Being Light In The World

The Sunday of the Canaanite Woman which comes before our three weeks of preparation for Great Lent is one of my favorite points in the liturgical year.  Its teaching is about God becoming incarnate and being light in the world.  Jesus came and sanctified all creation not just a certain part of the world.  We see that through this story.  The disciples and the others believed that Jesus had come just for Israel and wanted to send the woman away.  Jesus let her come to Him but challenged her, and she persisted.

This comes just after Jesus’ teaching about what comes out of the mouth, not what goes in, is what defiles.  This woman who was not Jewish and was not clean according to the custom believed Jesus could heal her daughter and she was willing to do what it took to get to him.  She wanted Jesus no matter what the price was she had to pay.

In my original Christian experience guilt was the driving force.  We wanted to follow Jesus, we wanted to really make a difference, but we wanted to because it was expected.  I have no doubt that the people I was with were devout Christians.  They just hadn’t been freed to love  God on their own terms.  We read books, listened to sermons, and even attended college trying to find God.  Most of the teachings, no matter the source, were focused on; do this, don’t do that, and God will show up.  When everything is rules and formula based we leave no room for God.  We want to be light in the world, but we want it on our own terms.

I’m not a pastor, preacher, monk or priest I’m just a guy with a cheap laptop who has started reading the bible again and just listening for God’s leading.  I have given up my wants and have begun to ask God to guide me and help me be a light in the world.  I no longer believe I am a bad person, I am a good person who has done bad things and so are you and everyone around you.  Being a light in the world means realizing God loves everyone and He uses us to express his love.  Will we mess up? Of course we will.  I got the hiccups in 1999 and thought God wanted me to be a pastor. 15 years and a lot of money later I can say, that was a mistake, but I know better what not to do now, and I am closer to God than I have ever been.

Love God and listen for his guidance, love people and forgive them for their shortcomings and you will be the light He created you to be.

 

Peace

Church Tradition Part Two

This is the continuation of Church Tradition Part One and a part of the First Draft of the book Understanding Orthodoxy

A Unified Theory

I honestly had no idea how much the traditions of the church played on the running and overall life of the church.  Tradition is what bring everything together.  Like the physicist who wants to find the unified theory to make quantum and standard physics work together, tradition brings together all aspects of what Christ passed on to the Apostles and them to their disciples and on until today.    There are differences in Big “T” tradition and little”t” tradition.  If it has to do with the foundations of the faith; the bible, the Nicene creed, or the teachings of the seven Ecumenical Councils it is big T.  These are the things God did working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of the men we call the church fathers.  

For instance, We have the bible in its current form because the tradition of where the books came from allowed the bishops through the Holy Spirit to put it together.  Early bibles didn’t look like our bible.  They had books like The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas.((https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Sinaiticus))  But, through the traditions of who wrote each book they only included books written by an apostle or a scribe of an apostle.  God used men just like us to arrange the bible the way it is today.  God did not hand the bible to the men in its finished form straight from heaven.

This is what really got me started in my search for the “Original” church.  If God uses men all through the bible but we are taught that God gave us the bible without the help of men, what does that say about God?  God is so much bigger than we, as protestants give him credit for.  God created us and he uses us to fulfill his will here on earth.  Remember, we do pray, “Thy WILL be done.”  Church tradition shows us how He has accomplished his will in the generations before us.  We don’t have to guess, we can read and see.  

No one person gets to decide which traditions stick and which ones get left out.  As we watch the Holy Spirit work in the life of the church we see which traditions are at work and which ones are fading away.  In the early church The Church Fathers then Ecumenical councils decided the direction of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Through the middle ages up to the 21st century it has been the teachings of some bishops and non-ecumenical councils that over time became tradition.  Always looking to the Holy Spirit as guidance.((Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, (London: Penguin, 1997), 206-207))

The Holy Spirit has not ceased to work.  We have to remember that fact.  The Holy Spirit didn’t take a break after the bible then re-enter the church with Martin Luther.  Every generation tends to look at its time and believe it has all the answers. The orthodox Church looks to history as its guide for where the church is and should go in the future.  

Tradition in the 21st Century

If you ask 10 Orthodox Christians what the 21st century hold for the traditions of the church you will get ten different answers.  Some will tell you we have to hold on to all our traditions because if we give up one the rest will fall.  Others will take a middle road and a few will want a complete overhaul.  I am not an expert, just an observer, so I will defer to the authorities to make the decisions.  However, I want to make a few inferences.

If the Orthodox church wants to grow in America, it has to come out of its ethnic shell.  Many people will not go to a church where they can’t understand the service, remember this is America, we have made church fit our lifestyle for the last hundred years.  The US is the only country where the original language is not predominantly spoken in the Liturgy.  For instance, I’m Orthodox because the theology filled in gaps I could never seem to find answers to as a Protestant.  My family attends a Greek Orthodox church because we chose to. We love the Byzantine chanting and the richness the original language adds to the service.  But, while we have been welcomed and loved beyond any of our wildest dreams, there are things we still have trouble with because we don’t speak the language.

Don’t get me wrong, many Greek, Antiochian, and Russian churches use English in their Liturgy.  The Orthodox Church in America is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The service is Russian in style and the Russian traditions are observed instead of Byzantine and Greek.  Their Patriarch is Kyrill Bishop of Moscow which, at the time of writing this, will turn some people off because of US-Russia relations.  

Several things run against the traditions of the church.  The US should have a Patriarch and each city should have a Metropolitan, but these are forgotten because the church in America is predominantly an immigrant church from every corner of the Orthodox world.  The church also can’t just change this.  Every Orthodox tradition has a stake in the game and no one is willing to give up what they have.  Again, the church is made of humans and the church is governed by tradition.  

This is the downside of tradition unchecked.  We are humans and we make mistakes.  We wait too long to make changes and people lose out.  We forget what our mission is and we build ethnic conclaves instead of churches.  We get caught up in trying to survive and forget to rely on God.  We isolate ourselves and forget to learn anything new.  We are human! But God is bigger than we are and he is alway ready to give us a new start.  Church traditions can hold us back, but in the end,  our traditions are what gives the beauty that many people outside Orthodoxy are starting to see.  

At the beginning of the 21st century, we are looking at what can be the dawn of Orthodoxy in the west.  More and more people, like me and my family, are looking for the original church and wanting to see the church the way it was meant to be not the way we made it for ourselves.  

Church Tradition Part One

This is the original draft of the chapter on tradition from Understanding Orthodoxy

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly and not according to the tradition received from us. (HCSB)

Sacred tradition or holy tradition is a theological term used in some Christian traditions, primarily those claiming apostolic succession such as the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Catholic and Anglican traditions, to refer to the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of the Christian Church and of the scriptures. (Wikipedia)

Tradition is another tough word for protestants.  We were taught from very early on that the bible alone is our guide, but when a child asks, “Why do we do that?” we have a chance to pass on our traditions.  Whether you’re Baptist, Methodist, or Orthodox you have traditions you hand down to the next generation.

Honestly, I did not understand how much of all churches is tradition, and how they fight to keep those traditions.  We all want to be right, and it just so happens that a new continent was being discovered around the same time the Reformation was taking place in Europe.  This new continent became the place where everyone who wanted to have their own church would run to.  The problem was, they all wanted to be right then, and still do 500 years later as the United States.  

Sola Scriptura was the foundation of the reformation.  Luther made sure that everyone could interpret the bible as he or she saw fit.  But who was right?  If anyone could interpret the bible, who should we listen to?  The fact is both Luther and Calvin went back to the early church fathers to make sure their interpretation was correct.1  They didn’t try to interpret the bible outside the traditional interpretation of the early church.  If the two men given the most credit for the reformation went back to the Church Fathers, why should anyone of us do differently? 

This was one of the biggest questions I had.  If we all want to get back to the original church, why are we looking at ourselves for answers?  The early church fathers had to be the source of what the church taught and thought.  

The problem is that as soon as someone interprets the bible apart from the church they create a new tradition.  When a person comes to a conclusion that their interpretation of the bible is right they set up a new church with new traditions based on what they have discovered.  They set up their traditions about how church should be.  I attended a church whose tradition dated back only to the 1880’s.  Our beliefs were a mix of Weinbrennarian, Nazarene, and Wesleyan, in the Holiness tradition overall.  I’m sure if you are protestant you can find where the tradition of your church beliefs come from.

I go back to a sentiment expressed in the first chapter.  Jesus is the head of the church but he left men in charge.  After I actually started reading what the bible said, and read a little of the second century Church fathers I understood that Holy Tradition is not something set up against the bible but to compliment it.  

We are scared of tradition because we don’t trust men.  The rise of the enlightenment and reformation are paralleled because they both distrusted what people said.  They both wanted to tear down traditions essentially throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater,  let’s look again at what Paul said;

(2 Thessalonians 2:15)  Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

(Colossians 2:8) Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

There are two traditions mentioned.  One, given by God through the Apostles and the people they teach.  And, one given by men full of deceit.    A lot of what was taught at the beginning of the church was tradition.  Remember, the bible didn’t exist in the form we have today until the late 4th century.  Until the schism of 1052, the traditions of the church were upheld in Ecumenical Councils of the whole church.  

Holy tradition includes the bible, the lives and teachings of the saints, the liturgy, and the Icons we have in churches and homes.  It also includes the way churches are run, the setup of the hierarchy, the clothes the priests wear and the way they put them on.  It is not something that someone has just thought up.  It is the teaching of the church through the Holy Spirit.  Each generation is given the tradition from the last.  Neither adding to or subtracting from and always focusing on Christ.  

Church Tradition Part Two>

What Is Theosis

When you throw a nail into the fire, it gets hot and starts to glow like fire. In the same way you, when you listen to divine teachings and live accordingly, you will become like God – Saint Silouan the Athonite.  ((Bailey, Father Spyridon. The Ancient Path (Kindle Locations 1921-1922). FeedARead. Kindle Edition.))

Theosis is striving to grow in our relationship with God.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit and as we turn more and more of our life over to God we are being changed into His likeness. (2 Corinthians 3:18)  Our life in God is more than staying out of Hell.  God loved this world so much the Jesus died to redeem it to Himself, to clean the stain of sin man had brought into the world.  I think the least we can do is try a little to give back by becoming like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Theosis means we will be changed

We aren’t changed by what we do but through spending time with God. (Romans 12)   Which means we have to do something to put ourselves in Gods presence, but it’s God who does the changing not us. No matter what you call it;

Becoming one with Christ.

Becoming interwoven with God.

Transforming into the likeness of God.

None of these actually do theosis justice as a definition, but all describe what theosis is.  We are to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.  (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18)  This is not what many people believe, or many churches teach about our lives as Christians.  We go to church, we go to bible study, and nothing happens.  Instead of being transformed into the image of Christ, we transform what we believe into a made up version of Christianity we all just survive not thrive and grow as Christians.

Being good people is not enough.  If you have been a Christian over a month you know most of us aren’t good people.  We put on a face so that you think I am good, but we all know we just try to fake each other out.  Theosis is how we get beyond the fake and start to see the real.

 

Stay Close To Jesus

God became flesh and walked among us.  He has given us a glimpse of what He was going away to do and what is to come.  What we must do is stay close to Jesus through prayer and meditation on His scriptures.

1″Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Part of being patient is knowing God is in control.  This passage shows us that God has it all taken care of and we stay close to Jesus we don’t need to worry about what will come in the future.  When we rest in Christ we can know that we have a future.  He is going to prepare a place for us in heaven so who cares what happens here on Earth.

I know it is a hard concept to grasp with all the trouble we see in the world, but it pales in comparison when we rely on him and him alone. Maybe a loss is meant to draw us closer to God. We are still trying to understand why my wife’s mother passed away so soon last year, but we know that God has a reason and his reason is beyond our reasons.

In Romans, Paul writes that all things work to good for those who love the Lord. Give your burden to him and let him comfort you. He has it all under control and he will come back for us someday.

Trusting in God

Trusting God Is Safe

Do you recollect the delicious sense of rest with which you have sometimes gone to bed at night, after a day of great exertion and weariness? How delightful was the sensation of relaxing every muscle, and letting your body go in a perfect abandonment of ease and comfort! The strain of the day had ceased, for a few hours at least, and the work of the day had been laid off. You no longer had to hold up an aching head or a weary back. You trusted yourself to the bed in an absolute confidence, and it held you up, without effort, or strain, or even thought, on your part. You rested!

But suppose you had doubted the strength or the stability of your bed and had dreaded each moment to find it giving way beneath you and landing you on the floor; could you have rested then? Would not every muscle have been strained in a fruitless effort to hold yourself up, and would not the weariness have been greater than if you had not gone to bed at all?

Are you trusting God?  Let this analogy teach you what it means to rest in the Lord. Let your souls lie down upon the couch of His sweet will, as your bodies lie down in their beds at night. Relax every strain, and lay off every burden. Let yourself go in a perfect abandonment of ease and comfort, sure that, since He holds you up, you are perfectly safe. Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you, and He cannot fail.

From: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life
By Hannah Whitall Smith
Published by Fleming H. Revell company, 1916 P41

A Year in the Liturgical Life

The liturgical life was the farthest thing from my mind as a child.  I was born and raised in rural Arkansas.  It was by all accounts an agrarian society as much as it could be in the 1970s and 80s.  We lived by the seasons.  I knew before I was in school when it was planting season and when it was time to harvest.  I knew when it was hunting season and when it was trapping or fishing.  I lived for these seasons a lot more than school or work but the farming or mowing yards paid for the hunting gear and bullets.

We knew these things because they were embedded in our way of life. My family had lived in this area since the mid-1800’s at least. It was what we did for over a century. So, I had no aspiration to do anything but hunt and fish until I was out of high school and realized there was a much bigger world that required money.

Liturgical life is very much like agrarian life because they work together. Pascha (the new Passover) comes in the spring when new life is starting to show on the trees and planting time has come. Advent comes as darkness grows and we prepare for the Light of Christ to enter the world.

While what my family had done for years was ingrained in what I did, the liturgical year is ingrained in the Church because the Church has followed these patterns for thousands of years. Remember the Didache from the first chapter. How we take the eucharist is still relevant in the Ancient Church today. Why? because it is taken seriously. It is believed to be the body and the blood of Christ. We don’t try to explain it, we call it a Holy Mystery (More in Chapter 4) and let God deal with it too his liking.(John 14: )

Today is the beginning of our salvation,

The revelation of the eternal mystery!

The revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace,

The Lord is with You! (Troparion For the Annunciation)

The Liturgical Year starts on September 8th and revolves around 12 Great Feasts and one Really Great Feast, Pascha so 13 total feasts and a few minor ones. Yes, we eat a lot, but we also fast a lot. The liturgical year starts with the birth of The Theotokos on September 8th or the 21st if you use the old calendar.

Let’s Talk Calendar

No, the churches can’t agree on a calendar. The Russian Orthodox and some other Churches still use the Julian Calendar while the rest of the churches use the Gregorian. Yes, all Orthodox churches are one, yes we still have disputes. For all intents and purposes, I will use the Gregorian since I go to the Greek Orthodox Church and that’s what we use.

End of Digression, back to the Show

Immediately following the Birth of the Theotokos is the Elevation of the Holy Cross which celebrates the finding of the Cross in 326 C.E. by St Helen. Next is the Presentation of the Theotokos at the Temple on November 21st and the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) on December 25th. The new year starts out with the Baptism of Christ Januar 6th, The Presentation of Christ February 2nd, and the Annunciation to Mary March 25th, 9 months before Christmas.

The year ends in August with the Transfiguration of Christ and the Dormition, Falling Asleep, of the Theotokos. These feasts commemorate the important events in the Life of Christ and the Theotokos.  The most important are Pascha and the rest of the feasts that revolve around when Pascha falls.

The Culmination of Liturgical Life

Determining when Pascha falls, is a science in itself. For me, I go by the calendar on my phone or on my wall. There are people with degrees to figure this out.  There are people with degrees who can’t figure this out so I leave it to the higher-ups to let us all know. Pascha is why we are here. Pascha is the greatest of all feasts because Christ has conquered death. He has risen and our relationship with God can be restored.

Pascha is why we are here. Pascha is the greatest of all feasts because Christ has conquered death. He has risen and our relationship with God can be restored.

From the earliest times, the Ancient Church celebrated Pascha and the earliest account is from Meletis Bishop of Sardis in the 2nd century. His homily On The Pasha gives us a look at the liturgical life theology of the early church and the feelings they had for Christ’s Resurrection.

I am the one that destroyed death (…)

Come then, all you families of men

who are permeated with sins

and get forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 10:43, 26:10)

For I am your forgiveness,

I am the Pascha of salvation

I am the lamb slain for you,

I am your ransom,

I am your life

— On the Pascha, 102-103

St Paul has been dead for a hundred years by the time this is written. The liturgical life is built into the fervor of the ancient church that is alive today.  The Orthodox Church starts at 10 pm and goes until one in the morning celebrating the Resurrection of Christ at Midnight. They don’t use fireworks at most urban U.S. churches but they still do in Russia and Greece. The resurrection of Christ is a time to celebrate and give thanks for what He has done for us.

Many will spend time that night after church preparing a meal to share when the church comes back together at noon to have a short liturgy and celebrate again. While Pascha is the feast of all feasts we celebrate the Passover every week during Divine Liturgy.