Green

“He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.” (Job 39:8)

It is not only the Lord who searches “after every green thing.”  In Genesis 1, God gave every green leaf to be food for humans and for animals alike.

“And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:30)

Green, the color of chlorophyll, is the color of life for plants and the life giving process of photosynthesis.  Maybe it is life giving and sustaining qualities associated with green that causes God as Creator to seek our and value things green.

 

He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28)

Green is not the color of money in the Bible, but the righteous will flourish like the well watered green leaf.  I am amazed when walking in the woods about all the shades of green present in any one small portion of land.  The shapes, sizes, contours of the leaves are abundantly varied.  Even though the shades of the color vary so greatly, yet everyone of them is still green.  Not all greens are identical.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”  (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I do not know when or why green became the color identified with Pentecost in Orthodoxy, but it is the color of abundant life in the plant world.  Traditionally in Orthodoxy the only mention of color with a feast was whether vestments should be bright or dark, but an exact color was not assigned to a feast, so I can only guess that the use of green with Pentecost must be a recent practice.  I also don’t know when or why churches began decorating with tree branches and green leaves for Pentecost.  It is possible that this too is a relatively recent practice.

Living The Kingdom of God

In the book Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church (page 124), Michael Plekon, building upon the writings of Paul Evdokimov, notes:

 “For every Christian, the sacraments of initiation confer the dignity of prophet, priest and king. Every profession and state in life can be a form of this universal priesthood. In the liturgy, such a priest ‘makes of everything a human offering, a hymn, a doxology’. Then, in daily life, in the ‘liturgy after liturgy’ of St. John Chrysostom, such a Christian is

‘freed by his faith from the “greater fear” of his twentieth century, fear of the bomb, of cancer, of communism, of death; [his] faith is always a way of loving the world, away of following his Lord even into hell. This is certainly not a part of a theological system, but perhaps it is only from the depths of hell that a dazzling and joyous hope can be born and assert itself. Christianity in the grandeur of its confessors and martyrs, in the dignity of every believer, is messianic, revolutionary, explosive.  In the domain of Caesar, we are ordered to see and therefore to find what is not found there—the Kingdom of God. This order signifies that we must transform the form of the world, change it into the icon of the Kingdom. To change the world means to pass from what the world does not yet possess—for this reason it is still this world—to that in which it is transfigured, thus becoming something else—the Kingdom.’ (Paul Evdokimov)”

 

A Misty Fog

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“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. . . . and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.  (Jeremiah 51:15-16)

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The Prophet Jeremiah tells us that it is the same God who created the universe who makes fog appear on earth.   Yesterday morning was one of the foggiest days I’ve seen for a long time – perhaps a sign that God the Creator is still at work on earth.  A combination of a warm winter day with lots of moisture in the ground produced the dense misty fog.  It made it a difficult drive – for one could only see about half a block ahead.

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It did remind me of the second creation account in the book of Genesis where a mist came up from the earth just before God created the first human.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  (Genesis 2:4-7)

In the Wisdom of Sirach, there is an interesting interpretation of the above Genesis passage, for the mist turns out to be Wisdom who says:

“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and covered the earth like a mist.
(Sirach 24:3)

You can see all the photos I took in the morning fog at Foggy Morning 2-20-2017.  The weather pattern may repeat itself again later this week so we may have more heavy, dense fog.  It would be great if it were the Wisdom of God.

The Evil of Despair

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Christ's temptation in the wilderness
Christ’s temptation in the wilderness

“In the growth of despair the devil plays a particularly important role and by means of this condition can provoke in the soul catastrophic consequences. ‘The devil’, St John Chrysostom tells us, ‘has no greater weapon in his hands than despair; we also give him less pleasure in sinning than in despairing.’ In this condition the individual basically despairs of God and cuts himself off from Him. As a result he leaves the field free for the devil’s action, and, bound hand and foot, yields to his power and is given up to spiritual death. As St Paul teaches ‘the sadness of the world worketh death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). Under the effect of despair (and sometimes even simply from sadness), man often comes to embrace corrupt passions, thinking that they might bring him a remedy for his condition. Thus the Apostle states, ‘having lost all hope they are free to embrace licentiousness, unto the working of all uncleanness; plunged in impurity’ (Eph. 4:19). Following him St. Gregory the Great tells us that the end result of sadness is ‘the straying of the spirit towards forbidden things.’ (Jean Claude Larchet, Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, pp 98-99)

While despair can be a temptation of the devil, it is possible to bring ourselves to despair – to bring our selves into the wilderness where Satan will meet and tempt us.  Some despair we experience is situational, we react to events going on over which we have no control.  Time and patience can at times bring us out of this funk.  Some despair is the result of body chemistry, which can be treated by psychiatry and/or psychological counseling.  Some despair is demonic and torments us, needing spiritual, physical and mental healing.   Some despair is chosen – the sadness of self-pity, which Chrysostom thought worse than sin.  We choose not to get out of it.

We often need help when in despair, whether from a supporting community of family, friends, parishioners, or from the mental health and medical community, or from our Lord Himself.

“… tribulation produces perseverance;and perseverance, character; and character, hope.Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Look at the Birds Whom the Heavenly Father Feeds

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A Red-bellied Woodpecker lands kicking up some newly fallen snow.  A beautiful bird, I must say.

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According to Matthew 6:26, we are to consider the birds:   “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26)

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Having fed a little, the woodpecker takes off, true to the proverb.  He didn’t toil at all to cause the seed to grow, but he was able to feed on it.

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Lots of feathered friends join the feast.  The cardinal adds a little color.

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A Tufted Titmouse finds a seed, or maybe drops it for other birds who can’t hang on to the feeder, and wait below on the ground for the seeds to fall.  “… some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them”  (Matthew 13:4).

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The tiny Chickadees are usually first to arrive at the feeder.  Their chirping seems to be the all-clear signal for the other birds to follow.

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Feeding the birds allows me to imitate the Heavenly Father who also feeds them (Matthew 6:26)   I do it for the fun of it.  The Nuthatch can hold on even when up-side-down,

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All of the photos in this blog were taken from my bedroom window.  I put the birdfeeders out there to enjoy the birds.  The Hairy Woodpecker is a frequent visitor.  Though small, the other birds seem to give him lots of space.

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The snow doesn’t discourage visitors to the birdfeeder.  I on the other hand find myself more confined at home during such weather.  I continue my recovery from the spinal fusion surgery.  As mentioned several weeks ago, I no longer need a cane to walk, and the surgery has for the time being relieved the pain.  However, ice and snow put a freeze on my life and I avoid going out on it when possible.  I still have to wear my back brace, and have many activity restrictions.  The riskiest thing I do is picking up the camera to take photos from my window as the camera is near my weight lifting limit of 8 pounds.

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You can find the Bewick’s Wren other photos I’ve taken recently around my birdfeeders at Birdfeeder 12-2016  or  Birdfeeder 1-2017.

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Christ God at Theophany

Continuing to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Baptism and the Theophany of the Holy Trinity.   Below are two hymns from the Vespers of the Feast of Theophany.  The first introduces the sense of coverings or clothing – things that Christ puts on.  As God, Christ clothes Himself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2).  At Vespers we sing in the prokeimenon that the Lord clothes Himself with majesty.  Some in Orthodoxy takes this as a reference to the incarnation in which God clothes Himself with a human body.  The human body was originally created for glory, and Adam and Eve were thought to where glorious garments in Paradise before the Fall.  After the fall, they put on “garments of skin” which God gave them (Genesis 3:21).  Christ takes on Himself that garment and transfigures and transforms it back into majesty and glory.  Just by putting on human nature, Christ restores it to majesty – this is the saving power of the incarnation.

In the hymn below, Christ also covers Himself with the water of the Jordan – as God He is invisible and ineffable.  He stands naked in the river, yet the waters cover Him.  The imagery is one of mystery – in Christ, the human body hides God.  The river is covering the body to reveal God!   In the incarnation He allows Himself to be visible.  Since we were created in His image and likeness, we have some sense of Christ in each human being.  In the incarnation we see the type in whose image we are made.  But being God, even incarnate, He is not guilty of sin.   God made Christ to be sin, even though He never commits sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Being God, being pure and holy, it is Christ who gives to baptism the power to take away sin and to regenerate every human being.

He who covers Himself with Light as with a garment

Has granted for our sake to become as we are.

Today He is covered by the streams of the Jordan,

Though He has no need to be cleansed by them:

But through the cleansing that He Himself receives

Wonder! He bestows regeneration on us!

He refashions without shattering,

And without fire, He casts anew,

And He saves those who are enlightened in Him,

Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.

I love the imagery of Christ regenerating, refashioning and recreating us – without shattering or fire.  He refashions by balm not burning.  He recreates by degree not destroying.  He edifies by design not demolishing.

Christ does not destroy His creatures but finds a way to renew and refashion us from within, without having to melt us down or destroy us because we are too evil. He renews the goodness innate in our being, which He bestowed on each of us at our conception – His image!   Christ has become incarnate because humans are capable of being redeemed and created anew.  Christ makes all things new, not all new things (Revelation 21:5).  God loves us because He did not create junk.  God has the eyes to see the goodness in us, savable and redeemable, capable of restoration and renewal.   God does not need to annihilate creation or the human body in order to save it.  The hymns of the Orthodox Church often marvel that in the incarnation divinity does not destroy humanity.  The Virgin Mary is not destroyed by having God incarnate in her womb, just as Moses saw a bush being burned yet not consumed.  God is fire, yet one that does not destroy but renews.  God saves the Three Youths in the fiery furnace, an image of hell, where the fire becomes like dew to those whom God loves.   The divine-human fusion of the incarnation and theosis is God’s method of salvation.

The incarnation of God in Christ is recognized and worshiped by all parts of creation, as we see in the hymn below.

Lord, in Your desire to fulfill what you appointed from eternity,

You have received ministers from all the creation at this, Your mystery:

Gabriel from among the angels,

The Virgin from among humans,

The star from the heavens,

and Jordan from the waters;

And in its stream You have washed away the transgression of the world.

O Savior, glory to You!

Angels, humans, heaven and earth are all united in Christ, and each finds the representative to serve Him as is clear in the icons of Theophany.

Revealing Christ at Theophany

All the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church celebrate the incarnation of God.  thus they affirm the Trinitarian Theology of ancient Christianity, and contemplate the mystery which God revealed in Jesus Christ.  We can look at three hymns from Matins of the Prefeast of Theophany   (January 2) –

You are a rushing torrent, who fashioned the sea and the wellsprings.

How do You come to the waters?

Why do you seek cleansing?

For You are the washing and purification

of those who sing hymns to You, O Christ, forever!

The above hymn, addressed to Christ, accepts the truth proclaimed in the Nicene Creed that all things were made by Christ at creation as recorded in Genesis 1.  The hymn marvels that the One who created water, the sea, wellsprings, now is immersed in water.  The hymn ponders the incongruity and divine mystery of the Holy, Pure and Sinless God accepting baptism which was associated with the cleansing away of sin.  The incarnation, indeed, turns creation upside down!

 

Seeking to dry up the streams of the enemy’s malice,

to drain the sea of the passions

and to pour out cleansing and remission upon the faithful, Master,

You come to be baptized in the streams of the Jordan.

The second hymn uses metaphorical imagery to further contemplate the full meaning of the Baptism of Christ.  Christ is immersed in the waters of the Jordan, but now the streams of water are no longer merely part of material creation.  They now are metaphorically transformed into “the enemy’s malice” as well as “the sea of passions.”  God became human in Christ in order to overcome the evil of Satan as well as human sin and passion.  The hymn reminds us that a literal reading of the text limits the meaning of the events and the power of God.  Whenever God interacts with creation, an entire new meaning and depth is added to the material world.  In Christ and in His every deed, heaven and earth are united together.  God and humanity have their proper relationship restored in Christ.

Creator of the hours and years,

in Your loving-kindness, You have come under time!

You shone forth timelessly from the unoriginate Father

and have come to wash away in the streams of the Jordan

the transgressions committed throughout all ages!

It is not only the material that is renewed in Christ – time also is transformed.  The space-time continuum mean energy and mass, space and time all belong to the same one reality – the created cosmos.  Christ heals and restores everything in the created order including time.  So the hymn marvels that the One who created time enters into time.  The Timeless One  enters into the present moment giving it eternal meaning.  Thus in the worship of the Orthodox Church we enter into the “eternal now” at every Feast and during every Liturgy.  

Thinking About What Is True

St. Paul can write to the Philippians,

‘Whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely,

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whatever is gracious,

if there is any excellence,

if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things’

(Phil. 4:8).

Because in thinking about these things, Paul says, our minds are on Jesus Christ. In the next chapter of the same letter he says, ‘Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true’ (Eph. 5:8-9, emphasis added).

Conversely,

anywhere there is deceit or distortion of truth;

where there is a degree of denial on however a deep a level;

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where we are dishonest- out of convenience or out of the need for power or gratification or out of misinformation or ignorance – or if we are ‘living a lie’;

there is a distance from Christ himself.”

(Peter Bouteneff, Sweeter Than Honey, p 33)

 

 

Jesus is Lord

“‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ (Isaiah 40:13)  But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

Jesus as Holy Wisdom of God
Jesus as Holy Wisdom of God

 

“Indeed, it is quite astonishing how Paul uses Old Testament texts, speaking of Yahweh with clear reference to Jesus (e.g. Rom. 10:13, 1 Cor. 2:16). Most striking of all is the application of one of the sternest monotheistic passage of the OT (Isa. 45:23) to the exalted Jesus in Phil. 2:10 – a hymn already in circulation before Paul took it up. Here quite clearly ‘Jesus is Lord’ has become a confession not just of divinely given authority, but of divinity itself.” (James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p 56)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’  (Isaiah 45:21-23)