The Animated Life

I found the op ed piece in today’s NEW YORK TIMES, The Animated Life, to be fascinating.   It includes a video made by Jeff Scher,  “a painter who makes experimental films and an experimental filmmaker who paints.”   The video is about walking on a crowded city street.  Scher writes:

ChristeyesThe street etiquette of

avoiding eye contact

lets us go about our business without

the distraction of interaction.” (emphasis mine)

The “distraction of interaction”  –   Our lives are full of people we don’t really want to interact with.   We sometimes act as if all these people are in fact preventing us from becoming the good or great person we imagine ourselves to be.  “I would be such a good Christian if it weren’t for all those people.”   Or as one doctor is described in Dostoyevsky’s  THE BROTHERS KARAMZOV:  he loved humanity, it was people he hated.

Christians like to use the metaphor of walking with Christ as a sign of their own discipleship.   Do we however ignore Christian etiquette – say that of the Good Samaritan – in order to avoid the “distraction of  interaction”?   Do we not know that it is precisely when we walk the streets that we are walking with Christ?

Love can only be practiced when we choose to do so.   Love is not a reaction to people, but a chose action toward them.

McKenzie, Blessed by God

  McKenzie has made sufficient progress to be allowed to move into the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House where she resides with her foster parents.   McKenzie, her foster parents, Jean and Chuck, thank all of you for your continued prayers.  “McKenzie has been blessed indeed.”

Money: A Good Servant but a Bad Master

Christ8A3rd Sunday After Pentecost   2009        Gospel:  Matthew 6:22-33

The Lord Jesus said:  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  (Matthew 6:24)

Though the Lord Jesus clearly taught us that we cannot love “God and….”, many have tried.   God and money.   God and pleasure.   God and self.   God and political power.   God and selfishness.  God and ego.   God and self indulgence.   God and greed.  God and gaud.   This of course is not the same as saying we cannot serve God through success, or wealth, or prosperity, or politics.   We are to love God first and above all and to pursue His Kingdom and His righteousness.   We can use the things God bestows on us for His glory.   To put it in another way, “Money is a good servant, but a bad master”  (attributed to Francis Bacon in the 17th Century).  

Life is full of choices, and the choices we make matter.   Americans love prosperity, God and money.

Bishop Nikolai Velimirović in commenting on the words of our Lord from Matthew 6:24, wrote about the impossibility of loving “God and….”

Can two wheels of a wagon move forward and two backward? Can a man look eastwards with one eye and westwards with the other? (Abba Isaiah says: “As on eye cannot look heavenwards and the other earthwards, so the mind cannot combine cares for the things of heaven with those of the earth.”) Or can one foot walk to the right, and the other the left? They cannot. It is therefore also impossible to go to meet God and to remain in the world’s embrace. A man cannot serve God and sin, for he will either hate God and love sin, or vice versa: love God and hate sin. In order to emphasize this truth the more clearly, the Lord repeats it in other NikolaiVelimwords: “or else he will hold to the one and despise the other”. If a man holds to God, he cannot also hold to God’s enemy. And love for this world is hatred for God. God seeks our whole heart, and to this end He offers us all His help and all His gifts. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chronicles 16:9): perfect, whole, pure; emptied of faith in the world, and filled with faith, hope and love for God the living and immortal.

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

paulpeterA blessed Feast of the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

Today our parish celebrates our heavenly Patron, St. Paul the Apostle as we also conclude the Year of St. Paul which celebrated the 2000th birthday of one of the men chosen by Christ our God to lead His Church.    Just yesterday the Vatican announced that the scientific studies on the relics in the sarcophagus of St. Paul are indeed those of someone who died in the 1st or 2nd Centuries, lending credence to the notion that the relics are indeed those of the Apostle to the Nations.

Though Sts Peter and Paul are considered the founders of Christianity, the foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ.  In other metaphorical language the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Apostles like all Christians are members of that body.

Some  have accused St. Paul of having changed Christianity – among those critics of St. Paul are Muslims and modern historians.  

To say St. Paul “changed” Christianity would mean that Christianity already had a monolithic and established form which he then altered.  It almost assumes that the Christian message fell from heaven in a printed book which left the disciples with nothing to do but follow its instructions.     I don’t think that is true to history at all.   The nascent Christianity was only beginning to coalesce as Church.   The Apostles were working out their own salvation, taking up their own crosses daily, endeavoring to follow Christ, and preaching the Gospel – they were actively engaging the world while in their hearts engaging the Word.   In this sense Paul wasn’t changing Christianity at all, he was however founding it – establishing what it was to become by helping to form its structures.  This in fact is what Christ our Lord entrusted His chosen apostles to accomplish.   Our English words edify and edifice have the same root words in them.  Paul4St. Paul was edifying people which also was establishing and building up the edifice of the Church.  Paul was doing what Christ called him to do. 

 The original Apostles were at first so afraid of the Jews as to keep themselves hidden away from public view.  Pentecost  (Acts 2) changed all of that and for the first time Peter publicly proclaimed the Christian Gospel. The story in the Acts of the Apostles shows some miraculous and sudden growth of Christianity, but it was sporadic and not organized or energized.  The first Christians were still trying to figure out what it meant as Jews that the Messiah had come.   It is Paul who truly grasps the universal significance of the Gospel and the coming of the Messiah.  It is he who pushes ahead taking the Gospel to the non-Jews, creating the “crisis” about whether to become Christian you had to become a Torah keeping  Jew.  This crisis causes the original Apostles to consider the issue and realize that it was not necessary to become a Jew to embrace the Gospel (Acts 15).  In this sense St. Paul was involved with helping to form Christianity.  However, though he sparked the debate about the requirement of keeping the Law, it was the Apostolic community still based in the Jerusalem who decided that this indeed was the message of Christ and the direction for the Church.

Biblical scholar, Stanley Porter in his Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament says of St. Paul: 

The divine mystery that was revealed to Paul in Christ opens for him new ways of reading and listening to the ancient texts of the Jewish people. His belief in Christ is both an experience and a conviction that, in his eyes, allows him to comprehend the “true” meaning of the religion of his people and their sacred texts. Christ and Scripture are closely connected for Paul; and, I would argue, it is impossible to speak about his reading of Scripture apart from his Christology. Christ is the presupposition for his encounter with Scripture. It is the revelation of Christ that shapes his understanding of God’s people and God’s purposes. For Paul, as for many other interpreters of Scripture in his own day and beyond, the Scriptures yield their “true” meaning to those who are guided and transformed by the Spirit. 

Relics of St. Paul Confirmed

PaulThe Vatican is reporting that a scientific analysis of the bone fragments in what was believed to be St. Paul’s sarcophagus has confirmed they are the bones of someone who died in the first or second century.  Pope Benedict announced that the scientific tests confirm what pilgrims have believed for centuries to be true.

You can read the story at

The article reports that a little over a week ago the discovery of the oldest known icon of St. Paul, of which we can hope the Vatican will release a photograph.  The icon was designed to be used in prayer and is not just art said the Vatican.  The icon fresco dates from the end of the 4th Century, dating it near the time of the 2nd Ecumenical Council.

The announcments from the Vatican come as the proclaimed Year of St. Paul is brought to a close on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29.   The Year of St. Paul proclaimed by the Pope and the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch marks the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul.

Ending the Limitations of Slavery

TeamRivalsAs I continue reading through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN I really am stuck by what a totally amazing thing it is that the citizens of the United States elected an African-American as president in 2008.  

Goodwin’s book explores the many tumultuous issues surrounding slavery that were churning in the mid-19th Century in America.  What is also very clear is that even the abolitionists had no good plan for what to do with the millions of slaves once they were free.   The Northern states were adopting “Black Laws” – laws which sharply curtailed the rights and freedoms of blacks in those states.  Illinois itself had adopted a law making it illegal to bring into the state anyone whose was even one-quarter black.  No wonder the Southern States in which more than one third of the population was slave were alarmed at what the abolition of slaves would mean for them.

Lincoln and his cabinet and the Republican Party’s anti-slavery ideas mostly wanted to limit slavery to the South, not abolish it everywhere in America.  They were not abolitionists and in their own speeches distanced themselves from the abolitionists.  When Stephen Douglas warned white America that voting for Lincoln meant submitting themselves to black voters and judges, Lincoln denied that he was advocating such a thing. 

Lincoln2Slavery was abhorrent to Lincoln and his Republican cohorts, but they were only advocating that blacks be treated as humans, not as citizens.   Basically the main argument was being fought between the pro-slavery people who framed the argument in terms of state rights (and thus could appeal to the War for Independence and Constitution as the basis of their convictions) and the anti-slavery folk who were pushing for human rights for blacks not the rights of full citizenship for them.  The anti-slavery Republicans wanted “all men” to be treated as “equals” meaning as human beings, but that didn’t mean to them that blacks should be given full citizenship or seen as equal to the whites in terms of voting or political power. 

Stephen Douglas said to cheering crowds:

the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to negroes at all when they declared all men to be created equal.  They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race.  They were speaking of white men… I hold that this government was established.. for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and and should be administered  by white men, and none others.”

What truly amazes me is that in America, the land of the free, just 90 years before I was born slavery was still practiced.  When I was born, there were people still alive who had been born when slavery existed.  When my parents were born there would still have been alive former slaves.  The slavery issue is not something from the distant past of America but has had its repercussions right down to the present.

obamaOne black American I know always told his children, “you can be anything you want in America, except for President of the United States.”  Though he is a pro-life, Republican voting conservative, he told me that the election of Barack Obama has truly shattered the shackles of slavery for all people of color in this country.   That is something for conservative Americans and Republicans to think about.   It is not the policies of Obama they need to embrace, but they need to consider he does represent symbolically the end to the limits slavery imposed on every black American.   Argue against his policies, but give recognition to the fact that he does represent what the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, sweated and “slaved” over to save these United States from tyrannizing over anyone.

As we approach our Independence Day holidays, we can be humbled by the land of the free’s willingness to enslave a people.   The strength and wealth of America was built upon denying freedom to millions.   We also can be amazed at the American ability to end adversity and overcome adversaries by spreading freedom to all.   Freedom comes with a price, freedom is invaluable, and it is worth giving freedom to every American.

Giving the black man freedom, electing a black man as president, doesn’t mean that we will have greater oneness of opinion, but we have been strengthened as a nation by the competitiveness and cross pollination of ideas which comes with giving full recognition to our ideal “that all men are created equal.”   The united part of the United States is formed into a more perfect union by granting freedom and citizenship to all.

ProlifeAnd I will say that I think the example of the debate and the issues which swirled around slavery give us an example and a hope for recognizing the humanity of and citizenship to the children in our country conceived and yet unborn.   It was a painful and hard fought battle to recognize black Americans as humans let alone as citizens.  I think we will awaken to the truth that all are created equal, and that each child conceived deserves to be treated as a human being deserving the rights and protection which our Constitution guarantees for all citizens.   Abortion is no more a right than is owning a slave.   One day we may come to recognize this self evident truth that we do not limit citizenship nor humanity to landowners, to the educated, to whites, or to males.  Neither should we limit them to those children conceived and living in their mother’s wombs.

To the Ungodly and the Enemies of God: Love

crucifixion2For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  

(Romans 5:6,8,10)

St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome (and since His Epistle is in our Scriptures, writing to us as Christians), says we were “weak,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies” of God.    He is not addressing pagans, unbelievers, secular humanists, or atheists; rather he is reminding us about the condition in which God found humanity (namely, us) when He sent His Son into the world.  St. Paul, the one time super-holiness Pharisee, is acknowledging that all the law keeping efforts by the most righteous people in the world had neither brought the world to God nor had it saved the world from God’s righteous judgment.   It is not more, better, or greater keeping of the Law which  can save humanity from God’s anger over human sin.   It is God who chooses to save.  It is God who is love who ultimately saves humanity not only from sin and death but from ourselves and our self destructive and self condemning behavior.

This action by God is pure love.  God is not saving only those who are striving to keep the Law, God is also saving those who know they have failed to keep the law and have separated themselves from God.   Think about the parable Jesus told of the laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  The Master responds to His critics who think He is being unfair by rewarding those who labored long and hard through the heat of the day the same as He rewards those who showed up at that last minute.  Jesus is offering in parable form the same idea that St. Paul teaches:  the love of God is not dependent on one’s ability to keep the law.  For those who embrace the notion of God as Judge, this seems blatantly unfair since they are the ones trying hard to be righteous.   Jesus is not saying “don’t obey the law” or “the law nativity7is a waste of time.”   All He says is that God’s love is not meted out according to how much of it we have earned; human standards of fairness or just reward and just retribution are not the standard by which we can measure God’s righteousness and mercy.

We in fact are to love as Christ loves us (John 15:12).   How did He love us?  While we were still weak, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God.   That is how we are to love one another.  It is also how we are to love, not judge,  the world. This is what it means to be a light to the world and to evangelize.  Success is not measured in terms of the numbers we bring in to the church, but rather is measured by the degree to which we loved others in the same way that Christ loved us.   We are not just seeking out the righteous in the world to add to an already righteous Church.  Our task is to be a witness to all, even the godless and enemies of God, to the love which we have received from God in Christ Jesus. 

In the early days of Christianity there was a sectarian movement called Montanism, which claimed that the Church ought to  consist exclusively of righteous and godly beings and that all  others should be rejected by her. She was for the Montanists a community of those who had received special gifts from the Holy Spirit and by far the greater part of mankind, being sinful, was to be completely repudiated by her. Ecclesiastical consciousness condemned Montanism and upheld the Church as the home of sinners who repent. The saints are the Church’s bulwark and  buttress, but she does not depend on them alone, for the whole of mankind—a mankind seeking salvation—contributes in varying degrees to her perfecting. The Church on earth is the Church militant struggling against evil and iniquity. She is not yet the Church glorified or victorious. Christ himself spoke with tax    collectors and sinners, visited their homes and ate with them, and the Pharisees criticized him for it. His Church has to be like him. A Christianity that extended its recognition only to good people would be a pharisaical Christianity. Compassion, forgiveness, love for one’s neighbor with all his shortcomings—these are the works of Christian love and the means toward its perfection. (Nicolas Berdiaev, “The Worth of Christ and the Unworthiness of Christians”)

The Faithful Choose the Bishop Who God Ordained

afanasievThis is the second blog in which I am commenting on the book, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT by Russian Orthodox priest and scholar Nicholas Afanasiev .   The first blog is Baptism –  Consecration to  the Royal Priesthood.

Regarding the ordination of priests and bishops, Afanasiev says that neither the bishop nor the Church passes on the gifts of the Spirit to the ordinand.   Rather, the Church through the bishop only recognizes that the ordinand already possesses the gifts of the Spirit.   What the bishop/church does is to petition God asking Him to bless or confirm the ordinand in the position to which the Church is recognizing them as a minister.  The prayer of the church is, according to Afanasiev that God will show that the candidate indeed possesses the gifts that the Church community believes it has recognized in him.   Thus the prayer of ordination to the diaconate or priesthood or the consecration of a bishop is really asking God to show us that we discerned correctly; that we did recognized correctly the gifts of the Spirit active in this person.  The bishop when ordaining a deacon says, “The divine grace…. ordains, N., …”.  The divine grace or the Holy Spirit ordains, not the bishop. (See Acts 20:28 – it is the Holy Spirit who makes bishops, not other bishops).    The bishop also says, “God… by Your foreknowledge send the gift of Your Holy Spirit on them that are foreordained…”  Finally the bishop says, “for it is not by the laying-on of hands, but by the visitation of Your rich compassions, that grace is given unto them that are worthy of You.”    The texts indicate it is God who does the choosing, the gifting and the ordaining.  The Church is recognizing what God has already done. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6:2-3, the Apostles instruct the people “to choose” (Greek:  episkepsasthe) men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom – these traits are already to be obvious in the candidates to all believers.  The Apostles are implying that the seven men who already have these traits are the ones chosen by God for this task.  The people’s duty is not to train the men, nor to pray that they be given these characteristics, but rather to recognize/discern which men already possess these particular traits/gifts.  The traits/gifts are the sign that they are chosen by God for the ministry.   We are not approving of what God has revealed; we simply are ourselves ritually recognizing or disclosing God’s choice and will.

MetJonahelectionThe divine will cannot depend on the human will or be subject to it.  God sends the gifts of the Holy Spirit not upon those chosen by the bishops or the people of the Church but upon those whom He himself chooses.  The bishop has the grace to celebrate the sacrament of ordination, but this does not mean that he manages the gifts of the Holy Spirit.   …  the bishop is not the one who has a depository of grace in order to distribute it to anyone he wills.

Just as God Himself appointed Saul to be an Apostle (Acts 26:16), so it is God, not bishop or council or people who appoints apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and bishops in and for the Church.  The Church for its part recognizes God’s choice of the person chosen for ministry within the local community.  Ordination thus originally was the Church recognizing or showing who God had chosen for leadership within the community.  The election of the person for episcopal ordination “by the local church is one of the ways to discover God’s will, for it is not the one who is pleasing to the people that is elected but the one who was already appointed by God for ministry.”   However both the election by the community and the ordination itself both have the goal of seeking God’s will – who is it that God has chosen and ordained for ministry in the community? 

It is not the human community who can make a man be a pastor or a bishop – this is God’s doing.   The community’s role is to recognize what God is doing in the community and through whom.  In the early church it was the entire community who endeavored to discern God’s will through the election of the bishop.

For the thinking of the primitive Church, the election by the Church meant the election by all the people.  Clement himself spoke about  this, pointing out that the bishops are ordained ‘with the consent of the whole church’ …     Cyprian tells us … ‘And the bishop should be chosen (episcopus deligatur) in the presence of the people who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.’

PaulConver2Thus discerning God’s will, determining who was ordained by God to be the bishop in the primitive church, was an act of the entire people of God.  The bishops were to be chosen by the people not from strangers or distant holy men, but from their own midst – from the men they communally familiar with; men who by their own lives and example showed that they had been ordained by God for leadership in the Church.

Beginning in the Nicean era, the people are gradually deprived of the right to elect their own pastors. … At the time when juridical principles penetrated the Church and effected the deprivation of election by the people, the third aspect of ordination – the witness of the people—lost its meaning.

The Church says Afanasiev began following exactly its decreed canons for selecting bishops but no longer relied on the example of the candidate’s life as known by the local community to discern God’s will.  Those who lacked any canonical impediments became the candidates of choice rather than those whose lives exemplified being chosen by God.

What is man……..?

sunset062509When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him? 

(Psalm 8:3-4)


The current issue of IN COMMUNION  (Pentecost 2009  *  Issue 53) has two articles which offer what rationally might be considered almost contradictory images of what it is to be human, but I think them as actually complimentary.  They offer two images of humanity that certainly stretch our understanding of what it means to be a human created in God’s image and likeness.

In the first article, Archimandrite Meletios Webber writes in “The Mystery of the Present Moment“:

CopernicusWe can only meet God in the present moment. This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. Because we can encounter God only in that present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.

We can only make decisions in the present moment. We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment. We can only love or hate in the present moment. The present moment is the interface between ourselves and the rest of the universe, and, more importantly, it is the only point of contact between the individual and God. Of all the possible points of time, only the present moment is available for repentance. The past cannot be taken back and remade. The future remains forever outside our reach.

The present moment may appear to be tiny in duration – so much so that the human mind thinks it hardly exists at all – but in depth it is infinite.

In the second article, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes in “I Love, Therefore I am”:

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis – deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, “The human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

Theotokos7cWhat is it to be human?   To experience God in the present moment which is the only moment we can act in.  However in this present moment in God we experience the infinite.   God who is beyond time does not search for us in the past or look for  us in the future, but He encounters us now, in this moment, the only moment we can take hold of and make something of.   The past can be remembered, but it is beyond our reach to return there.  The future can be imagined, but it too is beyond our reach.   The present moment however is the one which God is willing to turn into an experience of the infinite – if only we are willing to encounter Him.

God promises to forgive us if we repent.  He doesn’t promise us the tomorrow to do it in.

He does however eternally offer us the present, now, as the moment for our salvation.

Where? in the world


This is the answer to the blog, “Where in the world?”

We were in Columbus and decided to pay a visit to our alma mater (me – class of ’75 and he – class of ’05).  Found an open door to the stadium and walked in to an empty stadium.

John decided to take the field.

Hopefully this was an alumni benefit.

He took his sandals off to walk on the sacred turf.



OSUStadiumcIt was pretty awesome to be in the stadium with no one around.

How many can lay claim to sole possession of the big scarlet “O” on the 50 yard line of the Horseshoe?

Certainly it is exciting to be in the stadium when it is full to capacity for the big game.

It was another kind of excitement to see the stadium up close.

In the original blog the first photo was of the archway ceiling leading into the stadium.  The 2nd photo of the conical rooftop was from one of the campus buildings.