discipleship

Journey Into Great Lent (Day Four): Distractions

No wonder Sts. Anthony, Isaac, and others went out into the desert.  There is always something to distract us from maintaining our prayers.  I haven’t really had any food temptations (yet).  But, there are always things to dissuade me from prayer.  Being an hour away from any Orthodox Church, I am not going to make it to too many Pre-Sanctified Gifts and Akathist services.  With daylight savings time, there is always something to do around the house and gorgeous sunsets to capture on my camera.  I am tempted to waste time on soccer rumors and the March Madness tournament.  And I tend to get too drowsy to pray Compline as I should.  It is only by the grace of God that some of my old demons have not come back to overtake me.  But, I am reminded of what happens when an evil spirit has been driven out of a man and he has nothing inside of himself:

Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45)

Thus, my aim is to limit, if not eliminate, the things that distract me from my prayer discipline.  I can still enjoy time in photography and watching a good game.  But, I must constantly and consistently fill myself with the Holy Spirit.  Without feasting on spiritual nourishment, I may as well eat a steak & cheese sandwich with fried onions and peppers.  If I dwell in distraction, sin will overtake me and make me a monster.  If I walk in discipline, I have hope that the Lord will save his unworthy servant. 

Colors at Vespers  © John Gresham

Colors at Vespers © John Gresham

 

Journey into Great Lent (Day Two): The Prayer of Self Examination

Oh Lord, Master of my life, keep me from the spirit of indifference, and discouragement, lust of power, and idle chatter

(prostration)

Instead, grant to me, your servant, the Spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love

(prostration)

Oh Lord and King, Grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister, for you are blessed now and forever, Amen.

(prostration)

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

 

St. Ephraim the Syrian

There is alot to judge in this world. Two teenage boys were convicted of rape.  A man was banned from a library system for masturbating in public.  These are just two of the troublesome crimes that I heard about today.  It is easy to throw stones at people who commit such crimes of selfishness and lack of control. 

And yet, St. Ephraim’s words call out to us in such situations.  No doubt, he must have read or heard the words of Jesus:

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  (Matthew 7:1, 2)

I have never gotten a teenager drunk and had sex with her.  Nor have I committed a lewd act in a public place.  But, the log in my eye is my log.  I have no responsibility over what is in my brother’s or sister’s eye no matter how shameful it is.  My log is separating me from seeing the fullness of God.  Without this vision, how can I guide others to free themselves when I am still in chains?  The legal system did what it was supposed to do in both cases.  But, my Spiritual development must also be in effect for my salvation.  I must have hope that these boys will learn from their tragic error and become agents of healing for violated women.  I must hope that the other man will see the greater good in pleasing God and others rather than himself. 

I must also see myself as no better than they are.  Who is to say that under the same conditions that I wouldn’t have done likewise?  Who is to say I wouldn’t do worse?  Like them, I struggle with lust, selfishness, and shamelessness.  Certainly, the potential is there for me to do likewise.  Thus, rather than gloat over what they are about to suffer, St. Ephraim’s words bring me to a place of being aware of my own potential for evil. 

The elements of human wickedness are indifference, discouragement, lust of power, and idle chatter.  With these, any man can be brought down.  Yet, there are God-given elements that elevate our souls and keep us from committing evil acts; wholeness, humble-mindedness, patience, and love.  The key to rejecting the former and dwelling in the later is awareness of the sins we have done and forgiving others as we wish to be forgiven. 

I have been made aware of my failures.  I am sorry for my sins.  May this Lenten prayer be made manifest in me.

Are You Sure The Holy Ghost Is Leading You? Christian Life Coaches

First, I want to thank those of you who have suffered through the first installment of this series.  No, there are just some things you can’t make up (nor would I want to).  Some of you have suggested that I make comments about greedy, self-serving ministers.  Perhaps I will take on an example or two of that misbehavior (which shouldn’t be too hard to find).  But, I really want to address a means of ministry that fell right on my Facebook page.

Growing up, coaches were for sports.  They were demanding, pushy, and sometimes vulgar.  Their task was to instruct and inspire athletes to win contest by any legal means.  Christian life was handled by … Christians.  They were (and still are) people who strive to be patient, humble, compassionate, and loving.  Like Jesus, they were (are) there to guide whosoever will follow. 

So, you can imagine that I find the idea of a “Christian Life Coach” as odd as anchovy ice cream.  Not that a good priest, pastor, deaconess, or … REAL FRIEND doesn’t coach us from time to time in the ways of our Lord and Savior.  But, the coaching that is done by these people is part of the whole of who they are and not the definition of what they do.  And maybe that is why one of the world’s best coaches, Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho, is just a coach.  The man knows the game of football (soccer) like few others.  But, he is an awfully arrogant man (“I am a European Champion.  I am a Special One).  Christians can be highly knowledgeable in any field or discipline the Lord allows us to enter.  But we cannot be boastful, impatient, cruel, or have other characteristics many secular coaches have been and are. 

In the Orthodox world, believers sought (and still seek) out monastics and read the ancient fathers for guidance.  I was brought up in a small Baptist church where we all knew and looked out for each other’s best interest.  In any religious tradition, there are wise mothers and fathers, elders, and good friends available to walk this Christian journey with.  Has our modern, self-absorbed, me-and-my-Bible society grown so cold and isolated that the office of “Christian Life Coach” is a viable option for believers?  Are we to recruit and hire such coaches based on winning percentages and how well they recruit new talent?  It is bad enough that we are tempted to put priest, pastors, and musicians on pedestals.  What coach doesn’t want to be known for greatness?

I am not going to accuse everyone in this “Christian Life Coach” movement of being corrupt.  I know of a couple of well-meaning people who are involved in this.  In my opinion, we need more real friends than coaches.  We need more people who we can be honest and open with and will lovingly tell us when we are on the right path and where we are messing things up.  Besides, coaches look to make money from coaching.  Real friends are friends because they love you.

Then again, coaches don’t let players on the court, field, or pitch without the right uniform.  So if  Minister LaTacha Emanuel had a “Christian Life Coach,” she wouldn’t have exposed herself so awfully in the videos I wrote about last time.

This Journey of Great Lent: My Pre-fast Intimidations

I knew that fasting was a part of my learning process in Orthodoxy when I first became an inquirer.  Going vegan twice a week didn’t frighten me one bit.  I did the Apostle’s and Dormition Fast with some difficulty in the first few days.  But, by the sixth day, it was a bit of a cakewalk.  As for the Nativity, it was kinda rough avoiding Christmas parties and the day after Thanksgiving turkey and ham sandwiches.  I have had my occasional slips and made a couple of loopholes for myself at times.  But, for a rookie, this Orthodox fasting thing really hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

Fr. James Purdie, Priest of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church.  My guide int this journey.  (C) John Gresham

Fr. James Purdie, Priest of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. My guide in this journey. (C) John Gresham

Great Lent, however, is more intimidating both in diet and spiritual expectation.  Clean Monday arrives about the same time the shad start running in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers.  I am not allowed to eat any fish with bones in it and there is no fish with more bones in it than shad.  Ah well, at least I can salt a few down for the winter.  But, my old man will be smoking his from day one.  Kicking red meat for 40 days this time of year will also be more difficult since it is the beginning of backyard barbecuing season.  Granted, oysters will still be in season and crabbers will start pulling pots again.  But, shellfish will not be cheap with this economy.    I had better learn to love tofu.

What really scares me about Great Lent is the significance of it all.  The Forgiveness Vespers where everyone, including the priest, ask each other to be forgiven for what they have done wrong to the other?  First of all, about the worst thing I can think of that I did wrong to anyone at St. Basil is that I forgot their names.  And then they also asking my forgiveness?  Who am I that any of these kind people should want such a blessing from me when they have always welcomed me with open arms.  And Fr. James to ask me for forgiveness?  We aren’t even in the same denomination.  Who am I to participate in such a practice?  It is at this point that I probably could and should go back to my comfortable corner of Christianity.

I can’t help but to see the beauty and power in such a pre-fast preparation.  When we face each other and ask for forgiveness, we will be facing the ultimate icons.  The ones God made in his image and likeness.  Even for those who have not directly said, done, or thought harm to one another; all are admitting their human problem of sin and seek forgiveness from Christ and each other.  I am scared because I know of my own sinfulness.  I am intimidated also because I am unworthy to have someone who I just met ask me to forgive them.

Yet, I believe I need to go forward with preparing for and observing Great Lent.  I can’t help but to think that there is something very special at the end of this journey at Pascha.  Not bragging rights.  No, boasting is not the goal here.  One of the saints said that if you fast only to boast of your own righteousness, you may as well eat meat.  This journey will probably not mean that I will leave my role as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  There is a bit more work I need to do in my community and I have a mortgage to pay.  Besides, I have not yet been on this Orthodox journey for a full year.  Many converts don’t take the plunge until two or three years.  Fr. James has told me that the church will be here when I am ready. 

Yet and still, there is bound to be something special at the end of this journey of Great Lent.  Just like pledging my fraternity and doing my first overnight backpack trip  alone on the Appalachian Trail go through this process, I will only kick myself for not having the nerve to do it.  Any time a spiritual journey brings us to a point of absolute humility with Forgiveness Vespers, the end must be an incredible celebration of the soul. 

I imagine this will not be easy.  Easter Sunday, my father will have baby back ribs coming out of the smoker fully infused with apple wood or hickory.  Tofu will not be able to compare to that.  Knowing that I will have no excuse for not, at least, calling someone who is ill and homebound other than my wife will be a challenge as well.  I admit, my pastoral care could be better.  Although my prayer life has grown by leaps and bounds since joining the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, it isn’t as tight as it could be.  I will have to read and study when I want to waste time with mahjong and You Tube.  Nope, this isn’t like my good old, “do it yourself” fast when I could just give up caviar, champagne, filet minion, and lobster. 

But, I remember the way I felt when my Dean of Pledges declared, “You Are Now Brothers” and was presented with the letters “Alpha Phi Alpha.”   I remember the way I felt when I reached the intersection of the Old Hotel Trail and the AT at the Hog Camp Gap parking lot where I resolved to go through with a journey that I could have easily chickened out of (especially seeing the bear on the side of the road).  In both cases, it wasn’t just a feeling.  I had a unique change of perspective.  The change I am about to go through will be more profound.

St. Anthony, King, Obama: The Time Is Now

The confluence of the days is no coincidence.  Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday will be celebrated on January 21st.  This is also the same date of the Second Inauguration of President Barak Obama.  Every American, in particular African-Americans, understand the importance and prophetic like significance of these events.  King was the voice for a better America and helped lead the country out of the satanic state of segregation.  Obama is a symbol of what anyone can achieve if they strive to do their best.  There is no way I could nor would want to dispel these two great men.  But, I do believe it is important for we as Protestant Christians, and especially African-American Christians to also regard Saint Anthony of Egypt.  Today is his feast day.

St. Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great inherited great wealth from his parents and could have lived a life of great splendor.  Yet hearing the Gospel message, he left his worldly possessions behind and took up a life of prayer in the desert.  His devotion to prayer was a great influence on Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who gave the church its first creed and was the first to compile the list of books that became our New Testament.  Another Egyptian, Macarius, to write prayers that are still prayed by Orthodox believers around the world.  Anthony’s defence of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea helped the early church reject the heresy of Arianism.  Yet, rather than bask in the glories of his achievements, Anthony kept returning to his cave.  His followers followed his instructions and buried him in a secret grave so that he would not become the object of veneration.

The importance of Anthony is no less than that of MLK and Mr. Obama.  As we celebrate these to great men, now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds to learn about and celebrate our African-Christian heroes (and the saints of other lands as well).  Had there been no Anthony, the correct doctrines supported by Athanasius, Basil, Nicholas (yes, THAT St. Nicholas), and others may not have been as convincing to Emperor Constantine and the Council.  The rich prayer tradition of Orthodox and Catholic monks and nuns would not have developed in such meaningful ways.  Indeed, where would King have received his Holy Bible from?  What sort of Bible would Mr. Obama take the oath of office on? The “Desert Fathers” of Africa should and must be a part of who we African-American Christians honor during Black History Month as without them, we (and the world) might not be here and not have a true idea of who Jesus Christ is.

Archbishop Iakovos with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the era of Dr. King, we were too busy with fighting for our Civil Rights to learn much about our Christian history.  Now, it is possible that an African-American President who struggled during his first term could win a second.  Nothing is stopping us from reading the books of the early church fathers and talking to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox clergy.  Instead of choking our people on a diet of a modern Christian market, we can introduce them to the solid doctrines, prayers, and practices of our African ancestors.  Even if we choose not to convert to Orthodoxy (and I think some of us should), we should know our history.  We have no excuses not to learn.

Fasting? Compare for Yourself!

Perhaps you saw the book at a store.  Maybe you saw the broadcast on some religious TV station.  Media Minister Jentezen Franklin wants you to join his “FAST/2013” Movement.  The book is being sold everywhere.  One can contribute $58 to his ministry and receive a “FAST/2013 kit”  consisting of a magazine, the book, DVD, and bracelets.  Visit his website and one can order these products as well. 

I pray you haven’t spent money on this “movement” and if you have, that you have kept your receipt.  Fasting is a very good spiritual practice that Christians should participate.  But, this practice is not simply a piece of wisdom for a modern preacher to turn into a product to be marketed.  Fasting is a long-standing part of the Christian life that was ordained by Jesus Christ with a tradition handed down by the early church fathers

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Michael Hyatt, the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and an Orthodox Deacon) has a very good lesson about fasting on Ancient Faith Radio’s “At The Intersection of East and West” podcast.  Anyone with internet access can listen to this two-part series (each about a half hour-long).  Some of the other podcasters have some thoughts about fasting as well. 

I urge you to take a look at what Mr. Franklin and  Deacon Hyatt have to offer.  Compare them based on the foundation of what tradition they are teaching from and which series of lessons leads you to a “humble walk with your God” (Micah 6:8).  Ask yourself where do they get their doctrines and rules about fasting from. 

Please take the time to compare for yourself,

 

Dear Santa, please grow up and become St. Nicholas!

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I Corinthians 13:11 (emphasis mine)

Not Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas

Not Santa Claus. St. Nicholas

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it is cool for toddlers and pre-school kids to learn about Santa Claus.  It is neat to have them write up their Christmas list and expect to see flying reindeer and all that.  The legend is useful to encourage good behavior (if not but temporary) and can be a stepping stone to teach children about virtues such as kindness, humility, charity, and hope.  Consider Santa, Rudolph, and others as training wheels on a bike.  Every child needs training wheels on a bike as they learn to ride.

Now, imagine how foolish a healthy teenager looks on a top class mountain bike with training wheels.  Or, how about an adult athlete high tech racing bicycle with such supports.  Except for those who have severe problems with balance or some other health issues, it is foolish older people to rely on training wheels.  And this is the problem with teens an adults who continue with a Santa Claus spirituality with no desire to grow up to one of St. Nicholas.

http://www.piousfabrications.com/2010/12/st-nicholas-of-myra.html

http://oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=103484

Who was St. Nicholas?  Read and listen to the links.  He was a Bishop (who could trace his ordination back to the Twelve Apostles) who served at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.   Here are a few highlights of lessons we can all learn from this great saint:

  • protect the honor of women
  • aid the poor
  • humbly avoid recognition for good deeds
  • do not act violently, even against falsehood
  • Christ and the Theotokos restores those who are faithful

Now, perhaps three and four year olds are better off not hearing about how a kind bishop kept three daughters of a poor man from becoming prostitutes.  But, why shouldn’t our 13 and 14 year olds hear this story?  Why is there a problem to recognize that the first “Secret Santa” helped to form Christian doctrine?  Is it that embarrassing to admit that even kind people have occasional anger management issues?  And why is it ungodly to talk about his story of redemp… .  Oh yeah.  We Protestants can’t quite seem to accept that “mother of God” thing.

We get upset when our little kids act like spoiled brats as their minds are so stuck on Santa Claus.  But, they will grow out of it.  Or will they?  Not if they aren’t taught to have a St. Nicholas spiritual outlook.  By constantly recycling an immature fantasy image of this good man that really did exist, we are producing 15 to 95 year old spoiled brats who still want stuff from an elf who lives in the North Pole.  “Keep Christ in Christmas?”  How can we when we make a mockery of one of his devout early followers and refuse to grow up in faith?

Let your kid send a letter to the fat guy in the red suit.  Be sure to leave some cookies and eggnog on a little table near the tree.  But, we who are of age need to ditch the training wheels of childhood fantasy.  This season (feast day is Thursday, December 6th), it would be a good idea for those of us of age to measure our lives to that of the real man of God.

 

Bringing Orthodoxy to the African-American Community: Some thoughts

I had a long conversation with my priest last week and he asked me if I had any ideas about how the Church might become more attractive to the African American community. Since I have never been “black enough” and have always had a tendency to go my own way, it was a question I really do not have an answer to.
My journey to Orthodoxy was partially engendered by my disgust with the name-it-claim-it, hyper-emotional, sometimes straight up heresy I was drowning in, among other things. I know that it was an intellectual pursuit for me that became a spiritual one as time and life went on. Most of my friends aren’t as bookish and inclined to research as I am. They also think the Orthodox Church is “boring” because there isn’t such an emphasis on the emotional showmanship. Others have issues wi…

th anything that might be remotely “Catholic” (although there is less of that these days because they know me).
One thing I said was that many of my friends have issues with the ethnic emphasis (or even the label on the sign) in many of the churches. They wonder if they will be welcome in a “Greek” or “Russian” church, and if they will speak English there. In the US Antiochian Patriarchate, Fr Nicholas said, Met. Philip has asked that signs downplay the  patriarchy name on signs in order to de-emphasize the “foreignness” for some seekers.
So…Anyone have any ideas? I would like to continue this conversation with Fr N and have something to bring to him.
Elizabeth Gatling from the Black Orthodox Facebook Page
A Russian Orthodox Icon (© John Gresham/ This icon is Blessed from the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad HIS EMINENCE HILARION Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York

A Russian Orthodox Icon (© John Gresham/ This icon is Blessed from the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad HIS EMINENCE HILARION Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York

This is a heck of a topic to address.  It is almost embarrassing as it seems that a faith that has had brown skinned bishops, priest, and saints since day one ought to be the most popular expression among those who celebrate Black History Month.  I can honestly say that, other than a couple of Ethiopian immigrants, I have never met a black Orthodox Christian.  Yet, our community is heavily religious.  So, the question of how do we make the faith more appealing to the African-American community is one that is bound to arise and should be addressed.  I have no silver bullet answers.  But, it will take effort from the church and blacks to bridge the gap with each other.
For the Orthodox, a little active evangelism to us would help.  And it isn’t that you must immediately try to shove the Divine Liturgy down our throats either.  But, making us aware of the Africans who helped develop Christianity is a great place to start.  In a lot of cities, there are major festivals and get-togethers where vendors can sell art and books.  Sell some icons of St. Moses, Cyprian, Athanasius, Mary, and the like.  Develop some brochures about the black saints that you honor on your calendar.  Books about the Desert Fathers would sell.  A homecoming at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) would be an evangelistic gold mine for Orthodoxy.  Our folk will spend (Lord knows we spend) money on anything for the sake of “cultural awareness.”  Get the material in our hands and let the Lord take things from there.
And since I brought up the topic of HBCUs, it wouldn’t hurt to send a priest or deacon to one of our campuses on a weekly basis to develop a ministry among the students.  I have seen a lot of students get up in charismatic ministries and get ruined by them.  I was almost a victim as well.  Thankfully, the Southern Baptist Convention invested in a campus ministry intern that gave me good guidance.  College students tend to be more open minded and will accept nearly anything that is Afrocentric, or different than the falsehood they see around them.  Some wouldn’t mind the disciplines of prayer and fasting if they know it is for their spiritual benefit.  Various Islamic sects found converts on campus during my years at Virginia State University (1985-89) and I was accosted by 5%ers at Virginia Union University (a Baptist school) once.  Just show up and someone will come to you and listen.
Hosting events that celebrate African-American culture would help as well.  How about a concert of traditional Negro Spirituals after the Divine Liturgy during Black History Month?  While I would never advocate putting “Mary, Mary’s” latest single into the Divine Liturgy, our music tradition is not that distant from Orthodox doctrine (you had the period of martyrdom, we had slavery).  Get a couple of your bishops and best choir directors to meet with some of our knowledgeable musicians and put together a quality function.  There are some of us who are willing to take a serious look at Orthodoxy.  Just bring it to where we are.
Now for my folk, drinking two or three full glasses of OPEN YOUR MIND will help.  St. Cyprian Orthodox Church (I think they were ROCOR before they became OCA) was in Northside Richmond (VA) for many years in a house before they built their new building in Powhatan County (which does have a rural black population).  Black families should have done more than just peek in the door  and leave (I ain’t seen none of us in there, so I didn’t think we were welcome).  Negroes Please!  Look at the icons.  Read who their saints are.  Greeks, Russians, Serbs, etc.,  they may not be NAACP members.  But, their ancestors weren’t in the KKK either.  Even converts (the ones I’ve met) put their traditional American racial stereotypes behind them.  Orthodoxy may not be perfect.  But, neither are we!
And don’t give me that excuse about worship style either.  For every verse in the Bible (you know, that book that the Orthodox was nice enough to put together for us) about praising God with loud voices, there is another about being silent and meditative in his presence as well.  Perhaps it would do our community some justice to become liturgical worshipers rather than spend Mega-money on Mega-conferences so that Mega-celebrity preachers with Mega-titles can live in Mega luxury.   The fact that so many of us believe in these shisters  when we ought to know better is turning many in my generation and younger away from organized Christianity all together.  I am not saying we all ought to convert to Orthodoxy the first time we attend a Divine Liturgy.  But, if the church is making the effort to seek us, we ought to return the favor by attending for a few weeks to a month and see the history and spirituality of this ancient faith that our African ancestors helped to organize and die for.
“So Rev., when will YOU convert?”  As a member of the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, I am under the guidance of an Antiochian priest.  Fr. James Purdie has told me that I don’t need to rush.  My Baptist congregants and colleagues have not put me under interrogation despite the fact that I have not hidden my journey from them.  I do expect that I will reach the “tipping point” sooner or later.  In the mean time, I am just making sure that my steps are firm.  I pray that I will make the right steps at the right time.  The only thing as bad as making a move too soon is moving too late.  My only prayer is that the Lord makes a way for me to provide for my wife.

Nativity Fast: My Baptist Foundations

The Lord has given us this day for repentance.  Do not waste it on vain pursuits.

St. Isaac the Syrian

Fasting is not a part of the Baptist faith.  Although some of us are willing to give up a couple of foods for Lent, getting us to observe the Nativity Fast of the Orthodox Church is like expecting the Chicago Cubs to win the FIFA World Cup of Football.  Thanksgiving is here and we will be attending Christmas parties, feast, and dinners until New Year’s Day.  There are way too many food temptations around to swear off deserts or red meat, to say the least about going vegan.  Yet in my upbringing, I find a foundation to observe the fast.

Deacon and Deaconess John R. Gresham, Sr. (© John Gresham)

Deacon John R. Gresham, Sr., who loves Christmas more than any other holiday, deeply believes in selflessness.  Daddy does not buy anything for himself from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas.  If his rain coat were to tear on December 12th, he’d patch it up the best he could.  Or if his axe handle was broken on November 30th, he would borrow his neighbor’s if need be.  Other than gas for his vehicle, and perhaps a small sandwich, it was selfish to give to one’s self.  God gave his Son to us.  So, this season, we must focus on giving to others.

Deaconess Mickey Gresham is committed to sharing the special meal.  Each year, mom will buy inexpensive, little gifts and have them on our breakfast plates on Christmas morning.  Presents under a tree from Santa are nice.  But, the first meal of the day is symbolized with a present.  Among the breakfast items, she serves chitterlings (chittlins).  They are a reminder of the humble origins of African-Americans and, some of us, still consider them a seasonal delicacy (I think they are delicious).

During this fast, I will make the effort to following the example of my parents.  Chances are they will not convert to Orthodoxy (daddy was curious, yet unimpressed with my living room icon corner).  But, they have prepared me to follow the practices of Orthodox spirituality.  If and when I do convert, these practices of my Baptist parents will be a part of me.

Athanasius, Daniel, and Proof of Christ?!?!

I have a most lousy copy of “On The Incarnation” by St. Athanasius.  If you see the Forgotten Books reprint of this for sale anywhere (www.forgottenbooks.org), forget it and get this book published by someone else.  It is digitally remastered from an older manuscript.  The letters are faded from light to dark making this an annoying read.  Fr. James Purdie was going to let me borrow a better version from his library.  But, I had already ordered this when I met with him last month.  Next time, I will ask to borrow from him before I waste my money and eyesight.  I will have to read this book again as I doubt I got half of what Athanasius was teaching.

From the dome at Sts. Constantine & Helen (© John Gresham)

Oh, but I did get one lesson from this great saint that threw me for a loop!  In the 39th section of the book, Athanasius refutes the Jews looking for a Messiah other than Jesus by referring to the prophet Daniel.  Daniel Chapter 9:20-27, the angel Gabriel reveals to the prophet the time of the Seventy Weeks between worship at the temple in Jerusalem until the temple is desecrated by the an abomination in the temple.  Notes in the Orthodox Study Bible interpret the Seventy weeks to mean 70 weeks of years (70 x 7), or  490 years.  Using the works of Hippolytus, a bishop of Rome 170-235 AD, the temple was commissioned to be rebuilt in 458 BC.  The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ happened in  30 AD.  This is in the time frame of the Seventy Weeks or 490 years (488 years to be exact).  Athanasius argues using Daniel 9:24- 25:

Seventy weeks are cut short upon thy people, upon the holy city, for a full end made to sin, and for sins to be sealed up, and to blot out iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies; and thou shalt know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Christ the Prince.

Of course, I knew of the other Messianic prophecies that are repeated such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1 that are repeated in the Gospel of Matthew.  But, I have never had this Daniel prophecy explained like this.  And unlike our modern-day “end-of-the-world experts,” Athanasius, Hippolytus, and similar scholars are the fathers of Christian doctrine.  No wonder the Orthodox Bible ends the Old Testament with Daniel and then goes into the Gospels.  Jesus falls into the prophetic chronology with the angel Gabriel announcing Christ first to the prophet and then to Mary.

Of course, you Orthodox Christians can explain this far better than me.  I do not claim to be an expert.  I am not even a catechist (yet).  But, seeing this chronological, prophetic proof of Christ, I have some questions about my own Protestant faith:

  • Why did Martin Luther and other leaders change this chronological pattern between Daniel and the Gospels?
  • Why don’t we teach this prophecy of the Seventy Weeks as part of our defense of faith?
  • Why don’t we make our parishioners aware of this prophecy, at least during Advent?
  • Of what profit is it to ignore the writings of Athanasius ( who gave us our first creed and New Testament canon), Hippolytus, and other ancient writers in exchange for the likes of John Hagee, Jack van Impe, and other prophetic “scholars?”

I hope to see Fr. James this week while I am in Hampton on business.  I will re-read “On The Incarnation” again as soon as I get my hands on a better copy.  And I will continue to ask questions.