Thursday, June 30, 2011

Truly You Are The God Who Hides Yourself

The role of a priest is to help people pass from death to life. He has no other calling, no other purpose, no other job to do. Everything a priest does serves this one thing: PASCHA.
The life of every human being is a passage from darkness to light, from deadening passions to enlivening peace. Even the priest himself is making this passage. The one who heals is himself being healed.
I've often wondered why God has chosen to put his Spirit in clay pots, containers made of dirt. Why doesn't God use angels? Why has God chosen to reveal Himself by hiding in the hearts of sinful people? St. Paul says that it is so that the "surpassing power" may be clearly seen as from God and not from man. Sometimes, I confess, the power doesn't seem very surpassing, or very powerful--not that I doubt the power of God--but the dirtiness of the clay is all I can see sometimes.
And yet a light shines in the darkness. The trick is to turn to and follow the light. With our clergy, there will always be plenty of darkness to distract us if that is what we fixate on. God's treasure is in jars of clay. But there is also light, sometimes faint, perhaps, but sparks in the darkness, hints of holiness, brief moments of clarity that point the way to salvation. These are what we must follow. For this is how God has chosen to guide us: through His Spirit hidden in jars of clay.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clergy Seminar

For the past three days I have been listening to lectures by Monks from Lebanon, praying three times a day with all of the clergy in the diocese (about eighty of us), eating together and encouraging one another. It has been a huge blessing so far.
The main speaker is the abbot of the St. Michael the Archangel monastery near Tripoli, Lebanon and he is also the Metropolitan of Northern Lebanon. His remarks focused on the need for the priests to be filled with the Holy Spirit--full of peace and virtue. He said that there are no deserts any more. What he meant was that it is no longer possible to escape the world physically (there is even e-mail on Mount Athos). To be saved we must find the quiet desert in our hearts. There we will find the Holy Spirit. It is oh so easy to quench the Holy Spirit. We must "force ourselves" to be quiet so that we can at least begin to pray the words of prayer (the Jesus prayer, for example). Then after a little while, we will feel peace and begin to experience the dawning of real prayer. This is the only gift we have to give the world.
Like Pontius Pilate, everyone around us asks the question, "What is truth?" And not only truth, what is real? What is love? What matters? And like Jesus, we can only remain silent and be who we are. There is no explanation. There are no words. There is only the transformation of the Holy Spirit in the quiet place of our lives. This being-transformed self, who we are, is the only word that can be heard.
This is how we bring the desert to the world. We bring the desert with us. Even at a Marriott hotel in Orange County, it is possible to find the desert.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Praying With The Heterodox

I received a question from a convert living at home with his heterodox Christian family. He had been advised by a monastic not to pray with heterodox. Obeying this was causing problems at home especially around table grace. Should he say grace before meals with his heterodox Christian mother?

Here is part of my response:

The Church's relationship with the heterodox is not nearly as monolithic as you seem to think. Keep in mind that a person is not a heretic just because he or she is part of a heretical communion. To be a heretic, one must consciously reject Orthodox teaching. So, for example, although some of Origin's teaching was determined to be heretical (a couple hundred years after his death), Origin himself is not a heretic because he did not reject the Orthodox faith: he held some heretical opinions in ignorance but in his lifetime he was never corrected by the Church for the teaching. Similarly, St. Isaac the Syrian was a Nestorian bishop, yet St. Isaac is an Orthodox saint. When NATO started bombing Serbia, there was a city-wide prayer meeting (a vespers service) held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles and sponsored by the Serbians (a very traditional national Orthodox Church). The Roman Catholic bishop was invited to sit on the front row along with the Armenian, Coptic and Anglican bishops (only Orthodox--all jurisdictions were represented--were at the Altar). And so, to pray for the end of NATO bombing of Serbia, heterodox were invited to join the Orthodox in prayer (but not at the Altar).

If you look closely at the historic situations in which canons were instituted limiting Orthodox interaction with heterodox, you will see that it always has to do with the danger that Orthodox were being seduced by the heterodox. And if you notice how bishops have historically interpreted these canons, you will see that there is great variation. Russian bishops often participated in events and ceremonies in England that involved prayers being offered by Anglican clergy and when Anglican clergy were in Russia, they were invited to participate in events where Orthodox prayers were offered. There was no inter-communion, but a certain amount of praying together was allowed.

What we have in Europe and North America today is unprecedented in Church history. Never before have large numbers of people converted individually (not as whole tribes or nations) to Holy Orthodoxy from heterodox Christian traditions. In the earliest Church, you had people converting from paganism and Judaism, which was different. But even here it is instructive. Notice that in the book of Acts, St. Paul continues to pray at the synagogues. On his last missionary journey, he gets into trouble because he is fulfilling a vow in the Temple at Jerusalem, he is sent to Rome, and the first thing he does there is gather the Jews.

How the True Church has related to those of less-than-true communities has varied throughout history depending on context. That is why we have bishops. It is the responsibility of the bishops (not the abbots of monasteries) to discern how the Church should relate to various heterodox groups. Abbots have a responsibility to their monasteries. Their discernment (Grace) is to guide their monks to holiness. That is as it should be. And certainly, if they think that the bishops have fallen into heresy (which has happened occasionally in history) they should speak up. However, in a matter as pastoral as how converts in the Churches should relate to their heterodox Christian relatives, especially since great variance can be seen in history, I think we should trust our bishops who have been given the Grace to discern such matters. If you were a monk in the monastery, it would be a different matter.

As far as praying over meals is concerned, I think humility is called for. If your mother prays a prayer that is Christian and not heretical, there is no reason why you cannot join her. For example, while it is not Orthodox practice to pray in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, neither is it heretical. But this is a matter that calls for discernment. I do not know your family's tradition for table grace nor the exact words of the prayer your mother uses. What I am saying is that love, humility and respect should guide you as you think about these things.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning To Be Like Abigail

"For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2)

In many ways, the story of Abigail is the story of every Christian, or at least the story we are called to live out.

Just as Abigail is introduced to us married to Nabal (in Hebrew nabal means fool), so we all begin our life married to a fool.  The fool each of us is married to is the world, the world the way it is in its fallen condition, our dysfunctional families, our dependance on economic structures that oppress us and others, our bad habits, addictions, prejudices, and various lusts and selfish desires, and our undisciplined minds flooded constantly with contradictory thoughts.  Yes, we all begin yoked to a fool.

And though Abigail was married to a fool, she accepts her reality.  She is not ashamed to identify herself with the sin of her husband.  When Abigail meets David, she immediately prostrates herself before David and says, "O my lord, let this unrighteousness be on me!"  Although Abigail's husband had rejected David's servants and although Abigail is at that very moment trying to correct her husband's mistake, Abigail takes the sin on herself.  She does not blame her husband.  She does not blame her dysfunctional family.  She does not blame an addiction or an economic necessity or even an accidental slip.  Unlike our great ancestors, Adam and Eve, Abigail blames no one but herself.

But in blaming herself it is not as if Abigail is unaware of the reality that caused the problem.  Abigail blames herself while at the same time being aware that her husband had (again) made a foolish (and probably fatal) mistake.  In fact, Abigail so identifies with her husband (although he is a fool) that she not only blames herself, but she also takes the initiative to do what is right on behalf of her husband even though her husband had refused to do it.  And once she has done her best to repent on behalf of her husband, she accepts the consequences: Abigail tells her husband what she had done--though she wisely waits for an appropriate moment.

In our own lives, we too may know that certain sins and evil, cowardly or impetuously foolish tendencies we find in ourselves indeed have their source in family disfunction, economic realities, addictions or other factors beyond our direct control; yet before Christ, the Son of David, the One to whom we are betrothed, we blame only ourselves.  We blame ourselves and we take action.  We do what is necessary, what is righteous, to save ourselves and our families and those around us.  Like Abigail, we are free to act.  And like Abigail, we are somewhat restricted in our freedom, but not completely. (Abigail was restricted due to resources; restricted due to her gender; restricted due to physical constraints like terrain, distance and travel by mule, etc.)  Like Abigail, we too must take action, whatever action we can, to save ourselves and those near us "from this perverse generation," to quote St. Peter's sermon on Pentecost.

We can never do enough.  Abigail did what she could, David saw it, accepted it, and repented of his plan to wipe out all of the men in Nabal's camp.  Abigail saved herself and her family not because she was able to stop David, but because in doing what she could, David accepted it and stopped himself.  In the same way we offer to God what we can (100% of what we can--God knows the difference) and God accepts it and shows mercy. And not only does God show mercy.  God miraculously delivers us from our oppressors.  We do not lift our own hand to smite our oppressor--even if occasionally we have to act in opposition to our oppressor for the sake of our own salvation and theirs.  We get along as best as we can with those whom life has thrown us together with--even those who oppress us--until God delivers us from our oppressors.

Just as David did not kill King Saul when he had two chances to do so and although Saul was trying to kill him; and just as Abigail identified herself with her foolish husband, taking his sin on herself and acting to save both herself, her husband and her whole tribe; so we too do not stretch out our hand (or our tongue, our most effective weapon) to smite others.  We too wait for God to deliver us.  And when God delivers us, He invites us to be His bride: just as David invites Abigail to be his wife after the sudden death of Nabal.

And note Abigail's response to the messengers that David sent (messengers can also be translated angels).  It is exactly the same as the response of the Theotokos to the Archangel Gabriel sent to Her by God--"behold your handmaiden."  The Theotokos refers to her "low estate."  Abigail refers to herself as "a servant to wash the feet of your servants" (i.e. the lowest servant).  Humility produced in the furnace of self restraint is the sweetest fruit we offer our Master, our Husband, our Lord.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Stumbling Block of The Bible: Seeing Myself in King Saul

"The very stumbling-block of the Bible is its utter simplicity: the mysteries of God are framed into the daily life of average men, and the whole story may seem to be all too human.  Just as the Incarnate Lord himself appeared to be an ordinary man."
George Florovsky

I am rereading the biblical history books (1,2 Samuel; 1,2, Kings [=1,2,3,4, Kings] and 1,2 Chronicles) in the Septuagint translation (Orthodox Study Bible).  It's a bloody mess.  When Florovsky says "the mysteries of God are framed into the daily life of average men," he is talking about average men who lived in a very bloody world.  Or, more accurately, in a world where the bloodletting was close at hand, not kept at a distance by economically segregated communities, massive prison populations, and selective immigration policies.  

It is easy for me to judge harshly the violence of the "average men" during the reign of Kings Saul and David.  I've never been faced with an invading army that is willing to let everyone in my city live as their slaves only after they blind our right eyes (1 Samuel/ 1Kings 11:2).  Whether or not I would have found the grace to turn the other cheek (the other eye?), I do not know.  Whether or not I would have found the grace to watch my loved ones blinded, then sold to the  highest bidder to be used however it pleased them, I do not know.  I do know, however, that the Native American proverb holds true here: "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins."

But even here, in this very bloody world of the biblical history, God is not absent.  A man, Saul, is small in his own eyes--until he gets a taste of power.  Once Saul is esteemed a hero, he takes to himself the priesthood too, presuming to offer sacrifice in the name of expediency instead of waiting (as told) for the Prophet Samuel to arrive.  Instead of obeying Samuel in the specific command to "wipe out" the Amalekites (men, women, children and animals), Saul saves the king and the best sheep and cattle for sacrifice.

This last and greatest failure of Saul intrigues me.  Again, Saul takes on himself the role of the priest and builds an altar in Carmel and offered sacrifices.  Again, he explains to Samuel that it was a matter of expedience, "for the people."

How often have I let expedience drive me?  Samuel says of Saul's excuse that listening to (hearing) God and obeying God is better than sacrifice; that this sin (of not listening to God) is the same as divination (witchcraft) and idolatry (12:22,23).

Not listening to God is the same as witchcraft and idolatry?  Maybe I need to take it easy on the Wicca folks too.  Maybe I'm not too far from them.  How often do I let expediency hurry me into actions and words that I later realize are not appropriate, that are sinful?  Much more often than I'd like to admit.

My tendency, sometimes, to avoid times of quiet listening may be the cause of many of my sins.  I may, for the sake of expediency, hurry to do what seems popular, seems religious, seems urgent at the moment.  When I don't wait quietly, when I don't listen, I become like King Saul.  I may even commit sins that are as witchcraft and idolatry.  

May God have mercy on me and teach me to listen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Logocratic Tendencies

A Greek priest in Athens with whom I have been corresponding recently noted that Protestant converts to Orthodoxy have a "logocratic" mentality. He went on to suggest that this logocracy keeps them from entering very deeply into the Mystery of the Faith. "Logocracy" means rule of or by words.

I thought some of my blog readers might be interested in reading my response:

Dear Fr. C.

Christ is in our midst!

Thank you for your insightful letter. I was particularly intrigued by your characterization of Protestant converts as "logocratic." To tell you the truth, I had to do a little research to find out exactly what that word means. It is not in my standard dictionary. I found it, however, on Wikipedia.

I think that logocratic is an excellent word to describe the habit of western thought generally. I often struggle to express Orthodox concepts/experiences/beliefs/practices because the very words I must use (in English) imply limitations and logic that are not part of the Orthodox Christian experience. And these words are important to western minds. For many, the words are the reality; or the words represent a specific, delineated reality. There is no conception in many western minds of Mystical reality that can only be noetically apprehended and for which words are only and at best metaphors pointing at a reality that cannot be delineated by the human mind.

I was discussing this with my wife this morning and she pointed out how in a family, words are flexible and meanings are fluid because the love within the family is what is known and expressed through the words. In fact, the very tweaking of words and the heavy dependence on tone in intimate family talk shows that the words themselves are not what is important. Rather the words (along with tone, gesture, facial expression, etc.) point to that which cannot be contained by mere words. However, somewhere in middle school it begins to be drilled into children that words have precise meanings and something either is X or is not X.

Perhaps this nonfamilial way of thinking that western (and thus Protestant) adults are so steeped in is part of the reason why they often have trouble accepting Mystery and have trouble emotionally connecting with the Holy Virgin Mother of God. They want Her to be delimited. They want Her to be defined. They have forgotten how to know a Mother, how words are used in a loving family. And I think this also is part of the reason why western minds have trouble with the intercession of the saints and perhaps even with their whole relationship with God. When one's relationship with God is reduced to words, to juridical definitions, it is pretty hard to experience a loving relationship with the God whom the Holy Spirit in us calls out to as Abba Father. It is pretty hard to know the familial love and intimate sharing of all the Saints.

For myself, for my first three years after becoming Orthodox, I accepted the words of the Orthodox faith, but it was not until a particular crisis in my life that I began to know personally and connect emotionally with the Mother of God, and through Her, the Saints. And even after that, it has taken many years to feel a kind of familial intimacy and security (not without fear--but not fear of rejection) in my relationship with God. I have come to the point that I can say in prayer, "Lord, I am a mess; but I am your mess." I feel before God as a three year old before his Mother and Father. The child may lose control of himself or in some way fail miserably, but the love and protection and care of the Mother and Father is never doubted. This sort of experience of God is, I think, rare in western forms of Christianity.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Michael Gillis

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Parable: by an Orthodox Christian priest who has just returned from an ecumenical gathering of largely Evangelical clergy

Once there was a starving man who found a field of potatoes, and finding the potatoes, he found life.  Potatoes alone were enough to keep him alive.
One day a family took a drive out into the countryside for a picnic and happened across the man saved by potatoes.  He was a gaunt and sickly man with little strength, but he was alive and thanked God for his potatoes.
“What are all of those things you are eating?” the skinny potato man asked.
“Apples and corn and potatoes and ham and cake for dessert,” they replied.
“Cake for dessert? the man inquired.
“Yes, cake for dessert.  Would you like some?”
“Certainly not," said the potato man. "You don’t need cake and ham and corn and apples to stay alive.  Potatoes are enough.  Look at me.  I was dying of starvation and potatoes saved me.  Everything I needed was in potatoes.”
The family was shocked.  “You mean you only eat potatoes?
“Of course.  Don’t you know: God gave us potatoes to eat so that we could stay alive.  Potatoes are all we need to eat.  Everything else just gets in the way and detracts from what's really important: Potatoes.  Potatoes will give you life.  'If it’s not in the potato, then you don’t need it and shouldn't waste your time on it'--that’s my motto.”
Not knowing how to respond to this, the family sat in silence for a while.  Then one them said, “We know that God gave us potatoes, but God gave us other food too.  Potatoes by themselves are not enough.
“You’re wrong there,” said the potato man.  “Potatoes were enough for me.  I was dying and potatoes saved me.”
“Yes,” said one slightly overweight but otherwise healthy family member, “I understand that potatoes alone, by God’s grace, may keep a starving man alive for a long time, but God has also given us many other foods that are meant to be eaten along side potatoes.  These other foods supply what is lacking in potatoes.”
“Nothing is lacking in potatoes,” insisted the man.  “Everything you need is there.  Potatoes are God’s gift, and if you don’t eat potatoes you will not find life.”
Stunned into silence, the family could say nothing more.  Soon the potato man turned and made his way back into his potato field.  The family began to look a each other and eventually shared a nervous giggle.  Perplexed and a little saddened they returned to their meal and finished off all of the apples and corn and bread and ham and cake...and potatoes.

What is Not-Church?

Orthodox Christians affirm that Orthodoxy is the True Faith: That the Orthodox Church is the True Church.  Many heterodox Christians are offended by the exclusivity of such a claim.  I suggest that they are offended because they think we mean by such a claim what they would mean if they made a similar claim. I do not think we do.  

Of course, among Orthodox Christians there exists a range of opinion as to what exactly "True Church" implies.  There are a few who argue with the zeal of 17th century Puritans that those outside the Orthodox Church do not have the Holy Spirit and are hopelessly deluded.  You can find their message all over the Internet.  Thank God this is a small minority.  There are some who argue with almost no zeal at all (in my experience) that the differences between the churches are merely qualitative.  The Orthodox Church is the best, but they lose no sleep over their children marrying a Catholic or an Anglican and raising their grandchildren in those traditions. 

For my own part, I like to say that we Orthodox know where the Church is, but we do not know where it is not.  That is, I know that the teaching of the Orthodox Church, its Mysteries, its structure, canons, and its spiritual life are true.  I don't know about the Anglicans.  I don't know about the Catholics.  I know that many, many aspects of Anglican Church and the Catholic Church are similar--apparently the same--as the Orthodox Church, especially the Orthodox Church of the pre-schism West.  On the other hand, I know that there are several matters that are not the same.  Some of those matters are, from an Orthodox perspective, matters of heresy and manifest serious perversions of the Church.  

HOWEVER (and it is a big however), I do not know what constitutes "not church."  There have been times when Orthodox bishops have given permission (economia) in emergency situations (i.e. battlefields, etc.) for Orthodox Christians to receive the Eucharist from Roman Catholic priests.  Certainly the Orthodox Church recognizes the marriages and baptisms of Catholics and Anglicans (well, recently Anglicans have become a little spotty.  You can never tell if the priest(ess) actually baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or in the name of the Parent, Lover and Friend).  But my point is this, while I can say easily that the Orthodox Church is the True Church, the True Faith; I cannot so easily say that what is not Orthodox is therefore not Church--although some Orthodox Christian can easily say it.  I cannot.  It seems to me that God has revealed what the Church is, but it takes (at least) a series of Ecumenical Councils to determine what the Church is not.

For me it is somewhat like saying the only true human being is Jesus Christ.  Those who sin are somehow less than human, but they are not nonhuman beings.  Something remains even though something has been lost.

I am particularly nervous when Orthodox Christians begin to apply Aristotelean logic to their faith.  What I mean is that I understand how a non-Orthodox Christian could argue, "Either, or, if, then, and therefore." This is how western Christianity became what it is today (a mess of 25,000 denominations).  Noetic apprehension and mystical contemplation have been almost completely lost in the West.  So western Christians use what they have.  But for an Orthodox Christian to apply such mathematical logic to matters of Mystery seems to me to be a colossal failure.  Knowing what the Church is does not "logically" lead us to what the Church is not.

"The Wind blows where it will," Jesus said, "you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going."  I know/know of very Christian men and women who are not Orthodox, yet the "sound" of the Holy Spirit in their lives is so loud that I am almost ashamed to call myself a Christian in comparison.  I can criticize aspects of their faith and practice and certainly point out that they are not Orthodox, but to say that they are not somehow part of the Body of Christ, the Church, I cannot say.

There is no "mystical church" in the Protestant sense--no church made up of all real believers regardless of their affiliation.  The Church is historical.  It is in time and space.  It is identifiable.   However, history is messy.  St. Isaac the Syrian was a member of the heretical Nestorian Church.  There must have been enough "Church," enough of an echo of the Orthodox Faith in the heterodox Nestorian Church to produce such a saint.  Then there is the famous example of a prayer attributed to St. Philaret of Moscow that begins,"Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace."  Fr. Thomas Hopko has discovered that this prayer was originally written by a Roman Catholic bishop in France, François Fénelon, and popularized in Russia by St. Philaret.  Again, there must have been enough "Church" in the heterodox Latin Church of France in the 18th century to produce such a man who could write such a prayer, a prayer offered by millions of Orthodox Christians daily.

I am not saying that a heterodox group is the True Church because it produces a true saint.  What I am saying is that even within heterodox Christian assemblies, there remains something of the True Church.  How much remains, how Grace functions in it, what does or doesn't take place in their sacraments, I do not know.  Like I said,  I don't know what the Church isn't.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Love Wins - An Orthodox View

I think this little demonstration goes a long way to explaining some of the central differences between the way Orthodox Christians understand salvation and the way most Protestants understand it. Of course we have a rough summary here that experts would want to nuance. But I think he fairly presents the gist of the matter in a clear and simple way.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

a life together: too ecumenical?

I'm a third of the way into a life together by (OCA retired) Bishop Seraphim Sigrist (2011 Paraclete Press) He reminds me of many of the mid 20th century Orthodox thinkers who were much more ecumenically minded than many of the writers of today.  By ecumenical, I do not mean that they advocate the obliteration of boundaries.  They do not, as they are sometimes falsely accused, argue that there are no important or real differences between the Orthodox Church and heterodox churches.  What they do argue is that the Christian mystery, transformation in Christ by the Holy Spirit, is not limited to the Church--and in worse case scenarios is hindered by some of the people in the Orthodox Church.   
Nowadays, there is a kind of backlash led in good part by some on Mt. Athos, insisting on the Old Calendar, baptism of all converts from any heterodox Christian background, and generally very strict observance of outward ascetic practices.  
I don't think one is right and the other wrong.  I think both charisms are within the Church and we only hurt one another trying to force a sort of Aristotelian "either/or" onto what sometimes seems to be the contradictory opinions of holy and faithful Orthodox men and women. 
The metaphor that has been on my mind a lot lately is that of the icon: the image and the materials.  The materials are used to form the image, and they share in the reality of the image, but they are not the image.  The materials are very important.  The correct materials make it possible to create the most perfect images, images that will last for centuries.  However, correct materials do not guarantee correct images.  In fact, the best materials can be wrongly used to create idols or images of demons.  Moreover, it is possible to produce pretty good images even with less than perfect  materials.  
What is my point?  It is that the image of Christ is the most important thing.  Yes, the materials are essential (doctrine, liturgics, ascetic tradition, etc.).  They are essential to form the image of Christ.  However, if Christ is not being formed, the same materials may be being used to form the image of deformity and pride.  Similarly, the heterodox, those with inadequate materials, less than Orthodox doctrine, very little ascetic practice, make-it-up-as-you-go liturgy, these can yet form the image of Christ in those who long for transformation.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit is not limited.  He can use even a broken stylus to write on the human heart.  
Does this mean that the Orthodox Way is irrelevant?  Certainly not!  The  elements of the very Orthodox faith itself that survive within the heterodox groups, these are what lead them to Christ.  Orthodox faith is a light shining: don't put it under a basket!  In fact, Orthodoxy is such a light that it shines even to those trapped under the baskets of false doctrine and many the debilitating inadequacies found in heterodox communions.  "The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it." 
However, we put the light of the Orthodox faith under a basket when we ourselves refuse to be transformed into the image of Christ.  When the Fruit of the Spirit is not evident in our lives, how can the Light of the Holy Spirit shine through us to enlighten others?  We must glow with godliness, with the same love that led our Lord to lay down his life for the Pharisees, the Samaritans, the Greeks, the Barbarians and false believers and unbelievers of all sorts.   
Being right (Orthodox) means very little if we are not holy.  If Sodom and Gomorrah will rise up in judgement against Tyre and Sidon, I wonder if on the Last Day some Mormons or Buddhists or Moslems or Secular Humanists will rise up against me in judgement because I have not repented with my whole heart, given the wealth of Orthodox faith and tradition I have received.
May God grant me tears of repentance to cleanse my eyes to see the Image of Christ in every and any human being, even the most confused and the most deprived of light.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Dom Christian de Chergé

Below is a testament written by a Cistercian monk, Dom Christian de Chergé,  shortly before he was martyred by Muslim terrorists in Algeria.  I recommend this testament to every Orthodox Christian.  

I have noticed a tinge of fear and sometimes anger in the discussion among Orthodox Christians in North America regarding Islam.  It seems that many are relying more on CNN and Fox News to set their tone than they are the Scripture and the Holy Fathers.  Perhaps those of us of the True Faith can learn a little something from a Roman Catholic (Cistercian) monk who has been revealed as a martyr of Christ.

The story of the monks and their monastery is told in the 2010 movie, Of Gods and Men.  Every North American should see this film. 

Facing a GOODBYE....

If it should happen one day - and it could be today -
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. 
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom" to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one's conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
"Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too,
because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

Algiers, 1st December 1993

Tibhirine, 1st January 1994  

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A New Dog

Bonnie and I have been wanting a large dog. We live in the countryside, and Bonnie gets a little nervous when I'm out of town. I've been wanting a large dog for other reasons: mostly because a dog under 50 lb. just doesn't seem like a real dog to me.

The last time we got a large dog was in Pomona, near L.A. There, we just went down to the dog pound, picked one out, paid a small licensing fee, and went home. It's not so easy in Langley, BC. At the Langley Animal Shelter, you get interviewed. Then your home gets inspected. Then the dog visits your home. Then you sign papers saying that you will treat your dog almost as well as a human being. Then you pay $350 (which is actually the cheapest of all the animal shelters in the Vancouver area). And finally, the dog is yours. Bonnie and I just couldn't get excited about paying that much money to have a self-appointed 20 year-old animal advocate asking us personal questions and snooping around our home.

Buying a dog out right isn't much better. A mutt puppy costs hundreds and a pure-bred anything is over a thousand.

So Bonnie and I did what we usually do when we do not feel right about our options: we did nothing. Although, nothing is not really accurate. We wanted, and we offered our wanting to God. Bonnie and I both had a peaceful sense that if God wanted us to have a large dog, God would make it obvious to us....

On Sunday, Bonnie had to stop by the Co-op to buy some flowers before Church, and on the bulletin board was a card saying: 10 month old female German Shepherd: free to a good home. Bonnie took down the number.

After Coffee Hour, Bonnie told me about it and we decided to call. We were invited to meet Kota and her current owner, Dave. Dave got Kota from a friend six months earlier. The friend had paid over a thousand dollars for her, but in a few weeks realized that he could not keep a german shepherd puppy in an apartment and be gone to work all day. Dave offered to take Kota to his farm in South Langley where Dave house-trained her and did some basic obedience work with her. Dave socialized her (she loves people) and began conditioning her to be a companion dog. Then this spring Dave realized that he was spending almost as much money feeding Kota and his other two large dogs as he was spending on feeding himself. Dave had to find Kota a home.

Bonnie and I got along very well with Kota (I brought some dog treats, which helped). Dave explained that he had about 30 calls and had invited several people over. He was looking for the right match. He wanted someone who had room for the dog to run but who wanted her as a companion--which is exactly what we were looking for. It didn't take much convincing. Dave let us have Kota.

Although Bonnie and I are happy about a new big dog, our little dog, Tidbit, is very unhappy. As some of you who follow this blog know, Tidbit has had a very bad experience with coyotes, so any large dog seems like a coyote to her. Well it's day two and Tidbit (while being held in Bonnie's arms) will at least let Kota smell her and Tidbit herself is now sneaking an occasional sly sniff of Kota (when she is looking the other way).

For right now we are keeping Kota on a leash as we walk around the house and around the yard. She has to learn that ducks and geese and turkeys and chickens our part of the family too (not play toys). Also, this is helping Tidbit not freak out too much as she can easily escape Kota when she wants to play.

As you can imagine, Bonnie and I are getting nothing done. One of us has to be holding the leash at all times--except, like now, Kota is in my office with me, and Bonnie is with the other dogs elsewhere. Thank God Kota is already partially trained and obeys simple commands (as well as a ten month old can).

It seems that Kota is an answer to prayer for us; but "prayer"seems too strong a word. She is a gift, it seems, from God. May God help us to be faithful with all of the gifts He give us.