Worth Reading…

From an article entitled “We Need More Than Liturgy”

As Smith notes in his first book, “our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive their SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder ‘from a Christian perspective’” (Desiring the Kingdom). This kind of formation bleeds into our churches as well. What evangelicalism has long taken for granted—that good teaching and Scripture reading are sufficient for creating disciples—is negated by the vast numbers of evangelicals who can say all the right things while practicing all the wrong behaviors.

Read more here

Hat tip to Apollos…

For Days Like These…

XVII How tedious to me are the counsels of human leaders and wise men–oh how tedious they seem to me–ever since Your wisdom caused my heart and mind to tremble, Holy God. Those whom the dark desires of the heart are dragging into the abyss do not believe in Your light. There are no obstacles for a stone while it is rolling down a hill. The higher the steep slope and the deeper the abyss—the swifter and more unrestrained is the rolling of the stone. One dark desire lures another with its success; and that one hires yet another, until all that is good in a person withers, and all that is evil gushes out in a torrential flood–until, along with everything else, all that the Holy Spirit has built is washed away, both inside and out; Until the scorners of the light begin to scorn themselves and their teachers; Until the sweetest sweets begin to choke them with their stench; Until all the material goods, for which they killed neighbours and razed cities, begin to mock their monstrosity. Then they stealthily lift their eyes toward heaven, and through the dung of their profaned and putrid existence, they cry out: “Holy God!” How it irritates me like a burning arrow to hear men boasting of their power, ever since I came to know of Your powerful hand, Holy Mighty! They build towers of stone and say: “We are better builders than your God.” But I ask them: “Did you, or your fathers, build the stars?” They discover light inside the earth, and boast: “We know more than your God.” But I ask them: “Who buried the light beneath the earth for you to discover?” They fly through the air and arrogantly say: “By ourselves we have created wings for ourselves, where is your God?” But I ask them: “Who gave you the idea of wings and flying if not the birds, which you did not create?” Yet see what happens when You open their eyes to their own frailty! When irrational creatures show them their monstrous power; when their mind becomes filled with wonder at the starry towers, that stand in space without pillars or foundations; when their heart becomes filled with fear of their own frailty and insanity–then, in shame and humility, they stretch out their arms toward You and cry: “Holy Mighty!” How it saddens me to see people overrating this life, ever since I tasted the sweetness of Your immortality, Holy Immortal! The shortsighted see only this life, and say: “This is the only life there is, and we shall make it immortal by means of our deeds among men.” But I tell them: “If your beginning is like a river, then it must have a source; if it is like a tree, it must have its root, if it is like a beam of light, it must come from some sun.” And again I tell them: “So, you intend to establish your immortality among mortals? Try starting a fire in water!” But when they look death in the face, they are left speechless, and torment seizes their heart. When they smell the flesh of their dead brides; when they leave the empty faces of their friends in the grave; when they place their hands on their sons’ chests that have grown cold; when they realize that even kings are not able to buy off death with their crowns, nor heroes with their mighty deeds, nor wise men with their wisdom–then they feel the icy wind of death breathing down their necks too, and they fall down on their knees and bow their heads over their toppled pride, and pray to You: “Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!”From “Prayers by the Lake” by Saint Nikolai of Ochrid and Zirca

10 Things Orthodox Christians Would Like You to Know

10 Things Orthodox Christians Would Like You to Know  by Dn. Charles Joiner

1) We don’t worship Mary.  We hold her in a place of esteem because of her singularly unique role as the birthgiver of Jesus Christ.  Orthodox Christians state and affirm over and over again throughout the worship services that God alone is the only One to Whom worship is due.
2) We don’t worship icons.  Icons are like a family photo album.  Just as in our own families, where we keep the pictures of our loved ones who have departed this life on shelves and hanging on walls, we also keep the pictures of the members of our larger Christian family around, particularly those members of our Christian family who have led exempliary lives.  The word icon only means “image” or “picture”.
3) When we talk about tradition, we don’t mean the traditions of men, we mean Holy Tradition.  The traditions that the Church has taught have always been those that have been led by the Spirit.  It was the tradition of the Church that gave us the New Testament and, the New Testament also continues to inform that traditon.  It is cyclical and not mutually exclusive.
4) Orthodox Christianity is not “works” based.  It always takes the grace and will of God to bring about our salvation.  We do good works because it is the outpouring of the joy that we experience through living Christ-centered lives and because it is an expression of righteous living and of love for God and neighbor.  There are no “points” earned by doing good works.
5) There’s no such thing as the Byzantine Empire.  This was a term invented by French scholars retroactively during the rennaisance.  Constantine moved the capital of the empire to the east and Constantinople became known as New Rome.  Though portions of the Western half of the Roman Empire fell, the Eastern half continued for over a thousand years after the Goths sacked Rome.  Those living in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire did not think of themselves as “Byzantines” or even Greeks.  They were Romans.  Even today, the Turks still refer to Orthodox Christians living in Turkey as “Roman”.
6) “True” Christianity did not disappear when the Church received legal recognition from the Roman Government.  Faithful, pious and righteous Christians continued to live in faith and suffer martyrdom and persecution.  The Church thatwas founded by Jesus Christ, and its theology, remained intact.  Those who became frustrated with government intervention in Church life struggled to maintain the purity of the church’sdoctrine and life.  However, since the Church continued to adhere to its basic teachings without dilution, it was necessary for pious believers to continue their struggle within the church.  It was believed that no person had the right to create or invent his or her own church.  It is also significant to mention that the Orthodox Church continues to bear much fruit.  If losing one’s life, or martyrdom, is the ultimate expression of one’s devotion to Christ, there has never been a more fruitful time within the Church.  There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all previous centuries of Christian history combined.  Most of these martyrs were Orthodox Christians who refused to renounce their faith.
7) The Orthodox Church is not a denomination nor is it “non-denominational”.  It is pre-denominational.  The Church was without break or separation for more than 1,000 years.  The Orthodox Church did not break away from any other group.  The Orthodox Church continued right along up to this day.  In fact,groups that refer to themselves as “non-denominational” because they are free standing churches, not connected with any larger mainline protestant confessions, are, in fact, denominations.  Since a denomination means a breaking down of the whole or a separation, they are simply denominations consisting of one parish.
8) Yes, the Orthodox are “Bible believing” Christians.  Almost everything within Orthodox worship comes directly from the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  There is probably more Bible read on a single Sunday Morning in Orthodox Worship than in an entire year in most other churches.  (Editor’s note: This may be an exaggeration but the point is still valid, there is a lot of Bible in Orthodox worship)
9) Orthodox Christianity is not an exotic form of Roman Catholicism.  While both Churches have organized worship, the life, practice and doctrine of the Roman Catholics and The Orthodox are quite different.  The Orthodox view the Pope as the bishop of Rome, not a supreme leader of the entire Church.  And, because, in the eyes of the Orthodox, the Pope has stated that his authority is over the entire Church, The Orthodox are not currently in communion with Rome.  Roman Catholic doctrinal principles such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Papal Infallibility, Transubstantiation of Holy Communion, and Original Sin are absent from the Orthodox Church.  These perspectives took root in the Roman Catholic Church after East and West went their separate ways.
10) Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is the head of the Orthodox Church: not Luther, not Calvin, not Wesley.  The Orthodox Church can trace the lineage of the ordinations of its clergy all the way back to Christ Himself with unbroken continuity.  Orthodox Christianity has remained faithful to Christ not only doctrinally but also historically.
With these things said, The Orthodox are not trying to convert you. (Editor’s note: We do believe in conversion and mission and engage in ongoing efforts but the 20th century Protestant programs of mass evangelism may not be suitable for Orthodox Faith which is more of a lived experience than a single moment of decision.)  We believe in tolerance (respect) of other faiths, and this has been written so that those of you who may come from other backgrounds might be more tolerant of us.  Please don’t write us off.  Learn what we really think, do and believe before deciding without sufficient knowledge.  We’re believers.  We don’t preach false doctrine.  We accept the Bible as the Word of God.  Simply put, we struggle within the boundaries of the church to always be as good of an expression of the Kingdom of God on earth as possible.  This is because Christ created one Church and prayed that It would remain one.  We believe it is our sacred duty to preserve this oneness.  We are not allowed to whimsically create a new church whenever we are upset.  If we don’t like what’s happening in our Church, we don’t leave.  We risk persecution, even to death, to protect the faith because that’s what Christ did when He created The Church.

There is Nothing…

I want, Lord, so much as to know that you are with me and that I am in the place you wish me to be. Knowing this I can be anywhere. Without this knowledge I will be alone and fragile even in paradise. Yet my eyes are dim, my thoughts too, and more often than not I wander even when I know the way.Yet, still, do not forget me. Grant me even the slightest glimpse of your presence and I will run to that light without fear. Grant me to understand the path you have prepared and I will walk through any darkness. Only the sound of your voice and I shall be joyous.Only the touch of your garment and I will be made whole.Only the thought of you and I shall be at rest. Night is coming, it has already come. The darkness is alive and furious in anticipation of the morning.Yet if I am where you are and you are with me I shall be at peace, secure, as heaven watches over my journey home.

A Challenging Word…

The venerable Maxim the Confessor says: “Should we not tremble, hearing how God the Father, without judging anyone Himself, ‘hath committed all judgment unto the Son’ (John 5:22)? And the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, says to us: ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged’ (Luke 6:37). Similarly Apostle Paul says: ‘Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes’ (1 Cor. 4:5), and again: ‘for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself’ (Rom. 2:1). I tell you, it is so: for men, having ceased to weep over their own sins, have taken the judgment out of the hands of the Son, and judge and condemn each other as though they themselves were sinless! Truly this frightens the heavens and makes the earth tremble.”

Centuries  pass,  yet  men  still  stand  before  this  unassailable  wall  of  condemnation  and  are  unable  to  overcome  it.    Adam,  justifying  himself  in  paradise  before  God,  condemned   Eve;    Cain,  having  condemned  his  brother  Abel  in  his  heart, killed  him;   the  sin  of  condemnation  led  the  Jews  to  kill  the  Messiah;   and  we,  modern  Cainites  and  Pharisees,  are  pushed   by  condemnation  to  a  daily  spiritual  execution  of  our  brothers.

Judgment  tortures  the  doers  of  it  themselves,  takes  away  their  peace  of  mind,  forces  them  to  continuously  monitor  the  actions  of  those  around  them,  and  poisons  their  souls  with  the  bitter  poison  of  suspicion.

An  elder  once  said:   “It  is  easy  to  step  unto  the   path  of  salvation:   you  must  only  firmly  decide  that  from   this  moment  you  will  no  longer  judge  anyone.”    We  can  understand  these  words  with  our  mind,  but  how  do  we  actually  accomplish  them?    For  this  we  must  understand  why  we  judge  others.    The  reason  lies  in  our  false  self-evaluation:   he  judges  others,  who  feels  that  he  has  a  right  to  judge,  who  places  himself  higher  than  others,  who  sees  himself  blameless  of  the  sins  of  which  he  accuses  others.    Whoever  is  not  aware  of  his  own  spiritual  corruption,  will  never  cease  to  judge  others.

But  we  are  all  tarnished  by  sin,  we  all  agonize over  our  corruption,  we  all  hope  for  deliverance  in  eternal  life,  we  all  have  need  of  Divine  aid.    Again  we  know  all  this  theoretically,  but  in  practice  it  is  painfully  difficult  to  refrain  from  judgment;   we  yearn  to  judge  others.    Why?    Because  judgment  has  become  a  passion  with  us  and,  like  all  vices,  it  gives  us  demonic  pleasure,  a  shiver  of  prideful  delight.    How  “delightful” to judge someone in the course of a friendly conversation, to laugh at another’s deficiencies… But do we not heed the warning of the Gospel that some day we will have to answer for every single word we utter, and that includes this false delight which is based on condemnation?

The  struggle  against  the  vice  of  judgment,  like  any  other  vice,  cannot  be  theoretical;   it  must  take  place  every  day,  every  minute,  throughout  one’s  entire  life;    it  must  be  based  on  forcing  oneself  to  be  attentive  to  all  one’s   words  and  thoughts.    In  other  words,  we  cannot  do  without  spiritual  labor.

But  of  what  should  this  spiritual  endeavor  consist   in  such  a  case?    In  monitoring  oneself  with  utmost  attention   throughout  all  the  various  circumstances  of  life.    Moreover,  we  will  soon  notice  that,  in  the  course  of  the  day,  occasions   for  judgment  surround  us  like  invisible  underwater  reefs  and  threaten  to  destroy  the  ship  of  our  soul.    However,  with  God’s  help,  we  will  gradually  learn  to  avoid  collision  with  these  underwater  reefs:   where  we  formerly  became  irritated  –  we  will  remain  calm;     where  we  became  angry  –  we  will  remain  silent;   where  we  tried  to  justify  ourselves  –  we  will remain  humble;   where  we  judged  others  –  we  will  pray  for  them  and  for  ourselves,  in  order  to  avoid  similar  sins.

Very  soon  we  will  notice  that  our  soul,  no  longer  burdened  by  judgment,  will  experience  genuine  spiritual  joy  and  lightness;    and  that  is  only  natural,  since  the  yoke of  the  sins  of  others  will  no  longer  oppress  us.

Just  as  judgment  attracts  other  vices:   anger,  quarreling,  enmity,  so  a  victory  over  condemnation  opens  the  way  to  other  virtues:   pure  prayer, tranquility,  a  true  evaluation  of  one’s  sins.    It  is  for  this  reason  that  demons do  their  best  to  ensnare  the  soul  into  the   nets  of  judgment,  and  to  hinder  its  liberation  from  this  vice.    In  turn  we,  too,  have  no  right  to  delay  our  struggle  with  judgment  for  the  same  reason,  but  must  immediately  begin  to  watch  ourselves  attentively.

“To  watch  oneself”  is  the  golden  rule  of  Christian  morality,  which  –  alas!  –  is  so  often  neglected  by  Christians.    How  much  effort  we  spend  on  external  activities  and  how  little  energy  we  save  for  the  task  of   monitoring    ourselves.    And  yet,  without  this  internal  endeavor,  nothing  external  will  ever  lead  us  to  salvation…

Saint  Seraphim  of  Sarov  said  that  the  goal  of  Christian  life  is  the  acquisition  of  the  Holy  Spirit.    And  to   attain  this  goal  we  must  step  onto  the  path  of  a  spiritual struggle  with  passions,  and  with  God’s  help,  overcome  them  one   by  one.    But  we  can  begin  the  battle  with  this  same  passion  for  judgment.

Let  us  remember  the  words  of  the  elder:   “It  is easy  to  step  unto  the   path  of  salvation:   you  must  only  firmly  decide  that  from  this  moment  you  will  no  longer  judge  anyone.”

(Reprinted  from  “Orthodox  Russia,”  No. 20,  2002)

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