Failure of the Falcon Horus

Critics of the history of Jesus say that the parallels between the ideology of Horus and that of the story of Jesus indicates that they are the same story, just different time periods. However, this idea fails to take into account that the belief in Horus is one that spans thousands of years and many different versions. Each era of belief in Horus would have believed in different versions of the god, none of which match up with the accounts of Jesus. ——— from Ancient Egypt Online

I can understand why any African American would be disillusioned with Western Christianity.  We were brought here as slaves on the good ship “Jesus” and were taught Bible passages to keep us under control.  Despite becoming Baptist, Methodist, and the like; many of our white “brothers and sisters” either passively supported the idea of racial supremacy, or were active in its propagation in groups such as the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Even today, racist white American Christians have trouble admitting their wrongs and mask their feelings under a veneer of politics and social observations.  Although there are mixed congregations and most mainline denominations (including the Southern Baptist Convention which recently had a black president) have publicly repented of their bigoted past, too many of us have been hurt too deeply to trust that Christianity is the true faith.  We have been beaten over the head with too many Nordic images of Jesus, “explanations” of why our brown and black skins doomed us for enslavement, and justifications of how God intended to keep the races separate while our women were being raped.  The fact that most African Americans remain Christians is a miracle of God.  It is a wonder that more of us have not given up on the Jesus of Western Christendom.

However, I believe throwing the baby out with the bath water is not a good idea.  This is what several of us are doing by rejecting Christianity all together.  For example, a friend considers the Egyptian god Horus to be a true deity and Jesus a lie as it seems that the Virgin Birth, miracles, and death and resurrection narrative is a copy of the story of Horus.  To be certain, the similarities are unmistakable.  But like the Jewish religion, the story of Horus was a foretaste of Jesus as the Son of God.  By comparison, Horus falls short of being a god worthy of worship.

The Egyptian god Horus

Horus was only one of several Egyptian deities.  Ra, Anubis, Mut, Thoth, and others were worshiped equally in this polytheistic religion.  In fact, each district along the Nile had its own god.  The primary god that was recognized by all was Ra, the creator of all things.  Depending on what version of Egyptology you read, Horus was not the son of this primary god.  About 2000 B.C., many Egyptians attributed his parents to be Osiris and Isis and they were either close cousins or even brother and sister.  After Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, Isis impregnated herself on the one part of her husband that was functional, his penis, before bringing him back to life with the help of the god Anubis.

Thus, there are a few serious problems with Horus.  As he was not the son of the creator god, he had no spiritual supremacy over any of the other deities.  He was just another god that could be taken seriously, or left alone.  Even if he were the son of Ra, that still didn’t give him supremacy to any other god such as Geb (the earth god) or Hathor (love and fertility).  In fact, Seth, the god of evil who killed Horus and his father Osiris, was made the god of storms by Ra.  Neither Horus nor Ra punishes the source of evil.  The influence of Horus was still limited as to the more important local gods such as Apis, the god of strength, who was adored in Memphis or Meretseger of Thebes who rewarded the good and punished the evil.   Not only was Horus the son of a minor god, he was a child of incest as no ancient culture permitted the marriage of close cousins and even more so brothers and sisters.

Why would indigenous Egyptian Christians accept the Virgin Birth narrative of Jesus and reject that of the older and native Horus?  Because Horus was not a divine being with any true power, worshiping him was optional as he was a lesser of a lesser god born under an unlawful and strange circumstance.  And evil was still tolerated among the Egyptian gods.   When the Apostle Mark brought the Gospel to the Egyptians, they recognized the Virgin Birth narrative.  But, they learned that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God.  The same God that saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery called for Jesus to be hidden among them and called Him from their land.  This would be the God for all people and not just another local deity.  By His death, Jesus conquered death and corruption of the soul (sin).  After His death and resurrection, Jesus had all power on heaven and earth.  And He will return to judge the living and the dead having ultimate victory over ultimate evil.

At no time does Horus take on human flesh while maintaining his divinity.  Being detached from the supreme creator god, he was unable to do this.  In fact, he is depicted as half man and half falcon.  The problem of fallen humanity is that by sin we have distanced ourselves from the God who made us in His image and likeness.  This distancing has corrupts the human soul that was made to be immortal and leads to complete death.  In order to correct the corruption and defeat death, God would have to take a fully human form and still retain his divinity, die as a man and because of his divinity, rise from the grave as a man.  A half man and half bird god could not do this despite being born of a virgin, performing miracles, or calling himself the light of the world.  And how could Horus call himself a supreme light when he was only the god of the rising sun?  Aten succeded Ra as the sun god.  Atum was the god of the setting sun and was the local god of Lower Egypt.  In contrast, Jesus became man and was like us in every way except he was pure from His conception of a virgin and the Holy Spirit.  He overcame the temptations.  He was crucified publicly so that there would be no question that He died.  But, because Jesus was also divine, death could not hold His human body.  By believing in the Gospel and following His precepts, we have the ability to overcome sins and live forever.  As attributed to Athanasius (who was described by his enemies as a black dwarf), “God became man so that man could become God.”

Athanasius the Great, Bishop of Alexandria

Egyptians saw the truth of Jesus and rejected their pantheon of gods despite the persecutions of the first 300 years of the faith.  Egypt was the home of the Desert Fathers who lived in caves and monasteries to devote their lives to prayer and the pursuit of God without the worldly influences after the faith became legalized and (eventually) the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The spirituality of these fathers were an influence of the African bishop Athanasius who was the hero of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and compiled 27 books that would be canonized as the New Testament at a Council in Carthage.  Today, the indigenous Coptic Christians of Egypt still hold true to the faith even under the threat of martyrdom.  Not only they, but Ethiopians, Syrians, Assyrians, Antiochians, and others would rather confess Jesus as the risen Son of God rather than any other god of any other nation.

Rather than seeking to find excuses to reject Christianity all together, I recommend that African-Americans (no, all Americans!) take the time to learn about ancient Christianity.  The Copts and Ethiopians (who were evangelized by the Apostle Matthew) have practiced this faith long before the slave ship captain John Hardy Hawkins chose his coat of arms.  Greek and Russian Orthodox believers pray the prayers of St. Macarius and kiss the icon of St. Mary of Egypt.  This is not to say that the Orthodox Christian world is perfect.  But, we have a greater spiritual journey to offer than Horus.  A good starting point would be On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great. He also wrote a biography of St. Anthony who is considered to be the father of Christian monasticism.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers offers a good look and what the early Egyptian and other influential monastics taught.  Two modern books that highlight early African Christianity that are useful are The Unbroken Circle and Wade in the River.

Cyprian vs. Complacency

“… Only observe a discipline uncorrupted and chastened in the virtues of religion.”   Saint Cyprian of Carthage

Bishop Cyprian led an African church in a time of great crisis.  First, there was a period of brutal persecutions from the Roman government.  He was criticized for going into hiding rather than stepping forward to become a martyr as many in his parish did.  Then, he had to argue with false teachers who wanted to close the doors of repentance to backsliders who wanted to come back to the faith.  A plague arose in the land and killed believers and pagans alike.  This shook the faith of many Christians who thought they and their families would be spared from such suffering.  After a period of relative calm, another persecution arose in which Cyprian would face the executioner’s axe.  In the midst of these difficulties, the saint encouraged a friend to practice a sober minded and pure path as a Christian.

It is easy for us to dismiss the need for such a walk of faith in this day and age.  Many of us succumb to the idea of “Getting our praise on” Sunday mornings, or as we listen to our favorite Gospel songs on the radio.  We sweep our sins under a rug since, “The Lord knows our hearts,” and didn’t mean to sin.  If a brother or sister of the faith (or even minister) dare give us a mild rebuke of our faults, they are not to “judge” us because “all have sinned.”  As long as we go to church, tithe, and love others; a disciplined spiritual life doesn’t seem to be necessary.

I believe that the Christian life called for by St. Cyprian is even more critical to us today than it was in first century Carthage.  To proclaim Christ before Constantine was an invitation to exile, torture, or death.  The courageous either hid and found ways to encourage people to remain faithful to Christ, or they boldly faced swords and wild beast.  A life of purity and sobriety gave our ancestors of the faith the strength and wisdom to do both.

Bishop Cyprian of Carthage

Today, Satan persecutes us with a more vicious torturer than any Roman official could send on us.  Complacency lulls our spirits to believe that we are walking in the narrow path of salvation when we are actually on a broad boulevard of destruction.  When we relegate worship to exuberant praise, can we hear the quiet voice that God uses to speak to us as he did Elijah?  How can we parts of the body of Christ heal from our sin sickness if we are unwilling to confess where the body is gathered?  Are we so holy that we cannot accept a word of correction from those who have made the journey before us and are walking with us?  “Oh, those are the traditions of men.  We don’t need to do all of that. God is not through with me yet.”  Instead of finding answers in prayer, the Bible, and ancient Christian writings to correct our backslidings, it is easier to make excuses for improper actions, words, and (especially) thoughts.  And since we do not face life threatening persecutions, being complacent in our Christian walk has captured far too many of us and misleading us to be no better than those who do not practice the faith at all.  Indeed, we are worse because we, supposedly, know better.

Not everyone is called to monasticism.  But, we are all called to spend time with ourselves and God in prayer as Jesus did.  All of us are called to observe times of God’s presence in our lives as the apostles did in the book of Acts.  The writings of early church fathers and mothers are available and are not hard for us to comprehend.  And the call to repentance given by our Lord back then is essential to our self-denial, taking up of our crosses, and following Him today.  Let us not be lulled by complacency in these times of ease.  But, let us struggle all the more against our sinister enemy who wants nothing more than for us to let our guards down.

Baltimore and the Ancient Failure

I have always enjoyed visiting family in Baltimore.  I remember taking a solo road trip up there.  I visited the Frederick Douglass Maritime Museum, checked out a few local shops, ate a really good steak and cheese somewhere in the Fells Point area.  I had the opportunity to eulogize one of my relatives in the city.  I was warmly received the times I preached there.  Baltimore is really a nice town check out.

What about the rioting?  That is a case of the invisible ugliness becoming visible.  Now, the whole world has seen what happens when a power structure has kept people powerless for decades.  Now we see how some powerless people respond when they feel threatened and vulnerable.  Yes, I am saddened, angered, disappointed, and deeply wounded that yet another black man died in the hands of a few policemen and that some blacks took to rioting.  But, I am also aware that something like this could happen anywhere where there is invisible ugliness.  All it takes is one trigger and a seaside city that is the home of generations of strong, black families can be the home of a violent outbreak in the struggle between the haves and have-nots.  Who knows, tomorrow, we could hear something about Hampton, VA (where I am typing from).

Many will disagree with my point of view.  But, I don’t believe that race nor racism is the ultimate source of the invisible ugliness.  The root of the problem goes back to the very roots of human history.  In an attempt to be like God without direction from God, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Immediately after their eyes were open, they couldn’t be vulnerable to each other and hid themselves from the God they wanted to be like without Him.  Cain killed his brother, Abel, rather than to listen to God’s instructions to overcome sin.  In both situations, people sought to obtain the heavenly and earthly power on their own terms and the results have been spectacular failures.

The Europeans who came to these shores only wanted more land and opportunity than they had in their homelands.  But, rather than to do so in compassion and humility, they made their gains by inflicting a selfish and narrow-minded judgement on the Native Americans and (by purchase and theft) obtain African slaves to generate the wealth for the new nation.   Many of their descendants feel that they are in their right to do whatever they wish to maintain dominance in a kingdom that they obtained by wrong instead of right.  The Africans, for many years, held a moral high ground as they found the Gospel truth hidden in the wrong-headed doctrines of their slave masters.  But, over too much time and too many broken promises,  too many of us descendants have succumbed to having a heart and mind as mindlessly cruel as any oppressor.  Rather than leave vengeance the Lord, too many of us want a justice that punishes rather than a justice that restores the flesh and blood that is not our real enemy.  Like Adam & Eve, the racist and the rioter are too impatient to enjoy the good things they have and wait for something better.  Like Cain, the racist and the rioter would rather kill his own kind than to admit that he is wrong and live a life of repentance.

To be fair, not every white policeman is hunting Negroes.  Not every African American is running around with a stolen TV set.  But, too many of us replay the ancient failure in our hearts and minds.  We all want more and greater things and positions rather than patience and spiritual correction.  We want the world to revolve around us rather than for us to follow God.  Until this changes, your city and mine have the potential to be a Baltimore.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Us, Sinners.

Don’t Spill Your Grace

CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH, AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE! I couldn’t wait to sing and hear these words this past Sunday!  Pascha (Easter) is the greatest celebration on the Christian calendar.  Sure, the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) is important as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  But, the mission of the Incarnate Word destroyed our greatest enemies; death and corruption (sin) with His death on the cross and third day resurrection.  No other time of worship means more to Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike. But, I suspect that some Orthodox Christians suffer from the same problem that I have seen (and sometimes suffered from) when I was Baptist.  Evangelical author and speaker, Dr. Tony Campolo noted the problem of Revival Services.  “During Revival, Baptist sing 20 verses of the hymn, “Just As I Am,” come forward to the altar to be saved just as they are, and go back to living just as they were.”  It is not uncommon for people to feel the spiritual urge to live more Christ-like when there is good preaching and singing during a three to five day series of revival services.  But, when revival is over, it is too easy to be distracted from the goal of living better and even worse to set aside the desire to live better when the guest preachers and choirs have returned to their churches. I suspect that this happens among too many Orthodox believers as well.  After 40 days of fasting during Great Lent and Holy Week, attending Akathist and Pre-Sanctified Liturgy services, making many prostrations during the Liturgy of St. Andrew of Crete and the prayer of St. Epherm the Syrian; we want to celebrate and relax during Bright Week.  For those of us in the Antiochian tradition, we don’t begin the Wednesday and Friday fast  again until after the Feast of the Ascension.  So, there is that temptation let our hair down until we let our heads down as well.  We can be lured to putting aside the period of spiritual renewal until next year.  Eating bacon and cheese on everything at every meal can cause us to forget our personal prayer rules, the lessons from the spiritual books we read, and even make church more of an option of tradition rather than the place where we stand in the presence of God with our fellow believers. When this happens, the cry, “We have found the true faith,” rings hollow.  What is the point of becoming an Orthodox Christian if you aren’t going to take the faith seriously and grow in it?  A Baptist, Pentecostal, or other Christian who has never heard the Nicene Creed or read a “Jordanville” prayer book acts in seriousness and sincerity shows more spiritual maturity than the Orthodox that takes the faith for granted.  Our Lord warned us that judgment day will be more tolerable for those who had never heard the Gospel than for those who heard the words of salvation and failed to act on them.  Father Seraphim Rose describes the failure of not striving to live to one’s spiritual renewal as “spilling one’s grace.” For anyone who has celebrated Easter, Pascha, Revival, or whatever; Fr. Seraphim’s words are worth heeding.  Don’t spill your grace.  If there was a prayer that you have used that had brought you closer to God’s presence, a suggestion from a spiritual book that helped you to overcome a bad habit, maybe a song or word from a sermon that reminds you to make time for personal worship or confession; don’t sit around and wait for the next such service to use these God-given tools on your spiritual journey.  Sure, you don’t have to make 100 prostrations until the next Cannon of St. Andrew.  But, adding a few of these acts of humility in your time in your prayer closet isn’t a bad idea.  Yes, have that bacon and chili cheese burger until the celebration of our Lord’s Ascension (if that is your tradition).  But, why not skip the red meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays out of respect for the brothers and sisters in the other jurisdictions that return earlier to the weekly fast? The early Church Fathers didn’t expect everyone to live as a monastic all year long.  Even monks and nuns are guided not to be extreme in their ascetic disciplines.  But, we must be diligent to work out our salvation.  Applying a little of what we have gained during our prescribed seasons of spiritual renewal will cause us to become more spiritually mature.  Speak with your pastor as you look to see what can be added to your walk with the Lord and how to add it.  Don’t spill your grace.  Grow in it.

The Hidden Blessing in the Gay Marriage Movement

Let’s get this clear.  I believe as the Church fathers and the scriptures teach that homosexuality is a sin.  It is no more vile than any other sin, including fornication which no one bats an eye at these days.  Marriage is the sacramental union ordained by God between one man and one woman as described in the Adam and Eve story.  This sacred union imitates that of Jesus Christ with his bride, the Church. Technically, it is to be performed in the Church.  Both the man and woman are to be devout Christians and active in the Church.  The members of the congregation and the families are to provide whatever food, decorations, and whatever else is needed for the reception.  Thus, a wedding, when taken as a holy sacrament is not a business opportunity for florist, caterers, and photographers.  It is far deeper than a mere social event for family and friends.  And while it may be good for the state to record who lives together as a married couple, it is more than a legal contract.  A Christian wedding ceremony and reception is a celebration within the body of Christ.  With this in mind, I think the gay marriage movement may not be the worst thing in the world for Christianity.  In fact, it may be a blessing in disguise.

Bring back the crowns and what they mean.

As a result of modernism and money, Christians (even too many Orthodox) have relaxed their views and standards of marriage.  A sacrament that was once done in the church is now performed in mountain lodges, back yards, beaches, bowling alleys, or wherever the couple think the “mood” is right.  This act of holiness once done by pastors and higher clerics is done by local magistrates and anyone with a “certificate” including Elvis impersonators.  The event is planned by a professional coordinator working alongside professionals from the photographer to the limo service.  In some cases, the couple doesn’t even have to belong to the church they get married in or know the pastor that will perform the service (let alone agree to have pre-marital counseling) as some churches and clergy rent themselves out to whomever wants to wed.  Thus, heterosexual marriage and weddings have too often become mere productions and social gatherings celebrating love and a legal contract rather than the holy sacrament that Jesus and Paul held in honor.  Homosexuals have every right to demand that they can demand to have such celebrations as we heterosexuals do.  Rather than to try to pass laws against the inevitable, I believe we Christians should respond in a better way.

Pastors and congregations need to re-teach the sacramental nature of marriage and the communal nature of the Wedding  celebration within the body of Christ.  There is no point in a straight engaged couple shouting against a gay engaged or married couple when they are having sex before marriage and not repenting of it and confessing it before God.  The homosexuals are not in your bed, you and your future spouse are and you shouldn’t be yet.  Get the log out of your eye before worrying about the specks in someone else’s.  Pastors and other clergy need to put the holiness of the sacrament before the dollar signs. If the prospective couple are not members of some other congregation, they should either become members of yours, or have their pastor marry them.  You bear the responsibility for proclaiming salvation through the Gospel and taking care of people’s spiritual needs.  Blindly performing a ceremony without directing  the future bride and groom to some sort of spiritual accountability and preparation is dereliction of duty.  Friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ; you love this couple and you trust their taste buds and stomachs to strangers?  Really?  And does God concerned that the images of your special day was done with 60 megapixels?  Uncle Bob may have put part of his thumb over the lens of his smart phone.  But, he is the uncle that showed you how to make that soft ball pitch and knew how to solve that Algebra equation that you struggled with.  There are horror stories of Christian businesses being forced out of lucrative wedding gigs because some gay or lesbian couple is suing them for not providing services for their wedding.  But, is holy matrimony to be a celebration of divine love, or a pursuit of lucre and profit?

In the presence of God and these witnesses

No, I don’t support homosexual marriage at all.  It is a shame that good Christian business people have to choose between their faith and their bottom lines.  But, the blessing in disguise is that we Christians can take a hard look at ourselves and bring back our marriages and weddings to what they are supposed to be.

Great Lent Week Five: Don’t Be Too Happy

I don’t know.  Perhaps I am a bit of a kill-joy or something.  But, I think that constantly pursuing happiness in this world doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Depression and sorrow aren’t things people want an abundance of in their lives either.  But, the pursuit of worldly happiness is something that I think we would do well to tone down a bit.

Subdeacon Paul Abernathy

When people earn or receive wealth, status, and power, there is a tendency to forget God.  There are stories of how musicians and singers began careers in the church with good intentions.  But, fame (small and great) went to their heads and they fell into horrible errors.  Many a preacher had become too big for his pants and fell into disgrace as well.  Yet, many Christians will post “decrees and declarations” for God to shower us with money, success, and happiness not realizing that these things are also traps used by Satan to make us so comfortable and complacent that, in time, we wind up turning away from God instead of toward Him.

Subdeacon Paul Abernathy once shared in a speech that we should ask God to grant us that which is necessary for salvation.  Sure, who doesn’t want more money?  But, what if having it leads to making poor decisions in spending and saving?  In the writings of several holy saints and the Bible we are taught that it is better to have little in peace with the presence of God than to be in abundance with strife and evil.  And even if the wealth is made by one’s hard work and is blessed of God, we will not be able to take one cent of it with us to heaven and are counted no better than any other devout Christian who makes do with less.  Everyone wants good health and recovery from illness and injury.  Of course we serve the God who is able to heal whatever may be wrong with us and we should pray to Him.  But, we must be wise to see that if He does heal us, that we do not become complacent in our faith to Him or base our faith solely on what He is able to do for us.  After all, even the perfectly healthy has to die to this world.  If our happiness is based only on our health in this world, how shall we enter any joy in the world to come?  I am struck by the words of St. Paisios;

Saint (Elder) Paisios of Mt. Athos

I wish you many years – but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy.  When a man is too happy in this world, he forgets God and forgets death.

Let us accept and welcome the wounds that life inflicts on us.  For a while, they will hurt.  There are lessons for our souls in this pain that cannot be obtained in worldly happiness.  When we receive earthly blessings, let’s praise God and keep going on our way.  Jesus often sent those who he healed home with the instruction not to say anything about what happened.  There is a gift in being sober minded in our times of earthly blessings and happiness.  Reach for this gift and we won’t loose site of God in times of victory or defeat.

Great Lent Week Four:  A Life Of Repentance

Our church observed the Liturgy of St. Andrew of Crete and the story of St. Mary of Egypt.  We began service about 6:30 pm.  By the time we were finished, it was a quarter to nine.  I had been in lengthy services at the Hampton University Minister’s Conference.  But, there I was seated and there were breaks between lecturers and preachers.  Standing, making tons of metany (bows touching the floor) through a lengthy series of odes, and prostrations with the prayer of St. Ephrem of Syria and at the icon of The Ladder of Divine Ascent is something I would not have dreamed of doing years ago.  I went home last night thinking that it is a shame that all Christians do not do the same and gather the humble meaning of this service.  In fact, Orthodoxy offers something that modern Christianity often ignores at its own risk.

Prostrating before the Cross

The cannon of St. Andrew and the story of St. Mary reinforces our need to lead a life of repentance.  In a couple of weeks, we are going to celebrate Great and Holy Pascha (Easter) with enthusiastic shouts of praise in different languages and have plenty of food and drink at the end of service.  In my Antiochian Patriarchate, we will not resume the weekly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.  We will observe several feast and fast in our yearly cycle and even during our fast, we are to reject gloominess and carry on as normal as to hide our struggle.  No, we Orthodox Christians are not a morbid bunch of ancient religious fanatics that constantly burden ourselves with the knowledge that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (I have one dear brother who is an incurable practical joker).

St. Mary of Egypt

Yet, our worship services, especially those leading toward (the Lenten Triodion) and during Great Lent, are designed to lead us to repentance and live a life of repentance.  We are to acknowledge that we have separated ourselves from God, the only and true source of life.  This is what Adam and Eve did in the Garden, not so much that they broke a command defying God’s authority.  But, they chose to seek an immortal existence based on the fulfillment of their desires rather than live according to the only life giving Word that is truly immortal.  By separating from that source of life, death came to rule over us.  Corruption, striving to act and hide away from God, infects our being.

Praise be to God that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus Christ died as a man.  But, death and the grave could not contain the Immortal One as He was (is and always will be) incorruptible.  He taught us that if we are to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  Jesus came teaching not only love and morality, which are good things that we strive to practice.  Jesus taught us to repent for the eternal kingdom is at hand.  We are to turn and strive to keep our lives turned away from our corruptible desires that lead to death as He has come from heaven, taken on flesh, and conquered death by His death.  We are to be one with our Lord as His body, the Church.

St. Andrew of Crete

This is why we offer the prayer, “Lord have mercy,” from the beginning to end of the weekly Divine Liturgy.  During the week, we follow our personal rules of prayer that include the words of ancient saints of the Church.  Our rules may be as simple as morning and evening to keeping the Hours during the whole day.  This is why confession is not merely something done in the privacy of our own homes.  We come before God with our father or mother confessor in a corner of the Church as others pray for us as well.  All that we practice is a part of living in repentance.  During Great Lent, we add prayers, services, almsgiving as well as fasting and marital sexual abstinence to focus more on the call from Christ to repent.

Is a life of repentance necessary?  Can’t we simply resolve to love more?  Perhaps.  But, love without repentance blurs the standards of holy living to a point where good and evil are conditional and defined by individuals and not by God.  Can’t we simply resolve to be more moral?  Probably.  But, morality without repentance becomes arrogant and self-righteous which erodes compassion and mercy.  Can’t we just praise the Lord?  Yes.  But, praise without repentance is far too easy of a trap for people to fall into. Repentance keeps us humble as we see our own faults before we see those of others. This allows love to grow deeper in the individual towards God and others.  The humble soul knows there is a standard to live by and constantly seeks to live by it.  By humility, a believer can praise wholeheartedly yet not do so any higher than he lives.

So, let us be cautious to live in repentance.  God blesses those of a broken heart and contrite spirit.

NO SAINTS = NO SANITY

So, it has been revealed that the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” scenario was false and the city of Ferguson MO was discovered to have a problem with racial bias after a series of peaceful protest and violent riots based on that falsehood.  Meanwhile, a black student in Charlottesville VA with a clean record and good reputation gets his face slammed in the pavement by white law enforcement officers for supposedly using a fake ID at a bar.  And while these stories of racial clashes are broadcast all over the news, four black students on a historically black college campus were stabbed by black people in Baltimore MD.

Since 2013, I have been saying that there is a need for African-Americans and Americans in general to know the saints of Africa and turn to Orthodox Christianity.  Then again, since I have no popularity or status, it is easy to ignore the words of a poor country preacher.  I really don’t care to have a national spotlight.  If someone else more noteworthy wishes to say the same thing I am saying and captivate the world’s attention, glory be to God.  Because the continued ignorance of the brown and black (red, yellow, and white as well) skinned holy men and women and the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church they belonged to is not working.

The situation in Charlottesville is personal to me as my wife is from that city.  My in-laws live there, I got married there, it is a home to me.  Dr. William Black, and Orthodox missionary to Kenya and Chanter at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nearby Greenwood, recently spoke at UVA about the history of African Christianity on that campus.  St. Nicholas hosted a series on the topic “The Surprising Story of African Christianity” (I had the blessing of being one of the speakers).  With such a topic, there should have been a strong flow of traffic on I-64 to the church.  The hall that Dr. Black was speaking in should have been standing room only.  And had those police officers been in either audience, they may have learned that the very New Testament that they have was put together by a black man, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria.  They may have learned why blonde haired, blue eyed, Russians love St. Moses of Ethiopia as an example of humility and forgiveness.  Maybe they did have reason to suspect that the young man they brutalized was up to no good.  But, if these men had knowledge of the African saints (better still, been devout Orthodox Christians), they would have handled the situation far more peacefully.

The situation in Baltimore also grieves me as my wife and I have family there.  Morgan State University is an historically black college like our alma matter, Virginia State University.  It is bad enough that someone outside of our race commits violence against us.  But, we haven’t even made our own communities safe places for ourselves.  And for this to happen on a campus where our young adults are striving to have a better future is nothing short of horrible.  In a place of higher learning, there should be more images of St. Anthony who is regarded as the father of Christian monasticism and St. Cyprian who led the church in Carthage during some of the worst Roman persecution.  St. Perpetua’s diary is one of the oldest writings of a Christian martyr.  But, even among our best and brightest, our youth and young adults are infected with the images of the likes of 2 Chainz, Nikki Manaj, Rick Ross (who is not the real Rick Ross), and that ilk.

The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black at the 2014 Ancient Faith Afro American Conference in Lima, Ohio

And what is the response to these unfortunate incidents?  A rally chanting “No Justice = No Peace?”  I have heard it said that it is crazy to do the same thing and expect a different result.  Equality and justice are good things to strive for.  But, apparently there is something deeper plaguing our society than rouge cops in Ferguson and Charlottesville.  That same rouge spirit surfaces in other places at other times.  At Morgan State, the administration is asking students to promote the positive things that are going on at the school.  There is nothing wrong with putting one’s best face forward.  But, unless the oral issues are dealt with, putting on a great shade of lipstick will not hide the rotting teeth.

I believe the real issue is that the religious culture in America does not honor and celebrate the holy men and women that God has given to us as examples of how to live.  We ignore their images, their role in establishing Christian doctrine, and their words of prayer and wisdom.  Think about it, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not with worship services, special chants and prayers, and special meals that keep with the Lenten Fast.  Irish and non-Irish tend to honor this holy man by having parades, parties, and drinking Guinness Stout.  The Feast of St. Nicholas is on December 6th (18th for Old Calendar Jurisdictions), not on Christmas Day.  December 25th (January 6th) is reserved for the birth of Jesus Christ.  St. Peter the Aleutian is not made known to Native Americans outside of the Pacific Northwest although his martyrdom is the first known on this continent.  Unlike Protestant missions, the Orthodox faith was not forced on anyone and Natives took to the Church as they could keep their culture and language and be Christian at the same time.  During the 1960’s, African-American Christians were too busy with the Civil Rights Movement to learn about the Desert Fathers, Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity, and the black saints.  Painting Jesus with an “afro” or “dreadlocks” is not good enough!  Too many black church leaders ignore the depths of African contributions to early Christianity, do not try to share what they know with their congregations, or try to mix true Orthodoxy with Protestant doctrines.

The Orthodox Church is also greatly at fault here as we have done a poor job of evangelism.  The late Antiochian Metropolitan Philip criticized our willingness to stay in our own little ethnic ghettoes when the wave of Evangelicals came into the Church in 1987.  But, we haven’t had too many parishes in working class, mixed race communities, much less the lower income housing projects and trailer parks since then.  Archbishop Iakovos marched with Dr. King in 1965.  It doesn’t take a lot of courage for cradle Greeks or Serbs to share a prayer of St. Macarius with someone that has never heard of him.   The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church has the light of God of 2,000 years and we in America have kept it under a bushel basket for way too long.  No wonder this nation is stumbling in the dark.

Let us make a stronger effort to share our faith with others.  The first and best way for us to do so is to live Orthodoxy.  Let us maintain the fasting, prayer rules, veneration of saints and their icons and love God and our neighbors as ourselves.  We need not pester people.  But, we can invite friends, neighbors, and relatives to our worship services.  We can host special programs that focus interesting portions of our beliefs.  Our Lord taught us that the harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.  We make up a very small percentage of Christians in this nation.  But, we can’t let that discourage us.  After all, He did take two fish and five loaves of bread to feed thousands.  Let us take what little we have and see the miracles God can and will do through us in healing America’s racial divide.

The Home: The Abandoned Church

 

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.  I Corinthians 16:19

Father Jerome Sanderson quoted this text and I just couldn’t help but to think about how silly a lot of us Christians are when we complain about how ungodly our society has become.  Aquila and Priscilla had a church in their house.  The very dwelling place of this couple was dedicated to the worship of God whether it was the community of believers, or just themselves.  As the head of the household, Paul and other early Christian writers felt that the man of the house should also be the priest of his house and the wife to be the God-fearing helper to this domestic priesthood.  The children were to be brought up in the fear of the Lord and guest were to be exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When the persecutions of the Church ended, it was suggested by the early fathers that each home have, at least, a corner of their homes as a dedicated worship area.  It was to face eastward with a couple of icons, the Scriptures and other spiritual writings, and, perhaps, a lamp.  Some icon corners were very elaborate, others simple.  But, the purpose was the same; to bring the same spirit of worship seen in the church building on Sunday morning into the home for the rest of the week.  The husband was qualified to lead family prayers and the wife with him.  The children were to worship with tier parents.  In the case of no husband being around, the matriarch of the family would then  lead, as in the case of Timothy.  If the man was unmarried, he was still to conduct his own prayers with himself, or any believer that came to visit him.  Either way, the Christian home was a church in lock-step with the designated church where believers from all homes came together.

Fr. Jerome Sanderson

Fr. Jerome Sanderson

Over the years, too many Christians have not heard of this model.  Iconoclasm destroyed the use of holy images as such people ignorantly mistook them for idols.  Doctrines such as sola scriptura (scripture alone) and soul competency taught that individual believers could know what the Bible means for themselves without correction from anyone else, even the church.  Clergy were frequently put on a high pedestal due to their education.  Thus, laymen left the idea of being a priest to the scholars.  Chauvinism  gave men an arrogance above their wives that poisoned their ability to give themselves up for their wives as Christ did for the church.  Without such sacrificial love, they became poor priest when they did try to assume that role in their homes.  Combine these toxins with the various means of entertainment that have developed over time and the pursuits of the flesh that have been with us since the days of Adam and Eve; and we can see that the very church that Paul praised his friends for having is absent for too many people today.

From Darkness To Light (St. Moses the Black)

Sure, prayer in schools is a great idea.  But, if there is no church in the private homes, how can we hold the teachers and administrators responsible for making one in the public square?  God made husband and wife, male and female; not Assistant principal and Forth Grade Social Studies Teacher.  Yes, it would be nice if everyone came to church on Sunday.  But, if they don’t worship in the house they already live in, why would they come to a house that is only open on Sundays and Wednesdays?  And if they did come to the briefly opened church building without making their own homes houses of worship, is their worship that stable or genuine?  We can bemoan how America has strayed away from its Christian roots all day long.  But, without men and women taking their lay priestly roles seriously and making their homes a house of worship, we have no one to blame for this failure but ourselves.

This is how I got started

This is how I got started

I would challenge anyone to establish a prayer corner in their homes and make at least 15 minutes in the morning and night a time for prayer and scripture.  For my non-Orthodox friends, have a cross and Bible to start with.  Every Orthodox Christian should have a traditional style (Eastern or Oriental) icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and a favorite saint along with the scriptures and a prayer book.  I personally love the Trisagion Prayers.  But, use the opening prayers of your jurisdiction or what your priest recommends.  Read the scriptures of the day aloud.  Pray for those who are on your mind and offer your own words to God.  End with an appropriate closing prayer.  Push to add more time to your home worship.  But, don’t over-do it.  That would be a source of self-righteousness.  You will eventually become weary and quit, making you as bad as you were before, if not worse.  Again, talk to your priest or confessor about your rule of prayer.

No, this is not going to give you “supernatural breakthroughs of Gods ever increasing overflows for a shift to a next level anointing.”  But, with time and consistency, you may,

  • drop a few bad habits
  • understand scripture better
  • be more kind and patient

And some other good stuff that every Christian should strive for.  If St. Seraphim of Sarov is right, your light may rub off on someone else:

Obtain a spirit within yourself and a thousand souls will be saved.

Great Lent Week Three: Deeper Than Inside

And when you fast …

Yes, this is the time when Lent gets on your last nerve.  I have seen that Little Cesasr’s Bacon Wrapped Deep Dish Pizza advertised one too many times.  Spring is here and everyone is ready to enjoy the warmer tempereatures and lack of ice and snow.  But, we have a few more weeks of soul searching, intensive repentance, deliberate spiritual reading; our struggle continues.

One of the better known songs by the post-punk indie band (hey, I listen to a lot of different genres) Rites of Spring is “Deeper Than Inside”  I doubt that they meant any spiritual interpretation to their name or lyrics.  But, I am considering a couple of things.  The whole punk rock movement (also early hip-hop) was a rebellion against the huge, corporate monster music industry.  It was a couple of kids who knew how to play a couple of chords and say what was on their minds.  To seriously take on Great Lent, no matter what branch of Christianity you follow, is an act of rebellion against our arrogant and comfort seeking society.  We strip down faith to the sacrificial and repentant following of Jesus Christ as he has called us to do.

Even more so, we stive to know God and confess our sins in a more meaninful way.  Added prayers from the ancient fathers guide our focus to our deeper issues.  It isn’t so much that someone took an ink pen from work, cussed out a stranger, or cheated on their spouse and looks for a legalistic band-aid to cover his/her wound.  We deal with deeper ailments that show themselves when we do not fight against them.  Anger, fear, lust, envy, laziness, greed; these are the passions that monks and nuns have gone into the deserts and forest to fight against.  They have been so gracious as to share with the Church the wisdom they have been blessed with to help us non-monastics with our spiritual journey.  If we settle for a mere, “say 20 Hail Marys,” or “well, God knows my heart,” we have only cut the flower of our weeds.  Perhaps we may have even cut a few leaves and the stem.  Great Lent reminds us to stive to kill the roots of our visible sins.  A dead root cannot  produce a flower.  A wounded root does not readily reproduce.  A root left undisturbed will flourish again.

May God grant us His mercy and strength to continue the struggle.