Roll away the stone

from Easter 2016

-We who follow Jesus understand that being a disciple does not protect us from the harsh realities of the world in which we live. We are part of THIS world and we are called not to abandon it, but to transform it into the kind of world God envisions for all of God’s creatures. When I read this passage, it reminds me of how much a comfort it is to be in the presence of other followers each week when I attend Sunday school and worship at my local church. When I am there each Lord’s day, I feel the power of the vision John describes when I gather with the good Methodist people in my community. We may not be dressed in white robes, but we sing praises to God; and for a short period of time, we ARE set free from the ordeals of the week through which we have just come. When we gather as a community of faith to worship God in Jesus Christ, when we celebrate the sacraments together and sing and pray and give voice to our joys and concerns, there is a sense of real relief. We are uplifted, nourished, and strengthened for the week ahead. And we feel the promise of God that one day we WILL be free from the suffering we might be experiencing today. We hear the reassurance that no matter what the present circumstances, there is a spring from which flows the water of life, and there is a God who loves us and cares for us, a God who will wipe away every tear that falls from our eyes.

Dwelling in the kingdom of God means that we hold the visions and promises given to us through Scripture before us at all times and in all places. From these words and pictures we find hope and strength to carry on and do the work of ministry, relieving suffering when we can, caring for God’s creation and all that dwells within it while we wait for God’s kingdom to come and reign on this earth forevermore.

The Easter Season the time of rebirth is a time to remember the saints who have walked before us.

Benediction=Let us not forget who makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters and restores our souls. Let us not forget that it is truly the Lord who is our shepherd, and that we should not wait until we are ready to be put in our graves to let those words be recited over our names. So one more time Psalm 23 Jesus is the Lord. Jesus is the good shepherd.  It is God who has made us and not we ourselves.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.     He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.[a]
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord forever.[g

Go in peace your faith has made you whole

Living the Apocalypse Fr. Stephen Freeman

apocalypticThere is a genre of Scriptural writings that are described as “apocalyptic.” The book of Revelation, in Greek, is called “The Apocalypse.” Ezekiel and Daniel also have very strong passages described as apocalyptic. The term is very straightforward: it means “revealing what is hidden.” These books are described as “making known hidden things,” because their message is disguised under rather outlandish descriptions: beasts with ten horns, heavenly cities, and buildings that come down to earth, plagues and angels and solemn warnings. Over the centuries, these books have been the playground for those who claim to understand their “secrets.” Indeed, speculation in apocalyptic literature is a booming industry in contemporary Christianity. But these books are only “apocalyptic” in the most extreme way. It is correct to say that the Christian faith is inherently apocalyptic and that all that went before it was hidden. Understanding this will help make sense, in particular, of how the New Testament treats the Old.

Consider these statements by St. Paul:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1Co 2:7-10)

And

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Eph 3:8-11)

St. Paul characterizes the gospel of Christ as something that has been “hidden from ages and from generations” but is now being made known. He also notes both that the gospel has been purposely hidden from the “rulers of this world” (meaning the demonic rulers of the age) but is now, expressly being made known by the Church “to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” He is not saying that the gospel is hard to understand, but that has been hidden on purpose by God. How has the gospel been hidden?

Generally speaking, the reality of the gospel was hidden beneath the life of Israel and beneath the figures of Scripture. The rulers of Israel, in Jesus’ day, had an expectation of a Messiah. However, they very much expected a Messiah whose coming was of a piece with Israel’s history and direct march through time. As such, they expected a warrior king who would deliver the nation from the Gentiles and set up a kingdom of righteousness in this world. They had no expectation of a hidden Messiah, nor did they expect a Crucified and Risen Messiah. Christ’s own disciples seem to have shared Israel’s expectation until they were corrected by Christ Himself after the resurrection.

These are clear facts, without contradiction.

The prophetic witness to Christ in the Old Testament is characterized primarily by its hiddenness. Christians have become so familiar with the traditional interpretation of certain prophetic passages that they have become unable to hear how they sound(ed) to Jewish ears. The famous Servant Songs of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 53). We hear in them, prophecies of the very details of Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross and the promise of His victory. But we must remember that we see these things in hindsight. To this day, these passages are interpreted in Judaism as referring to the Jewish people as a whole. They were not verses of unfulfilled Messianic hope that hung over the consciousness of Israel as it longed for its deliverance.

Christ Himself spoke in parables and was berated for it. Moreover, He specifically characterized the Kingdom of God as hidden.

Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened. (Mat 13:33)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Mat 13:44 NKJ)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46 NKJ)

This hidden aspect of God’s work (the mystery from before the ages) is enshrined in parables, allegories, types, shadows, figures, etc. St. Ambrose, writing in the 5th century said: “The Old Testament is shadow; the New is icon, while the ‘heavenly things’ [the age to come] is the truth.’ (Off. 1.238) St. Maximus later repeated this description. The New Testament is not the historical unfolding of the historical Old Testament, it is the revelation in this world of that which was hidden in the Old Testament, but now made known through the Church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

This approach to the Scriptures came to be dismissed and even despised in more modern times. One strain of thought that clearly fueled this attitude was the rise of Nominalism in the West. Nominalism rejects “inner meanings,” certainly as anything more than ideas in our heads. Things are simply things, and words nothing more than the names we call them. Straightforward moral examples and historical events, interpreted largely in their own historical context, became the preferred way of seeing the Scriptures. Prophetic statements began to be seen as flatly predictive rather than possessed of irony, allegory and paradox. Historical-critical studies that dismantled various historical claims of other Christians, would be unthinkable without the assumptions of Nominalism. The battles between conservative historicists and liberal historical critics, however, take place on a battleground foreign to the world of the Fathers.

The New Testament’s treatment of the Old, and the proclamation of a “hidden” gospel, proclaims as well that reality itself has a “hidden” quality. Only if the truth can be made known in shadow and icon is the world, in fact, as the Orthodox Christian faith says it is. This is also the character of a truly sacramental worldview. Catechesis in the Orthodox Church, as well as the continuing education of its people, should be grounded in the worldview of the Fathers. If the gospel is hidden, then we must know how to find it. This is the path that lead

Isaiah the prophet of Christmas

The Darkness Turns to Light-Isaiah the prophet of Christmas-
19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. 9 [a]Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. AMEN

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” ~ Chief Tecumsehtecumseh

Meditation Monday – Learning Shalom Living From St Francis of Assisi — Godspace, by Christine Sine

by Christine Sine St Francis of Assisi was a person who modelled God’s peace (shalom) in very radical ways. October 4th is St Francis Feast Day and so it seems appropriate to begin our October emphasis on shalom with a reminder of his life story and the ways it challenges us also be be radical proponents of shalom. Francis’s goal was…

via Meditation Monday – Learning Shalom Living From St Francis of Assisi — Godspace

Driving By Faith by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Several years ago my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting England. The beginning of the trip was terrifying – we had decided to rent a car. Our modest little Fiat fit well among the many toy cars that fill British highways. But there was a problem. Everything on English roads is backwards. You sit on the wrong side of the car; you drive on the wrong side of the road; you shift gears (yes, it was a manual) with the wrong hand. I felt that I had just gotten out of the dentist’ office and the entire left side of my car was “numb.” It was terribly awkward. I curbed the wheels on the left side three times before I got out of the parking lot. And then we burst immediately onto the highway, a monstrous multi-laned beast with high-speed toy cars and trucks flying along (on the wrong side).

I know how to drive a car. Indeed, I consider myself a good driver. However, my English experience demonstrated a fundamental flaw: driving is not an activity for thinking. When you are in the midst of flying objects, multiple lanes, with foot-work (I hadn’t driven a  manual in years), and gear-shift all operating at various moments, in the dyslexic world of high-speed English traffic-flow, the one thing you do not have is the time to think about any of them. Friends do not let friends think and drive.

I managed not to kill us or anyone else, though I doubt anyone has logged more prayer-time in a single week on the roads of England than myself. But the basic lesson is worth noting: we do not drive by thinking. You may rationally reflect on what has happened, but you cannot rationally reflect on what you are doing while you are in the midst of doing it. We drive by feel (or something similar).

The Christian life, the life of faith, is much the same. Rationality is not the primary mode of believing. Faith is not simply what you believe, it is equally how you believe.

When confronted with a challenging and uncomfortable situation, the human body generally responds with a burst of adrenalin. It’s useful – people have been known to perform super-human feats (lifting a car or a piano) in extremely dangerous situations. But this same safety mechanism, triggered by fear or danger, can be paralyzing in the wrong setting. It is the physical mechanism behind what are called “panic attacks.” The mind tells the body there’s a saber-toothed tiger in the cave and the body responds with the instincts of “fight or flight.” If, however, the task at hand is driving a car in an unfamiliar setting, or simply sitting down to take a math test, the adrenalin is not only unnecessary, it is crippling.

Strangely, how we believe works in a similar manner. Our culture has reduced Christian believing to a set of rational propositions. The various doctrines can be described, defined, repeated, even rendered in Latin. But almost nowhere do we bother to think about how we believe those propositions. We can answer the question, “Do you believe in the Incarnation?” But we never bother to ask, “What does it look like to believe the Incarnation?” This disconnect leads to tragic, even paralyzing versions of Christianity.

When I was in high school, my adolescent Christianity was strongly committed to a pacifist position. The country was in the midst of the Vietnam War and passions surrounding the war ran at a very high pitch. We had a Catholic priest visit our school once for a “discussion” of the war. He was a well-known pacifist and very articulate. Our principal, who articulated the opposing view, was a decorated pilot from World War II. During the open discussion following their talks, my passions burned bright.

Afterward, the priest spoke to me. I was expecting some sort of congratulations since I thought I had spoken well for his position. “Stephen,” he said, “There is more than one way to do violence to a man. You use pacifism like a weapon.”

Truth always has a double edge. The Word of God is a “two-edged sword,” we are told. We generally know better than to let children play with sharp objects.

My previous articles describing noetic perception and the importance of a neptic life, are not meant to be obscure tropes about interesting Greek words. The kind of sober perception to which they refer are the essential requirements in the labor of salvation. We are not saved by correct ideas, if the ideas are not held correctly.

This reality lies at the heart of all communion devotion in the Orthodox Church. The truth of Christ’s Body and Blood are nowhere questioned, nor even pondered. All of the attention within the prayers surrounding the sacrament are directed towards the heart and lips that receive it.

Behold: I draw near to the Divine Communion. Burn me not as I partake, O Creator, For Thou art a Fire which burns the unworthy. Rather, cleanse me of all defilement.

The Gifts of the Holy Eucharist are not approached by mere doctrine or correct thoughts. However salutary such things might be, they fall short of the truth of our soul and being. It is entirely possible to confess the whole of the Orthodox faith, perfect in every letter, and yet lack the state of soul that receives without being consumed in the fire.

Rightness of heart is what a true noetic understanding and sobriety (nepsis) of spirit are about. I have had more than a few conversations with people who hold the faith with great “precision” and are yet a danger to themselves and to those around them. The “truth” of the faith, if divested of noetic insight and held in the grip of the passions, may be the deadliest form of delusion (prelest) known within the Church. St. James identifies this with devastating accuracy:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble! (Jam 2:19)

The demons are perfectly “Orthodox.” Indeed, the demons recognized and confessed Jesus as the Christ long before human beings. In the fathers, fasting without prayer is called the “fast of demons,” for demons never eat anything, but neither do they pray.

Christ invites us into a wholeness of being. We are given the right faith, but the right faith must rest in a right heart. Over the years, it has been my observation that the right facts are easy. Any compendium of doctrine or collection of patristic quotes can summarize the faith we hold. But no compendium can easily describe how we hold the faith. Of course, this is very frustrating for many. The facts make for an easy argument. The rational mind champions argument and judgment (it was always meant to measure, weigh and compare). But the rational mind was never intended to be the seat of the soul. That belongs to the nous. And it is only in the sobriety of noetic comprehension that the truth of the faith yields itself up as the life-giving Word of God. Only the sobriety of noetic perception is able to wield the fiery coal of the Divine revelation in such a way that it heals and doesn’t destroy.

And so we pray. And we tremble.

“Burn me not as I partake.”

September 11: Human & Animal Stories of Courage & Compassion About 9/11 — Emergency Management & Safety Solutions

World Trade Center, New York City When you think of 9/11, there are many feelings and emotions that likely flood your mind…the first might be the events and images of that fateful day and the chronicles of incredible feats performed by the “average person”. Or perhaps the life lost, ways our lives have changed since…

via September 11: Human & Animal Stories of Courage & Compassion About 9/11 — Emergency Management & Safety Solutions