My church looks more like an Erector Set with icons. Our choir director, Chuck Simerick doubles as the lead contractor leading the Saturday building sessions and weeknight work. It is amazing to see how we have gutted the place and put up these metal studs. After a while, there will be some drywall up as well. We have all been busy giving our hands in labor. This certainly is not an overnight process. In fact, we won’t be finished for a few months still. But, nothing worthwhile takes place in an instant. Try to microwave a 4 lb. Boston Butt and smoke another for an hour per pound at 250 degrees and see which one is edible. In speaking of new structures, the Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black will hold its First Symposium on Saturday, September 4th at 4 pm! I am excited that my church will be hosting the event in spite of our work. In fact, I think it is symbolic that this movement to introduce the ancient faith to African-Americans, which is a work in progress, is having its first event in a work in progress. I am also excited that Sub Deacon Paul Abernathy of FOCUS Pittsburgh and the St. Moses Mission will be the guest speaker. This brother is articulate, inspiring, and filled with the grace of God! Don’t take my word for it. Check out the speech given a couple of years back. Better still, meet with us at Hampton for the symposium! Meeting Bishop Thomas last year, he said he’d be interested in an informal meeting with my (then) congregation and others in my area. I am still very interested in forming this structure; a bridge of dialogue between the African-American Baptist and the Orthodox Church. A Pentecostal Apostle and and Orthodox Archpriest in New York have done that with two East-West Meet & Greet sessions. Perhaps in October, I can bring this idea up again. We will see if God is willing. Yet, as their is a need for some new structures, I am glad to experience something that is (and should be) without change. I remember on first Sunday mornings how my grandfather prepared the communion. Deacon Joseph (“Daddy Joe”) didn’t say much when he did it. It seemed that he had his mind fixed on the task at hand. He cut the crust off of a few slices of bread and cut them in what seemed to be perfectly measured little squares. Daddy Joe had a glass bottle with some sort of bulb and tube thing on it where when he squeezed the bulb, the perfect amount of grape juice came out into each cup. Though a symbol of the body and blood to the Baptist, he prepared the Lord’s Supper with reverence. With no iconostasis blocking my view, I got a chance to watch Fr. James prepare the Eucharist. It was as if the spirit of my grandfather was right there as Fr. carefully prayed the prescribed prayers in preparing the body and blood of our Lord. The bread came from the oven of one of our members and was broken with the name of each one of us in mind and a few for any visiting Orthodox guest. The wine and water mixed appropriately as prayers were constantly offered as part of the process. Bishops and priest have been preparing the Lord’s Supper in the same spirit of reverence since the days of the Apostles. There is no Eucharist, Communion, or Lord’s Supper without reverence from the one who prepares and the one who receives. It is better not to take it at all than to take the literal (or even symbolic) body and blood of Christ with an attitude of spiritual complacency. These are holy gifts which should not be taken lightly. That we are able to serve (ordained clergy) and receive them is of the great grace of God. When we cheapen them by having the wrong frame of mind; we cheapen grace, ourselves, salvation, and God. May this not be so with us. Please, be in prayer before, during, and after partaking of this meal. As we say in our Divine Liturgy, “The Holy Things Are For The Holy.”
This is a re-tread article published back in May. I didn’t plan on posting anything today. But, the picture below blew my mind.
Rather than write a whole new article, this post makes the point clearly. For those of you who flock to such ministries (at least, those of you who have not already labeled me a “hater” and moved on), please read the article, think, and pray.
“They are guessers rather than prophets. Therefore, if sometimes they foretell such things truly, even so no one need wonder at them. For physicians also who have experience of diseases, when they meet the same disease in others can often tell beforehand, judging from experience. And again, seamen and farmers, looking at the state of the weather, from their experience prophesy that there will be a storm or fine weather. No one would say because of this that they prophesy by supernatural inspiration; but by experience and practice.” St. Anthony the Great, The Life of St. Anthony the Great pgs 47, 48
Here is another example of why Protestant Christians, and African-Americans in particular, would do well to know and learn from the ancient saints of Orthodox Christianity. There is a plethora of modern day false prophets that prey on the emotions of believers for profit and vanity. The wisdom of the ancient fathers guide us away from such predators.
For about a decade, there has been a movement in too many churches called the “Five Fold Ministry.” It is interpreted that in the body of Christ (the church of which there are 400,000 different denominations and non-denominations) that there are to be five offices of administrative and spiritual leadership: apostles, evangelist, pastors, prophets, and teachers. Of these, the role of the prophet in the modern church is proving to be the most bizarre and ridiculous.
Among them are well meaning men and women who want to offer words of encouragement to people who are struggling with life’s challenges. By using passages of scripture out of context (“God is going to make you the head and not the tail, the lender and not the borrower”) accompanied with familiar religious “buzz words” and phrases (“breakthrough, release, shift” ), the “prophet” guesses that things will get better for the person going a crisis of health, finances, relationships, and the like. Well, everyone wants to hear that God is going to act in their behalf. And there are some who “prophecy” believing that misusing scripture and getting people’s hopes up to make them feel better is a good thing to do. If the guess turns out to be right, then the “prophet” builds a reputation for credibility. If the guess is wrong, it can be explained away (“I saw with the eyes of man yet God saw something further”), patience can be called for (“it isn’t your season yet”), or the hearer can be faulted (“There may be something wrong with your faith”). If the prophet seems sincere and can gain the trust of the gullible, he (or she) can be wrong numerous times without being held accountable.
While there are some honestly mistaken prophets who are not after personal gain, there are also con artists who deliberately lie to people for the sake of fortune and fame. Some have small yet loyal followings. Others can be seen on television. In either case, these guessers do not care for the souls of a broken humanity except to exploit and manipulate people for their gain. They have become skilled at the art of scripture manipulation and know how to make the guesses to keep them in business. They also have the support of their loyal base of followers to speak up for them when they are incorrect, or to put a doubter in their ranks in line. While the honestly mistaken prophet is a victim of ignorance, the deliberate false prophet is an especially evil person who victimizes the gullible.
The ancient fathers and scripture has little tolerance for either sort of “prophet.” The Old Testament prophets who spoke of Israel’s and Judah’s coming captivity were always at odds with those who spoke of peace and safety. A glaring example of this is Micaiah’s prophecy that Ahab would fall and Israel would be defeated at Ramoth-gilead despite the 400 “prophets” that declared victory for the king (I Kings 22 Masoritic, III Kings 22 Septuagint). Jesus himself is more impressed with people who do the will of His Father than those who prophecy in His name (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus did not command his disciples to prophecy, but to preach the Gospel. If any of them were to give a prophetic word (Peter to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11) they did not let prophecy become their defining role as they were the apostles. Our Lord and the apostles warned us to be wise and not to follow false prophets. St. Anthony calls such guesses, “The Devils Prophecies” and gives us these words of truth:
Therefore we must not make much of these things, nor live our life of hardship and toil for the sake of knowing the future, but in order to please God by living well. And we must pray, not in order to know the future, nor is that the reward we must ask for our hard life; but that our Lord may be our fellow-worker in conquering the devil. (The Life of St. Anthony the Great pg. 48)
Perhaps the best way to deal with modern day prophets is to avoid them. The honestly mistaken are like loose wires. Deliberate deceivers are playing with matches beside leaky gas lines. Both are destructive to true faith.
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.
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.
… Behold the Lamb of God!
There is something to be said for consistency. That what is spoken one day is the same as the days before and for days to come. A true testimony does not change. But, it remains the same.
One day, the religious leadership approached John the Baptist asking if he were the Christ or one of the prophets. He denied claims to both. He quoted the words of Isaiah and pointed that the great Messiah was yet to come with a greater baptism. But John did not claim any position that was not his, even though he could have claimed the lesser of the two. John kept to the task of baptism for the remission of sins in humble obedience to God.
The next day, John identified and proclaimed the one he spoke of the day and days before. “Behold the Lamb of God!” John was a good man and, rightfully, drew a crowd of the faithful. But, the Lamb of God was (is) the perfect offering without blemish or spot. The true first-born. This Lamb would go down and rise again, thus able to take away the sins of the world. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit, a power that shows he is the Son of God. As in the day before, John didn’t speak of his greatness. He bore witness to something greater.
And still the next day, John makes the same proclamation as he sees Jesus. John has two of his disciples standing with him and made no gesture nor spoke in protest as they left him to follow the One he spoke of. The baptizer has seen the one who offers the greater baptism. The precursor has laid down the path as prophesied. With the Lamb present, John understood that he his position had to decrease. There was no point of his disciples following him any longer as there was a greater one for them to follow.
A false witness changes as it sees opportunity for gain, the need to conceal inconvenient truth, and threats to its status. The true witness always points to something greater. Gain and status are temporal. Truth is never stopped. It is best to understand our role in God’s will and let him have his way. Our consistent testimony let’s him work through us for his glory.
… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’
And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”
Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse? Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening? Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.” These women are left disowned and vulnerable. The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards. He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater. They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master. The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit. He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork. To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture. This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty. They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal. And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.
Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ. The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.” The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality. They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy. Morality is good. But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation. If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection. If we miss the point, we will miss his return. There can be no greater hell than that.
Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect
Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.
“I am thirsty.” John 19:28
It would seem more reasonable that we seek refreshment than thirst. Any trip to a convenience store or grocer will provide us with a wide range of beverages from upscale fine wines to bottled water. Our consumption of high calorie sodas and juices is responsible for much of our diabetic and obesity issues. In fact, often what we seek is not refreshment. Rather we indulge in our taste which results in problematic consequences.
Here we have hanging on a cross an innocent man who without proper clothing cannot enter 7-11 or Food Lion to buy a drink. He has been unjustly condemned, brutally beaten, and assaulted with insults. And now, after showing mercy to the woman who bore him, Jesus gives this one complaint of torment in John’s account of the Gospel. “I am thirsty.” I offer you tonight that the thirst of our Lord has nothing to do with not having change for a vending machine. No, this thirst comes from completing the task God had for him and a desire to fulfill the word. I challenge you that our true calling is not to over-indulge in this worlds offerings. But, to seek Thirst.
Jesus knew that everything had now been completed. He said all and done all he was called to do as the Messiah on earth. He humbled himself to be baptized by one he could have baptized himself and kept wine at a wedding party. His compassion went to a Pharisee and Samaritan woman who were willing to listen and learn. Where there were ill and infirmed people, He gave healing. Where some built walls with legalism, he tore them down with the word of love. He proved that God gives life in resurrecting Lazarus, gave his disciples the example of faithful service, and has combined all of the lessons, love, and power into one simple sentence. Jesus was thirsty.
The prophets declared his way would be made straight by a voice crying out in the desert. He offered living water so that no one would thirst again. His food was to do the will of the one who sent him. His very flesh became bread and blood became wine so that anyone who ate and drank of him would have eternal life. Where as the religious authorities taught only from a handed down tradition, Jesus taught as he was the word, the word was with him, and the word was him. And now the embodiment of the law, prophecy, and the pre-existing truth makes one last claim on the world that knew and received him not. “I am Thirsty.
Thirst is the condition of completion and fulfillment of God’s will in our lives. Too often we settle for foretaste of God’s glory in worship on Sundays, Wednesdays, or special conferences and concerts. And yes, the foretaste is divine. But, if we are to claim his name, we must aim for the same. The true pursuit of Christ has nothing to do with our sporadic moments of “getting a praise on.” We are called to complete his will in our lives. That is to be done with the utmost diligence and persistence. We are called to fulfill the word of God in how we live. Not being moral fearing God’s wrath. But, living in the Spirit because He is Spirit and gives his Spirit to dwell in us.
The point of thirst cannot be reached easily. It requires us to be pierced with thorns and climb a difficult hill. In spite of what we endure, we must still have compassion and seek the preservation of humanity even as ours has been shamefully mistreated. And even still, the best the world can give us is sour wine. Let us seek this thirst. Those who are thirsty shall have a refreshment and restoration that the world cannot give and never take away.
John Robert Gresham, Jr.
Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church
Moderator, Pamunkey Baptist Association
PBA Division of Clergy Good Friday Service 2012
Rock Spring Baptist Church in Manquin, Virginia
“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.
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
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene
“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.
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,
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene
Elijah appeared to them with Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:4
Law and prophecy are important elements of any established religion. One to set guidelines for moral behavior. The other to give us the current and active voice of God. The Jewish religion was firmly founded on these separate concepts.
After a few days from Peter’s correct definition and failed attempt of rebuking his mission, Jesus reveals the glorious supremacy of his divinity. The Christ is the embodiment of law and prophecy. He is the standard of righteousness and the current voice of holiness. True faith must never separate the two. A standard uninformed by a God who speaks at the present is stagnant and dying. A constantly moving voice without a standard is easily misled to death. Jesus is the foundation of Moses and the voice of Elijah. He is complete. The transfiguration confirms that he is purity, spirit, and the Son of God. His very being is too great for us to bear. His compassion allows us to draw near and follow him. So much for Peter’s attempted subversion. Alas for anyone who is ashamed of him.
If one’s walk with Jesus can be co-opted by human ideas or cast aside by worldly fear, the walk is false. No, true faith sees the fullness of the mysterious power of God. With reverent fear we are to embrace and follow Jesus as he is so much more than we can imagine. His synthesis of law and prophecy is the reason we carry the cross. His love and compassion gives us the strength to do so.
Your Brother in Christ,
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene