Month: March 2014

MEMORY ETERNAL! HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN PHILIP

I wasn’t privileged to meet him.  But, like all others who have converted to Orthodoxy, in particular the Antiochians, Metropolitan Philip Saliba has touched every one of us.  The story of how in 1987 he opened the doors of the church to some 2,000 American Evangelicals has to be the biggest mass conversion to the faith in modern times.  Indeed, it was a miniature mirror of Acts Chapter 2 with 3,000 being saved on the day of Pentecost.  Even before this great occurrence,  Sayedna Philip was laying a foundation for expanding the faith by forming various church organizations for women and youth and bringing different factions of the church together.  I am sure there are those who were born and raised in the Antiochian Church and only one or two generations removed from their immigrant forebears  who bemoan some of the changes such as the self-rule status of the North American Diocese and services conducted in English rather than Arabic.  Yet, this metropolitan has  effectively maintained the doctrine of 2,000 years of Holy Orthodoxy and help to present it in a way that invited curious inquirers to come even closer, even to “come home.”

MEMORY ETERNAL!

As a newly converted/catechized believer, it has been an honor for me to come into the Antiochian Church as we say “farewell” to such an influential leader and tireless worker.  His loss should serve as an encouragement for all of us to have the light of Jesus Christ shining brightly in our lives and not to be lacking in our efforts to spread the Gospel.  Not everyone will meet an Orthodox Metropolitan.  But, we of the faith can be an example of what a metropolitan is to everyone we know and meet inside and outside of the church.  And especially during Great Lent, let us give greater attention to our spiritual lives that we may witness salvation to others.  In our parishes, let us be attentive and cooperative as good stewards of our resources that we may provide outreach to our surrounding and far-flung communities.  I believe this is the example Sayedna Philip gave us.  In Christ, let us live by it.

Against Modern Heresies, Simply Stand and Practice

Religion is an open market in America.  Christianity in this nation is no exception.  Though we all claim to serve the same God, the fact that there are about 40,000 different denominations and non denominations all claiming to preach and teach the Gospel is quite confusing.  The doctrines of these churches tend to change with popular opinion and worship styles with the latest trends.  A good friend who studied at Duke University’s School of Divinity shared a profound quote with me some years ago.  “Let the church be the church.  Let the world be the world.  And let the church offer something different from the world.”  With the wide variety of doctrine and practice being governed by the world and not by an ancient and holy standard, it is no wonder there is such confusion about true faith in this country.  The 40,000 church “church” is no different from the world that honors all opinions and considers all opinions valid.

The Orthodox Church provides the unchanged historic and spiritual link between Jesus Christ and the world.  Thus, when we hear doctrines and see practices that are well out of line with Holy Tradition (including and especially the Bible that we canonized), many of us would like to shout “heretic” to the top of our lungs and carry out a crusade against those who teach such doctrines.  Knowing the horrific struggles of our forefathers from the righteous martyrs of our first 300 years to the modern sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East in defense of the faith, we can’t help but to be offended by distortions of the Gospel.

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch

Before we pick up bricks and throw them at our critics, let us first consider ourselves and our own sinfulness.  As the accusers with the adulterous woman, it is way too easy for us to drag the wicked before Christ and not address our own wickedness first (and I am stepping on my own toes here as well).  Our Lord made it imperative for us to carry our crosses, not to throw stones.  It is impossible to carry one thing and throw something else with efficiency and effectiveness.  Those who would throw condemn themselves.  Those who will carry receive the blessing.

In reading the Syriac version of St. Ignatius’s second letter tho the Ephesians, this advice may be the best way for we Orthodox Christians to confront those who we disagree with:

 Pray for all men; for there is hope of repentance for them, that they may be counted worthy of God. By your works especially let them be instructed. Against their harsh words be ye conciliatory, by meekness of mind and gentleness. Against their blasphemies do ye give yourselves to prayer; and against their error be ye armed with faith. Against their fierceness be ye peaceful and quiet, and be ye not astounded by them. Let us, then, be imitators of our Lord in meekness, and strive who shall more especially be injured, and oppressed, and defrauded.   (chapter 10)

I think that we really have to be patient with people with these doctrines.  Unless we were born into an Orthodox family, it wasn’t that long ago that we were Protestants and Nondenominationals.  Unless you grew up in Alaska or near an immigrant neighborhood in Pittsburgh or some similar city, you wouldn’t have known an onion dome from indoor football stadium.  In all honesty, even “cradles” don’t know everything about Orthodoxy.  So, we shouldn’t demand that our heterodox neighbors and friends readily jump and accept what little we are able to tell them about the faith.

There isn’t a need for us to run and see who we can pick theological fights with.  Chances are, someone will step to us instead.  When they do, simply stand on the truth that you have received and come to know for yourself.  And we can stand not simply because we know the right scripture verses and can quote the right desert fathers.  We can stand because we participate in the services, prayers, fasting, and love of the Church.  We can stand as we seek God’s mercy and humble ourselves before Him and show our love for the holiest of icons; man who was made in His image and likeness.  Stand and practice the faith.

A Response to Paul Talbot

In response to my article,  The Ever-Virgin Mary:  My Bull’s-Eye Theory,  I received this response from Paul Talbot.  I have never met him.  I am a bit suspicious if this is a friend of mine trying to pick my brain (what little I have), or if this is someone who frequently post opinions against those who do not hold to his interpretation of Christianity.

Mary was a virgin through-out her life. Not true and this article offers NO evidence for that statement at all, it only attacks and attempts to discredit the substantial evidence against the statement.

This belief was central in early church doctrine, Not true. The early church knew Jesus brothers. One of them, James, led the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James in the bible, another wrote the book of Jude in the bible.

continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, True.

and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers. True, because they had been indoctrinated all their lives by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

I confess that I am not the best at apologetics.  But, here is my attempt.  I recommend  the Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy Blog as a far better resource for defending Orthodox Christian doctrine.  

Dear Sir,

I mean you no personal insult.  I am afraid that your criticism of my article shows you have not considered basic Biblical language translation, ancient and eastern culture, and that you overlooked the main point of the article and (thus) failed to put up a legitimate argument against it.

In at least nine other verses of scripture, it is written that Jesus has brothers.  However, the language of the New Testament was not English.  It was Greek.  In the oldest Greek translations of the Bible, the word generally translated “brother” is adelphos.  Adelphos literally means “kinsman” which can be taken as “brother, cousin, fellow countryman” or even “fellow believer.”  This word is used some 80 times in the New Testament as Paul used it frequently to describe his relationship to other Christians.  Thus, the “brothers” of Jesus may have just as well been his first cousins, or close childhood friends.

A glimpse of ancient culture will give some clarity to this term “Brother.”  Jesus was brought up in a culture that regarded general kinship.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham as stated in Genesis 11:27-31.  But, in Genesis 13:8 and 14:14, 16, the text clearly does not use the term “nephew.”  The term used is “brother,” which in Hebrew is ‘ach (fellow tribesman, or blood relative).  So, even when the Hebrew is translated into Greek (the Greek language Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament used by the Apostles as it was written some 200 years before the birth of Christ), the word adelphos was used indicating no specific relationship between the two men other than the fact that they were kinsmen.  By the way, in Strong’s Concise Concordance (I am using this and Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible), the term “nephew appears only twice in the Old Testament with neither reference referring to the story of Abraham and Lot.

No, my article had no “proof” that Mary was ever-virgin.  That was not the main point.  But, since proof is what you wish to criticize me on, I ask you what is your proof that Mary had marital sex and bore these James, Jude, and the other “brothers.”  See that I have given you the argument of the languages and culture from a text that you can readily obtain and are probably familiar with.  But, I would also ask that you dive even deeper into the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and others were of the same generation of and one or two generations removed from the Apostles.  Almost every time they mention her name, they call her the Virgin Mary.  Consider this, if she had other children, why would anyone have continued to call her a virgin?  And in every version of the Nicene Creed (the oldest accepted in 325 AD and revised in 381, both of which are older than the canonized Holy Scriptures of 398) she is the Virgin Mary.  So, if you have some proof that the earliest interpreters and translators of the Old and New Testaments are wrong, please set up a blog site and post what you have found.  Let me know when you posted this.

Again, the meat of my article had little to do with offering proof of Mary’s Virginity.  My point was that believing in Mary as ever-virgin (whether Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, or Orthodox Christian) can help us strive for sexual purity.  The aim for us is to flee adultery and fornication whether it is the act or even the thought of them.  Of course, we Christians aim to be Christ-like.  Second only to Him (both fully human and fully divine) is His mother who was the fully human “maidservant of the Lord.”  A maidservant dedicates her body, mind, and spirit to the service of her Master.  Likewise, our aim is to dedicate our whole selves to our Master, God the Holy Trinity.  An ever-virgin Mary (with her Son and our God) makes the perfect target for us to aim for; that we would seek to keep ourselves pure as she did so that Christ can be a part of us and born in us as she was.   If a person cannot maintain sexual control, then let him find a wife or her husband and keep their sexual activity for that spouse (as Paul advised the Corinthians in his first epistle 7:1-9).  It makes sense for us to aim for the highest level of purity (the bull’s-eye) and feel confident in attaining the second (the inner circle around the bull’s eye).

Since you chose to disregard the main point of my article, I am curious to know how your perception of Mary can help lead someone to sexual purity.  By believing Mary to be either unwilling or unable to set aside her sexual desires (even within a legitimate marriage) to be the Lord’s handmaiden, where then is your example for people to set aside his (or hers) for the greater purpose of God?  If you deny the dart thrower the ability to hit the bull’s-eye (celibacy for God’s glory), how then can he best focus on the inner circle (faithful, heterosexual marriage)?  If your doctrine of rejecting Mary’s ever virginity, in fact or theory as my article was a theory, gives someone a high point to aim for in the struggle for control of sensual desires, I would like to read your blog article.  As I mentioned earlier, I would be glad to read your work on your site.

Also, you failed to answer the question I posted in the first paragraph of my article you challenged:  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?  James and Jude were alive.  Why were they not chosen for the task?  Do you have any proof that they were somehow less worthy to care for their own blood mother than a disciple?  I would like for you to provide proof with your answer.

The Ever Virgin Mary: My Bull’s- Eye Theory

“Failure is not the problem.  The problem is low aim.” — Dr. Benjamin Mays

Yes, I believe that Mary was a virgin through-out her life.  This belief was central in early church doctrine, continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers.  It wasn’t until the more radical reformed churches came into being that the perpetual virginity of Mary was questioned and rejected.  Many make this error based on the scripture that Jesus had brothers and sisters with His mother waiting to speak to Him even though in that culture one’s cousins were also counted as siblings.  Others are misled by the text where Joseph did not know (as in carnal knowledge) Mary until she bore her son and named him Jesus.  This is a translation problem for in the same Gospel, Jesus declares He will be with us until the end of the age.  By that logic, after the end of the age, Jesus will no longer be with us.  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?

O Virgin Pure

Perhaps the most disturbing and failed excuse for rejecting Mary as ever virgin is that “she was still human.”  Yes, I believe and the Church teaches that Mary was fully human.  But, is it wise to believe that the natural state of humanity is to wallow in desires of the flesh, or to pursue purity and unity with God? If we aim for the best standard of physical pleasure, sex in heterosexual marriage, we aim for what God has ordained under the Old Covenant, which is good.  As humans, we have a chronic tendency to fall short of our goals.  Pursuing pleasure often distracts us from our goals.  In fact, we tend to excuse personal fulfillment of pleasure as a greater good (“all is fair in love and war”).  Combine aiming for the lesser goal with our tendency to fall short of our goals and the distraction of pleasure and you have a recipe for a society doomed for sexual failure.  It is like a darts thrower who never aims for the bull’s eye.  If there is no central point that he seeks, he will barely reach the inner circle where there is great value.  Instead, his darts will land on various parts of the board (at best) and may even stray far away from the board and hit by-standers causing injury.

But, let a society pursue the purity of an ever virgin Mary.  There is an unusual purity to aim for; to be human and offer one’s sexuality as a sacrifice as a celibate.  It was through the Virgin that the Savior was born and He was also celibate as he was fully human as well.  Mary becomes the bull’s-eye the dart thrower aims for.  With a central target, the thrower will still not make his goal all of the time.  But, he can hit the safe and valuable inner circle of holy matrimony.  A darts-man who hits this circle with regularity is as admired as the one who hits the bull’s-eye.  Novices at darts that constantly strive for the bull’s-eye will improve from hitting the wall, to hitting the outer areas of the board, to hitting either the highest targets of monasticism or matrimony. And this may be the root of why our modern society is engulfed in sexual immorality; rejecting the ever virginity of the fully human Mother of God has taken away the spiritual bull’s-eye that we should strive for in our sexuality.  We don’t see that supreme holiness can be born in us and in one another.  If we cannot see this possibility, then it is difficult to see ourselves and one another as much beyond potential sex partners.  We dehumanize each other in the worst ways.  Men are seen as lovable but brutal.  Women, especially in modern pornography, are treated in ways that if they really were dogs, the PETA would break every law in the world to protect them.  Even outside of porn, our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are too frequently thought of,  referred to, and treated as less than the icon made by  God that they are as we men are.

This is not to say that those of us who hold Mary to be Ever Virgin are perfect in obtaining sexual purity.  We are probably as bad as, and in some cases worse than anyone else.  But, holding her as one who abstained from sex even after giving birth gives us an example to aim for.  And if one constantly aims for the bulls-eye, the result will be to the better.

Letting go of the pain

Out of Egypt..

Image http://www.wallpaperswala.com

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:14-21

Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate forgiveness Sunday. If you are not familiar with this event, it is one of the most beautiful in all of the life of the Church. We start our Lenten journey by each asking every other person in the community for forgiveness as we offer them kisses on their cheeks. From the least to the greatest, from the oldest to the youngest, we exchange these holy kisses.

Part of being human is understanding that our actions matter. Each and every action we take has an effect on everyone around us. We come together and ask forgiveness of each other because we need the forgiveness of others and we need to forgive others. That is true in your own families and it is true here in the church. We spend quite a bit…

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Embracing Great Lent

I am excited about this weekend.  Sunday is Forgiveness Vespers and the beginning of the greatest period of reflection and renewal in the Orthodox Church, Great Lent.  I half jokingly believe my excitement will die down after drool myself silly over the umpteenth Hardee’s Monster Burger commercial.  But, this is a time that I have been looking forward to.  Last year, I participated as an outsider looking in.  This year, I am a part of the brothers and sisters in Christ who will ask each for and forgive each other with the kiss of peace.  Along with the fasting, we will devote ourselves to being more intentional in our prayers and giving our time and talents as well as our treasures to the less fortunate.

Prostrations in Prayer

While many non-denominational churches are embracing fasting in some form or another during different parts of the year, Great Lent is the central fast in Eastern Christianity.  Antiochians and Greeks may observe the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas) on a different date than our Slavic brethren.  Ethiopians celebrate Timket (Epiphany or Theophany) more elaborately than Armenians.  But, as the great feast of Pascha (the Resurrection of our Lord, Easter) is the same through out the Orthodox world.  The forty days before the great feast is a time we prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to celebrate our Lord’s conquest of death by His death and the renewal of life by His Life victoriously restored.

I am embracing this great season not only because it is my first time doing this as an Orthodox believer.  I can’t help but to believe that Lent is a preparation for me to do some good work in the church.  Friends inside and out of Orthodoxy have asked if I am interested in becoming a priest.  Slow down, it will be about five years before I would be considered for seminary in the Antiochian jurisdiction and even then, a M.Div does not necessarily mean instant ordination into the priesthood.  Looking at the complexity of of Divine Liturgy and other services and remembering the challenges I had as a Baptist pastor, I am in no rush to assume that office again, if ever.

Forgive one another their sins

One of the readers has approached me about chanting during Matins.  The head of our Christian Education Dept. asked if I was interested in teaching an adult Sunday school class.  I accepted and am waiting on a date.  I am also a part of the parish evangelism group and will soon announce the inaugural meeting of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black/VA Chapter.  So, I am and am about to get some things done.

But, I can’t help to believe there is something deeper to be done and starting with myself.  I have some sins that I kinda swept under the carpet and made more than a few excuses for.  They need to be resolved.  Despite my reputation as an easy going guy, I do have issues with insecurity.  My loud voice and friendly personality hides the fact that I am often lonely and withdrawn.  More than I care to admit of my personality looks like a bungee jump gone wrong.  So, if I am going to be this wonderful chanter, reader, evangelist, teacher, organizer, and (dare I say) priest; I have quite a bit to work on.  I pray that God will cause me to dig deep within myself to recognize my flaws and begin managing them if not correcting them all together.

St Ephrem of Syria

 

The Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian is traditionally said many times throughout each day during Great Lent, in addition to our daily prayers.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. (+)

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant. (+)

Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen. (+)

(The “(‘+)“ indicates that those praying make a deep bow or prostration at this point.)