Eternal

A Most Corrupt Force

The chief priest and elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.  Matthew 27:20

During my morning worship, I couldn’t help but to be struck by this verse.  The jealousy of the religious leadership would rather preserve a criminal element that does not threaten their status than an innocent (indeed divine) presence that would upset their positions.  It is this corrupt force that is able to do two things that kill the truth.  First, it stirs up a large crowd of the ill-informed.  Jesus is not tried before a jury of his peers with any sort of fair representation with the crowd kept away from propaganda that would prejudice their thinking.  No, it is the self-centered religious leadership that persuades the crowd to call for the release of Barabbas and execution of Jesus.  “If the chief priest and scribes want him killed, it must be for our good.  After all, they are the guardians of the faith.”

Taskinas Valley Sunset (© John Gresham)

With the ill-informed masses brainwashed, this corrupt force then forces the hand of government to do its will.  Government does not stay in power on might alone.  It also appeases popular opinion no matter how uniformed it may be.  If the innocent is insignificant in wealth or power, it can be thrown to the will of the masses so that government can have peace.

Capitalism vs Socialism?  That argument is a sideshow compared to the struggle between the indulgent vs. the innocent.  The corrupt force of the selfish religious leadership brings true death to a nation as the people blindly follow their chief priest and scribes and government follows the popular opinion.

Questions About My Journey

It is written in Proverbs that one should seek advice before taking on a project.  So, I selected four friends who hold Masters of Divinity Degrees (one has a D.Min) to give their input on the questions I have concerning the African-American church and Orthodox Christianity.  My questions are:

  • What have you learned about the church (Orthodox) in seminary?
  • Is there something about it that is dangerous or a threat to our protestant tradition (besides the fact that they don’t allow women in their clergy)?
  • What are the elements of their faith that we must absolutely reject?
  • Does their church have any relevance to the African-American community?

One thing about asking questions to the wise is that they will throw questions back at you.  So, this morning I will answer what has been put before me.

Footbridge at Sunset

What do I think is distinctively different between Orthodox Christianity and Christianity?  History is a glaring difference between the ancient church and the churches I see around me.  The history of my church only goes back to 1889 and my denomination to the colonial period of America.  Orthodoxy can trace its physical roots all the way back to the 12 apostles and the day of Pentecost.  Of course, true salvation depends upon faith and only God decides who will and won’t be granted into his eternal kingdom.  But, in a world of a new denomination (or non-denomination) being founded almost every other weekend (it seems), I think it is important that people know the original body of Christ still exist some 2,000 years since they were first called Christians in Antioch.  No preacher filled with his own sense of importance can just put on a collar and call himself “bishop.”  He must meet the standards and rise to the office.  Scripture is not interpreted by the opinions of popular theologians that lean to a political bias.  There is the long-standing tradition of interpretation from the colleagues and disciples of the New Testament writers and the writers themselves.  We tend to say what “my Bible says.”  But, had it not been for their church, we wouldn’t have a Bible since they were the ones who put it together over 300 years after they got started.  Yes, black American Christianity in particular and American Christianity as a whole has developed an authentic voice without the Orthodox Church among us.  But, the fact that the ancient church still exist and has this deep historic perspective should not be ignored.

What is appealing to me about the Orthodox tradition?  History is one thing.  Another would be monasticism.  The monastic tradition is honored in Orthodoxy, invisible in much of Protestantism, and doesn’t exist in the black church.  Too many of us Negro preachers are way off the chain when it comes to materialism and behavior.  Back in the day, Dr. Alix James used to tell seminarians to wear simple suits and little jewelry.  I have seen stuff in conferences and pulpits that make some pimps jealous.  Vow of celibacy?  Yeah, right.  Marital infidelity among American Protestant clergy is no secret.  According to the reports I have read on the subjects, the only difference between sexual abuse cases among Protestants and Catholics is that we prefer women over the age of 16.  I am sure the Orthodox Church has a few bad apples as well.  But, celibacy is a choice among its priesthood.  Giving up one’s earthly possessions is a time-honored lifestyle of faith that goes back to the second chapter of Acts.

Let me get personal.  My wife has bipolar disorder and muscular sclerosis.  Needless to say, I have been a celibate for the past seven years.  The reaction I get from Protestantism is more of gloom and despair as if my life depends on having a normal married sex life.  But, in the eyes of Orthodoxy, I am a blessed man.  I still have a wife to love and care for (which I do).  But, I am blessed because I have the challenge to overcome my natural desires (sometimes I wish he would bless someone else instead).  To a degree, I get to live the life of Paul, Saint Anthony (the father of monasticism), and other great leaders of the church.  As for a vow of poverty, I left a job at Dominion Virginia Power that gave me a very good salary and benefits package to substitute teach in King and Queen and West Point because the Holy Spirit told me to.  And though I am working year-round as a ranger at York River State Park, what I earn now is still a far cry from what I had and I don’t count it as a loss.

So, I see Orthodoxy as a rebellion against the excesses of Protestant America and those of the black church in particular.  But, I desire rebellion not for its own sake.  I have no heart to throw out the baby with the bath water.  There are elements about the church I was raised in that are well worth keeping.  Our story of faith in the midst of struggle as slaves and second class citizens, the spirituality of our hymns and praises, the form of our preaching; no, I am not prepared to put these things aside.  I am prepared to seek the truth from the ancient fathers and hold on the truth from my fathers.  That is why I am on the journey.

The Stones We Expect

… “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  Mark 16:10

A Happy Easter to those of us in Western Christendom!  A Blessed Palm Sunday to all Orthodox Christians.  I will write more when I get back from Sunrise Service.  But, here is the sermon in a nutshell.

Deadfall Sunrise (© John Gresham)

Mark 16:3

THE STONES WE EXPECT

(Introduction) In his life’s ministry, we see Jesus having awesome power.

(Antithesis) Seeing him die on the cross, the women had faith enough to see where his powerless body was entombed.

(Thesis) The power of salvation goes beyond the stones we expect will block us from it.

(Relevant Question) What are these stones and why are they such a huge barriers between us and Jesus?

(Points)     1.  Our weakness

2.  Our low expectations

3.  Our lack of understanding

(Conclusion)  Those who are faithful to seek Jesus will witness the power of salvation over the stones.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Saturday)

… “You see these great buildings?  Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.”  Mark 13:2

We are often awestruck by the things we make.  The disciples, some poor Galileans perhaps, couldn’t help but to note the enormity of Jerusalem’s skyline.  There is no crime in noting good craftsmanship or recognizing feats of labor and skill.  Yet, they tried to get someone greater than the city to be as awestruck as they were by it.  The “stone the builders refused” proclaimed an end to the ones that had been erected.

We make such fuss and fanfare over the things we build.  Skyscrapers to shopping malls are our landmarks.  Our homes are our castles.  Churches are being constructed as grandiose “worship centers” with every amenity we can think of.  Those who shepherd in such places can expect to be well housed themselves even as the one in whose name they preach had no place to lay his head.

Path to a Great Stone (© John Gresham)

We need buildings for everything.  Mega-churches are not inherently bad.  And pastors should receive compensation according to the church budget.  But, let us not be distracted by what we have made because it will all come down.  Even, dare I say especially, the things that we make for the sake of holy worship.  The disciples were raving about buildings while their master was about to be put in a grave.  So if Jesus was to be brought down, what is a temple?  The Hagia Sophia and Notre Dame are tourist attractions.  Other great churches of the east and west have fallen into rubble.  Likewise, our storefronts will be stores again while our “praise tabernacles” will one day meet the wrecking ball.

Only one that had been brought low was resurrected and done so with even more power than before the fall.  Only one was the temple that is the temple that makes us temples.  Only one can bring us to a city that can never be ruined by the will of man.  That city is built on the word of God.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Seventh Wednesday)

… “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar-and God what belongs to God.”  … Mark 12:17

… “Surely the reason why you are wrong is that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”  Mark 12:24

Two forces tend to assault our walk with the Lord as much as any sin.  Those who wish to dominate faith by conspiring with a political establishment and those who hold to a an earthly standard of the heavenly existence.  The trap the Pharisees and Herodians set for Jesus was especially odious.  But, it shows the weakness of religious legalism.  It can and will attach its self to whatever earthly authority to gain an advantage.  Just as Jesus did not bow down to Satan for the glory of any kingdom in this world, so we are not to live by a faith of earthly legalism.  We are to live spiritually and seek entrance in the kingdom of God.  We must stand on the true objective of the Spirit and not fall into the traps to the left and right of us.  The Sadducees were no better.  They believed that God’s kingdom was built on human tradition and contracts.  No, says Jesus.  The word of God is life.  No genealogy can give such a gift.  Only faith in the Son whom the scriptures and the Spirit speaks of gives life abundant and eternal.

Cleat and Beyond (© John Gresham)

Avoid the earthly interpretations of human arrangements in the walk with Christ.  Political, religious, and social authority do not enhance our souls.  Instead, they enslave them to ideologies and stereotypes.  Such souls are no better, and perhaps worse, than crack-heads and junkies.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simo of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Tuesday)

“He will come and make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  Mark 12:9

Shame on those who are righteous in their own eyes!  God has done so much for his people.  Giving us his compassion, mercy, spirit and vision.  Our only requirement is to produce the fruit that he has planted inside of us for his glory.  We are to share in his glory.  But, we cruelly reject those who God sends calling us to show the good fruit we have produced.  And to add final insult, we even kill his own son for the sake of our glory.

Mad River (© John Gresham)

Have you ignored, trashed, or even killed a prophet?  Someone who has told you time and time again to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God?*  Still worse, are you among the crowd shouting, “Crucify him,” toward the one who came not to be served, but to serve?”**  God wants from us what is rightfully his.  To deny him our lives committed to love, truth, and spirit and to reject those who remind us to do so makes us no different from the accusers, mockers, and the ones who nailed him to the cross.  We should not be surprised on the day of judgement that as we suffer outside of the gates that those whom we mock and despise will dwell eternally in the presence of the one we claim to serve.

Let us welcome the prophets.  Let us welcome Christ.  Let us show God the fruit of Holy Spirit filled lives.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

*Micah 6:8

**Mark 10:45

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Monday)

“And when you stand in prayer, forgive what you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failures too.”    Mark 11:25

The second and third entrances in Jerusalem had no parades nor fanfare.  We instead see a somewhat cruel use of power (the cursing of the fig tree), defiant rabble-rousing (the expulsion of the traders from the temple), and a logical defeat of the opposition (the authority of Jesus questioned).  Coupled with the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus, some Christians act as if we are thus granted to act as he had during the Jerusalem ministry.  No doubt that we must speak of holy displeasure and speak truth to power.  But, Jesus gives us a caveat to our no doubt in his hear, but believing that what he says will happen, and believe you have it already and it will be yours. 

Rev. Sylvester Bullock (© John Gresham)

The fig tree was a sign that the Jews should have had fruit of the Spirit ready for the Messiah at his very presence.  Cursed to all who are beholden to such law and tradition.  The point was made further as the worship was corrupted by money-changers in the temple and a clerical leadership that failed to acknowledge the Spirit of God among them.  These are the mountains that we must pray, in faith, will be cast into the sea.  But, we must also pray in forgiveness.  If we make such prayers with this element of mercy, mercy will be shown to us who also stand in need of it.  For we all fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit as we should in the presence of Christ.  We are all corrupted by the things of this world.  We all become complacent in faith and are dull to the movement of God even when we are faced with him.  If we command the mountain to throw its self without these considerations, it can and will fall on us!

There is great and divine power in prayer.  The heart of forgiveness prevents us from using the power foolishly.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Saturday)

“If anyone says to you, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘The Master needs it and will send it back here at once.'”  Mark 11:3

Jesus was only borrowing the donkey.  He would return it before nightfall.  All of those who followed Jesus to Jerusalem praised him loudly.  “Blessed in the coming kingdom of David our father!”  But, there would be no restoration of Davidic-Solomonic Israel.  Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die.  The crowds declared a human parentage and earthly nation.  How sadly shortsighted.  The purpose of the savior was not to maintain such earthly standards.  He would soon return that borrowed donkey.

Flowing on Rocks (© John Gresham)

The Gospel of salvation means more than “family values” or “God Bless America.”  We can shout these things all we wish.  But we are overlooking one main point.  Christ did not come to save anyone because of heritage nor nationality.  He died to rise again to save whomever would deny himself, take up his cross and follow him.  Jesus returned the donkey.  Had he kept it, he would be a thief.  If we keep Jesus on these donkeys, we are making him into a criminal.  He took care of the animal.  But, gave it back.  Let us act in ways to nurture our households and communities.  We should obey just laws and be good citizens.  But Christ has a greater purpose than riding on borrowed donkeys.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Friday)

“Call him here.”  Mark 10:49

Out of that great crowd, Bartimaeus received his sight.  A couple of things strike me about this text.  Firstly, is the mercy Jesus has for the man.  Others scold Bartimaeus for crying out to him.  “How would he know Jesus since he has never heard his voice and certainly hadn’t seen him before?”  “Bartimaeus is blind, but at least he gets a few coins begging on side of the road.”  “He should be quiet and accept his lot in life.”  Jesus listened past the critics and heard the faith of a man who wants restoration.  The will of God cannot be dictated by nay-sayers who wish to keep the status quo.  The mercy of our Lord looks past such callousness with great compassion.

New River State Park (© John Gresham/Virginia State Parks)

Also, Bartimaeus calls out in hope when hope makes no sense.  How would Jesus hear his voice over the crowd?  Why should such an important man pay him any attention?  People gave money to beggars on the side of the road.  So, why should he want to change his lot?  Bartimaeus had a real need that could only be solved by real faith.  A faith that goes beyond obstacles and opposition.  A faith that only ask for the root need.  He didn’t ask for wealth nor a wife.  Bartimaeus only asked for pity and his sight.

Let us have faith in a God who is able to restore us.  To bring us to a condition to live abundantly.  We have obstacles that would prevent us from this gift.  We have opponents that say we ought to be content with where we are.  But, let us have the faith that overcomes these.  If we do, some in the crowd will speak to us in a different tone.  “Courage.  Get up; he is calling you.”  Indeed, the compassion of Christ knows no boundaries and hears past those who try to set them.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Thursday)

“For the son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.   Mark 10:45

Poor James and John.  They had followed Jesus so closely and were among the first disciples called and they still didn’t get the point.  They had a “Kodak moment” of Jesus as he was transfigured with Moses and Elijah and still didn’t get the picture.  Jesus once again spoke of the passion and they had the shameless nerve to ask for positions of power.

Feeding at the Splash (© John Gresham)

There can be no true authority without humble, sacrificial service.  Again, our Lord talks of the brutal ordeal he must go through.  He is not going to Jerusalem to be coronated or inaugurated.  He is going there to give his life as a ransom for many.  As a result of this sacrifice, after three days he will rise again.  Positions of authority is not something we are not things we are to pursue in this world nor the world to come.  God will decide who fills seats according to his will.  Our responsibility is to be servants to one another.  If we fail to make ourselves slaves to others, our seats will not save us and we make a mockery of the Savior whom we proclaim.

And the fact that he calls himself the “Son of man” should give us a clue as to how we should see ourselves.  We who are pastors or other church leaders ought be examples of humility and service to our communities.  We ought to feel a bit embarrassed when people call us “father” or “reverend.”

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene