesus says, “ Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, that your son also may glorify you. ” The context of that prayer is, quite obviously, Christ’s impending Passion. Remember also, that in that prayer Christ states, “ And the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one. ” Put that prayer together, in context, and it is seen that the one-ness with Christ is reached through his glory, and Christ’s glory is achieved through his Passion. And Christ’s Passion is the utmost humility. Orthodox spirituality is defined by humility. That is not to say that all Orthodox Christians are perfectly humble. Oh, if that were only true! It is to say that the one core goal, the unifying principle of Orthodox spirituality is the struggle to humble ourselves. That was how Christ could have received that glory of which he spoke, indeed, it was the only way: the path of humble suffering. That is the one charact

Live Together with Him

As St. Paul put it in 1 Thessalonians, we are to “ live together with him ”. The Scriptures speak of this life in Christ in many ways—live in him, union, members of one body, know him, abide in him, dwell, born of him, vine and branches, communion, eat my body and drink my blood, found in him—but it is all too easy to miss that this is, in fact, the very essence of the life in Christ, of spirituality, of the Christian life. In Jesus Christ’s last hours with his disciples, his prayer turns to this life in him: That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them, and you in me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me. — John 17:21-23 That is an absolutely staggering set of verses; by all means, read it a

Let St. Paul Help Us Make a Start: How Are We "Being Saved”?

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are being saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. — 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Faith in Christ is not vain and purposeless, after all. Like many of you, I know I did not believe in vain; I could feel as much, deep down, regardless of some of the hard questions I do not have good answers to. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. — Romans 5:9 We shall be saved. That one is accomplished in the future. And if the word “wrath” at the end of that verse distracts you from the main point, like it does me, then move on to the next one to help understand it. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. —

What Is Spirituality?

How do we define spirituality? Perhaps we can work our way to an answer of the purpose of the spiritual life by asking ourselves several questions. What is the purpose of our faith? Why do we pray? Is it more than just looking for the answers to our prayers? It is also worshipping and praising God...but is that, in some way, beneficial to us? We would probably instinctively say, “yes”, but then falter somewhat with any follow-up questions about how prayer ties into the greater spiritual life. So, is prayer supposed to benefit us? Do we need to grow spiritually? That is quite close to suggesting that we need to grow spiritually to be able to be saved. Otherwise, why would we actually need to grow spiritually? No matter what angle I attempt to approach this issue, I keep coming back to salvation. It seems that much of this issue is highly dependent on our definition of salvation. If we see salvation as something that has already happened and is completed, then the spiritual life is s

Saved by Silence...Almost

God's discourse with Cain caught my attention recently. God is pursuing him, especially in that critical period before he murdered Abel; God pursues him with a heart of a father imparting the one thing needful which, if applied, could have averted Cain's spiritual demise. My attention was initially caught by the phrase "his recourse shall be to you; and you shall rule over him", speaking of Abel. That is speaking of Cain's relationship toward Abel, but I remembered the translation from Bibles growing up (that is, those translated from the Hebrew text) talking about Cain's relationship with sin: "And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." That "recourse" phrase was knocking around in my head when I read the previous chapter and noticed identical language used with Eve: "Your recourse will be to your husband, and he shall rule over you." The meaning of this

The Love-Hate Relationship with Constantine

If there is anybody in Christian history that Protestants love to hate, it’s the Emperor Constantine. Now, I never had people bring him up to me as the one who "changed Christianity", but quite consistently, in the experience of other Orthodox Christians I have talked to about this, Constantine is certainly an issue that comes up frequently. Brief history lesson...Emperor Constantine is most well known for the Battle at Milvian Bridge in the year 312. According to two (somewhat contradictory) accounts, Constantine saw the chi-rho (☧) symbol, which is the Greek abbreviation for “Christ”, in the sky, and heard the words, “in this sign, conquer”. Having placed the symbol on his shields, he defeated Emperor Maxentius on the field of battle, and soon after consolidated total control of the Roman Empire. The following year, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted leniency toward the Christian religion, which is often misunderstood as making Christianity the

A Few Early Extremist Christian Groups

We—we men and women isolated in this one time and one perspective—all too easily drift to extremes in faith. Extremes are not necessarily negative or harmful, but often become so, especially when applied not to the individual as a personal act of piety, but rather to others. Extreme views and practices are as old as the Church, and quite obviously, when we take even a quick glance at the various Christian churches around us today, there are plenty of extremes today, as well. I should share a quick disclaimer: as long as I am writing about a particular tendency that you, the reader, would agree to be extreme, it is easy to readily agree. However, when I mention a tendency that hits a little closer to home, it will be much harder to see that particular tendency as extreme. I will finish this article off with Orthodoxy, to make sure and hit close to home for myself, too, and let you be the judge. And since these past several posts have focused on the application of history to our presen

Heretic Name Calling

There have always been heresies threatening the Church. And what is a heresy? That may seem like an obvious question, but in the light of today’s protection of rights, the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and then the staggering array of various “brands” of Christianity, the “heretic” label is much less often applied now. That is probably a good thing. I certainly cannot think of many of examples of heretic name-calling turning out to anybody’s benefit, increasing pride on one side and anger on the other...or maybe both anger and pride on both sides. It is easy to look back at the ecumenical councils of the first few centuries of legalized Christianity and interpret back into history our ideas of heresy name-calling. What should be said first, because it is an easy misunderstanding in the light of the awful, systematized tortures of later, non-Orthodox Christianity, is that those who were excommunicated were only excommunicated. That is, they were no longer allowed in the comm

Liturgical Acts of the Apostles

In my last couple posts, I jumped a little further along the path of history than I expected. I love St. Ignatius (and as a shameless plug to go and read his epistles, I must at least briefly say that the much bigger reason to read his epistles is not so much that he emphatically states the authority of the bishop, but the relentless spirit of his letters: charging toward Rome, toward his martyrdom, in a desire to be an offering to Christ). I should back up fifty years or so and look through the Acts of the Apostles. One thing that has always stuck out to me in the book of Acts (or the “Acts of the Apostles”) is the multitude of references to Jewish religious practice, meaning, the continuation within the Christian Church of Jewish religious practice. It is all too easy to read Acts with our modern glasses and not quite know when we are accidentally imposing a different meaning on the words we are reading. As a benign example: picturing your friend going “fishing” would be quite diff