prayer

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.

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The Arabic Letter “Nun”

When the ISIS were about to complete their genocide of the Christians of Mosul in the past few days, they put this mark on the walls of the homes of the Christians — to mark them out for plunder and death. This is the letter “Nun” (ن), the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet (the equivalent of letter N in our Roman alphabet), the first letter of the word Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes).

nun-arabic-letter

Perhaps I shouldn’t be suggesting this as I have only recently converted to Orthodox Christianity.  Then again, I have not let my lack of years in the faith (or lack of being a part of the Church) be a barrier to sharing my opinion.  But, with the recent events in Iraq, Palestine, and the Ukraine added to other persecutions and evidence of ignorance of our faith; I think “nun” should be adopted as a symbol of the Orthodox Christianity.

“Nun” has been spray-painted on the walls of homes that are to be looted and destroyed by the ISIS terrorist in Mosul and other Iraqi cities and towns.  This blatant use of a symbol to target people for genocide is no different than when the Nazis painted the Star of David on Jewish homes and shops in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s.  The Muslim world has always been oppressive to Christians.  However, there have always been some instances where the two faiths did co-exist in toleration of each other.  Under modern Arab dictators such as Saddam Hussien, Christians could enjoy some levels of freedom and even rise in government office.  But, the combination of American foreign policies and the rise of militant  Wahhabi Muslims has been detrimental to the survival of Christianity in the lands where our faith has existed for 2,000 years.

“Nun” indicates a home or shop owned by Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes).  Well, was not our Lord from Nazareth?  Do we not wish to be known as His followers?  Jesus did warn the disciples that if the world hated Him, they would hate them as well.  Of the 12 (Mattias, of course, taking the place of Judas Iscariot), all but one was martyred and John the Evangelist died in exile.  Orthodox Christians are no strangers to horrible persecutions from the Jews and Romans in the early years, to successive waves of Islamic domination, to the more modern communist.  We have such a great cloud of witnesses, martyrs who’s names are well known to everyone from the Ethiopian highlands to the Siberian forest to those who will be killed by the time I finish this article.  Tertullian of Carthage taught that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.  ISIS has put a new label on the seed of various Christians.  May we be worthy to wear it as well.

The blood of martyrs is being spilled in Palestine as well with the new war between Hamas and Zionist Israel.  The number of Christians in Palestine has steadily declined since 1948 and does so more rapidly as innocent civilians of the three great monotheistic religions are caught up in the crossfire of terrorism and war.  Of course no one supports Hamas launching rockets into Israel and killing civilians.  But, aren’t the lives of  Palestinian civilians, including Christians who have been in the land since 33 AD, just as valuable and worth protecting?  Shouldn’t the people of Gaza and the West Bank have control over their own natural resources and destiny?  Both Hamas and the Israelis are war criminals and our Christian brothers and sisters are paying a high price in blood and abandoning the places where our faith was born.  At least ISIS is kind enough to use spray paint to indicate who we are.

“Nun” should be a call for unity among eastern Christians.  Metropolitan Paul (Antiochian/Greek) and Mar Gregorios Yohanna (Syriac) are still missing in Syria.  Miriam Ibrahim (Ethiopian) was just released from Sudan after her horrible ordeal for standing up for her faith.   I am sure someone far more knowledgeable and scholarly can define the reasons why we are still separate from each other.  I wasn’t there at Chalcedon in 451 AD.  But here in 2014, I see more reasons for us to set aside some ancient barriers for a closer relationship, if not full unity.  ISIS could care less if someone is Antiochian or Syriac.  Zionist don’t care about what makes a Copt different from a Chaldean.  They kill us because we are Christians living in the Middle East.  We who live in the United States and other places should take the time to get to know one another.  On my way to my Antiochian Parish, there are two Greek Churches in Williamsburg and Newport News,  and two Coptic congregations and, I think, a recently formed OCA church in Hampton.  I confess that I don’t know the Copts and OCAs and I will make a point to correct that.

“Nun” should be a way to let our western Christian brothers and sisters know that we exist.  Too often, Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism is ignored as people buy the latest books from Joel Osteen or TD Jakes.  It is as if most Americans think Christianity completely disappeared from the Middle East after John wrote the Book of Revelation.  We have to help correct this mindset that ignores the faith that has a continued line of existence since the days of the apostles and gave the world the Christian canon (the Bible).  I don’t think a mere Arabic letter would cause 3,000 people in one city to become Orthodox believers.  But, we need to start some conversations and share our faith and point of view with others.

Note the T-shirt

In Mosul and other parts of Iraq, “Nun” is inspiring solidarity between Christians and their Muslim neighbors.  May we find ways to bring love and unity between us before we are forced to by bombs and gun barrels.

Songs That Moved Me: Four Cornered Room

“Go to your cell.  Your cell will teach you everything.” — St. Moses the (Black) Ethiopian

Of course, St. Moses and the other great monastics of Orthodoxy could not have had an album from War on their turn tables back in the day.  In fact, they couldn’t have had turn tables.  But, if they did, I imagine any monk or nun would have heard this song and felt it fitting in to their spiritual journey.  I forgot that I had a copy of “The World Is A Ghetto” cassette.  The whole thing is a masterpiece of 1970’s funk.  But, that fourth track, “Four Cornered Room,” strikes me as one of the best songs to prepare for daily prayers.  I would dare say it is better than most contemporary Gospel music.

First of all, War was a band that never called to make a living from the Gospel.  These were just some dudes from L.A. making songs about “Low Rider” cars, old westerns (“Cisco Kid”), and other stuff to bob your head to.  Chances are, most of us aren’t reading our Bibles and singing hymns 24/7.  We work regular jobs either as highly educated and trained professionals, something unskilled and minimum wage, or something somewhere in between.  And even for full-time pastors and church staff, chances are that your daily duties keep you from any sort of introspective time in reflective self-examination.  So, “Four Cornered Room” is not a directive from a pulpit nor a praise break by an on stage performer.  It is a hint of what needs to be done by someone as regular as you and I.  While ministers and musicians called by God do a service to mankind, there are moments when our souls are better fed by those who offer real words as they walk beside us than from occupants of honorable seats.

It was Jesus Himself that taught us the value of the “Four Cornered Room.”  While War wasn’t giving an intentional Biblical lesson, they almost parallel the Gospel:

Thinking, talking; we’ve worked out our problems – Look like we should have better days in front – Just because we took our time to think and talk – For a much better understanding  (War, “Four Cornered Room”)

and

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6)

Also, consider how many of our slave ancestors took the time to be one on one with God and themselves.  How else could we have heard such spiritual lyrics as:

Nobody knows the trouble I see – Nobody knows but Jesus – Nobody knows the trouble I see – Glory Hallelujah.

There is hope that comes from the Four  Cornered Room that no matter what our struggles and challenges are, if we would just get to that one place where we can be to ourselves, Someone will meet us and help us come to a better time and place.

 

Weekly Reflections: Go Home For Your Anointed Birthing and Supernatural Shift to the Next Level

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  (Matthew 6:5-6)

No, this is not an excuse for anyone to attend “Mt. Pillow Temple of Rest Worship Center” (I borrowed this from my friend and frat brother Dr. Christopher Wyckoff) or “Bedside Baptist Church” Sunday morning.  Except for illness, inclement weather, lack of transportation, work schedule, or some other legitimate reason; I believe every Christian should attend worship somewhere on the Lord’s Day!   If you had issues with a church that didn’t do right by you, pick another church.  If you are away from home, chances are there is some church of your denomination or faith within driving distance.  If you belong to a faith that frowns upon going to a different church and you know your’re going to be out of town and it is absolutely not feasible to go anywhere else but where your host is going to, talk with your minister ahead of time.  But, a nonchalant attitude towards gathering with the saints together before God is inexcusable!  For the church’s first 300 years, Christians risked being thrown to the lions and having their heads chopped off for meeting in catacombs.  Christian slaves in America had to risk being discovered and beaten going to their “hush arbors.”  Ethiopian and Eastern European Christians faced prison and torture when discovered worshiping in secret when communist ruled those countries as in China as we speak .  And today, our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Syria, and other nations are coming together in churches that were bombed and gutted by fire by Muslims who have a skewed interpretation of their faith.  And you are going to sit your mentally and physically healthy behind at home because “I don’t feel like going to church;  I can read my Bible and pray at home;  the church is full of hypocrites?”  Staying away from church when you are capable of attending and calling yourself “Christian” makes you just as much of a hypocrite as the hypocrites who are in church.

At the home prayer corner

But, is going to church and religious conferences supposed to be the highlight of our faith?  Though being a devout Jew and attending regular synagogue worship, Jesus declares that the greatest and most instrumental place one is to pray and spend time with God is in his own home and room.  Worship in this place removes the element of hypocrisy as you are alone with no one to put on airs in front of.  There is no one in the pulpit in front of you nor the pews among you to impress with or pressure you into acting holy.  It is when we are one-on-one with God that we are able to wrestle with and overcome our sins.  Notice that Jesus overcame Satan and committed Himself to the crucifixion not among the multitude that he taught on a mountain top nor in a synagogue.  No, He was alone in the wilderness.  Now, if you have a personal wilderness to go to, go ahead and do that.  But, we all have a room in our homes we can go to.  So, Go home.

Go home into your room and shut the door.  The living room is where special guest are entertained.  The family room is where loved ones enjoy TV and games.  You have a cup of coffee with a neighbor in the kitchen.  Any one can see and hear you in these places.  Not everyone is allowed in your room.  And when you shut the door behind you, you have created a place where you can show and say any and everything you want to before God.  There are somethings you might not want to say and show in front of company, neighbors, or even family.  There are things about all of us that we ought to be discrete about.   It is not wise to tell everybody your business.  Nor is it wise to deceive yourself that you don’t have any issues to bring before God.  It doesn’t take a Ph.D to have that kind of wisdom.  Discretion is common sense.  And even in those traditions where confessions are made before a priest or minister, what good is it to practice the public sacrament without seeking God in private for His direct holy solution?  And even if you can speak in tongues and interpret everyone else’s, what good is it if you don’t talk to God and hear from Him for yourself by yourself?  And sure, you can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned.  As Christians, we are supposed to do these things.  But, what good is it to meet the physical needs of others and ignore your spiritual needs?  You should keep doing the one without ignoring the other.  So, go home.

God rewards those who come to Him in prayer at home.  Of course Christians should come to Sunday morning worship.  It is good for believers to attend various conferences, convocations, and the like.  We ought to meet brothers and sisters from other places, exchange ideas, and hear from and be inspired by other speakers.  But, trying to sell these events as the greatest thing we can ever attend is over-reaching.  Chances are that if one church group has a conference that will “take you to the next level,” some other group will have a convocation that will “birth you to a new breakthrough.”  While churches, denominations, and fellowships of all stripes bombard the faithful with slick advertisements of “life changing” gatherings; Jesus directs us to the most significant place to meet God and promises that if we do so as He directs, we will receive far more than tote bags and wrist bands that we can show to the folks back home.  Go home to your room and closed the door.  The Father in heaven may give a few glimpses of Himself in the convention centers.  But, the Father IS in the secret place.  He who comes to Him in secret will be openly rewarded.  Attend a conference if you can.  Attend Sunday worship as you should.  But, in the words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype about how “The Anointed Voices of the Rem-ah Mass Choir, The Shabbach Praise Team, and Fire Baptized Agape Preached Word from First Presiding Prelate His Holiness Apostle Bishop Pookie Pook will give you an Overflowing Shondo Birthed Blessing that will Take You To The Next Level!”  Go to church.  Go to a conference.  Do good to those who are less fortunate.  Go home to your room and pray as instructed.

Weekly Reflections: The Value of Psalm 51

I no longer have the responsibility of preparing and preaching sermons.  But, I still have a habit of studying scriptures and writing out my thoughts to share with anyone who cares to listen.  I have challenged myself to read the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  For the first 300 years of the church, such writings were relied upon to instruct believers on true doctrine as the writers were of the same and one or two generations after the apostles.  Even though these books were not included in the final list of New Testament books, they do provide the foundation from which our Holy Bible was founded on.  Thus, the books of the early church fathers are very much worth reading to see how to live as a Christian.  Besides, anyone can look up and read these books for free.

Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome and a disciple of Peter

Starting from the top, the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians defines Christian life by being sober minded and serious about the faith.  Moderation, habitual hospitality, and being well grounded in knowledge are characteristics for all believers; not just the clergy.  Division due to emulation and envy must be rejected.  While bishops, priest, and deacons are to be held in respect, all are to be humble.  Without humility, we make ourselves more vulnerable to sin.  Clement gives examples of humility, the greatest of which is Jesus Christ Himself.  He also holds up the prophets, Job, and Moses as worthy examples with biblical text references from Genesis, Exodus, Job, and Isaiah among others*.

David is also held up in chapter 18 (the chapters are no more than a few paragraphs, so don’t be intimidated to read this book).  Keep in mind that this was the man that was after God’s own heart.  He was God’s anointed and through his line came Joseph who was the surrogate father of our Lord.  Yet, when caught in his sin, David pours himself out in one of the most heart felt cry of remorse and repentance.  The 51st (50th in the Septuagint Old Testament translation) was a common prayer among the early church, thanks in part to Clement’s epistle.  David the human ancestor of the Savior offered it.  As we are a part of the family of the Lord and seek to follow Him, certainly these words are good enough for us when we acknowledge our sinful state whether we killed a man to cover up our adultery or lusted for someone or something.

Among Orthodox Christians, this psalm is still given as part of daily and weekly prayer disciplines.  All Christians would do well to make this prayer and the humble mind frame of David, the other saints, and, above all, Jesus Christ a part of our new lives.  Talk to your pastor or priest.

The grace of the Holy Trinity be with you.

I welcome comments and questions

(*If you have access to an English translation of the Septuagint, please read it in conjunction with the OT found in most English Bibles.  There are sections where the translations are very different)

Chronicle of Conversion: Day Six In Prayer

I could have written something between work and the Paraklesis yesterday evening.  I needed a good laugh and found this website of fashions from the 1970′ and posted one of those horrid leisure suits on my Facebook page.  What was once impressive and sophisticated in clothing is now the object of ridicule and scorn.  (Okay, that was a loaded sentence that I am nor even prepared to continue to expound on)

Advent Paraklesis/Parakesis prayers are probably one of the least most popular services in Orthodoxy.  Worshipers are to stand through the whole service.  It is held on Friday (start of the weekend, favorite TV shows, kid’s high school sports) night.  There is no meal or repasts after the service.  Going to a Christmas party seems far more fun, especially if there is food that fits the Nativity Fast.  After all, we have prayer books, the priest is neither serving the Eucharist nor giving a sermon.

In this time of Christmas being degenerated into the Winter Festival, I find that being in the presence of God at these prayers a welcome refreshment.  The sight of the icons and smell of incense transforms me from tacky outdoor decorations to the place of holiness.  The chants and prayers explicitly focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior without reindeer, snowmen, and the false perpetration of one of the favorite saints of the Church.  At this prayer service, the connection to Orthodox doctrine is strengthened  ( this is also a good time to recommit to the Nativity Fast that is so easily broken).

For the non-Orthodox, I invite you to come and see for yourself. Because there are relatively few worshipers, you may even have time to talk to the priest and learn about the ancient faith.  But, if you refuse, do take a portion of your week away from the Santa dominated decor and focus on your prayer life.  To the Orthodoxy, go to your icon corner and worship if you cannot make it to your church.  But, make every effort to maintain this wonderful tradition of prayer.

My First Orthodox Pilgrimage (Part 5): Wisdom From New Friends

1:00 pm – 9:30 pm/ 12 October/ Kansas City, MO

During lunch, we had round table discussion about race and the church. Sure enough, there are some Orthodox congregations who are not receptive to black converts. One of the things that has crippled the spread of the Orthodox church was the various ethnic groups kept their faith closed and did not evangelize to others of any race. Except for St. Herman and the other Russian missionaries to Alaska in the 18th century, the church made no major effort to win converts. In 1987, the Antiochians threw the doors of Orthodoxy open to all who sought the faith. But because of traditional ethnic bonds and good old American racism, there are still some Orthodox churches that keep their doors closed to African-Americas who may want to convert.

Thank God this has not been my experience. There is not one Orthodox church that I have visited that I was not welcomed. The church I attend (when I can) is in a city with a reputation for being bigoted. But, the members are from all over Hampton Roads and various ethnic backgrounds. To me, the racial divide works both ways. I think black people need to open their minds and hearts and see that the Holy Spirit is more than just clapping and shouting in church. We need to learn that Africans originally practiced liturgical worship. Even today when Ethiopians immigrate here, they don’t go to our AME, Baptist, COGIC, or any other African-American congregation. They go to any Orthodox church they can find. And if there is enough of them in a general area to have a congregation, they form a parish.

Perhaps one of the most compelling people I have met and heard is Rodney Knott. Bro. (Dortheos) Knott directs ReEngage Services, a mentoring program to encourage men to be responsible fathers and contributors to society. He has a sense of compassion and toughness that seems to be very effective. I was blessed to be in the small group discussion with him and Fr. Deacon Nathaniel. I’d love to have those two brothers come to King William and evangelize for a week. I think they could convert almost half of the men in the county to the Orthodox Church.

Again my health was not up to par, which reeked havoc on my attention span. What I did hear of Mother Katherine Weston’s talk on “Loneliness” was very interesting. I had no idea there was no such word until the 1800’s and the industrial revolution. One thing I did write down that is worth thinking about in this time of social media meanness and isolation that she said, “Real conversation can be messy.” No doubt, there can be no true community nor church unless we are willing to have compassionate dialog.

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Actually, I was impressed with the nuns who attended the conference. These women have rejected the world’s standards of beauty of clothing, make-up, and all to live in humble simplicity. There was one younger sister, I guess mid-20’s, who could probably attract a nice young man. Yet, she has shunned human marriage for a divine, spiritual matrimony to God and the church. There is nothing like being in the presence of women monastics. They are full of wisdom and compassion.

I had been looking forward to hearing and meeting Sub Deacon Paul Abernathy.  Had he been Protestant, Paul could have started his own non-denominational church and made himself a bishop.  He could be a mega-church minister with a little time and effort.  Instead, this brother is in the Hill District of Pittsburgh “Building Community in Profound Brokenness.”  I liked what he said about not cutting ourselves away from redemptive suffering.  When we run from it, the result is fear and self hate.  When we accept it, we become one with the suffering people we serve.  I ate with him and Fr. Jerome.  I will share notes on that conversation in my final article.

Dr. Carla Thomas is a wonderful combination of brilliance and compassion.  While I am not qualified to open and run a free clinic as she did in a small town in Alabama, she does present a model for building an Orthodox community anywhere.  Meet a practical need of the people and make the prayers a part of what is done.  From her clinic, an Orthodox Church was organized.  Indeed, something similar is happening to Paul in Pittsburgh.  The goal is to bridge the faith with the needs of people.

Fr. Moses Berry uses history as a bridge.  His museum in the heart of Ozark country and traveling lectures about slavery and black communities during Jim Crow helps to break down the barriers between the races.  We tend to put up stereotypes and avoid facts.  Not Fr. Moses.  He has slave neck irons to show the pain of the brutal system and quilts that depict the fact that we are a people who (by the grace of God) constantly create something out of nothing.  I like his example.  We should talk with one another about the past in love and not accusation.

I am no night owl.  So again, I got a ride back with Mrs. Mathews and the boys.  I hope someone recorded the “Circle Wrap Up” and will post it on You Tube or Ancient Faith Radio.

My First Orthodox Pilgrimage (part 4): Morning and Hope

7:30 am to 12:00 pm/ 12 October/ Kansas City, MO

I rode over to the church with Fr. Justin and Turbo.  One day, I’d like to take a road trip with these brothers.  They seem full of great stories, wisdom, and just cool dudes to hang out with.  The day began with the Rite of Sing of Psalms with Toparia, Epistle,  and Gospel.  Let’s just call it Matins prayer on steroids.  In my normal discipline, it is just me, my icons, prayer books, a candle, and some (Dollar General) incense.  This morning worship had more Psalms (duh) and prayers, some I was familiar with.  Others were a bit new to me.  Again, one of the most beautiful things about the worship is that we were all together.  Another thing that was great was the meditative nature of such worship.  There is no entertainment value in a group of nuns singing and chanting and the congregants following along.  It is a call for reflection and repentance in the presence of God. I cannot tell you how many times “Lord, have mercy” was rapidly prayed.  Plus, there was a sermon from Fr. Maximus Cabey.  He is the pastor of an OCA church in Green Bay, WI.

Growing up as a black Baptist in the south, the idea of a black pastor in a liturgical church (except for the Episcopalians) seems odd to me. Yet, Fathers Maximus, Moses, and Jerome Sanderson serve in what I grew up believing in “white” churches.  “Dead white” churches at that because they were not Baptist, Pentecostal, or (at least) Methodist.  While I am not myopic to think that there is no racism in the Orthodox church, it seems that there may be less in the ancient faith than their is in Western Christianity.  The challenge is to make the faith known.IMGP8124 IMGP8128_edited-1 IMGP8135_edited-1

This is the great thing about the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black.  Yes, the goal is to bring Orthodoxy to African-Americans.  But, it is not exclusively black in membership nor target audience.  I was blessed to meet a white sister, Sarah Motley, from Roanoke who had been going to these conferences for six years.  I will work with her to form a Virginia chapter of the Brotherhood.  In a Sunday School lesson, Fr. James Purdie taught that Orthodoxy has it’s roots in Africa.  Yet, it is deeply embraced by Eastern Europeans.  Serbs pray the prayers of St. Macarius of Egypt.  Russians refer to the doctrines of St. Cyprian of Carthage.  Any Greek will tell you that St. Athanasius’s enemies referred to him as the “black dwarf.”  If the Orthodox church is good enough for these white people, I see no reason why African-Americans ought not learn about and convert to this ancient faith that Africans were very instrumental in establishing.  The Brotherhood is named for an Ethiopian (I think one of those really dark skinned Nilotic or Para-Nilotic people rather than a brown skinned Amharic) who is widely honored by the Orthodox world for his non-judgmental kindness and wisdom.

After breakfast, Fr. Jerome Sanderson reminded me so much of my late grandfather-in-law in is lecture about living with nature.  I really should be ashamed of myself for my poor gardening and I have an Ag. Education degree.  I have been good (at one time) about walking trails and along shorelines outside of work.  I need to do more of that.  I didn’t get Brother Michael’s last name.  His work at Emmaus  House in New York is very similar to Reconciliation Ministries in KC.  Fr. Paisius Altschul continued on the theme of “The Church In the Village.”  Overall, it seems that the goal of Orthodoxy is to be a part of the community that meets the needs of the people who live there.  In the case of the fore-mentioned ministries, especially the needs of the least of these.  My challenge will be to make this community/Orthodox model apply to rural and small town Virginia.  Some things are already in place.  I just have to get up and do something.

 

 

Iconoclasm: The Deeper Root of a Violent Society

 Racism is a rejection of the image of God in humanity. And when practiced by Christians is nothing short of heresy and doctrines of demons.

I agree with Edward. If you believe in God, then you believe in the scriptures that God is infallible. If you believe in God, that he is infallible and His scriptures are the truth, then you must believe that God mad man in his own image. In layman’s term, God doesn’t make junk and mad no man inferior to another. Now let’s say you do not believe in God and you are one of those Darwinist. Then you have to believe that all men evolved from the amoeba and evolved into man, which means, all men are the same. So either way, how can a racist support his or her argument that one race is superior to the other? To be a Christian and a racists means you believe God is fallible. To be a Darwinist and be a racist, well, then I guess you really are not a Darwinist.

Comments from two of my friends on Facebook in response to my post:

The problem is deeper than racism. We have a deep disrespect for humanity due to lack of humility.

St. John of Damascus

I have recently reached the conclusion that iconoclasm (the destruction and rejection of icons) has played a major role in the violent and hedonistic society we live in.  In Orthodox Christianity (the faith that gave us the original canon of holy scriptures), venerating icons is a part of public and private worship.  The paintings are never worshiped as God or gods unto themselves, as was the golden calf  and golden bulls of the Old Testament.  Nor are they the graven images prohibited by Mosaic Law.  But like the cherubim on the mercy seat and temple curtains that God commanded to be made in the place of worship (Exodus 25:17-22, 26:31-35), icons are symbols of the presence of the Lord in the church and home.  Because He is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ is depicted as a revered image alone and in various Gospel stories like the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Transfiguration.  Likewise, images of Mary are revered as she gave birth to God the Son.  Her example of humility and devotion makes her first among the myriad of men and women who have led exemplary Christian lives, the saints.

The saints are from every variety and form of humanity.  Since Christianity was born in the Middle East, many of the men and women seem Arabic and Mediterranean in appearance.  As the faith spread into Africa, Asia, and Europe; images of the saints often took on the features of the local population.  Yet, icons were painted (or written) to a particular pattern and style so that anyone from anywhere in the world would know that this was a holy image.  In fact, it is not uncommon for icons of saints of different races to be present in various Orthodox Churches.  St. Moses the Ethiopian (aka: the Black) is venerated by Russians and Serbs.  Jesus and Mary can be seen as pale skinned in some Ethiopian congregations.  There are Oriental saints as well as the  Native  American St. Peter the Aleut that can be found in any branch of Orthodoxy.  The point of iconography is to honor and celebrate the godliness of these men and women.

The logic of worshiping with icons is simple.  If these icons of wood and paint are no longer here in the flesh, we are to transfer that love to the ultimate icons that we see everyday: other human beings.  Men and women are the ultimate  icons as we are not made by human hands, but by the hand of God.  Therefore, we are to see the presence of Jesus in all people.  Any woman can be the potential birth giver of great holiness.  Any person can be a great example of Christian living.  This is why in an Orthodox service we greet the bishops and priest with a holy kiss and likewise greet each other in significant services such as Forgiveness Vespers on the Sunday that starts Great Lent.  As we worship before the icons in church and at home (Orthodox Christians maintain an icon corner in their homes as an extension of the church), their sober faces look at us as we judge ourselves if we have loved others as Christ loved us.  Of course, there are Orthodox Christians that do struggle with race supremacy.  But, the struggle is about the same as those who deal with other demons such as adultery, alcoholism, and any other sin.  With the humble prayers of the church, confession, guidance from a spiritual father or mother, and (most necessary and above all) the grace of God; we struggle to and overcome these demons.

During the Magisterial and Radical Reformations, Protestantism launched a campaign to destroy icons and reject their place in worship.  While it could be argued that the Roman Catholic Church (which split from Orthodoxy in 1054) of the Middle Ages began to focus too much on individual artistic style and strayed away from the patterns of the early church fathers, Calvin and his spiritual offspring failed to try to discover the theology of holy images.  To them, the narrow interpretation of the Second Commandment (“Thou shall not make any graven images unto me …, Exodus 20:4-6) and removing all “Popish” elements from Christian worship was all that mattered.  Thus, rather than simply throw out the dirty bath water of Roman Catholic diversions from the faith (which was the goal of some like Huss and Luther), Protestantism threw the precious baby of iconography and its theology out with it.  Iconoclasm became welded in Western Europe and dominated America.

Iconoclasm has borne some very bitter fruit. Perhaps most destructive of these is our disrespect and dishonor of one another.  No longer do we see the “Word made Flesh” before us in church and at home.  By denying the sight of such an icon as being a part of personal and public devotion, we unwittingly deny that He became flesh.  We may worship and honor His divinity in sermons and songs.  But, without the visual honoring and loving of Jesus incarnate as a man, we deny the value of His humanity.  As He identifies Himself even with the least of people, we therefore discredit the value of one another.  By rejecting the image of the woman bearing the source of our salvation (even with women serving in the clergy), women are reduced to mere sex objects.  By rejecting image of the Holy Child that sits on her lap (and in rare Orthodox icons, nurses at her breast), children can be exploited and, if we wish, killed before birth.  By rejecting images of righteous living of those who do not look like us, we fear and hate other races.  By rejecting the righteous images of ourselves, we destroy ourselves.  Furthermore, as Protestants, we reject the tried and tested humble prayer disciplines of early Christianity (“they ain’t in the Bible”), the sacrament of confession (which is Biblical), and only time seek the guidance of a spiritual father or mother when we want something from God for selfish and unselfish reasons (and in this materialistic society, we too often seek the former) we have taken away the very tools needed for us to build a society where people truly love and honor one another.

No one kills a weed simply by picking its flowers, leaves, and seed heads.  These things only come back and, sometimes, stronger than before.  It is only when we poison, dig up, or destroy the root that the weed does not rise again.  So, to fight against racism, ban abortion, or be involved in some other sort of social improvement on either side of the political coin while ignoring the roots of our violent society is an ultimate waste of time.  Sure, there may be some temporary victories, at times there are some lasting and significant victories that can (if properly channeled) lead to a better society.  But, too often, these efforts are seen as an end unto themselves and never seek to touch the deeper problem of humanity.  Thus, we are reduced to being leaf pickers instead of root killers.  Such efforts are easily exploited by charlatans on the left and right who profit from our emotions.

I propose that we kill the roots of violence in society by learning to and honoring one another as the image of God.  Set aside political, racial, and sexual ideologies and reconsider what it is to be Christian in the eyes of those who put the canon of scripture and established church doctrine in the first 1000 years of our faith.  Speak with Orthodox priest about the importance of icons, the theology behind them, and their relevance in our lives today.  With his advice and guidance, follow a prayer discipline that includes the veneration of icons and learn about some saints from other parts of the world.  For a good layman’s resource, I suggest Deacon Michael Hyatt’s (the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and Orthodox Christian) podcast on the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  You Tube broadcaster and blogger David Withum has a very good series, “In Defense of the Holy Icons.”  If you want original source material, St. John of Damascus’s “Three Treatises on the Divine Images” is available.  Boycotts, campaign speeches, marches, and speeches will not mean a thing unless each of us is humbly addresses our own faults and failures.

Only when we have love to see each other with the eyes of the God who became a man can we have meaningful change in our society.  This is especially difficult as the charlatans urge us to choose either the left or the right side of corrupt human existence.   We belong to God.  Thus, we should and must offer ourselves to Him.

Journey into Great Lent (Day 29): The Journey Worth Taking

It’s almost over.  Then again, it isn’t.  Great Lent ends with Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week.  Everything comes to a head on Pascha (Orthodox Easter).  Afterwards, it is back to eating anything affordable that I want to eat (have you ever had baby back ribs smoked over pecan wood?).  Nor do I have to feel bad about missing the Akathist, Pre-Sanctified Gifts, and Holy Week services (50 miles one way to the nearest Orthodox church with $3.50 a gallon gas is kinda tough).  I won’t have to add more prayers and prostrations to my daily discipline.  No more self-denial!  YIPPIEEE!!!!!!!!

Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Icon of Palm Sunday

No, wait … .  I am sorry.  But, in a way, I am going to miss this great fast.  These days of self-denial have given me a stronger awareness of the One who is my strength.  I have more fully learned that the daily walk with God requires discipline and that the walk is a lifestyle that means more than “getting your praise on.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I knew these, and other lessons of faith, before the fast.  The weeks of preparation, weekends that highlight the church doctrine, longer prayers, hunger pangs, and not satisfying my taste buds on favorite foods has been a blessing beyond measure.  It is going to seem weird eating a 7-11 hot dog on May 6th and not needing to have St. Ephraim the Syrian’s prayer as a part of my daily discipline. 

Then again, the journey is not over.  And this is what makes Orthodox Great Lent (Orthodoxy as a whole, for that matter) superior to conferences, revivals, and other events I practice in Protestantism.  There is always something in the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church to remind us to continue the journey with the Lord.  Except for fast-free weeks, each Wednesday and Friday brings us back to Lent.  Wednesday’s fast commemorates the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  Friday’s fast commemorates the Lord’s crucifixion.  In a society that looks at these days as measures to mark the work week (“hump day” and TGIF), isn’t it more wise to use these days for serious reflection on God?  Isn’t it better for our souls to reflect on the ways we betray the Lord with our sins and repent?  Does it not make more sense to enter the weekend with an increased level of spiritual sobriety?  Furthermore, there are the shorter fast of the Apostles and the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) during the summer which helps remind us not to over-indulge in the things of this world.  Speaking of over-indulgence, the Nativity Fast comes with the Holiday Season where too many of us eat, drink, and spend more than we should. 

Without prayer, fasting is just dieting.  This is why the church has those long mid-week services where everyone, who is physically able, must stand (Akathist) and make prostrations.  Worship is not a time for us to sit back and be entertained.  We are to be awed to be in God’s presence.  As the prayer services of Great Lent are done in great reverence, so should we approach God in a spirit of holiness (the Trisagion).  As the services were held frequently, so should we seek that frequent communion with God in our personal disciplines (the Hours).  In our private prayer closets, we can continue to use the Psalms and the words of the saints to guide our union with God.  The priest who led the divine services continues to help us in our journey throughout the year.  The church family (including the priest) who forgave and asked for forgiveness to begin Great Lent is there for one another as well.  Although particular saints were honored during the fast (Mary of Egypt, John of the Ladder), there are saints for every day of the year.  We are constantly surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). 

To my fellow Protestants, I am not saying we all need to convert to Orthodoxy a week after next Tuesday.  I can understand there are some things about the ancient faith (venerating icons, translation and order of the Old Testament, the role of Mary, …) that most of us will have a hard time accepting.     But if our Lord and Savior is right that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:19-21), it makes sense for us to investigate, study, and try the prayers and fast of the church that has existed and maintained its doctrine for 2,000 years and did so for its first 300 years without a set and written cannon.  And I am not saying that every Orthodox Christian is perfect and Orthodox communities don’t struggle with society’s ills.  But, let us take an honest look at what is wrong with ourselves, families, and neighborhoods.  Let’s take an open-minded look at what the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church has to offer.   I have and am finding this journey to be worth taking.  I won’t turn back.