We are God’s Temple

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 :

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

St. Isaac of Ninevah (7th Century) comments:

“I give praise to Your holy Nature, Lord, for You have made my nature a sanctuary for Your hiddenness and a tabernacle for Your Mysteries, a place where You can dwell, and a holy temple for Your divinity, (namely for) Him who holds the scepter of Your Kingdom, who governs all You have brought into being, the glorious Tabernacle of Your eternal Being, the source of renewal for the ranks of fire which minister to You, the Way to knowledge of You, the Door to vision of You, the summation of Your power and great wisdom – Jesus Christ the Only-Begotten from Your bosom and remnant gathered in from Your creation, both visible and spiritual.” (The Second Part: Chapters IV-XLI, p 8)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20)

A Man Born Blind, Jonah, Job and A Believer

And his disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9:2)

The question the disciples ask the Lord Jesus in John 9 has taken on new and personal meaning with me.   When some hear that I have been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, they often ask two questions:

Were you a smoker?

Is there a history of lung cancer in your family?

The questions are logical – people trying to make sense of the lung cancer diagnosis.  Obviously if you were a smoker (you sinned), the lung cancer is the consequence of your behavior.   Or if your family has a history of lung cancer, then it is your ancestors who passed the gene along to you (parent’s ‘sin’).   What the logic does of course is put the person at ease, for if there is a clear cause and effect of sin to disease, my interlocutor can feel safe that the world is reasonable and logical.  People get lung cancer because they smoked/sinned or the inherited the sin from their parents.

Such logic helps people get through the day and helps them avoid thinking about their own mortality, but we all know the world is a bit more unpredictable than our reason allows.  The Holy Prophet Job  got his story in our Scriptures.  Retributive justice is not always at work, or the only force at work, or may not even remotely be the cause of the effect.

My history is I was not a tobacco smoker, and there is no known history of lung cancer.  There is no doubt some cause for the lung cancer, but as the doctors have told me, we will never know what caused my lung cancer to begin.

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Believers in the ancient world did not have an explanatory category of “natural causes.”  For me in the scientific world, I can see there are natural disasters whose causes can be explained by natural forces.  The right collection of natural forces will produce a tornado or an earthquake or an epidemic.  I don’t have to think that every event is caused by an angry God.   The ancients, lacking a “natural disaster” category tended to interpret all things as acts of God.  What was not ever certain was exactly what caused God to act in a particularly destructive way.  Many theories were proposed: sin, icons, lack of icons, unwillingness of people to change, people too willing to change.  The Prophet Jonah, one can recall, was distraught that God didn’t destroy the city of Nineveh.  He proclaimed the city would be destroyed, hoped it would happen, and then was disappointed that God didn’t do it.  Jonah laments what he knows about God: “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”   (Jonah 4:2)  Sadly many people today share Jonah’s lament and don’t want God to be merciful, abounding in love and ready to relent from punishing.  They prefer the God of retribution not the God who is revealed by Jonah or by Jesus.

I believe in a merciful and loving God.  I’m not blind to the suffering of the world. I’m experiencing it myself.  As a believer, I have to wrestle with the real world, and faith in the God of love.  I accept a modern scientific world that some events can be explained by natural causes.  I don’t always know where God’s hand is in these events.  I know God created this world.  God continues to love His creation, despite the many problems created by natural causes.  God could have created a different world, but He apparently finds this world a good world in which to love us.  Mortality is part of this world, God loves us anyway.  Our Christian faith is that God enters into the human condition and dies in order to save us.  God does not avoid death.  God does not ask us to suffer something He Himself is not willing to suffer.

This week I began my second round of chemotherapy.  Yesterday I received two different chemos aimed at destroying the lung cancer cells.  I’ve experienced many of the serious side effects of the chemo.  I reported that in a previous blog: Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  My first week after treatment was a whole lot rougher that what I’m currently experiencing, though I recognize that symptoms come and go throughout the chemo process. And while things are better this week compared to the first round, better is neither good nor normal.   Psalm 107 comes to mind again.

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!  (Psalm 107:17-22)

This week, though I experience that loathing of any food, I am thankful to the Lord for His steadfast love and His wonderful works.  Christ is present even in the suffering of the world.

And to the question the disciples asked at the beginning of John 9 and at the beginning of this blog,

Jesus answered: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  (John 9:3).

The story of Job is lived many times in the history of the world.

Christ: Uniting Heaven to Earth

“O Jesus, glorious name,

hidden bridge which carries one over

from death to life,

I have come to a stop with you;

I finish with the letter yodh.

Be a bridge for my words

to cross over to your truth.

Make your love a bridge for your servant.

By means of you I shall cross over to your Father.

I will cross over and say, ‘Blessed is the One

who has made his might tender in his offspring.’

(St. Ephraem the Syrian in Faith Adoring the Mystery by Sidney H. Griffith, p 24)

Sharing Warmth from the Heart

I use this blog to share with others quotes or thoughts that have influenced my own thinking or that have inspired me in one way or another.  The quote below was on a calendar I was given as a Christmas present.  I’m not familiar with the author, and I am not quoting this for who said it, rather I just liked the thought he expressed.

Let my soul smile through my heart

and my heart smile through my eyes,

that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.

Paramahansa Yogananda (d. 1952)

 

Book: In the Shadow of the Forty Foot Wall

A crowd funding site has been set up to take advance orders of the book, In the Shadow of the Forty Foot Wall, written by  Chaplain Patrick Tutella.  The book will be released in March 2016 in time for Great Lent.   Patrick Tutella is an Orthodox Christian who has been involved in prison ministry for 40 years. 

“Those behind the 40 foot wall represent some of the most marginalized of society today, and this little book of Chaplain Patrick Tutella so beautifully helps us see Christ’s image in these forgotten and often despised people.”    (Rev. Father Luke Veronis, Director, Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA)

You can visit the website at  http://igg.me/at/fortyfootwall, where you can learn how you can help fund this project in support of Orthodox prison ministry.

I encourage you to visit the site and view the video .   Your support of this publishing effort is greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

Creation: Genesis and Science

American Christianity seems to assume that the main question, perhaps the only question of significance, about the Genesis 2 account of creation is whether it is historically and factually true.  Yet in Orthodoxy, the importance of Genesis 2 is really found in Christ not in archeology or history.  Our whole basis of understanding Genesis 2, of sin and of salvation, are found in Jesus Christ.  From the moment of the Annunciation to the Theotokos to Holy Pascha, we find the meaning of Genesis 2.  We understand that Genesis 2 was written about Christ, so that we could understand the Messiah and God’s plan of salvation.

“This story in Genesis, then, was not intended to give us an accurate account of the origins of two people, Adam and Eve; rather; it was meant to give us a parable about two people representing humanity, giving us lessons about our relationship to each other and our relationship with God the Creator.[…]How does the fact that two different Genesis stories regarding the creation are included in the canonically recognized Genesis text affect considerations of science? Because there are two stories with different and conflicting information that are both accepted by the Church as canonical texts, we are lead to believe that it is not the facts regarding the creation that are important, but rather other information. This suggests, in fact, that the stories are not themselves meant to be absolutely accurate or to reflect scientific fact, but rather to convey certain lessons and points of importance to humanity.[…]

St. Basil the Great uses Scripture and Church Tradition to explain the theological issues, but when scientific facts are required, he utilizes the scientific conclusions of his day as his sources. This is important; St. Basil did not try to use Genesis to convey scientific truths, but rather used the Genesis text to convey spiritual and theological truths.[…]God is not a mere artist who shaped pre-existing matter and energy into the universe as we know it; God is the Creator Who fashioned everything from nothing. God created the universe from a void, from a vacuum, from nothing. Further, we learn that God created all things to be good – there is no distinction between spiritual and material. Material things such as earth, plants, animals, our physical selves are all good because they are created by God. When God looked at His creation of the earth with animals He noted it was ‘good’. However, when God created Man, His creation became ‘very good’. This means that God’s creation became ‘very good’ with humanity.” (Gayle E. Woloschak, Beauty and Unity in Creation, pp 88-92)

The Eucharist: Nurturing Relationships

“The Eucharistic meal dynamically realizes and foreshadows the reversal of the stipulations of the natural need to receive nourishment: the bread and the wine in the Eucharist are shared in, not consumed individualistically, and the eating and drinking serve relation, not nature; life, not survival. Sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharist refers to the transformation not of mortals or of conduct but of mode of existence. That is why the Eucharist is the sign that reveals the Church’s identity, the event that realizes and manifests the Church.” (Christos Yannaras, Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, p 44)

Holy Communion is the common meal of the Christian community.  Communion cannot be separated from the community, nor is the community separate from the communicant.   We receive communion to inspire us to love one another and to abide in the community of love.

A Healthy Heart and Soul

“My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
because of the destruction of my people…”

(Lamentations 2:11)

I think we all have experienced gut wrenching sickness – we are emotionally devastated by news and events and feel sick to our stomachs.  We lose our inner peace and equilibrium and emotion turns into visceral response.  We become physically ill.   St.Theophan the Recluse advises us:

“Do not overlook the fact that health does not depend on food alone, but above all on inner peace. Life in God, cutting us off from worldly turmoil, brings peace to the heart and, through this, keep the body also in good health. Activities are not the main thing in life. The most important this is to have the heart directed and attuned to God.”  (The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p 235)

 

Directing our hearts toward God, becoming attuned to God in our hearts is the preparation for dealing with events that completely upset us.  The bottom drops out beneath us, but focusing on God helps us cope with the loss of control, the dizzying changes and the nausea of life spinning out of control.   We need to develop this relationship to God while in calm waters in order to hold on to God in the stormiest of seas.

Of Rainbows and Pharaohs

“The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  (Genesis 9:16)

The view from my hotel window said it all.  There was a beautiful rainbow in the sky over Atlanta.  In the photo immediately above you can even detect it was a double rainbow – the 2nd is about 1/3 of the way from the right side of the photo.  The rainbow reminds us that God, according to Genesis 9:16, is looking at the same thing that we are at the same time.  For us Orthodox, it certainly means that outside the liturgy, in nature, we can focus our attention on something and realize God is gazing at the same thing we are at that moment.  We can meet God’s gaze in space and time.    Not that God is not paying attention to creation the rest of time, but in the rainbow we have a unique experience of looking at something that also catches the Creator’s attention and God remembers all of humanity and all creation in that experience.

Perhaps a good sign for the Orthodox Church in America which is holding its All American Council in Atlanta.  Certainly the infamous “days of trouble” (as they have been frequently dubbed) – scandal and failed episcopal leadership – are part of our past history.   And the OCA navigated those turbulent waters without the intervention of government (friendly or hostile) and without the intervention of a mother church in a foreign land.  The OCA, not a child anymore, has accomplished what an autocephalous church must do – deal with internal problems, apply appropriate discipline and fix the problems.  Other Orthodox jurisdictions may wag their heads as they look at the troubles the OCA has experienced and see us as weakened and on the verge of collapse, but we have gained by our experience.  We have been forced to deal with our problems and to overcome them.  We exposed our problems rather than denying them.  We have survived, which also lays a good foundation for our wrestling with the future.

I am reminded completely of the story form Exodus 14 of the Israelites escaping Egypt with Pharoah’s army in hot pursuit.  Trapped by the Red Sea, the people furious with Moses for getting them trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, Moses, confident that God will save them, cries out to his fellow Israelites:

 “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”

God will save us, He will do it all!  But, NO, that is not what God does.  For in the very next line, God puts salvation on the shoulders of Moses:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.

What is God going to be doing in this desperate situation?

He is going to be goading the Egyptians to attack!

That’s what He offers.   He asks Moses, “Why are you crying to me to save you?”  “You lead the people into the sea.”

Holy Moses!

I find this one of the best stories in the Old Testament.  Poor Moses sees the stage is set for God to miraculously save them, only to be told by God, “Why are you crying to me?  I appointed you as their leader, so lead them!”

The OCA has gone through a similar experience.  We had to rely on our divinely appointed leadership to get us through and out of the trap we had  gotten ourselves into.  Those were the times of trouble, and leadership has emerged, as has the OCA from the trap it was in.  A resurrection like the Israelites experienced in the Exodus.  We had to do it not by fleeing one land into another, but by affirming that in this land, we are the autocephalous Church and we have to deal with our problems, no matter how much we have been the cause of them.

The adoption of the revised Statutes as this AAC, the implementation of strict rules of best practices in financial matters – transparency and accountability – and in dealing with clergy misconduct and sexual misconduct in the church, all are signs that the OCA has come through these rough waters in a more healthy fashion and much matured.  We have been battered, but we better understand what God’s love demands from us in North America in the 21st Century.

For me personally, there is also some relief and comfort in the sense that I can trust my Metropolitan and my bishop.  No longer do I feel the need to play the diocese against the central church, or to have to choose which is the lesser of two evils.  Those were feelings that were even cultivated by a former chancellor and seemed so necessary to survive as a priest.  I no longer feel hypocritical about asking many years for our episcopal leadership.  The raging wars are now in the culture, but in many ways these are outside the Church itself.

“Glory to You, building your church, haven of peace in a tortured world.” (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”)

For a long time it seemed to me the Church was as tortuous as the world itself.  But what I have found at this year’s AAC is that I am at peace in my Church, the OCA.  Thanks be to God.  May God grant many years to Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Paul.

The AAC of the OCA

18thAACFrom my perspective, the 18th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America is remarkable.  This is not because any new or groundbreaking ideas have been presented, adopted or accomplished.  On the contrary, the Assembly is doing little more than what it is expected to do administratively for the OCA.

What stands out in my mind is the irenic spirit exhibited in the plenary sessions in which the OCA Statute revisions were almost unanimously adopted (97% voted in favor) and the proposed budget and funding plan were so overwhelmingly adopted (92% voting in favor).  The spirit of the council is exhibited in the gentle spirit of Metropolitan Tikhon, whose opening address captured the tone of the Council, and I hope, the future direction of the OCA.

Met Tikhon AACThe Council, under the shepherding of Metropolitan Tikhon, shows every sign that the OCA is ready to move beyond the years of turmoil that marked the past decade.  Council delegates showed a willingness to trust and follow leadership that was in fact working with the Holy Spirit.  Metropolitan Tikhon gave a long opening address in which he skillfully wove in the story of the religious sojourn of his own ancestors into the history and current situation of religion in America today.  His talk was a vision of hope that Orthodoxy in America, which contributed richly to the melting pot which is America, now living in a country of even greater social diversity and heterogeneity, can in fact thrive.   The Orthodox ethnic experience was one in which the ethnic groups tried to maintain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness in the midst of the melting pot.  The OCA is realizing a new experience – that we as Americans can also be Orthodox, and we as Orthodox can be Americans.  While there are some who feel this is purely accommodation – allowing American values to replace Orthodox values – others see that Orthodoxy has functioned as the salt of the earth in every culture into which Orthodoxy has moved.  Orthodoxy has functioned in many different cultures, even those completely hostile to its existence.  I’m reminded at least of the anonymous early 3rd Century Christian document, “The Letter to Diognetus” which among other things says:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their peopleagapefatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.

This seems much closer to Metropolitan Tikhon’s vision than any sectarian withdrawal from the world.  He is a monk, and though having withdrawn from worldly pursuits, he understands the words of Christ:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11-21)

Our goal as Church in America is to be a witness to the love, compassion and Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are to give opportunity to others that they might themselves come to repentance (we can’t compel or legislate repentance – it must come from the person’s heart).  We can’t force others to repent, but can invite them to repentance, to offer them good reason to choose a godly way of life.  Our message though is challenging – we invite people to know the love of God, not through self love but through loving others.  On the one hand our underlying assumption of free will resonates to independently  minded Americans.  On the other hand the call to love others is at odds with the self-centered and selfish ideals of total individualism.

My own sense of things is this vision is again being offered and proclaimed in the OCA in a time of uncertainty and in a constantly changing religious and moral landscape.  Our message doesn’t change, but the people to whom we speak are constantly changing.  We have to be steadfast in our love toward them.