The Ladder of Divine Ascent

And Jacob dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  (Genesis 28:12)

“Be at peace with your own soul; then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven; for there is but one single entry to them both. The Ladder that leads to the kingdom is hidden within your soul. Flee from sin, dive into yourself, and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend.”   (St. Isaac the Syrian, from Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 71)

The counter intuitive insight of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition is that to find one’s way to God’s Kingdom, one does not  look outside of one’s self – one doesn’t look to the heavens, but rather one has to learn how to go inward, into one’s heart and mind for there is where God has placed the way to Heaven.   God is not out there somewhere – distant, remote, transcendent – God is found within us.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within  you.”  (Luke 17:20-21)

As the Prophet Isaiah testifies:

For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.  (Isaiah 57:15)


The New Law is Christ

“The new law, then, is spiritual because the Spirit works everything. The former law is written because it goes no further than letters and sounds. Therefore that law is “a shadow” (Heb. 10:1) and an image, the present one is reality and truth. The words and letters are like an image in relation to reality. Before they were realized God foreshadowed them on many occasions by the tongue of the prophets. “I will make,” he says, “a new covenant, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-32). What does this mean? “This,” He says, “is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah: I will put my laws within their mind and in their hearts I will write them” (Jer. 31:33)–that is, not composing them by mere sound of words, but by the Lawgiver’s presence, without intermediary. For He says, “no longer shall each man teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34). Because he had obtained this law David also uttered this blessed saying, “I know that the Lord is great” (Ps. 135:5). He says, “I know,” having experienced it himself, not by having head it taught by others. Wherefore he leads others too to the same experience, saying, “O taste and see that the Lord is gracious” (Ps. 34:9).”

(St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 95)

Forgiveness Sunday (2018)

If Lent is to be a truly Christian fast, it must be accompanied by love and forgiveness. Thus, before Lent begins, we are called to forgive everyone who has injured or offended us from the bottom of our hearts. Only then can we have a truly Christian Lent. Only then can our fast be pleasing to God.”   (Vassilios Papavassiliou, MEDITATIONS FOR GREAT LENT: Reflections on the Triodion, Kindle Loc. 281-83)

St. John Chrysostom tells us that we should consider forgiving others and reconciling with them as an essential part of spiritual lives – not something optional if it is convenient and easy, but something critical and necessary no matter what what the obstacles or what the cost.

If the Emperor had laid down a law that all those who were enemies should be reconciled to one another, or have their heads cut off, should we not every one make haste to a reconciliation with his neighbor? Yes, truly, I think so!

What excuse then have we, in not ascribing the same honour to the LORD that we should do to those who are our fellow servants? For this reason we are commanded to say, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. (Matt. 6:12) What can be more mild, what more merciful, than this precept! He has made you a judge of the pardon of your own offenses! If you forgive few things, he forgives you few! If you forgive many things, he forgives you many! If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you…

Do not tell me, ‘I have besought him many times, I have entreated, I have supplicated, but I have not effected a reconciliation.’ Never desist till you have reconciled him. For he said not, ‘Leave your gift, and go your way’. Although you may have made many entreaties, yet you must not desist until you have persuaded. God entreats us every day, and we do not hear; yet he does not cease entreating. And do not then disdain to entreat your fellow-servant. How is it then possible for you ever to be saved? In proportion as the good work is accomplished with greater difficulty, and the reconciliation is one of much labour, so much the greater will be the judgment on him, and so much the brighter will be the crowns of victory for your forbearance. (Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kindle 2950-62)


To Love as Christ Loves

“Indeed, if anything in Christ’s unique image is predominant, then it is His extreme humility and not at all any desire to ‘prove’ His Divinity by using miracles. The Apostle Paul writes some extraordinary words about this humility of Christ: ‘He was in the form of God … but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant… He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross…’ (Phil 2:6-8). He never used His miraculous birth as “proof” and never once in the Gospels even mentions it Himself. And when He was hanging on the Cross, abandoned by everyone and in terrible agony, His accusers mocked Him precisely by requesting a miracle: ‘…come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’ (Mk 15:32). But He did not come down and they did not believe. Others, however, believed because of the fact that He did not come down from the cross, for they could sense the full divinity, the boundless height of that humility, of that total forgiveness radiating from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do‘ (Lk 23:34).

Once again, the Gospels and genuine Christian faith do not view miracles as proofs to force belief, since this would deprive man of what Christianity regards as most precious, his freedom. Christ wants people to believe in Him willingly without the coercion of a miracle. ‘If you love me,‘ Christ says, ‘you will keep my commandments‘ (Jn 14:15). And we love Christ–sadly, all too little–not because of His love, His humility and because, as those who heard Him said, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ (Jn 7:46).

(Alexander Schmemmann, The Virgin Mary, p. 17-18)


Jesus as Temple

The Feast of the  Meeting of the Lord Jesus in the Temple is based upon the events recorded in  Luke 2:22-40 when Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command and thus righteousness, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple.  Biblical scholar Richard Hays says both ancient Jewish and Christian sources saw the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD as being theologically significant.

“Once the Temple has been destroyed and the holy of holies no longer stands in a building made with hands, the community must seek to discern how the God of all the earth will be made known in the world. In this situation, Matthew emphatically locates the divine presence in the figure of Jesus himself, who promises (in a saying that anticipates the resurrection and the ending of the Gospel) to be forever present wherever his followers gather and invoke his name.

In short, in Matthew 18:20 Jesus now declares himself, for the first time, to be the Emmanuel promised in the narrator’s opening fulfillment citation in 1:23. ‘My words will not pass away.’ Precisely because Jesus is Emmanuel, in his subsequent discourse on the end of the age (Matthew 24) he can offer the further remarkable assurance that his words will outlast all creation: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away‘ (24:35). If we ask ourselves who might legitimately say such a thing, once again there can be only one answer: we find ourselves face-to-face with the God of the Old Testament. Isaiah gives definitive expression to this theological truth: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:7-8)     (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Kindle Loc 1197-1209)

Christ in the temple is God in the temple.  The temple was a sign of God’s incarnation and Christ is that incarnation in the temple.  The Christian understanding of Jesus as the incarnate God is the Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel.  It is not the Christians reading “into” the text but recognizing the claims of the text in Jesus Christ.


Jesus Christ Seen in the Temple

51bjegthg4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_As we celebrate the Meeting of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple, I want to offer a few thoughts take from the most fascinating book by biblical scholar Gary Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis.

The Feast is based upon the Luke 2:22-40 account of Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple thus fulfilling righteousness – according to our hymns. In Orthodoxy we often see in this Feast the Jerusalem Temple finally fulfilling its destiny – when Christ is brought into the Temple, God finally and fully enters into and takes His proper place in the Temple.  Gary Anderson points out that the temple in so many ways was a type of an “incarnation” of God in the Old Testament.  The Scriptures make several references to people going to the temple to see God, and several verses in scripture make references to seeing the form of God – all this despite another stream of theology which says God cannot be seen.

Anderson writes:

“The first thing the reader must bear in mind is the Bible’s assumption that God has really taken up residence in the tabernacle. Michael Wyschogrod, in an essay on the notion of incarnation in the Jewish tradition, has argued: ‘God has undertaken to enter the world and to dwell in a place.’ But this deeply ‘incarnational’ character of the tabernacle carries a particular danger along with it: individuals will be tempted to co-opt either the building itself (cf. Jer. 7) or its most important artifact—the ark—to their own political and/or religious advantage and so compromise the freedom of God.  (Kindle Loc 420-425)

The artifacts in the temple and the ritual of the temple, gave Israel a way to approach God and to be aware of His presence.  But, there was a temptation to try to manipulate God by claiming to do all the ritual perfectly, thus making God a servant of the ritual – do the ritual correctly and God is obligated to the priests.  Certainly in the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, there is a great emphasis on the fulfilling of the Law, but now it is God who fulfills it when Mary and Joseph bring the incarnate God, Jesus, into the temple.  There is an unexpected turn of events where the fulfilling of the Law in not manipulating God but making God present!  God is present not in some almighty, transcendent form but incarnate in the infant Jesus!


Anderson goes on to note that whatever the temple represents in terms of God’s own movement into the temple, this same temple always requires human cooperation.  The temple is not God’s alone, but exists in and for the people of God who are essential to the revelation.

“The first thing to be observed is the parallelism between the creation of the world in Gen. 1 and the building of the tabernacle in Exod. 25–Lev. 9. As Peter Schäfer has put the matter: ‘The creation of the world is not, if one accepts this view, solely the work of God but also the work of man: only when Moses erects the tabernacle is God’s created order brought to completion.’ The role ascribed to human agency in this narrative is not to be overlooked. Human actions have become a nonnegotiable part of the way God has chosen to direct human history. A second and closely related point is the manner in which this building project succeeds in capturing the presence of God. Moses opens the rites of the eighth day with the warning to do exactly as God has commanded (Lev. 9:6–7). Aaron complies with complete obedience and succeeds in attracting the divine presence to the sacrificial altar (‘Fire came out from the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces,’ 9:24). In allowing the tabernacle to be built and the cult to begin, God has invited Israel to participate in the divine life. But along with this gracious condescension comes considerable risk. Because Israel’s liturgical actions are allowed to attain such theurgic capabilities, God’s freedom is put at risk. Has the priesthood gained the upper hand over the being of God? Can the mastery of cultic law allow the priesthood to conjure the divine presence at will? Mē genoito [May it never be]! As Thomas Hieke puts the matter: ‘This dramatic narrative dispels the misunderstanding that one can compel God to behave in a certain way through human—or more exactly—ritual action.’  (Gary Anderson, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis, Kindle Loc 665-679)

The temple always meant a synergy between God and humanity.  Certainly the Feast of the Meeting places a great deal of emphasis on human activity, fulfilling the law, but again not manipulating God, but rather making God present in the temple through human activity.  The incarnate God is not limited in glory or power, but rather holiness, omnipotence  and the glory of God are present in a totally unexpected way.  This is the depth of God’s mystery revealed in Christ.

According to Anderson, the temple’s every detail were so important in the Old Testament because all of the things of the temple in some way make God “incarnate”.

“Menahem Haran has remarked, ‘The priestly writers find [this] subject so fascinating that . . . [they are] prompted to recapitulate the list of its appurtenances time and again. Their tendency to indulge in technicalities and stereotyped repetitions has here reached its furthest limits.’ I suggest that this is because the tabernacle furniture was understood as possessing something of the very being of the God of Israel.”   (Kindle Loc 2731-2735)

Anderson says the list of temple furnishing are repeated no less than six times.  While many modern readers just see unnecessary redundancy and boring repetitiveness, Anderson says the text is so otherwise terse and to the point  that the repetition stands out and tells us something very important is being detailed.  Anderson further notes:

“(1) that the furniture of the temple was treated as quasi-divine in both literary and iconographic sources during the Second Temple period; (2) that the exalted estimation of these pieces of furniture made them dangerous to look at but at the same time, quite paradoxically, desirable or even compulsory to contemplate; (3) that the impossibility of dividing with precision the house of God from the being of God led the early Christians to adopt this Jewish theologoumenon as a means of clarifying how it was that Jesus could be both God and man.”  (Kindle Loc 2740-2744)


The temple in other words was a sign in the Old Testament of the incarnation of God.  The Israelites paid close attention to all the details of the temple because when the temple was properly put together God was present to the people.  God could be seen in some way in the temple properly furnished.  The Israelites could in some way see the face of God in the Temple.  The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is when God comes face to face with Himself in the temple.


Two of Every Sort of Animal


The story of Noah taking the animals in the ark mentions at one point taking two of each kind of animal with him.


But the Noah narrative is actually made of two versions of the story woven together in one tapestry and makes no effort to harmonize the two versions.  The other version mentions taking seven pairs of clean animals and birds.


When the animals follow Noah into the ark as if he is the chief shepherd to all animals, it is the first time in Scripture that the animals are said to follow the dominion of humans.


The story portrays humans and animals in a harmonious relationship with humans having proper dominion over the animals.


Inside the ark itself the story suggests another paradise with humans and animals living peaceably together, though outside the ark the raging waters will threaten death to all.


“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.


Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive.


Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”  (Genesis 6:19-21)

The ark was to be a protective storehouse of plants and animals that God would keep safe from the chaotic torrential downpour that would inundate the world.  As destructive as the deluge might be, God was preserving all the species on earth.


What a menagerie of animals was brought together – just like in Paradise.


“… they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind,


and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.


And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. ” (Genesis 7:14-16)


All of the above photos were taken at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  You can view all of my photos from there at SDZSP 2018 .   Photos from a previous visit are at SDZSP 2012.



The Blessing of Wind

In January, we bless water in the Church as part of our celebration of the Theophany of the Lord.   All of creation was given to us by God to be a blessing for us.  We acknowledge those blessings in the many & varied prayer services of the ChurchSt. John Chrysostom  reminds us that the wind is also a blessing from God.

“Truly the winds are also for you–for we are going back again to the beginning of our discourse–to fan worn-out bodies, to purge away the defilement from mud and the heaviness caused by smoke and furnaces and other exhalations,

to attenuate the heat of the sun’s rays, to relieve the stifling heat, to make seeds grow, to strengthen plants, to travel together with you at sea and to be servants of agriculture for you on land–in the first place, conveying ships more swiftly than arrows and making the voyage easy and convenient,

and in the second place, clearing off the threshing floor with you, separating the chaff from the grain, and lightening the hardship of the work–to make the air light and gentle for you, to give you delight in different ways–first whistling pleasantly and gently, and then softly striking the plants and shaking the leaves of the trees–to make your sleep in spring and in summer more pleasant and more delightful than honey.

They also act on the surface of the sea and on the waters of the rivers, and lift up their surface in the same way as with the trees, thus providing you with a great deal of enjoyment from seeing it and, more importantly, also rendering you a great service.

And in fact, the winds are useful to waters in another way: not allowing them to stagnate and go bad, but rather, continually setting them in motion and stirring them up, rendering them fresh and at their best and more suitable as sustenance for creatures that swim in them.” 

(On the Providence of God, pp. 65-66)


Take Delight in All Things

Your own of Your own we offer to You on behalf of all things and for all things.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

… when You open Your hand, they are filled with good things.”  (Psalm 104:28)

“Take delight in all things that surround us.  All things teach us and lead us to God.  All things around us are droplets of the love of God –

both things animate and inanimate,


the plants and the animals,

the birds and the mountains,

the sea and the sunset and the starry sky.

They are little loves through which we attain to the great Love that is Christ.

Flowers, for example, have their own grace: they teach us with their fragrance and with their magnificence.  They speak to us of the love of God.

They scatter their fragrance and their beauty on sinners and on the righteous.”  (Elder Porphyrios, WOUNDED BY LOVE, p 218)


The Incarnation of God is Our Salvation

“It is important to note that, in accordance with Irenaeus’s general understanding of the human person, the focus of Christ’s work is located in the flesh: it is in the flesh that Christ suffered, and through it that he reconciled the flesh which was in bondage, bringing it into union with God. Nevertheless, the work of redemption is solely the work of God, the incarnate Son, throughout:

‘The Lord has redeemed us through his own blood, giving his soul for our soul, his flesh for our flesh, and has poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and men, bringing God down to men through the Spirit, and lifting man up to God through his incarnation, and by his granting to us incorruptibility, firmly and truly, through communion with him.’  (AH 5.1.1)

Again, it is God, who in man, by himself becoming man, accomplishes the economy.

‘…That the manner of Christ’s incarnation preserved the manner of Adam’s formation is due both to the fact that Adam was a type of Christ and to the need for Christ’s flesh to be that of Adam, if he is to recapitulate all in himself, so becoming the head of all those whose ‘head’ had been Adam.'”

(John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement, p. 62 & 63)