Prayer As Erotic Language

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church.

I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline:

By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves entirely and run towards the other without any regard for ourselves. Allan Bloom described eros as “love’s mad self-forgetting.” (from Road to Emmaus, Vol. XV, No. 2, Spring, 2014). 

Patitsas, in the same interview, offers this observation on St. Maximus’ thought:

St. Maximus says that God was so good that His goodness could not be contained within Himself. It poured forth “outside” Himself in a cosmic Theophany over against the face of darkness [nothingness]. The appearing of this ultimate Beauty caused non-being itself to forget itself, to renounce itself, to leave behind its own “self” – non-being – and come to be. All of creation is thus marked by this eros, this movement of doxology, liturgy, love, and repentance out of chaos and into the light of existence. Creation is repenting from its first moment, for repentance does not require the perquisite of sin. It simply means to put our attention still more deeply upon Christ to love Him much, much more than we have before. Of course, compared to that “more deeply,” the prior state looks like sin – but this is partly relative for us.

This is a profound summary of the work of creation, particularly in its use of Maximus’ imagery and thought. But this account of creation , almost scandalous in its “erotic” content, goes to the heart of worship, prayer and repentance. The language of prayer in Orthodoxy is frequently deeply “penitential” and filled with extreme expressions. We describe ourselves as the “worst of sinners,” etc. St. Basil’s language is typical:

Although I have completely subjected myself to sin and am unworthy of heaven, of earth and of this passing life, even though I am a slave to delights and have disgraced Your image, yet I still do not lose hope in salvation, wretched as I am, for You have made and fashioned me. I place my hope in Your boundless mercy and approach You…

We pray with such extreme language, reflecting not a vision of legal condemnation: rather, it is the recognition of Beauty itself, in Whose Presence we appear broken, soiled, with nothing to recommend us. It is the language of repentance – but not of morbid self-hatred. It is the language of self-forgetting of leaving the self behind, of finding nothing within the self to cling to.

There is another word for this self-forgetting: ecstasy. Again, this word has been abused in modern language and now means an extreme emotional state. But its Greek root means to “stand outside of oneself.” Thus the Fathers will speak of God’s ecstasy – His going forth to us. But there is also our ecstasy, as we forget ourselves and rush towards Him.

It could be argued that the language of self-deprecation in liturgical prayers is very much a “remembering” and “dwelling” on the self. Within a legal metaphor this might be quite true. But we must listen to the whole of the prayers.

O Lord, I know that my transgressions have mounted higher than my head, but the greatness of Your compassion is incomparable and the mercy of Your bounty is indescribable and free of malice. There is no sin which surpasses Your love for mankind. Therefore, wondrous King and all gracious Lord, show Your wondrous mercy to me a sinner; show me the power of Your goodness; show me the strength of Your long-suffering mercy, and receive me a sinner as I turn to You. (St. Simeon the Translator)

We see that our sins have driven us back towards non-being and nothingness. But God in His great mercy continues to call us into existence and to raise us up from the emptiness of our sin. 

I want to say a few words about evil and non-being. Non-being is not evil. It is not anything. We cannot say it is good nor can we say it is neutral. It is nothing. The Fathers recognized a trinity of existence: Being, Well-Being, Eternal Being. They also recognized another trinity: Beauty, Goodness, Truth. 

It is the teaching of the Fathers that being, existence, is inherently good. It is the gift of the good God, who alone has true Being (“Being Beyond All Being”). But we are created with a direction or movement (kinesis). That movement is from being towards well-being and eternal being. Eternal Being is true union with Christ (theosis). 

Our call into existence is brought forth as we behold the Beauty of God. Drawn towards Him, we see that He is not only Beautiful, but that He is loving, self-emptying for the sake of all – that is – we see that He is Good. As we pursue His Goodness we move ever towards our End in Christ who is the Truth. 

I have taken a few moments to set these things in their proper perspective and order because we use these words casually, without care for their proper meaning. Only in this context do we understand sin as an “ontological” problem (having to do with being).

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

I will try to put this into practical terms. A man sees someone else in genuine need and has plenty to spare. But he considers the matter and turns away. He has “increased” or “preserved” his wealth, but he has impoverished his soul, diminished his own existence since his existence depends utterly on his movement towards well-being and eternal-being. This he could pursue by following the commandments and the example of Christ (which is already the movement of grace within him). Christ’s self-emptying towards all of creation is the perfection of generosity. To act on generosity is union with Christ, a movement towards well-being. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

And it is from the depths of our non-existence that we cry out to God for mercy. Seeing His Beauty we forget ourselves (and our money, etc.) and we call out to the One who has called out to us. In our longing for His Beauty we love Him and are drawn to His Goodness. We give to the one who has need: “my brother is my life.” 

I would add, in light of an earlier comment, that this forgetting of ourselves in the face of His beauty is true shame (not the toxic form). It is the confessing of our emptiness, our non-existence, in the face of true existence (which is Beautiful). Such a pure-hearted confession is ecstatic, a movement out of the self towards the Other. 

I will also add as an aside that all of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense. Many things serve this role.

For C.S.Lewis it was a picture in a book of Norse Mythology and the line, “Balder the Beautiful is Dead.” Mysteriously, it pierced his young heart and remained with him until he much later perceived Christ. I have always treasured Muggeridge’s book on Mother Teresa titled, Something Beautiful for God. If you cannot share the beauty of the gospel, then you have likely not understood it and clearly lack the requisite gifts as of yet. This is why St. Porphyrios said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”

These are the thoughts of the Fathers, and the doorways into greater perception of the mystery of the gospel. It is the absence of such depth that reveals the poverty of legal imagery – as well as its lack of beauty. 

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “A Woman Praying,” by John Phillip, painted ca. 1860s.

The Moral of Jephthah

In the darkest chapter of the darkest book of the Old Testament, there is a tale about a barbarous man named Jephthah. Born as the bastard son of a harlot, Jephthah was shunned by his brethren. He and his brothers were of the Gileadite clan, under the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. 

Ostracized by his people, “Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob” in the untamed countryside. Savage and vain men rallied around Jephthah and formed a band under him.

Meanwhile, trouble brewed in the nearby lands of the heathens. The Ammonites were honouring their god, Moloch, through the sacrifice of their own children by hurling them into the fiery pit of his wicked altar. These practices were despised by the children of Israel. After all, God had sent an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing his only son, Isaac, who later begot Jacob, the father of the Israelites. 

The day came when the Ammonites made war against the people of Israel, releasing chaos across the land. Since in those days there was no king of Israel, the Gileadites sought a שׁוֹפֵט‎‎ šōp̄ḗṭ (judge / deliverer / chief) to save them. The elders of Gilead called upon Jephthah to be their captain. 

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, “Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?”

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, “Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

 “If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your chief?” asked Jephthah.

The elders of Gilead made a vow to Jephthah before God that if he rescued the people from the heathens, then he would be made chief. Jephthah accepted. 

From out of the wilderness, Jephthah unleashed his savage bands and rallied the Israelites against the children of Ammon. Although the tides turned against the foreign foe, the Ammonites held out in the land of Aroer; where the stage for a decisive battle was set. 

On that day Jephthah vowed unto the LORD God of Israel. He promised that if God granted him victory, then upon his homecoming, he would sacrifice whatever came out from the doors of his house to God and / or as a burnt offering. 

God heard the champion and answered his prayers. And so Jephthah smote the jaws of the wicked and snatched the spoils from their teeth, bestowing the stolen lands back to the people. 

But as the chief approached the gates of his homeland in triumph, his daughter rushed out the double doors to greet her victorious father. And so, the splendid homecoming gave way to misfortune because Jephthah had vowed that he would sacrifice whatever came first from the doors of his house. 

Bound by his word to the LORD God, Jephthah sacrificed his gentle daughter unto the LORD. 

In doing so, Jephthah had become what he had sought to destroy. In his attempt to banish the practices of child sacrifice from the land, he fell prey to the very same practice. Jephthah’s story is the darkest chapter of the Book of Judges because Israel has fallen so low that even in “victory” they have found themselves in defeat. 

Are we not now in the time of Judges? Have we not forsaken Truth to do what “is right in our own eyes?” In the wasteland of popular opinion, we find Moloch’s maxim chiseled in stone, to “seek only the convenience of self-preservation in the present; all else is expendable.” As means of our own survival, we sacrifice the future of our children to the altar of our idols.

As we idolize the present above a righteous future, do not our children pay the price? And what shall we trade for their inheritance? Our inflated wealth for the yoke of debt around their necks? Our plastic conveniences for their polluted seas? The presentism of our lives in exchange for the livelihoods of their future? Is their slavery worth the cost of our freedom?

And who will be our champion–our Jephthah–against the presentism of our generation? Who will judge us? Who will deliver us from the tribes of men who sacrifice their children? 

Beware we do not sacrifice our own children in the attempt to return to the ways of our fathers; or else all will be lost. For this reason, it is the counter-reformation that we must fear most of all. When our defenders speak of “reconstruction,” we must beware the word’s inherent double entendre. On the one hand, they may mean to rebuild the traditions we once had. On the other hand, they may try to construct a new city, with our old ways left in ruins and our children forgotten by the wayside. 

The photo shows, “Jephthah’s Daughter,” by Walter Duncan.

The Soviet Search For Immortality

Given the rumors, Russians often wish all those theories about our super-soldiers and X-Men skeletons were true. Alas, the Soviet Union only went as far as trying to make immortal politicians (not as cool – but still cool, right?)

Not long before the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, a clandestine society emerged in Russia. Its members would conspire to meet in safe houses where they summoned volunteers to take part in blood transfusions. Creepy, right? You may be forgiven for thinking this was a sect or a religious cult, but in fact, the organization was run by a very sane Bolshevik higher-up, Alexander Bogdanov (real name Malinovsky), close Lenin ally, co-founder of the party and noted scientist behind the Socialist Institute.

“The great visionary”, as he was called by followers, was trying to unlock the secret to immortality.

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ had found great favor with readers in the Russian Empire, including Nicholas II himself. This fascination carried over into Socialist times. The meanings of blood and sacrifice enjoyed mystical fervor in a country that had just lost two million people in a war the likes of which the world had never seen in scale or efficiency of brutality.

“Why couldn’t they just resurrect him?”, wrote many in army circles about the 1924 demise of Vladimir Lenin. The idea that a figure of such colossal stature could die was unfathomable.

Lenin appeared to have been worn down by stress, exhaustion and malnutrition – all leading to a whole bouquet of symptoms afflicting nearly every old-school ruling class Bolshevik barely in his mid-thirties. They haven’t even had time to properly start ‘emancipating the world from capitalist tyranny’. Something had to be done.

It is no secret that Russia at the dawn of the Bolsheviks was a highly experimental country. No stone was left unturned in the search for the perfect Russian – including the famous sex reforms.

Given blood’s mystical allure, some scientists of the time also theorized that the person’s entire personality, soul and immune system were contained in their blood.

Bogdanov was such a scientist. Not only that – he was a polymath and an avid stargazer with a deep fascination for Mars, which he envisioned as a sort of socialist utopian society of blood brothers. These ideas laid the foundations for his novel, ‘The Red Star’, about a scientist who travels to the Red Planet, and finds out that the Communists there had almost attained immortality, all thanks to this culture of blood.

Lenin was disappointed with Bogdanov’s preoccupation with fantasy and sci-fi, leading to a rift between the two, Lenin believing that Bogdanov was making people chase foolish dreams instead of focusing on the work of forging the Revolution. But Bogdanov was too useful at the time, being the second figure in the party – the man directed the Bolsheviks during Lenin’s exile.

Even so, their camaraderie could not have survived their differences: Lenin advocated for dialogue and cooperation, including participation in the Duma – Russia’s legislative body. Bogdanov wanted no part in it, leaning even further left than Lenin himself had.

Together with his friend, Leonid Krasin, Bogdanov set up a military wing under the RSDLP’s  Central Committee. Money from its expropriations would be distributed to the various organizations controlled by Lenin and Bogdanov. The latter was furious that more money seemed to be going to Lenin’s cause.

Bogdanov would soon be expelled from the Workers’ Party. The two were split on their interpretation of Marxism, and Lenin’s works had begun to reflect that, calling out Bogdanov for his “bourgeois” outlook. At that point, even Lenin’s family thought he could’ve taken it down a notch. But the Bolshevik was having none of it – even banning Bogdanov’s novels from being read in the household.

Bogdanov, on the other hand, thought of Lenin’s ideals as those of ‘absolute Marxism’ – “the bloodsucker of the Old World,” turning followers vampire, chief among them Lenin. Bogdanov had lost his party, his job and his credibility while exchanging literary jabs with people he considered his comrades.  

After the devastation of WWI, however, a glimmer of light had appeared: “science can do anything” was to be the mantra of the 1920s-30s.

Mikhail Bulgakov had then just published his brilliant piece of sci-fi satire – ‘A Dog’s Heart’, which talked about transferring a dog’s soul into a human subject, another telltale sign of the times. It became obvious that science was beginning to take inspiration from fiction. With Bogdanov as the main proponent.

Bogdanov cared not for what we know about blood today – from blood groups and the Rh blood system to a whole host of other factors. His science was fraught with danger, with him as the most frequent guinea pig.

The blood would be taken from patients, poured into a sterile container and mixed with an anti-clotting agent, before the transfusions took place. They would have to be fast as well, to prevent bacteria forming.

Bogdanov’s fan base grew as this borderline-mad experimentation began to show signs of progress: Bogdanov himself was said to have begun looking 5-10 years younger, while his wife’s gout also began showing signs of improvement. People couldn’t believe their eyes!

It wouldn’t take long before Stalin himself would be bitten by the science bug, leading him to call upon Bogdanov and his experimentation, even suggesting he join back with the party he was expelled from by his predecessor.

Stalin was certainly no Lenin, and believed he needed every edge if (when) the next World War was going to take place. No money was spared to find a military application for the transfusions.

The Institute for Blood Transfusion was set up in 1926 on the leader’s orders. Bogdanov becomes director. This fascination with the idea of blood brotherhood expressed in his Martian sci-fi novel would finally begin to bear fruit.

Tragically, the mad scientist and sci-fi Bolshevik had not had enough time to properly study the effects of his rejuvenation procedures. We had no idea about erythrocytes or plasma or any checks and practices in place today for a successful transfusion.

Bogdanov was very interested in whether a person’s entire immune defenses were also transferred through blood. It seemed that a young man suffering from tuberculosis was the perfect candidate to test that theory.

A liter of blood was exchanged between the patient and the ‘doctor’.

It didn’t help that Bogdanov had been comparing his own blood to that of Dracula – immune to human afflictions. That twelfth transfusion would become his last. In the space of three hours, both started to suffer a steady deterioration: fever, nausea, vomiting – all signs of a serious poisoning.

However, Bogdanov decided to keep the transfusion under wraps. On that excruciatingly painful day, he’d felt even worse than the poorly Kaldomasov – the tuberculosis sufferer. He refused treatment nonetheless in a vain attempt to understand what had happened.

Bogdanov’s kidneys gave out in 48 hours, resulting in death from a hemolytic reaction. His last words, according to Channel 1’s interview with close descendant and economist Vladimir Klebaner, had been “Do what must be done. We must fight to the end.” He passed on April 7, 1928, aged 54.

But what of the student? The 21-year-old had lived. The doctors couldn’t tell why, even after another last-minute transfusion had failed to save Bogdanov from death. It would later become apparent that this final procedure wasn’t the culprit (both he and Kaldomasov were type O) – but the 11 preceding ones had been, creating antibodies in Bogdanov to the degree that even the correct blood would have been rejected. That’s all we know.

Stalin was very angry. Having pledged tens of thousands of rubles toward Bogdanov’s blood institute, the Soviet leader began now to think that all scientists were charlatans and extortionists.

In the end, however, it was thanks to Bogdanov’s work that Soviet hematology got a much needed push forward.

The photo shows, “Ivan the Terrible and his son,” by Ilya Repin, painted in 1885.

Love And Obedience

Both love and obedience can be clearly understood, when John wrote this letter; but it is another matter entirely whether our society today genuinely wants to hear such absolute commands today.

Any absolutes which formed the bedrock of western society for generations are now going in the same direction as the Dodo. We have built a world based on free choices, not obedience. We have viewed love as attraction, which, when the feeling passes, may be directed elsewhere on a whim.

Anyone who watches the programme Love Island will soon realise that the word love does not actually mean what it is meant to mean. In fact, it means just about the opposite of what it is meant to mean. We rarely hear calls for obedience and love as work. In each case such calls may cost me my freedom. They may limit my spontaneity. They may put boundaries and restrictions around what I can and cannot do.

The groom of a couple in America who recently got married, said to the chaplain after he took the vows; sure, I’ll love my wife; but I don’t want love taking away my freedom’. I wonder if they are still married.

This attitude that flees from obedience and sees love as a passing affection is widespread today and sadly it is corrupting the minds of many young people.

It’s very difficult to get John’s message across that true freedom comes from disciplined obedience. Its like a pilot in training. A pilot is told that there are certain things they cannot do, certain things they cannot drink or smoke, what they must wear. Where they are allowed to walk. How long they are allowed to fly.

 You have to obey these rules because if you don’t you can get killed and you can kill others. It’s obedience to the rules that makes flying possible, that makes you complete your mission. But the word obey generally has negative connotations for many. Some people who have grown up in very conservative churches where obedience and righteousness were pounded home so often feel suffocated by them.

Obey we say; but God loves me; so let me simply enjoy him and live. Quite often to make the church look more grace filled, the church uses the idea of obedience in a negative way; the synagogue versus the church; Jesus versus Moses.

 Paul versus the Jerusalem legalists; grace versus law. When Jesus said; that he had fulfilled scripture, he did not mean that the ten commandments are to be now discarded and ignored. It means that all of the law has now been fulfilled and brought together in Jesus. In other words, Jesus becomes a walking and talking version of what is in the bible. What you read about in the bible; you see lived out in Jesus.

Jesus went on to say; ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.’

But who or what should we Obey. Naturally we will say that we obey the Lord. Which is correct; but how. We obey the teachings of Jesus found today in the bible which should be the basis of our obedience. It is the perfect place to begin. Why do we obey God? We obey God’s law to help us live happier, contented, healthier lives. We also receive God’s blessings as we do so. Obedience to God is linked with blessing.

Is the world a place today where we might be aware of God’s blessing?

 We can read in the OT how this combination of Obedience and Blessing affected the children of Israel. We can read time and time again that when the people obeyed God they were blessed, and when they refused things went against them. It came as no shock to them because God told them through Moses what exactly would happen.

 A point of warning. We need to be careful of those in authority like the Pharisees and certain Christian leaders even today, who claim that their interpretation of scripture or their application of it in the church becomes God’s rule, and absolute conformity is demanded and expected.

There is a delicate balance here with obedience that each of us must find ourselves. On the one hand we dare not compromise the doctrine of God’s grace freely given; and yet there must be a call to what it means to be a follower of Jesus that show’s his grace, has transformed a person’s life. One Absolute command that Jesus calls us to do; is to Love. This is a Christian absolute; a Christian must. It is not negotiable.

However, sometimes we speak of it so often that we have become dulled from hearing afresh its demands on us. Of course, we’re loving we say, we’re Christians aren’t we. We can use the word Love to mean the same as when we say, I love stewed prunes, or, I love burnt toast.

 But we will only understand what love means when we understand that love, light, and life all work together. You cannot take love in isolation from everything else and expect it to flourish.

Christian love is affected by light and darkness. A Christian who is walking in the light which simply means they are obeying God, is going to love his brother or sister Christian. Further on in John chapter 3 we are told that Christian love is a matter of life and death. To live in hatred is to live in spiritual death. If we know God’s love towards us, we in turn should show God’s love towards others. God has commanded us to love. He first revealed his love to us.

The commandment to love one another is not an appendix to our Christian experience or some insignificant after thought. No. It is placed in our hearts from the very beginning of our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said; ‘by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.

Christian love has been described in the following way;

Silence; when your words would hurt.

Patience; when your neighbour is sharp.

Deafness; when the scandal flows.

Thoughtfulness; for another’s woes.

Promptness; when duty calls.

Courage; when misfortune falls.

To love one another is a command from Jesus and something we are to do rather than think about to do. Christian love is not a shallow sentimental emotion that Christian’s try to work.; so that they can get along with one another. It is a matter of the will to choose to love someone, rather than an emotion. It is a matter of determining, of making up your mind that you will allow God’s love to reach others through you; and then of acting toward them in loving ways.

A man was complaining to a missionary about missions in Africa. ‘How can you go to Africa and preach to those people about love when there is so much injustice in your own country’, he demanded. The mission leader replied; ‘we don’t go in and preach to them about love. We go in and love them’.

But a word of warning and some clarification. Do not confuse Christian love with becoming a door mat for others to walk over and use. Christians are to have humility yes; but we should never be naive about those who would hurt us or seek to dominate us.

John distinguishes carefully later on between those who are deceivers who belong to the world and Christians who belong to the family of God. In Second John v 10 he explicitly states that such people are not to be welcomed into our lives.

This teaching requires reflection and discernment since, in the interests of mission, we are called to go into the world. But at the same time, we must be warned that the world holds dangers.

What are these dangers? There are Intellectual dangers, which lure us into patterns of thinking that rob us of the simplicity and reality of Jesus.

 There are Moral dangers, lifestyles and attitudes that deal with everything from corrupt obsessions, to destructive views of sexuality. There are Religious dangers, charlatans, charismatic leaders who can out gun and out fox many a Christian minister. There are Theological dangers, ideas and ways that do not promote Jesus Christ, but rather promote doctrines and practices designed to deceive and manipulate. There are dangers everywhere and even though we should be generously open and loving, we must also be shrewdly discerning and wise.

When Jesus was sending the disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God he said this to them aware of those dangers; ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men.’ On this point by way of clarification I would say this. We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves.  As we do so many think that we should somehow leave our Christian teaching our Christian values, our Christian standards on the doorstep as we enter the house of our neighbour, or when we rub shoulders with them.

  Jesus never forgot for one second who he was and why he came into the world. He did not water down his message or make it easier for people to accept. He maintained his true calling to a fallen world of many people, of many races, and many faiths. He mingled and mixed with all faiths and none yet remained true to who he was.

One of the ways today in which the church especially in the west in North America and Europe has been greatly weakened has been when the church and Christians have allowed other faiths, other trends, other minority groups, and other ideologies to take centre ground as it were. A bit like the cuckoo chick that pushes the other chicks out of the nest.

Loving others does Not mean that Christian values and the Christian faith somehow takes second place or becomes irrelevant. And that because of our love and acceptance of other races and other faiths they, then become dominant. Christians are not meant to be so subservient they abandon their faith thereby giving the impression they are then unloving. You can still love and hold firmly to the faith. Jesus told his disciples and he tells us to, ‘stand firm’.

This requires discernment. Sadly, many Christian churches have keeled over in their pursuit to love the stranger in a wreckless manner, and in doing so have abandoned their love for Christ and his teachings. This attitude does not bode well for what it means to be a Christian.

 Love for Christ, loving him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, must always come first in the life of a Christian. All other things come after. Jesus himself is the greatest example of this commandment. He says to us follow my example. Jesus illustrated love by the very life that he lived. He never showed hatred or malice. He hated all sin, deceit, malice, and disobedience. But he never hated the people who committed such sins.

He hated the sin, but not the person. I have heard Godly people say that there have been times where God has called them to love the unlovable. A person who really is despicable. They in themselves have been unable to do it until they realise that that person despite their terrible sin is made in the image of God. And that God so loved the world that he went to the cross for them. It’s a sobering thought.

Christ’s love was broad enough to include every person on this planet, because every person is a sinner. In Christ we have a new illustration of the old truth that God is love, and that the life of love is the life of joy and victory.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter,” by George Percy Jacomb-Hood, painted in 1895.

Good And Evil

We live in a world of mental habits. Whatever we formulate, create and conceptualize, we do so according to intellectual conventions that we live by and through which we give meaning to the physical reality around us – and within us. If we stop to examine how we think, the habits, or perhaps attitudes become readily discernible.

For example, we perceive nature as being governed by laws, and through science we seek to define these laws. We recognize the body as a living machine, which requires the right kind of fuel, the proper method of operation, to keep it from breaking down.

And we have come full circle and now see the earth as a living organism that must not be used for our own benefit, but cared for, nurtured: Humanity is now slowly becoming the warden of the earth, the caretaker, the gardener – slowly we are breaking from the earlier master-slave relationship, where humankind’s sole purpose was to exploit and use, and dump what was useless in the form of garbage.

In a slow fashion, humanity is losing its hubris, its pride of ownership of nature. Rather, we now see that it is nature that owns us.

All of these formulations (and they are that, since, for example, the earth or the universe hardly cares what we think) are states of mind, mental attitudes that allow us to create the kind of world we want to live in.

Here, it is important to distinguish between the earth and the world: The earth is our physical planet, over which we have little control, and the world is what we have made of the plant (countries, markets, business, wealth, and poverty).

Thus, we humans are creatures of habit. We cling to concepts and mental habits that define us as nations, tribes, clans, or individuals. How many wars have been fought purely for the sake of identity? Take away our tribalism, our virulent embrace of difference, and we suddenly become merely human beings – no better, no worse than the next man or woman. Identity too is a mental habit.

Aristotle defined human beings as political animals, and certainly whenever we veer into dealing with the world, we do so by way of a political response (war, trade, services, movement of people).

However, to paraphrase Plato (Aristotle’s teacher), we can also define human beings as moral animals. We are addicted to morality – so much so that all of our non-political actions are governed by morality.

Indeed, we cannot define nature as inherently moral, since it consistently shows us signs of aggressive survival. Nature functions on a model of reciprocity: A perpetual, perhaps eternal, chain of interdependence.

Morality on the other hand does not require reciprocity, for it operates on the ideal of perfection: An unending desire to participate in beneficence. And to justify this moral habit, we imbue it with great religious overtones and label it as “divine law.” Thus, our world is governed by two types of law – political and moral.

We can define the political as the behavior between nation states. And the moral we can construe as the behavior between one human being and another. In short, how we treat each other, as individuals, is the realm of morality, and how one country treats another is the ambit of the political.

For our discussion, we now need to abandon the political and focus entirely on morality. Leaving aside the question of whether morality is biological (“in our very bones”), or our own creation, we now must proceed to examine what it is that allows morality to exist. In other words, how does it acquire identity? What is moral?

Whenever we seek to define morality, we fall into a peculiar habit of thought. We begin to think along dualistic lines, or polarities, if you will; we begin to think by way of opposites.

Thus, we place one opposite against another, and arrive at concepts such as the sacred and the profane, innocence and guilt, purity and impurity, honesty and dishonesty, order and chaos, meaning and meaninglessness, reality and illusion, reality and illusion, light and dark, truth and falsehood.

As we can readily see, these dualities conform to a pattern of positive and negative (another duality), and they are stacked in such a way that we are forced to make a moral choice – we “naturally” choose concepts that are positive. Why?

Given our mental habit, we have come to believe that such opposites are in conflict with each other, and we are duty-bound morally to take sides in this conflict. By choosing the positive, we are making a moral choice. And this choice has a very long history in human consciousness, and it is this history that we will go on to explore.

We make a choice because we understand that these polarities cannot exist peacefully, side-by-side; they are not coefficient or coeval; they are embodiment of extremes, and one extreme cannot bleed into another. So much of our moral rebellion stems from precisely this denial of coexistence. We seek to assert that opposites do bleed together, and magnetically, opposites attract. Moral rebellion is based on not choosing sides, on insisting that one category is just as valid as its opposite, and there is no conflict between the two.

However, the positive-negative model pervades even this rebellion. How? By suggesting that the extreme can be pacified, that the two opposites can take on the characteristics of the other – by dragging the positive into the negative, or the negative into the positive. Despite the rebellion, we are still thinking within the confines of duality. It is a habit very hard to break. Try as we might.

The photo shows, “Landscape with a Rainbow,” By Joseph Wright of Derby, painted 1794.

Identity In Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (I John 1: 1-4)

We live in a culture that is eager for religious experience without being too Christian.

In the United States of America over 80 per cent of the population believes in a God or gods that have power over the universe. When asked further; if all the worlds religions essentially prayed to the same God, 65 per cent of the adult public agreed.

In the Christian church among those who called themselves evangelicals, 46 per cent agreed and among those who labelled themselves as being ‘born again’ 48 per cent agreed that all of the worlds religions essentially prayed to the same God. This is quite astonishing.

Within the pews of American churches, two thirds of the people do not believe in the exclusive character of the Christian message, and almost half of all evangelicals say the same.

In light of these findings both inside and outside the church, who or what is our faith based on?

At the centre and core of our faith is the entrance of Jesus Christ into world history as the complete revelation of God. This is an event which happened in the town of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

It is an event that cannot be thrown away. It cannot be redefined as a myth or compared with the religious revelations offered by others such as Mohammed or Joseph Smith.

Throughout the world Christians are often tempted to forge new alliances in order to achieve noble ends. This is particularly true in countries where multiple faiths coexist side by side.

In the hills of the West Bank in Israel moderate Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians have services in close proximity to one another and wonder what sort of unity they might build in order to construct a unified front for justice.

The same questions arise here in the West. There is difficulty when we find ourselves in interfaith dialogues that try to build unity particularly for commendable social and welfare programmes for; the homeless, or the fight against drugs and crime.

Chaplains in the services have to protect the distinctives of each faith tradition so that each worshipping community need not compromise what is essential to its beliefs.

Yet is it possible to conduct ourselves as Christians and exclude the place of Jesus Christ. Should we abstain from any such involvements?

If Christ is offensive to some, do we continue on in our ministry and deny the central event of our faith. Or do we hold fast to the scandal of what we affirm.
John who wrote this letter would say that there is no Christianity if Jesus Christ is not at the centre.

But perhaps there is another issue here for us; the more pressing question of whether it is appropriate for Christians to be silent about Jesus when meeting people of other faiths and persuasions. Roman Catholics, JW’s, humanists, Muslims.

When the time is right, when trust is secure, then the central theme of our faith, Jesus will be heard.

A college professor in a theological seminary in America chose this option recently when the University’s centre for Islamic Studies hosted a dialogue with a circle of invited Islamic leaders. Things went pear shaped when half way through; the Muslims politely dismissed themselves so that they could go out into the hall and pray towards Mecca.

The difficulty of course arises when that silence becomes no strategy at all; but a quiet concession to secularism, pc correctness, and tolerance. This is something we all need to carefully ponder.

The next question we need to consider is; should theological distinctives that is the really important parts; be set aside for the unity of the church?

Evangelical Christians often find themselves in main stream denominations or local congregations where adherence to particular orthodox doctrines brings tension. At what point does right and correct belief become more important than church unity? It’s a good question.

In June of this year The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) at their General Assembly in Belfast received criticism from people outside the church and from within, over their stance taken for those who are in same sex relationships.
The resolution passed by a clear majority; ‘those in a same sex relationship cannot be full members of the church. The children from same sex couples cannot be communicant members.’

These verses in John 1 tell us that any Christian who does not embrace the true reality Of Jesus Christ in world history, his teaching, and why he entered into the world; has departed hugely from the faith of the early church.

But someone might say what about the other issues that can cause difficulty among Christians and at the same time help to define Christian identity; like charismatic gifts, infant baptism, ordination of women, style of worship. Should the church sanction diversity within its ranks on these issues and others for the sake of a larger unity?

Whatever we make of these important points John would have our starting point with; Jesus. All these concerns and others are legitimate and important. But they are NOT central. They are not Biblical imperatives. John reminds us that the person of Jesus Christ the Word of Life is at the centre of our theological identity.

Sadly, many theologians and Christians enter into dialogue with those who uphold the trends of modern secular society. And what happens is that the church often loses sight of the larger question of Jesus Christ who straddles both the church and the world that he made. He is largely cast aside for a so called more tolerant approach. Although tolerance is usually one way.

This of course is nothing new. The identity of Jesus Christ is still the same scandal of Christianity that sets us apart from the world. Jesus is the one theme we cannot jettison, no matter what the benefit may seem, or what the temptation.

Which takes us to the third and final question. What does it mean to see, hear, touch, Jesus today? Can it happen?

John in his writing suggests that there will be a continuity of Jesus for all generations not just the first one.

In the fourth gospel John 14; Jesus promises that he will never leave his followers as ‘orphans’ and that those who love him and are obedient will become Christ’s new dwelling place.

In other words, John does not see Christ’s Ascension where he ascended into heaven as the termination of his presence among us. His spirit given to his followers is his own spirit. First John 3 says; ‘and this is how we know that he lives in us. We know it by the spirit he gave us.’

Is this a mystical experience or figment of the imagination running around inside our heads? No, John says that Jesus is real. We have heard, we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have touched him.

He goes to great lengths to let us know that Jesus is not a myth. John and his fellow disciples can say as witnesses that they lived with Jesus and studied him closely even touching him. They knew that Jesus was real not a phantom, not a vision, but God in human form.

John is at pains to try and convince us that Jesus is the Word of life and through him eternal life may be gained. If it wasn’t for people like John, Paul, Peter and others who committed their findings to paper for us to read in early manuscripts and later in the bible; possibly none of us would be here this morning.

John wants us his readers to hear this news because then we may have fellowship, both with him and with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
In effect John is a witness who testifies to these things. As we all know witnesses have a powerful effect on people. In a court of law for example the witnesses are key to a hearing.

If witnesses cannot be produced the case is often dropped. Hearing a story told by a person who was there holds much more weight than reading or hearing something second hand. It is why John is so keen for us to know that he was there, that he saw, and heard for himself.

We may not be first hand witnesses to Jesus life, death, and resurrection; but we can read from the first-hand accounts, and we are witnesses to what he continues to do in the world and in our lives today. He is still real and still alive.
Many I have no doubt can reflect on things that have happened in their own lives as a result of Jesus’s intervention.

Like the young lady who once prayed; ‘Lord, I am not going to pray for myself today. I am going to pray for others. But at the end of her prayers she added; and give my mother a handsome son in law’.

What about words from scripture that have spoken directly into my situation; a word that has helped reassure me about something; a word that has corrected my attitude. A word that has helped clear the clutter in my life.

A word that has guided me in a particular direction.

Jesus is the written word of the Bible and he is the one who lives out what is written here. He shows John and ourselves what this word looks like in reality. He is showing us what God is like in human flesh.

I have to say it’s a very good idea God came up with. I would never have dreamed up something like that.

What about reflecting on people getting Healed from sickness. The malady they had is no longer; and doctors can only conclude, I don’t understand this.

Or reflecting on lives of people that have been completely transformed. I was reading recently in the Gideon’s magazine of a former, 3 A’s person; she was angry, alcoholic, and an atheist. Now she is living for Christ with her demons behind her. How is this possible?

Or Angola; Angola is the name of the State penitentiary in Louisiana America. Its staggering to hear about what happened in that jail a number of years ago with the inmates and how hundreds of lives have been changed through the word of God.

One of the founders of Communism Karl Marx wrote; ‘the first requisite for the people’s happiness is the abolition of religion’………… John writes; ‘faith in Jesus Christ gives you a joy that can never be duplicated by the world.’ Two very different ideas of how we understand joy.

John simply but powerfully writes this letter to share Jesus with us and to testify that he has appeared as the word of life; to offer us fellowship, eternal life, and true joy.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Flevit super illam” (He wept over it), by Enrique Simonet, painted in 1892.

How Should We Read And Interpret The Bible?

How should one interpret the Bible? What rules should govern our exegesis? One approach is to tow the party line, a kind of exegetical “be true to your school” approach. This approach looks not primarily to the Biblical text itself, but to one’s ecclesiastical confession, and then reads what that confession says into the text.

For example, a Lutheran might approach the Biblical text of Romans through the confessional lens of the Augsburg Confession and conclude that Paul is there teaching justification by faith alone, exactly (and coincidentally) like Martin Luther would later teach.

Scholars today are unanimous that this is not an adequate or respectful way of dealing with Holy Scripture. Of course one believes what one’s church teaches and of course nothing like complete objectivity is possible. But one should nonetheless strive as best one can to set aside or at least turn down the volume of (say) the Augsburg Confession while one is exegeting the Biblical text and try to read the text on its own terms.

When reading Romans, one listens for the voice of St. Paul, not for the voice of Martin Luther. It is important to realize that “reading the text on its own terms” involves reading the text in its original cultural context. Thus one reads Romans knowing that it was written by a first-century Jew, not a sixteenth-century Catholic.

The task of turning down the volume of one’s confessional statements while exegeting the Bible is easy if one has no such confessional allegiance to those documents. The task is correspondingly difficult the more one gives one’s allegiance to those documents and confessions.

In the case of Orthodoxy, it can be difficult indeed, because our documents and confessions—the Church Fathers, or the consensus patrum—are the lens through which we read the Scriptures. This does not mean that we cannot or should not try to read the Scriptures on their own terms. It just means that for us the exegetical task is more complicated.

For some people, fidelity to the Fathers seems to mean effectively junking the idea of a scholarly reading the Scriptures in their original context and taking the “be true to your (patristic) school” approach. It is certainly an easy way to go. It saves one the work of investigating the cultural background in which the Scriptures were set and allows one to jump straight to the patristic conclusion.

I don’t need to determine how ancient Israelites would have read the text; I just need to read what St. Basil wrote (or perhaps Seraphim Rose’s take on what St. Basil wrote). But fidelity to the Fathers means more than simply agreeing with their exegetical conclusions.

It also means participating in their spirit and phronema, and reading the Scriptures with the same trembling respect that they did. It is this trembling respect that we bring to our exegesis when we insist on reading the Bible in its original cultural context.

Perhaps an example might be helpful. Take what is arguably one of the most famous lines in the Bible, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26). One asks, “Given the monotheism presupposed in the Book of Genesis, why the plurals? Why did God say, ‘Let us make man in our image’ rather than ‘Let me make man in my image?’ What do such plurals mean in the Old Testament?”

If we read Scripture on its own terms, we must begin by asking the question, “How would the original readers/ hearers of this passage have understood by it?” A refusal to ask this italicized question constitutes a refusal to situate the Scriptures in its own cultural context. It is true that for Christians this context cannot be the place we finish (Christ is where we finish, since He is the telos of the Law; Romans 10:4), but it must be the place from which we start.

As Orthodox in our exegesis we must end with Christ and the Fathers, but we cannot begin there. Exegetically we begin with the original hearers of the texts.

So, beginning in the time in which Genesis was written and read, we must ask, “How would the original readers of this text have understood the plurals? Are there any other times when God found Himself (as it were) not alone in heaven?”

There are indeed a few instances of such plural usage. In Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah “heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (The Greek Septuagint was apparently a little embarrassed at the plural, for it rendered it, “Whom shall I send, and who will go to this people?”) Who was God addressing here? Was it simply that He was using what is called “the plural of majesty”, as Queen Elizabeth once did when she famously said, “We are not amused”?

We can begin to find an answer by looking at other passages in the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 22, the prophet Micaiah said that he “saw Yahweh sitting on this throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left, and Yahweh said, ‘Who will entice Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’”

This reference to Yahweh’s divine council is reflected in other Old Testament passages as well. In Job 1:6 we read of the “sons of God” (i.e. the angels) coming to present themselves before Yahweh and Yahweh conversing with them, and in Job 38:7 we read of the sons of God cheering when He first made the world. These “sons of God” are exhorted to ascribe glory and strength to Yahweh in Psalm 29:1.

In Psalm 82:1 the Psalmist says that God has taken His place “in the congregation of God [Hebrew el], in the midst of the gods [Hebrew elohim] He holds judgment”. These “gods” (Hebrew elohim) were clearly His angels, the “sons of God” (Hebrew bene ha-elohim) Job 1:6. In Psalm 89:5-7, we read the same thing: “Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Yahweh, Your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the sky can be compared to Yahweh? Who among the sons of gods [Hebrew bene elim] is like Yahweh, a God [Hebrew el] feared in the council of the holy ones?”

The idea that a god acted in council and concert with the other gods was common in Mesopotamia. What we have here in the Old Testament is the monotheistic transformation of that cultural commonplace. There is no other deity except Yahweh. His council consists not of fellow-deities, but simply of lesser beings, angels, “sons of gods”.

But the idea that the king always has his council, whether an earthly king or Yahweh the King of heaven, was assumed in both pagan Mesopotamia and monotheistic Israel. It seems clear that it was to this council that Yahweh spoke and referred when making momentous decisions, whether those decisions involved enticing Ahab, sending a prophet like Isaiah to Judah, or creating man in His own image.

The picture of the divine counsel offering input is anthropomorphic, to be sure, as are pictures of Yahweh baring His arm in the sight of the nations, rolling up His divine sleeves before working to redeem Israel (Isaiah 52:10). It constitutes more a cultural backdrop to Yahweh’s acts than it does Scripture’s main message. But it is just this cultural backdrop that we find in Genesis 1:26.

That is where we must begin our exegesis, for that is how the original hearers, long familiar with the concept of Yahweh addressing His council, would have heard it. But although we begin there, we do not end there. All the teaching of the Old Testament forms a pedagogical trajectory, for the Law was a pedagogue to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

Taught by our Trinitarian experience of the grace of Christ, we ask about the sensus plenior, the deeper hidden meaning of the text. Why did the Hebrew Scriptures preserve such images as God’s divine council, with the resultant use of plurals? Historically this was clearly a cultural vestige of the common Middle Eastern picture of deity. But prophetically it serves as a foreshadowing of the tri-personal God.

The richness of reality that led the ancient authors to speak of a divine council (and in Israel to also use a plural name for God, viz. Elohim) would eventually find fulfillment in our understanding of God as Trinity. If one follows this trajectory of divine majesty it leads us in the end to the insights of the Fathers—in other words, it leads us to Christ.

The ancient instinct was that Yahweh was too great, powerful, and transcendent to be a solitary Monad in the Middle Eastern sky. Just as a king must have his council to be a true king, so Yahweh was too glorious not to be attended by the council of His holy ones. This is why the Old Testament texts spoke of other gods (Hebrew elim) even when they asserted Yahweh’s unique monotheistic status. And this instinct was not wrong.

Later on we discovered that God is indeed too great, powerful, and transcendent to be a solitary Monad. He was Trinity, bursting the bonds of solitary personhood in the effulgence of tri-personal deity. And the roots of this concept found initial and faint adumbration in those Old Testament plurals, as well as in the mysterious references to “the angel of Yahweh”.

One need not therefore toe the party line and shrink from reading the Old Testament in its cultural context. Such a cultural reading is not preferring “Jewish interpretations” to Christian ones as some might think. It is only recognizing that Judaism came before Christianity and the Old Testament before the New.

It is also preferring scholarship to partisanship, for the scholars who recognize that the plurals of Genesis 1:26 refer to Yahweh’s divine council are Christians (e.g. John Walton who teaches at Wheaton, and the authors of the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible). It might be a Jewish interpretation if we stopped in the Old Testament and refused to see that interpretation as one stage in a trajectory that leads ultimately to Christ or denied the Holy Trinity.

But in fact we do not stop there, but go on from the Old Testament interpretation to find the richer sensus plenior in all the Old Testament. This fuller meaning of the text, so well expressed by the Fathers, is its highest meaning, and that which is of most use to us in our walk with God.

In this sense we must begin with the Fathers, in that they reveal Scriptures fullest meaning and the destination to which the Old Testament trajectories are leading.

But the highest does not stand without the lowest, and we must first understand the Old Testament as the message of God to Israel before we can understand it as the message of God to His Church.

If we insist on beginning at the end of our exegetical journey and confuse the sensus plenior for the original sensus, we are poor scholars and show unintentional disrespect for the Scriptures. Exegetical anachronism is not the way to go. If the Fathers teach us anything, they teach us that we must hear what the Scriptures have to say and that we must read them on our knees.

Fr. Lawrence Farley serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.
The photo shows, “The Magdalene Reading,” by Rogier van der Weyden, painted before 1438.

The Virtue Of Tolerance

He hath forsaken his covert as the lion,
for the land is laid waste because of the wrath of the dove,
and because of the fierce anger of the Lord.
(Jeremiah 25:38)

What does it mean to be tolerant? What makes tolerance virtuous? Indifference? Not caring about what others think? Jaded apathy to the world? Of course, not.
True tolerance is not passive heartlessness; it is the patient suffering of wrongs for the sake of justice. What is the key difference between callous indifference and the virtue of tolerance? Tolerance requires a code of ethics; the knowledge of right and wrong. Indifference knows neither good nor evil.

 

For example, if I am indifferent to violence, then I don’t care about the abuse of those around me. I don’t desire to change their behavior (Why would I try change the world if I didn’t care about it, and I felt it couldn’t affect me?).
Perhaps I don’t care about the violence around me because I don’t know of its existence. Or, I don’t know because I just don’t care. Afterall, isn’t apathy the greatest ally of ignorance? The two deserve each other.

But where are the tolerant? Where do they stand in the face of violence?
Those who truly tolerate violence are not passively indifferent to its horror. They’ve lost the right to be blissfully ignorant; they’ve made the fall. They, more than anyone else, know the sins of the world. Why? Because they suffer through them every day. True tolerance – like love – is suffering.

The original meaning of the word, “suffer” was “to permit,” “to allow,” or “let” (as in those famous words of Christ, “Suffer little children to come unto me,” in the King James translation of this passage from Luke 18:16. This original meaning was replaced in the seventeenth-century by the current understanding of “suffering” – to undergo pain or cruelty.

Blind eyes and deaf ears are the broken satellites of the wicked heart; but the tolerant cannot look away.

But what good is there in just looking on? Doing nothing is exhausting after all. What are they tolerant waiting for? Justice? Reason? Love? God? All of these are just another word for salvation I suppose, but who’s being saved?

Maybe the tolerant suffer for the sake of something greater than themselves. In the Crito, Socrates suffered the injustice of his trial – not because he was indifferent to injustice – but because he believed his suffering was a small price for the preservation of a just and law-abiding society.

It’s quite possible that the tolerant seek to be saved. But from who? Why themselves of course! Is there a greater enemy? As Nietzsche warned “fight not with monsters lest ye become a monster; for if one gazes into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”

But let us stop to consider the possibility that the truly tolerant suffer for the sake of those who trouble them. Parents, teachers, and lovers are too familiar with patently suffering for the sake of others in the hopes that they’ll change.
It’s important to say that you don’t tolerate the entirety of the one you love, rather you tolerate the sins of the one you love. Could you imagine if a husband asked his wife “Do you love me?” and the wife responded “Well… I tolerate every part of your totality and suffer through your very presence.” That’s not love – that’s a stockade.

Someone who loves you doesn’t tolerate you so much as they tolerate your defects – because hopefully there’s more to you than that.

But those who love others do tolerate the unsavory aspects of their nature, and that requires strength, patience, kindness, and the ability to look beyond the ugliness of the immediate. True beauty is found by tolerating skin-deep faults and seeing the transcendent aesthetics hidden in all things.

Why do we tolerate the ones we love? Because it gives the other a chance to be reconciled; it is the path of forgiveness. Tolerance gives the unreasonable the chance to see reason; the hateful a chance to love by being loved.

When we are intolerant of the trespasses of others, we cast the abysmal around us into further darkness. But when we show tolerance through the open arms of hospitality or in the guidance of a helping hand, then we offer the stability that the other so desperately lacks.

But is tolerance practical? Why not force people to cut off their offense’s cold turkey? I tell you now that nothing is more impractical than a firm belief in the draconian.

The word, draconian, comes from the story of the Athenian lawgiver Dracon, a ruler who assigned the death penalty as a punishment for most of the minor offenses committed by the citizenry. Plutarch writes how “Dracon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”

The idea that one can remedy the offenses of a society through intolerance is not a novel idea. Did it work? What became of Dracon? He was exiled and his laws were immediately repealed!

What renders the draconian state a useless enterprise? That fact that the state does not, should not, and more importantly cannot control everything that happens among the citizenry. Most of the economic, political, social, intellectual, and cultural decision-making has always existed in the hands of the citizenry. The unwritten laws and social norms of the people has always outnumbered and outweighed the written laws of the state in both power and magnitude.

Thus, when someone uses hard-power to force reformation instead of tolerating the growing pains connected with the mobilization of soft-power and liberality, the result is most always tyranny.

History shows time and time again that “getting tough on crime” is nothing more than a myth for fake news to print and saber-rattling demagogues to howl.

Want to end homelessness? Then show tolerance by sharing what you have, not hunting those who have nothing.

Want to end drug addiction? Then show tolerance by providing users with needles and clean doses.

Want to end alcoholism? Show tolerance by providing a space where people can get a drink and talk about their addiction.

Want to end hate speech? Then tolerate it through free speech because you’ll never end racism, homophobia, and sexism through coerced speech, or speech that must conform. We’ve tried it before, and it never works.

Want to end barbarism? Show tolerance through civility.

Want to end intolerance and hate? Show tolerance and love even if it kills you.

As the Christian apologist Tertullian writes, “That’s why you can’t just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Your praise those who endured pain and death – so long as they aren’t Christians! Your cruelties merely prove our innocence of the crimes you charge against us … And you frustrate your purpose. Because those who see us die wonder why we do, for we die like men you revere, not like slaves or criminals. And as they find out, they join us.”

Tolerance is the heart that beats on in a world of heartless indifference.

 

The photo shows, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by  Nikolay Losev, painted in 1882.

The Godless New Man

Development of a new concept of the family is actively underway. This process is covert and insidious. With an ever-increasing frequency, we hear such terms as “encouraging positive parenting”, “improving parental competences”, “changing parenting styles” and “combating gender stereotypes”.

What do they mean? Where do all these terms come from? Are they coined by benevolent people sincerely interested in improving family education? Or do they simply promote the ideas of some interest groups whose intentions have nothing to do with upholding traditional family values? Walking in the thickening fog that blurs our vision and clouds our already preoccupied minds, how can we decipher what these phrases actually mean?

Recently, a draft of the document entitled National Strategy for Parental Education in 2018-2025 was published on the website of the Ministry of National Education of Romania. This publication triggered a wave of natural indignation of parents and some of the key organizations of that country.

Perhaps, it was some kind of a test? But tests are not offered to us without any reason. We get certain points for taking them. Our results could be unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good or excellent. What grade did we get? And who was behind this “test”?

The basis of this strategy was explained quite clearly: “The national strategy of parental education is based on the theory that family is not an objective reality but rather a socio-cultural product, “a constellation of ideas, concepts and terminologies”, that is continuously created and re-created by socio-cultural practices.”

This draft document was at the discussion phase up to July 10. Undoubtedly, the new concept of family it offers is based on the ideological template of “the gender philosophy”. The coordination committee of the Strategy is headed by the general inspector for pre-school education of the Ministry of Education.

Citing the “urgent need” for nation-wide parental education, the committee initiated the pilot project to re-educate Romanian society. Based on the assumption that traditional families have an antiquated mentality and a regressive mindset, the Strategy states that, “parenting styles must be revised to make them relevant to children and to combat the gender stereotypes affecting various lifestyles of girls and boys”.

There are several phases of re-education. What phase are we currently at?

A number of open letters were published, and many Romanians voiced their disapproval of the proposal. As a result, the draft of the Strategy was removed from the Ministry of Education’s website. This was the position of the Romanian Academy regarding this project:

“The Ministry of Education’s parental education project fails to consider the inherent features of the Romanian society. It unambiguously opposes traditional family values that form the core of the millennia-long social, cultural, moral and Christian life of Romanians.

The strategy calls for a generic education of children, disregarding their gender, anthropological and psychological differences and ignoring their living environment (rural or urban) and ethnic idiosyncrasies.

This project is reminiscent of the attempts of globalist or totalitarian regimes to create what was always called “a new human being”, that is, a person without a family, nationality, country or identity. Romanians were raised in the spirit of national traditions and as we evaluate our achievements in the year of the centennial anniversary of Romania’s Great Union, adopting a strategy that forsakes such traditions is equivalent to committing high treason.”

The goal is to “help” parents renounce “idealization of traditional family”

The Romanian Orthodox Church, religious organizations of other denominations, trade unions of educational establishments, parent associations and general population opposed the strategy. Why? Because this strategy defied the fundamental right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs as guaranteed by the Romanian Constitution. Seven thousand educators were supposed to “assist” parents in renouncing their “conservative mentality” and “idealization of traditional family.”

The blame was immediately placed on the Christian families and the Church. As a counterweight, the model of parental education advocated by the Strategy was described as “progressive” and “promoting respect for diversity”. It is obvious that traditional family is not compatible with the gender theory that determines sex in terms of culture.

We are told with ever increasing determination that gender is not a biological certainty, but a result of cultural adaptation influenced by upbringing. As such, “respect for diversity” is basically a tool used by some interest groups that are averse to the Church and its values. What is the purpose of promoting such a concept? Power? Or de-Christianization of the world?

The Speech of the Great Inquisitor and how he is fighting Christ within us

Although the Ministry of Education removed the draft of the Strategy from its website and returned it to its originators, stating that the format offered for public discussion was unacceptable, 127 foundations, organizations and associations appealed to the Prime Minister of Romania with the request to resubmit the Strategy for discussion.

Their position is obstinate: They do not accept the criticism that resulted in the rejection of their project and base their arguments on the idea that all Romanian families are abusive toward children. The supporters of the Strategy ignore the rights of the parents guaranteed by the Constitution and destroy Christian values of the majority of the country’s population.

The Brothers Karamazov, a remarkable novel by F. Dostoyevsky, contains a chapter that is particularly relevant to the subject at hand. Ivan Karamazov, an atheist, tells a dystopian story to his brother Alyosha. In this story, Christ came down on Earth to live among people.

The scene is set in Seville at the peak of Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor has unlimited powers. Christ has just resurrected a girl and people are thankful to Him, but the Grand Inquisitor arrests Christ and nobody protests. Then follows the Inquisitor’s re-educating speech where he challenges all the logic of the world.

Christ is not allowed to talk. He only listens to the terrifying statements reminiscent of the devil’s arguments in the desert of temptations (See Mathew 4: 4-11). They all have to do with freedom and power. People cannot be free because they are afraid of freedom.

Therefore, they relinquish their freedom to the master. The gift of freedom is useless, as in the history of mankind it only made people suffer. “We will persuade them that they cannot become truly free unless they voluntarily relinquish their freedom and bow down to us.” Here we see all the pre-requisites for re-education and totalitarianism.

The Grand Inquisitor had made his way into our society and periodically performs his outrageous auto-da-fés. He and his lackeys are in the minority, yet this doesn’t seem to matter. What’s important is that the majority is willing to relinquish their freedom, which gives the Inquisitor and his lackeys an ultimate power. Those who oppose them are “burned at the stake”.

Nowadays the Grand Inquisitor selects his victims among “conservative people”, “traditionalists” and “people with antiquated mentality”. His goal is to create “a new human being”.

The “educators” are sure that raising children in faith is a pathology that must be “cured”

The “New human being” is a progressionist concept of humanity based on severing any connection with tradition, past, history, values, family and God. It is promoted with the power of persuasion. The ideologists of the Grand Inquisitor are patient and meticulous.

They develop ideological concepts, launch educational projects and create a wide network of non-governmental organizations that are willing to support, fight, applaud, condemn and do anything necessary to crush any resistance of the society.

They train “the parent educators” how to totally change the concept of family, because traditional family is the cell that produces “reactionaries”, “fanatics” and “dogmatists”—that is, people who believe in God, form their own families, attend church services with their children, go to confession, receive the Body and Blood of Christ during Communion, and see their ideal in leading righteous lives.

From the point of view of the Great Inquisitor, all of this is a pathology that must be “cured”. The so-called “adequate education” is used to “regenerate” people who form Christian families and uphold traditional values and “integrate” them into an unhealthy society that they are expected to accept as “normal”.

The goal of the re-education campaign is to destroy freedom

At the same time, we are showered with lies. Important concepts are re-imagined Orwell-style. “Freedom” no longer means freedom. “Family” no longer means family.

We are in the theater of absurd, and every one of us plays an assigned role. Our values, such as dignity, freedom, truth, love, courage, are in cages scattered around the world. This is an ominous scene, and the Grand Inquisitor laughs, knowing how daunting this view is.

Let us be vigilant and follow the narrow way, for if we abandon Christ, the “new human being” will prevail

So what should we do? We must react. We must not be petrified, looking at this terrifying scene created by the Grand Inquisitor, for if we do, we will be defeated and re-educated. Let us be vigilant and debunk the perverted concepts that are routinely injected into our lives through doctrinal speeches.

We must never leave the narrow way, for this is the way to freedom. We must clearly understand the meaning of such terms as “Orthodox Christian family”, “parental education”, “ideal upbringing” and “freedom”.

In fact, freedom is a fundamental problem for this re-education campaign. That is why its goal is to deprive the parents of the freedom of education by turning their beliefs upside down and making them amenable to the “brave new world.”

Alyosha Karamazov rips the mask off the supporters of gender ideology: “It is all explained by their godlessness. Your Inquisitor doesn’t believe in God and that explains everything!” When people don’t believe in God, they feel that they can get way with anything.

That is what Ivan Karamazov is counting on. All ideological variations of the Grand Inquisitor also believe in their impunity. Sexual minorities get the rights that are detrimental to the rights of the majority. Why? Because they know that they can get away with it.

This nihilistic, all-destructive ideology dates back to the cultural background of the nineteenth century. Friedrich Nietzsche summarized it when he said, “God is dead”. If “God is dead”, it means that He was murdered by those who wanted to replace Him with something else. The meaning of the terminology is perverted based on this concept and this murder.

The gender ideologists infuse the terms of “parental education” and “family” with anti-God concepts. That is why we need to fight to the last breath to avoid becoming a part of this deadly culture where every term is marked by death.

Our culture, the culture of traditional family, is the culture of Life. It is Christ-centric. All our concepts and terms are defined in accordance with this way of life and this way of thinking. Freedom, dignity, or truth mean nothing without Christ.

The Grand Inquisitor banished Christ from the city and nobody protested. Maybe people didn’t understand that by being so apathetic they consented to perpetual slavery?

If re-education continues to function at full speed (as it already does!), slavery will mean freedom and freedom will mean slavery. Like in Orwell’s Oceania. The meanings of all words will be turned upside down. People’s worldview will be shattered into little pieces, and then these pieces will be rearranged to form new concepts.

“A New human being” may be created only if we abandon Christ, if He is not part of our personal cultural space or the culture of people. As long as Christ lives in us, the re-education project will not move beyond the planning phase.

 

Sergiu Ciocârlan lives and writes in Romania. The original version of this article is in Romanian and was translated by Talyb Samedov, with a few corrections from The Postil team.
The photo shows, “Denkmal der unbekannten Prothesen,” (Monument to the Unknown Prostheses), painted in 1930.

Harvest And Thanksgiving

Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, God said to Adam; ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you.’ God wasn’t joking when he said that; as many can testify (Genesis 1: 26 – 27, & 2: 4 – 9).

Fighting the weeds is a perennial problem. I was reading recently where a charity worker and his wife moved out of their one bed flat in London in search of more space. They dreamt of having a garden to explore, digging up worms and generally getting their hands dirty. No harm in that. This couple had found a terraced house in a nearby leafy suburb with a small garden. But there was a major problem.

It had a major Bindweed (Convolvulus) infestation. For the non-gardeners Bindweed is the Terminator of the weed world. It mercilessly smothers other plants twisting itself around their stems with a vice like grip. It has a pretty little trumpet shaped white flower but that is just to deceive you.

Its roots can penetrate up to 5 meters into the ground and if even a few centimetres of the root system is left in the soil it will thrive and grow. With the roots being so long it is practically impossible to dig all the root system out and practically impossible to destroy. Anyway, this couple decided to dig the whole garden up with the intention of removing the dreaded bindweed.

After a month of toil, the couple were eventually able to sow a lawn, plant fragrant flowers, roses, and apple trees. The garden was now like, what it should have been. After this major dig the guy said; that it was the first time in his life he had ever got his hands dirty with soil.

His experience is not a one off, for we live in the most sanitised civilization in history making sure we don’t get our hands dirty. However, we tend to forget that God was the first person to get his hands dirty by forming the first human being out of dirt. ‘The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’

We are all familiar I’m sure with how God created the heavens and the earth.

In Genesis we are told that on the first day God spoke, he said, let there be light, and there was light. On the second day God spoke, he said, ‘let there be sky above the earth’, and it was so.

On the third day God spoke, he said, let dry land appear and it happened, and so on; until the sixth day. On the sixth day God spoke, and said, ‘let the land produce living creatures and wild animals’. Also, on the sixth day God spoke, and said, ‘let us make man in our image, so God created man in his own image’. God simply spoke and everything appeared. But with human kind you and me, it was different. God Created man. He didn’t just speak and it happened as with the other days of creation. When he created man, God got his hands dirty.

Nothing else in all of creation required God to get his hands dirty, except man. Nothing else in all of creation called for that degree of fine tuning and attention to detail, that depth of involvement and artistry by God. Man was the only created being on earth that was formed by God. Man was the only created being made in the image of God. Animals, or plants or fish or birds or insects were not made in the image of God.

Evolutionists teach in our schools and colleges that there is no divine in man, just dirt. They tell us that man gradually evolved from some primeval form millions of years ago. And that we are a random collection of cells and flesh. What utter nonsense. There is no scientific evidence to support such a claim. Only giant leaps and bounds of scientific imaginations. How on earth can a blue whale come from a fish. Where is the biological evidence? Because you and I are made in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value, worth, and purpose.  Each person is Not a random evolved collection of cells and flesh. Each person has a living soul.

Have you ever wondered why we are made in the image of God and why did God bother in the first place, putting us on this planet? Sometimes we may feel like the man who said; ‘I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up; but sometimes I need one to tell me, why I need to get up’.

If people think that all there is in this life, is the material world, they will give themselves over to it and in the end all you have is yourself. It was the author GK Chesterton who said; ‘when you abandon belief in the creator God, people do not begin to believe in nothing, they begin to believe in anything’.

The Bible says there is more to life than just you or us. In fact, we are the product of a very creative and loving God.

In short, we are to reflect God’s image. That is the why bit. Why am I here; I am created by God to reflect his image. Humanity alone is made in the image of God. We are made for intimacy with him. We are to be his mind, his attitude, his hands, his heart, his feet.

Amazingly we can communicate with the God of this universe and God can communicate with us. This is why God cares More about who you are, and what you are becoming, than you do. To be made in the image of God means that we possess some of the features and qualities of the God who made us. Like kindness, love, forgiveness, peace, joy and goodness.

Yet because we are all like pools of muddy water because of our sin; instead of naturally reflecting these qualities and relating to God and loving him for who he is, and loving others, we relate much better to possessions and the material world around us. We tend to love things and use people, instead of loving people and using things. We have a tendency to find meaning in every created thing; instead of the Creator. We become what we love. We reflect what we love and serve.

God in his wisdom has made us constantly restless, in order that we can find him and reflect him to the world; which is why we are here in the first place. We can know what it means to be made in the Image of God; the responsibility and privilege that it carries. There is no greater accolade than to be known by God and to serve him. Yet, of the many downsides in the world we see today concerns that of; Self Image. Self-Image is huge; whether its connected with advertising, or celebrities, reality TV programmes or social media; its ultimately all about self; the persona of ‘Me’.

Sin in its many forms has deformed the image of God in each person. Instead of being clean, pure, unpolluted water, we are more like a muddy pool where the sediment settles and then it’s kicked up once more. Sin has deformed the image of God in each person so that we either sinfully think too highly of ourselves, or, we think too lowly of ourselves, which is also a sin. The power is always in the balance. We are both depraved and possess dignity at the same time.

On the one hand if you think highly of yourself and value yourself above others in pride, you do not love your neighbour as you should, since you don’t think they are worth loving. On the other hand, if you have a low self-image, you also will not love your neighbour, since you feel like you have nothing to give. We can elevate our dignity in sinful pride, or elevate our depravity also in sinful pride. Both are in the end; forms of pride and sin which deforms the image of God in us. And All of this is connected to self-image; who we think we are.

Some of you may have seen a bird attack its own reflection against a window pane. Time and time again the bird throws itself against the glass as if it dosnt like the image it sees. And then discovers too late, that all it was seeing was itself.

These are some of the comments taken from a female website where women can anonymously share how they feel about their bodies.

‘I hate everything about my body’.

‘I constantly compare myself to other women’.

‘I eat when I’m depressed and then I get more depressed’.

‘Sometimes when I see a woman fatter than me, I’m glad, she’s making me feel better’.

‘I don’t know how to feel comfortable in my own skin’.

(incidentally, men say the same thing)

What do you see when you look in the mirror? The image of God in each person is marred. Thankfully it is marred but not destroyed. However, the gospel made known to us through Jesus Christ allows us to be humble and confident at the same time. On the one hand the gospel tells us we are sinful and the sins we know about ourselves are just the tip of the iceberg. This humbles us, which is good. At the same time, the gospel says, we are loved and the love we know of Christ is just the tip of the iceberg. Which is very good?

Not only did God hand make us from the dirt of the ground, but he paid the price to redeem us on the cross at Calvary when we decided to live for ourselves instead of him. To know we are accepted, loved, and his love is what makes us beautiful again, gives us hope and confidence in Christ and within ourselves. When that collision, between the recognition of My sin AND the understanding of how Jesus has dealt with my sin on the cross occurs.

A new beginning happens. We can begin to properly reflect and grow in practising the image of God which we were always designed to do.

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks to God for his material blessings, for the harvest, the crops, the fruit, the vegetables and so much more and for the farmers and others who make the harvest possible. Despite modern agricultural advances and inventions, we are still wholly dependant on God to provide the weather and the conditions for the seed to germinate and grow and be fruitful.

We are also thankful to God for his spiritual blessings which at times we can easily forget about. There is no greater supernatural blessing than the way in which he can transform a lost life. To know God’s peace, his wisdom, and the hope of eternal life are blessings this world can never deliver. God in his mercy reached down from heaven and got his hands dirty with us.  He knew exactly what he was doing but he wanted more than anything else to talk to us, to invest in us, and have a relationship with us.

The Bindweed in the garden is a picture of the damage sin does in our lives, both on the surface, and with the roots that go deep inside. But God got his hands dirty by pulling that bindweed out of our lives and by replanting the goodness of his love and mercy in us. God is saying your self-image matters to me. You are of great worth, and you are highly valued.

An old lady was very poor. She had absolutely nothing. No shelter, no food, no nothing. She prayed to God and God gave her 10 apples. This was wonderful. Now I can get the things I need she said. She was so hungry of course that she ate the first three apples. The next three apples she traded to rent a small shelter so she could keep dry when it rained.

She exchanged the next three apples for some new clothes, so she was no longer cold at night. But then she discovered she had only one apple left over.

‘Why did you give me one apple more than I needed’, she asked God?  God replied; ‘so you can have something with which to thank me for’. All of us have a lot more than one apple left. We thank God for his provision.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Afternoon Prayer During Harvest,” by Theodor Christoph Schüz, painted in 1861.