Learning from Legion

A hymn of St. Ephrem based on Luke 8:26-39, the Gadarene Demoniac

In a fascinating poem, St. Ephrem sees Christ showing mercy to the demon, even granting the demon’s request, which emboldens Emphrem to be a man of prayer: if Christ compassionately listens tot he request of a demon to enter into swine, then I should know that Christ will hear my prayer to be permitted into Paradise despite my sins.

Look too at Legion:

  When in anguish he begged,

our Lord permitted and allowed him

  to enter into the herd;

respite did he ask for, without deception,

  in his anguish,

and our Lord in His kindness

  granted his request.

His compassion for demons

  is a rebuke to that People,

showing how much anguish His love suffers

  in desiring that men and women should live.

 

Encouraged by the words

  I had heard,

I knelt down and wept there,

  and spoke before the Lord:

“Legion received his request from You

without any tears;

  permit me, with my tears,

to make my request,

  grant me to enter, instead of that herd,

the Garden,

  so that in Paradise I may sing

of its Planter’s compassion.

(St Ephraim the Syrian Hymns on Paradise pgs 163-164)

Visiting Washington, D.C.

Was able to spend a few days with my son in D.C., which was a joy.  

If you want to see a Collection of my Washington Photo Sets, just click on the link and then click on any of the thumbnail photos to enter the sets.  Once in any set the thumbnail versions of the photos of that set are visible.  Click on the Slide Show link in the upper right hand of the screen to see full size versions of the photos in that set.  

A set of various things I saw in DC can be found at Washington DC Sights.

The DC buildings (paid for by we the people!) truly are impressive,

 The Library of Congress is the most ornate, artistic and extravagant building that I saw in my days in the nation’s capitol.  

DC creates an American mythology mixing an endless collection of monuments to American heroes and leaders with  historical figures of fame from the ancient past and mythological gods and goddesses as well as anthropomorphicized virtues and vices.  Power and might is the message, though interestingly enough little of the current president is evident in the city, unlike the cities and states run by dictators which display more images of their current leadership than their past.

We really had a beautiful evening view of the Reflecting Pool, Lincoln & Washington Monuments (DC at Night) complete with a shining full moon on a cloudless night. 

We took the guided tours that were scheduled through Congressman Mike Turner’s (R- OH) office.  We toured the Supreme Court, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress.  We also did the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  Each of the tours was informative and worthwhile.   Among other things, I learned that the U.S. hasn’t printed any bills greater than a $100 bill since the mid-1940’s.  Checks and credit cards have made the larger bills obsolete.

 I still find God’s creation and creatures to be the most beautiful to see (The National Zoo, Geckos at the National Geographic, US Botanic Garden).   Geckos are a most versatile and fascinating creature, a wonder of God’s creation and one that has evolved into a wide variety of divergent and adaptable reptiles. 

The orchids at the US Botanic Garden were a joy to look at and had a beautiful fragrance.   As usual I took few of people (none of me) and John makes a cameo in a couple of the photos.  You can view some of my Favorite DC Photos.

Best of all, I got to spend time with my son who was a patient tour guide and made lots of allowances for my making the visit into a photo safari.  We did a lot of walking, and saw an incredible number of things in a few days.

Lazarus, the Rich Man, & Clinging to Life on Earth

Luke 16:19-31     Lazarus and the Richman 

Then the Lord told this parable:  There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’  Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ 

St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

“We surely ought not to think that what is referred  to as “hell” is a place, but a state of life, invisible and incorporeal, to which Scripture teaches us the soul leads.

And from the story of about the rich man and the begger, we learn another teaching which will be very pertinent to our investigation.  It presented the rich man as passionate and flesh-loving and, when he saw the inevitability of his misfortune, he was concerned with what he could have beyond the earth in keeping with his class.  When Abraham told him that no provision  was made for those living their life in the flesh and that this was amply set forth for them in the law and the prophets, the rich man still continued to plead that this unexpected proclamation be reported to the rich by one brought back to life from the dead.”

 I said, “What teaching is there in this?”

St Macrina replied, “While the soul of Lazarus was concentrating on its present existence and not distracted by any of the things he had left behind, the rich man, even after death, clung to the carnal aspect of life which he did not put aside although he was no longer living.  He was still thinking of flesh and blood.  It is clear that he was not yet free from fleshly inclinations from which people of his kind are never separated.”   (The Fathers of The Church: A New Translation, St Gregory of Nyssa: Ascetical Works, p235)

Theosis of Man vs. The Apotheosis

As an American Christian, I am influenced by two sets of values: the teachings of Christ and the claims of ‘the greatest nation on earth.’  There is a contrast in notions of kingdom, greatness, wealth, goodness, peace, and power.  The parables of Christ offer an image, however metaphorical they may be, of a godly kingdom. America’s mythology offers its own view of life on earth and in its own realized eschatology.  Consider the following and contemplate the differing values of greatness and heavenly rewards:

Luke 16:19-31                                                     The Apotheosis of

Lazarus and the Richman                             George Washington

Apotheosis of George Washington

There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumpt-uously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’  Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ 

Paid Political Ads: You Pay the Price for Campaign Financing

U.S. Capitol

There is a restlessness in voters this year that will once again turn out an anti-Washington, anti-incumbent electorate.   That really isn’t unusual anymore in American politics since both major political parties portray themselves as being Washington outsiders and anti-establishment.  One party is always in power and the other one trying to get back in power.

This message strikes a chord in Americans who see their “independence” being expressed through constantly morphing anti-establishment candidates . The reality is Washington stays the same the more candidates ride a wave of change to office.  The constant anti-establishment “we’re the party for change” appeal keeps things pretty unchanged and unchangeable.  We are constantly balancing back and forth between the Democrats who are now in power, and the Republicans who were in power before and are returning again.  Both parties are the object of our scorn and beneficiaries of our votes.  Both sides appeal to change thus perpetuating the system.  It’s a Sudoku puzzle with only two squares and you can only put a one or two in each of the boxes and no number can be used twice; the solution is logical but not too hard to figure out why so many find it uninteresting.

This year, thanks to the Supreme Court’s opening the floodgates of corporate spending on political advertisements, more “independent” corporations are paying for political ads to flood the airwaves thus effectively jamming any ability for reasoned discourse on important issues.   Consider NPR’s recent piece, ‘Independent’ Groups Behind Ads Not So Independent  which aired this morning.  Countless groups who are investing fortunes in political advertizing under the deceptive guise of being grassroots, local, non-partisan and independent are in fact Washington lobby groups, often funded by the few ideologues who want their particular views broadcast to America.  It is not government of, by and for the people, but rather government for, by and of the few who have the means to pay or the financial backers willing to pay for them.

These groups are all Washington insiders who don’t just play the game of Washington insider politics, they’ve manufactured it and sold it to the public at great profit to themselves and their causes as they get politicians to pay attention to their money and power.

As long as we pay attention to these ads, we pay the price for the American system of campaign funding: money talks and more money talks more often and more loudly.

A real anti-Washington electorate is one not listening to well financed Washington based lobby groups.  The only thing we should pay attention to is what issues and candidates these groups endorse and support because we will then know who the real Washington insiders and powers are.  Follow the money;  the power behind the political parties and the candidates will be revealed. If the NPR story is correct, it will be the real Washington insiders who are paying to keep the system just the way it is because they know how to win the political game they invented and sold to the public.

This is not to say that all those running for office are simply paid for by corporate sponsors and lobby groups.  No doubt candidates believe in some of the causes they champion, and some find themselves stuck in a campaign financing system that encourages these abuses.  Some probably have concluded they have to play the game as the only way to accomplish their goals.  For me, the real anti-Washington fervor should be directed at the ways people with money and ideologues can manipulate the system and the politicians.

Angry voters should demand the system be reformed, so that we quit having to pay the price of well funded lobby and special interest groups making us pay for the system they have manufactured and continue to perpetuate.  A real fight is to take away government of, by and for the corporations and lobby groups, and to return it to the people.  Will this be easy to accomplish?  No, because there is an awful lot invested in the current way of doing things.

Listening to and Obeying God

Prophet Habakkuk vigilantly Listening

“We can shutter ourselves to what is seen, having eyelids to seal off images and scenes that we do not want to behold.  The ear, by contrast, has no flap for silencing unwanted voices.  The ear is an organ for receiving declarations, and thus for obeying or refusing commands.  Obedience comes from the Latin audiere, “to listen.”  Over and again Scripture declares that no one has seen God, while at the same time insisting that many have heard the word of God.”

(Wood, Ralph C., The Gospel According to Tolkien:  Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth)

Considering DC and Democracy

While in Washington, DC, visiting my son, we did take a tour of the Capitol Building led by an intern from my Ohio congressman, Mike Turner’s office.   As part of that tour, we watched a 13 minute documentary about congress and its role in the American government system.  It seemed to me that emphasized in the documentary is the fact that the house and senate are that part of the American government (of, by and for the people) most closely attuned to the American democratic political tradition.  They most closely represent the diversity of opinions throughout America.  They are that part of government in which debate on and discussion of issues is done within their assemblies and is part of what they are supposed to do.  It is the designed process by which government of, by and for the people comes to its decisions.      (My photos of DC are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/collections/72157625229327976/).

Historically, its roots are in those original debates which the leaders of the thirteen colonies engaged as they struggled with their relationship to the crown in England.  And anyone who has read American history knows those debates were rancorous and passionate.

In a democracy, such rancorous debate is the very means by which decisions are expressed, considered, dissected and decided upon.  (And I will admit by nature I am not always personally comfortable with such passionate and adversarial disagreement.  I hope for and prefer more agreement and greater harmony and tranquility).

John Adams

Certainly even in the days of the second president of the United States, John Adams, there already existed partisan debate and political trickery and dirty works.  Pseudonymous postings in papers that came into existence solely to promote a partisan point of view were common by 1800.  Vice-President Thomas Jefferson worked to politically undermine his President, John Adams.  Though they were powerful co-conspirators in the American Revolution, they became bitter political enemies in the partisan debates in the beginning of the Republic. 

James Madison too engaged in similar underhanded behavior against a government headed by his one time revolutionary compatriots.  He too was not afraid to engage in underhanded dealings to subvert those he disagreed with – not just their ideas, but those he considered political rivals.

It does seem to me, however, that in our current political polarizing partisanship, that some push for ending serious debate.  Some want one party rule.  Some want rivals and opposition silenced. 

Yet the political health of a democracy, like the strength of a species for surviving in a hostile environment, lies in its diversity and variations.  For democracy if anything is based in the consideration of and conflict between ideas; this is also its strength.   Ideas are improved on the anvil of debate, or, to change metaphors, in that heated cauldron which produces stronger alloys and new combinations of polymers with vital adaptability to the changing needs of people. 

Vote.  Pay attention to the issues at hand.  Learn about the debate, not just about what agrees with your opinions.  For a one party system is the basis of every dictatorship and all despotic rule.

Remembering as a Reason to Have Hope for the Future

Prophet Isaiah

Text for the Sermon from Isaiah 46   (23 October 1994)

 One thing very noticeable about the Prophet Isaiah is that he repeats his message over and over.   Scholars today always feel that a repeated message in the bible reflects how important the message is.  The more often it is repeated, the more significant the message.   Obviously, the Prophet Isaiah considered his message very important, because he gives us plenty of opportunities to hear it.  

  Today, we are looking at Isaiah 46.   I hope the message repeated by Isaiah through these chapters will not become boring to you, but rather they will become important to you.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

 In the first paragraph, God continues to contrast Himself, His religion and His people with the pagan gods, religions and peoples.    Most noticeable is that the pagans carry their idols, while God carries Israel.   It is God who has carried His people through history, from the beginning of the world, through the worst and darkest times, right into the present.   And God’s unfailing promise is that He will continue to bear, carry and save us!

“Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it.”

 Then we come in the second paragraph to one of the biggest words of the entire Old Testament.  The word is “remember.”   God constantly tells us to remember in the bible.   He especially wants us to remember all that He has done in the past, so that we remain faithful to Him in the  present.   God commands us to  “remember this!”           

 What are we to remember?

We are to remember how and when and in what ways God carried and saved us His people in the past.   We need to remember bible stories to do this.   We are to remember all the events of the bible.   By remembering the past, we understand the present & future.   By remembering the past we understand that there is a continuity in God’s action between the past and how God works today.  The same God who carried and saved Israel in the most difficult times, is the same God of the Christians, and He still guides the world and He will save us.  

 When and how do we remember the past saving deeds of God?

Right here in the liturgy and if the feasts and fasts of the church!

Remembering, which is exactly what liturgical services and feast days are, is  a key to knowing God.    God acts in history in order to be known and understood.  Don’t forget that!

 Even if you cannot understand God’s current actions or plan, you know him based on past experience (remember) so trust Him!

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from deliverance: I bring near my deliverance, it is not far off, and my salvation will not tarry; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

 The final paragraph repeats a common theme of St. Isaiah.   The theme is meant to give hope to us today as it did to Israel 2600 years ago while they sat in captivity in Babylon.   God continues to work out His plan, His divine purpose in history.   Always remember how He has worked in the past, and do not give up hope.    The present is not more hopeless then the past.   Your actions and your activities as the faithful people of God do count.  It is worth remaining faithful to the knowledge of God and to the joyous and hopeful vision which God has given to us. 

 Let us now in this service give thanks to the Lord as we remember the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the Lord’s sitting at the Father’s right hand, until he comes again.

Amen.

The Creation of All Things New

And it is only when the Church in the Eucharist leaves this world and ascends to Christ’s table at His Kingdom, that she truly sees and proclaims heaven and earth to be full of His glory and God as having “filled all things with Himself.”  Yet, once more, this “discontinuity,” this vision as all things as new, is possible only because at first there is continuity and not negation, because the Holy Spirit makes “all things new” and not “new things.”  It is because all Christian worship is always remembrance of Christ “in the flesh” that it can also be remembrance, i.e., expectation and anticipation, of His Kingdom.  It is only because the Church’s leitourgia is always cosmic, i.e., assumes into Christ all creation, and is always historical, i.e., assumes into Christ all time, that it can also be eschatological, i.e., makes ua all true participants in the Kingdom to come.

Such then is the idea of man’s relation to the world implied in the very notion of worship.  Worship is by definition and act a reality with cosmic, historical, and eschatological dimensions, the expressions thus not merely of “piety,” but of an all-embracing “world view.” (Schmemann, Alexander, For the Life of the World:  Sacraments and Orthodoxy)