Satan and Our Passions

There is a debate among some Christians that the Lord’s Prayer should conclude with the words “deliver us from the Evil One” rather than the customary “deliver us from evil.”  The prayer thus asks God the Father not merely to protect us from generic evil but really from the works of Satan.

Some claim that nowhere in the Orthodox tradition can you find the saints speaking of a generic evil, but rather they all recognize the existence of the Evil one.   However, I came across an interesting quote from St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th Century) which maybe shows some of the Fathers had a far more nuanced understanding of Satan and devils than we who live in a literally dominated society imagine.    Here is the poem St. Ephrem wrote.  Satan is the speaker:

How many satans there are in a person,
but it is I alone whom everyone curses.
A person’s anger is [like]
a devil which harasses him daily.      Other demons are like travelers
who only move on if they are forced to,      but as for anger,
even if all the righteous adjure it,
it will  not be rooted out from its place.
Instead of hating destructive envy,
everyone hates some weak and wretched devil!

(Ephrem the Syrian SELECT POEMS, p 143)

St. Ephrem has Satan call the many passions (like anger and envy) of a person “satans” but really is acknowleding these passions are not demons but things residing within each human.   Jesus speaks about this same idea in Mark 7:21-23 where He notes that evil lurks in the heart of each human but He does not blame the Evil One.

The Lord Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

St. Ephrem says a person’s anger is like a devil, and in that sense is demonic, but it isn’t a devil acting in a person.  The reality is our passions can imitate devilish behavior which is why we need the asceticism of self denial and self control – to contain the passions which are like demons in us.   Perhaps with a bit of humor, St. Ephrem has Satan lamenting that everyone blames him for all their sins and that  everyone hates him alone because they fail to recognize themselves as the source of their own passions.  St. Ephrem cleverly has the Father of Lies demurring the fact that we humans lie to ourselves blaming some poor devil for things which in fact are our own passions (like envy for example).

Satan deserves no blame for the passions and behaviors in which a human chooses to engage.  People blame devils for their faults rather than do the hard work of dealing with their destructive passions.

it is an interesting poem which does not blame Satan for all our woes, but rather St. Ephrem acknowledges that the heart is the home and source of much evil in the world.  We need to engage in a spiritual warfare within ourselves and with our own passions rather than blaming Satan.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.   (James 4:7)

The Internet, Internationalism and the Internal Self

There is a truth that people often ignore when they embrace some utopian idealism:  People will be people.  We can imagine, depending on our beliefs and ideology, that a world in which everyone is a Christian might ideally be a world in which there is no more sin.  However, as long as we are still in this world of the fall, people will be people, and that means sinners will be in the church and among the clergy.  The recent sexual abuse scandals in the Roman church expose the fact that people will be people.  In the general population there are sexual predators and pedophiles.  And guess what?  They make their way into the church.

People might then imagine, well, that is only in the Catholic Church but not in other church bodies.  However, I read statistics from companies which insure religious organizations which show across denominational lines pedophiles exist.  The Roman Church makes the news more because it is a huge organization.  Sexual misconduct occurs in clergy of all kinds of denominations.  But among small denominations the appearance is of individual cases and they seem more rare;  nevertheless, they too add up to serious numbers of problems.   People will be people.

Atheists blame “faithists” for causing all the problems of the world, forgetting the truth that people will be people.  You don’t need religion to hate, be prejudiced, to murder or rape.  People will be people.  Whatever exists in the general population will exist in religion, in atheistic society, in clerical ranks, and among ideologues of every stripe.  Atheism will not escape fanatics or the mentally ill because it is supposedly based in pure reason.   People will be people, and will cause people problems.

If people problems persist despite philosophical, religious or ideological differences, we might try to convince (delude?) ourselves that technology will make a difference and change the world.  But people will be people.

As Ethan Zuckerman in “A Small World After All?” (THE WILSON QUARTERLY Spring 2012) notes:

“In 1912, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi declared, ‘The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.’ Two years later a ridiculous war began, ultimately killing nine million Europeans.”

Zuckerman goes on to comment on the belief that the Internet is going to change the world:

“While it’s easy to be dismissive of today’s Marconis—the pundits, experts, and enthusiasts who saw a rise in Internet connection leading to a rise in international understanding—that’s too simple and too cynical a response. Increased digital connection does not automatically lead to increased understanding. At the same time, there’s never been a tool as powerful as the Internet for building new ties (and maintaining existing ones) across distant borders.”

Yes, the Internet is a powerful new tool, but because people will be people, they will continue to behave as people.  Violence will not disappear from the earth if Islam and all other religions disappear.  The Internet can be used to promote violence as well as democracy or cooperation.  People will continue to be people even into the future just as they were in the past.  Some people will be hungry for power and wealth, the narcissistic personality disorder will continue to appear in the population.   People will sin, make bad choices, inflict suffering on others.  Maybe it is in our genes, Jesus said it is in our hearts (Mark 7:21-23).

Religion at its best calls people to some self denial and self restraint and self control.  It calls us to reign in on our “people will be people” tendency.  And yet, and yes, it has been used to call people to violence.  Christ called people to self martyrdom, not to kill anyone else.  Some Muslims do note that Islam calls people to an internal spiritual warfare more than to any jihad against the world.  Atheism and technology will not change people more than theism and theology.   Ideologues and abusers will continue to be part of the human population.  We can however continue to point out this truth, and we can consciously try to resist those violent and destructive tendencies which come from our human hearts.

“People will be people” is not a phrase enshrining determinism or defeatism, but rather taking a hard, realistic, factual and truthful look at the human condition.  Orthodox Christianity acknowledges the truth and calls all of its members to some forms of asceticism, abstinence, self denial and self control.  Jesus said we have to take up the cross and follow Him.  It is a call for us to exercise our free wills and to aspire to something greater than our genes appear to be willing to allow us to attain.  It is a call to self will and to self emptying (kenosis) and to self sacrificial love for the other.    We are not going to legislate ourselves to perfect behavior, nor genetically engineer the perfect human being, nor defeat evil by technology driven weapons of mass destruction.   The process starts in each human heart by an act of will, when we respond to that invitation to change ourselves and to be like Christ.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”    (Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Evil: A Universal Power and/or A Condition of the Soul?

The lurking evil.

It is not a powerful semi-deity in a cosmic battle with God, but rather a negative condition of the heart.

Imagination likes to portray evil as a demonic power in the universe which comes ready to snatch and destroy everything in its path.  It is an external force threatening all that exists.

While such portrayals of evil make for good books and movies, we do find in Scripture and Tradition another image of evil.

“If evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from when comes its nature? Certainly no one living in the world will deny that evil exists. What shall we say then? Evil is not a living animated essence. It is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good.” (St. Basil the Great on Sin, Suffering, and Salvation, pg. 15)

The condition of the soul opposed to virtue.  That is a theological opinion of St. Basil.  It brings evil down to size, something we have to deal within us; not something that can be destroyed by armies and nuclear weapons.

In Genesis, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND Evil stands in the middle of Paradise.  It is not evil, but the knowledge of evil.   The serpent in Genesis 3 who tempts Eve is portrayed in later writings as evil, but in Genesis it is just a creaturely serpent (albeit a talking one) not a semi-god Satan.  Genesis gives us a different idea as to the location of evil in the universe.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   (Genesis 6:5)

God sees evil in the heart of His new creature – every imagination of heart was evil.  Evil was not an all-powerful force external to humanity, but in the human heart.   How does God react to this revelation?

“And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”.  (Genesis 6:5-6)

God in His heart is grieved by the evil in the heart of man.  God gives us an image of repentance.   And God tries to cleanse the world of this evil by drowning it in a flood, according to Genesis.   And what does God woefully discover as a result of the destructive Great Flood?   The flood doesn’t change the reality of the location of evil.

“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”  (Genesis 8:21)

Evil lurks in the imagination of man’s heart.

The Lord Jesus too pointed out this same reality for He taught:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:21-23)

Evil – the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, the imagination of the heart.

It is no wonder that our battle with evil begins in our own spiritual lives.  In resisting sin, in practicing self denial and self control.  In repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness. That is the battle against evil that everyone of us can engage in.  We don’t need the police or an army for that fight.  We can turn away from evil and embrace virtue.   We do this by humbling ourselves and repenting of our heart’s evil imaginations.  We can seek the good virtues in order to destroy the evil which lurks within.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, …

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts…”   

(Luke 1:46, 51)

 

Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

In a previous blog, Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book, I mentioned a couple of postings from a sportscaster regarding the ongoing turmoil at Penn State involving a coach accused of sexual misconduct with some young boys.  I felt the Church can learn some lessons from that case on the risks of child sexual abuse and also a need to openly, transparently, immediately and without fail to deal with these types of allegations.  Whereas some may have anesthetized  themselves by believing that these type of problems only happen in the Roman Catholic Church, the allegations at Penn State show that they can happen anywhere and that any institution can fail to deal properly with the allegations.   Institutions can be more interested in defending the interests of the institution than in dealing with the personal crimes of rogue employees.  Institutions might assume that if they can avoid public entanglement with scandal that is better than having to deal with the crimes individual employees might commit.  That strategy in recent times has often backfired to the tenfold detriment of institutions.

I will note again that for me the issue of greatest concern is not that the allegations happened at a college or were allegedly done by a football coach.  My interest is the implication for the Church, and also parallels the Penn State situation might have with cases that have happened in other churches and could happen in the Orthodox Church.

I also mention again, I am not a great sport fan, so it is not that this issues involves a sports program that interests me.   Like in my previous blog, I had never even heard of the commentator I am going to quote below.  The significance to me is that some sportscasters are getting exactly right what a number of church leaders miss completely in dealing with sexual misconduct.

I accidentally heard Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed on the radio on Saturday afternoon and he made some very strong comments about Joe Paterno’s actions beginning with when Coach Paterno first learned of the allegations.   A lot of what he said is also in an article he wrote for ESPN (The Tragedy of Joe Paterno)  which I quote extensively below.    I quote it because in it are important lessons and reminders for Church leadership in dealing with clergy or any church sexual misconduct.

The first words I heard when I turned my car radio on (and what kept me listening) was Wojciechowski taking Paterno to task for trying to control the terms of how he (Paterno) would be dealt with by the university – Joe offered to retire at the season’s end and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about him or waste even a minute talking about him.  The Board to their credit decided Joe doesn’t get to dictate the terms of how he is handled.    Gene W. was adamant that Joe PA was in the wrong from how he handled the case on the day he learned about it, and so now he doesn’t deserve the right to dictate how he should be dealt with.  The Board of Trustees of  Penn State knew what had to be done and they did it swiftly and unapologetically.  Below is what is for me the relevant portion of Gene W’s article:

Paterno had equity at Penn State, the kind of equity that gave him the power to essentially stiff-arm the school’s efforts to coax him into retirement in 2004. He tried the same audacious tactic earlier this week when he announced his decision to retire at season’s end and added, almost as a warning it seemed, that the PSU board of trustees had more pressing matters to deal with than his job status.

It was the final, tone-deaf act of a man who failed to realize his own power base had eroded. Wednesday night the trustees informed him by phone of their decision to fire him, effective immediately.

A statement released that night from Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany included a six-word sentence that was perfect in its simplicity. The entire situation is so sad.

Profoundly sad because of the victims affected by the alleged acts of Sandusky.

Sad because a great university has been kneecapped by its very own.

Sad because there are so many questions involving Paterno’s role in the chain of events that led to his forced departure.

For example:

Why didn’t Paterno contact the police when first informed in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary of an alleged locker room incident involving Sandusky and a young boy?

Why did Paterno heir apparent Sandusky unexpectedly resign from Penn State in 1999?

Why was Sandusky granted special access to the Penn State athletic facilities even after the 2002 incident?

Why did all of this remain secret for so long?

“Joe doesn’t know why [Sandusky] resigned?” says a former athletic director at a rival institution. “Bull—-. That was the first cover-up. … In ’99, when Sandusky resigns, you think this coaching staff didn’t know what was going on?

“In 2002, this could have been a two-day story: ‘Ex-Penn State assistant coach is arrested.’ I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a painful story, but it would have been dealt with. But there’s so much arrogance to think they can keep it a secret. And it starts with Joe … Monumental ego and arrogance.”

These are the kind of opinions and statements you had better get used to. That Paterno had better get used to.

As a promised comprehensive and exhaustive Penn State in-house investigation begins, as the Sandusky trial hearings approach, as the expected civil lawsuits are filed, there are likely to be revelations that test the faith of even Paterno’s most vocal supporters. This is what happens when more than a decade’s worth of dirt is swept under a blue and white Penn State rug.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book

The allegations of child sex abuse occurring at Penn State involving a football coach has caused literally a riot among fans, friends and the public.  Though a lot of the energy which has been reported has focused on what some see as the head coach being treated unfairly, what everyone in the Church should note is the direction in which U.S. law and the courts are headed when it comes to child sex abuse.  Zero tolerance means just that.

I’m not particularly interested in Penn State, I take note of the events because I serve on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee.  I point to what happened at Penn State as yet another wake up call to bishops, priests and parish members.  Sexual predators are real, they aren’t limited to a minority of Catholic priests.  They exist in every walk of life, and our Church is no less susceptible to their predations than any other organization in which children are present.

I advise you to read two articles from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the events.  I’m referring to these articles from a sports magazine as I’ll assume the magazine is not involved in current politics but is viewing the events from the point of view of sports writers.  Both articles are written by Andy Staples (I know nothing about him, I admit I don’t normally read SI and am a luke warm sports fan at best).  The first article is titled, “With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go.”  The second article is “Paterno’s Penn St. legacy forever marred by Sandusky scandal.”

I want to repeat and emphasize I have no real interest in this being related to sports, football, Penn St., or Joe Paterno.   I have nothing against any of these institutions.  My interest is purely what implications any of this has for the Orthodox Church.   Already the press, including my home town newspaper are making the connection:  Institutions in Sex Scandals try to Protect their Own.

Coach Paterno is not accused of sexual abuse.  The story is that someone reported to him witnessing a sex act between a coach and a 10 year old boy in the college football complex.  He reported it to Paterno, Paterno apparently following policy reported the event to a campus atheletic director.  But then nothing happened, no follow up, no outcry, no report to the police.  Life went on as if nothing happened.   As it turns out there were other victims of sex abuse from the same accused coach.  I think I heard he is indicted on 40 counts.  (You can read the indictment on line.)  Some of those might have been prevented had Paterno and others taken the allegations seriously and followed through in an investigation.  No one did.

All Orthodox in America need to pay attention to these events.  Child abuse is not merely unfortunate, nor is it merely a deadly sin [the type of which Jesus Himself suggested the perpetrator of such a horrible sin should have a millstone put around his neck and be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2)],  it is also a crime.  That is the part of child abuse that is now coming to roost in every church.  It will not be enough for us to feel sorry that sin happens.  The state in the case of child sexual abuse is saying we must actively and proactively work to prevent it from happening.  If we fail to do so, we will make the headlines of every news agency in the country.  But that isn’t the worst part.  The worst part is we will have failed to protect a child.  However terrible the behavior of the predators and sex abuse, it is those who suffer abuse whose suffering we should be concerned about.

Bishops, priest and parishioners of the Orthodox Church must not stay silent or on the sidelines on this issue.   We must all actively work to prevent child abuse in our parishes.  Wherever there are children, predators are interested in being there too.  Fortunately, predators are a very small portion of the total population.  But we must work proactively against them.   We each and all should be demanding our parishes, parish councils, priests, bishops and dioceses to take every step possible to help prevent even one child from being abused in our churches.  (See also my blog Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State).

We also should take note that we cannot hide behind having good policy.  Joe Paterno appears to have followed policy.  He reported the event to an atheletic supervisor, just not to the police.   Bishops and priests especially should take note of this.  If we try to “protect” ourselves by merely following policy, rather than by following up with real investigation of reported sexual abuse, we will find ourselves both in the scandalous position of Coach Paterno, and with the searing knowledge that we failed to protect our children.

Maybe the publicity of the Penn St. case will awaken more of us to the problem.  Too many have thought this a problem of the Catholic Church, or that it could only occur somewhere else.   We see now the problem is in society and the world of the fall.  This is the world in which we too abide.

See also my blog series which began with State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds

The Internet for the Non-teetotalers

The recent comments by the OCA bishops on social networking and the Internet as well as a few criticisms they proffered of the Internet at the All American Council give us all reason to consider the value of the Internet.   Today Mark Stokoe announced he was suspending publication of OCAnews.org, something he had been privately talking about for a very long time.

Perhaps the bishops will rest easy now; we will see how the antagonists of OCAnews.org react themselves since they justified their own publications as needed to counter OCAnews.   Will the end of OCAnews bring an end to Orthodox Internet wars as all parties declare the cessation of publication?  Or will some ideologically driven folk carry on with their ad hominem attacks?  Time will tell.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.”   (Proverbs 10:19)

Disagreement in the Church is nothing new – we can read about disagreements among the apostles while Jesus was still with them (which one of us is greatest?).    Disagreement is not always bad as it can help to clarify issues as certainly was done through the great theological debates which culminated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Internet itself has become a jousting point for the Orthodox – an issue arguing over the means by which we can communicate.   Certainly part of the issue, which many would say is the very goodness of the Internet in dealing with despotic dictators, is the inability of the few to control the Internet (as well as who speaks, or how many speak, or what they speak about).  The Internet’s threat to democracy is also there as we can see in the presidential campaigns where lies, fabrications, disinformation and distortions about various candidates abound.  The Internet can challenge the despot’s control of information, but it can also flood people’s email boxes and minds with useless, wrong and harmful ideas.  So the good and the bad of  using the Internet are not readily separable.

Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1842 dealing with temperance waxed eloquently about whether drunkenness arose “from the use of a bad thing” or rather “from the abuse of a very good thing.”

The same question is being asked about the use of the Internet by Orthodox Christians.   Some seem to want to make the Internet a bad thing from which ‘others’ should abstain.   After all, the Internet seems to be as addicting to some as alcohol is, and certainly it can lead to verbally abusive behaviors.    Yet Orthodoxy has not forbidden the use of alcohol to its members, even though its negative effects have been well known since the time of Noah.

The Internet itself is nothing more than a powerful tool for conveying information (or disinformation) to a large number of people, quickly, efficiently and often over great distances instantly.  Tools can build up the world or destroy it; they can be used to create beauty or make a mess of things.

Lots of people are killed in automobile accidents and yet our society is so structured that we can hardly survive without cars.   The Internet itself is often imaged as another highway, one which conveys information.  Highways are not without danger.  Parents warn their children about the danger even of crossing the street.  Yet we do not ban autos or highways or streets, for they all also are tools serving a purpose.

Perhaps the development of the Internet is something like  the discovery of the new world’s tobacco as described in the recent book by Charles Mann,  1493: UNCOVERING THE NEW WORLD COLUMBUS CREATED.  Tobacco was hailed as something marvelous, enriching, and even healthy by Europeans and Chinese, leading to the addiction to the plant of millions and also to their early deaths.  It took many centuries for humans to come to a belief that the drug effect of tobacco was dangerous to our health.

Tobacco’s stimulent effect was at first largely thought of as quite useful, especially for soldiers.     The Internet is not quite the same as tobacco, it is a far more powerful tool that remains outside of our bodies.   In the hands of a carpenter, a hammer can be effectively used to build beauty.  In the hands of a murderer it can bash someone’s brains.  So too with other tools, the whittler’s knife, the doctor’s scalpel or the laborer’s shovel which can dig a well or a grave.

But the Internet remains a tool in itself neither good nor evil, but capable of being used for both and either.  Some might think it both the use of a bad thing or at best the abuse of a good thing.    God in His own wisdom endowed humans with free will and has put into our hands, hearts and minds the ability to create beauty, to co-create the world with Him, and to procreate life.   We also have the ability to choose rather to destroy and to bring about death.   The Internet does not change humanity.  We invented it and we are the ones who will use it for good or ill or both.  As Christ taught us:

 “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:35-37)

The Internet is a tool, it is humans who choose good and evil.  The good among us will make good use of the Internet.   The evil will make use of the Internet as well.   We will know them by their fruit.  And we will see as with tools, sometimes swords are made into plowshares and sometimes the reverse happens.  The same material can be used for helping bring forth life and for taking life away.  In this world we also are aware that sometimes swords are needed.

There is still much for us to learn about the Internet.   It is obvious that Internet etiquette has not been embraced by some Orthodox.   Some find it easy to hide behind anonymity in order to attack others, accuse falsely, and abuse people.

It is also true that the wrong reading of Scripture can lead to heresy, yet we do not ban Bibles nor their study.

Unfortunately, as some of the Patristic Fathers noted about commentaries on the Scriptures, sometimes writers demonstrate exacting precision (Greek = akrebeia) about how they interpret the text, but their conclusions are purely wrong despite their interpretive precision.    So too on the Internet people can be inaccurate in what they write even when they are saying precisely what they intend.

“My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14)

The Internet’s use requires much wisdom and discernment not to mention humility and love.  In the hands of the fool and of the wicked it will wreck sin and evil.  But it also can convey beauty and truth to the many.

A Halloween Sermon (1989)

October 29, 1989                                Luke 8:16-39

It is the Halloween season again. Stores and merchants are featuring all kinds of spooky sights. It is a time to when many mock devils and evil spirits, and some who belong to pagan and satanic cults come out in earnest to worship their powers.

Friday evening, I went over to the Books and Company. They happened to be having an adult Halloween event of some sort. There were indeed a number of strange characters there. What was most interesting to me was that throughout the store, they were having a variety of New Age religionists practicing their persuasion. There were tarot card readers, and various people sniffing and selling some sort of scented liquids which somehow are supposed to relax you or make you feel the forces of nature. There were people offering free mood altering stones, which they claimed would relax you or improve your sex life. These stone age believers hold some sort of religious ceremonies on Saturdays and they were proselytizing among the people in the store trying to win converts to their religion.

While all of this was being done in the supposedly friendly spirit of an adult Halloween event, the people who were aiming to make converts to their New Age religion were quite serious in what they were doing. They certainly were not interested in fun, but seemed to believe in what they were saying and doing. I found myself saddened by the pure pagan ideas being hawked there, and at the deception for which the people so willingly embraced.

For me personally, it was my first contact with the New Age religion which has become faddish and popular these days. It was obvious that so many people around us are hungering for something religious, something ritualistic, something spiritual. It was obvious that there certainly is a spiritual harvest that can be made in America if only we Orthodox would take seriously Jesus Christ’s command to us to go and preach the Gospel to all people. There is obviously a need. There are obviously a number of people who are suffering this spiritual emptiness and who fill that void with any and every type of belief.

So Christ tells us in the Gospel lesson today:

No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a basket or puts it under the bed, but rather he sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.

My friends, in baptism, and through the faithful hearing of the Gospel, the lamps of our hearts have been illumined. We are to shine with the light of Christ to all of those who walk in darkness. Our faith is not some private thoughts between me and God. Rather, our Faith is to be the Light of the World. In all humility, let the light of Christ shine brightly in your life so that all other people may see Christ in you and give glory to God the Father!

As the Lord Jesus told the man whom he saved from demonic possession, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” Each of us has to become extremely clear as to what God has done for us personally. We need to rid ourselves of fuzzy thinking about God in our lives.

St. Mark the Ascetic, a 4th Century Christian said:

“Can any man consciously call these things to mind and not be moved always to contrition of heart?  Having so many pledges from the past blessings, will he not always have firm hope, in spite of the fact that he himself has so far done nothing good?  He will say to himself: ‘Though I have done nothing good and have committed many sins before Him, living in uncleanness of the flesh and indulging in may other vices, yet He did not deal with me according to my sins, or reward me according to my iniquities (Ps 103:10), but gave me all these gifts of grace for my salvation.”  (Philokalia, Vol. I, pp 148-149).

Certainly, I am one person who know’s the love and patience of God. There was a time when I refused to go to church, when I openly opposed Christians and even God Himself. Yet God in His patient love waited for my conversion from an evil lifestyle. It is that great love which God showed me personally, the love which He has for the Prodigal child, always waiting for us to return, which moved me to become a priest. It is that message which I want to share with you and to have you share with others.

In Saturday’s newspaper there also appeared an article on the new pagan church of Pantheism. It consisted mostly of an interview with one former Roman Catholic man who had abandoned Christianity for paganism. He said there was a spiritual void in his life which the Catholic Church was not meeting.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be very clear about the activity and love of God in our hearts and lives. We need to share with each other the stories about how God has effected us. We need to have a very clear understanding of who God is and how He relates to us. We must consciously tend to the spiritual needs of the other members of our parish family. Then and only then will we fulfill the commandments of Christ to let the light of the Gospel shine in our lives and to be able to tell others what great things God has done for us.

As was clear to me in yesterday’s workshop in Columbus, we all need to spend more time with each other sharing our spiritual stories, and encouraging each other to be faithful to the Lord God. Our battle in this world is not against armies and the flesh, but rather it is a warfare against the spiritual powers of darkness which are obviously at work right now in our world. In America, we have to be tolerant of the existence of those who want the New Age religion of paganism, spirit forces and magick. As Christians, we have to kindle in our hearts the flame of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

Sermon 31 October 1993

Sermon Notes from 31 October 1993

Luke 9:43-50

And they were all amazed at (overwhelmed by) the majesty of God (the might God showed in this deed). But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears (pay close attention), for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men (handed over to human power).” But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.

Then a dispute arose among them (Instead, they began to discuss) as to which of them would be greatest.

And Jesus, perceiving the thought of (the calculation of) their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.”

Did anyone notice anything unusual about this morning’s Gospel reading?

Since we are preparing for our Annual Parish Meeting and today is Vocation’s Sunday in the OCA, I wanted us to look at a text that speaks to issues of leadership and vocation.

This Gospel lesson shows some sharp contrasts between what our Lord wanted His disciples to focus on and what they wanted to talk about. This is an important lesson for us to remember at our Annual parish meeting.

The story opened with everyone being amazed at the majesty of God because of the miracles Jesus was doing. And while everyone is being so amazed at Jesus’ divine power, the Lord speaks to them about his imminent death on the cross.

While the disciples are all starry eyed looking at Jesus, he tells them almost sternly, “Let these words sink into your ears…”   While their hearts are bubbly and excited, Jesus wants them to get a grip on themselves and to PAY ATTENTION! Let my words penetrate into your hearts & not remain out in the air somewhere. The lesson he offered them is the same He offers us – “Yes I am revealing the majesty, glory and power of God to you, and I am going to continue to do so by being nailed to a cross and killed by the Romans.”

It is a hard lesson for us all. While we all like the lessons which promise us prosperity, peace, love, eternal life and God’s unending favor and Kingdom, Jesus tells us that being nailed to the cross is also part of the plan of salvation. There is no other way to the Kingdom then through the cross. We who make decisions at the Parish Meeting must keep this in mind. The way of Christ Jesus is the way of the Cross. A heart breaking love and self-sacrifice are God’s way.

We can note the reaction of the disciples to these words. The disciples immediately get into a dispute as to who is the greatest. They are unwilling to discuss their Lord’s sufferings, but eager to debate their rank. My friends let us in this community learn the lesson that the apostles could not grasp at this point of their ministry.

Our power, our greatness, is not something that derives from our own goodness nor from our good intentions nor even from the good things God has given us. Our power, our opportunity to be great comes from understanding and embracing the mission on which Christ Jesus has sent us. Namely to bring the Gospel to all people, to teach all that the Lord Jesus has taught us, and to baptize all nations. That mission we must always remember, for in that mission is your and my salvation.

As the Lord taught, greatness comes from receiving God’s commission, from doing the will of God, not from any rank or recognition the world or even the church bestows upon us.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is oft quoted as saying, “The Lord did not call us to be successful but to be faithful.” She has grasped the Lord’s intent, as we should also.

We should not be threatened by the success of others, nor by the fact that others seem to have power we don’t, nor by the fact that others outside of the church may do great and godly deeds, nor by the fact that the world may praise others outside the church for doing good works more then they praise us.

If we remain faithful to the Great Commission that the Lord has given us, we will be doing well, no matter how others succeed or fail, no matter how the world may judge us.

So, Let us hear the word of God and graciously and thankfully do it.

Then let us depart in peace into the world to accomplish God’s will.

The Gadarene Demoniac

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.   (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

A totally modern commentary on the exorcism of the legion of demons says:

“Jesus asked the man his name, and he replied, ‘Legion,’ the same word for a division of Roman soldiers. Scholars note that a legion consisted of around two thousand troops, and there would have been several legions around the Decapolis. It’s interesting that in the story, the demons beg to stay in the area. Nearby was a ‘band’ of pigs, band being the same word used for a group of military cadets (and no, we aren’t suggesting it’s okay to call police officers ‘pigs’). The demons asked to be sent among the pigs, another symbol of uncleanliness. (Jews did not touch pigs.) Jesus invited the Legion to enter the pigs. And the pigs, specifically numbered at two thousand, ‘charged’ into the sea to their deaths. And none of the listeners could have missed the subversive poetry, remembering the legion of Pharaoh’s army that charged into the sea, where they were swallowed up and drowned (Exodus 14).

[Footnote:  The pig was also the mascot of Rome’s Tenth Fretensis Legion stationed in Antioch (Carter, Matthew and Empire, 71) It’s interesting to note the places where Jesus drove demons out of people: often in the temple and in the militarized zones. The words ‘come out’ that usually accompany an exorcism are the same words with which Jesus exorcized the temple, calling the money changers to ‘come out’ because they had made a market of God’s temple and marginalized visiting Gentiles.” (Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, pg.115)

Truth is Truth: the Affect Heuristic and Temptation

“All truth is Christian truth” is a phrase often attributed to St. Justin the Philosopher (d. ca. 165AD).  It is an axiom which has influenced many Christian thinkers through history.  It is based in a belief that truth is truth – there isn’t one truth for Christians and a different one for scientists and yet another for Buddhists.  Truth is from the one God.  We are in search of truth.  Jesus claimed to be the truth.  All truth thus has the same source and reveals to us the underlying unity of the universe which is our Creator.  Whatever the science is that explains how it is possible for life to exist on earth, is the same science that allows God to become incarnate.  The universe is one, just as God is one, and truth is one.

Such thinking has also allowed many Christians to be at peace with the truths about the universe that science has uncovered, including the origins of the universe and its evolution through billions of years of history.

While I believe the Bible is true, I don’t look to Genesis to give me a scientific explanation of the origins of the universe.  But sometimes I am amazed how the truth presented in an ancient religious document like Genesis resonates with modern scientific ideas.

Jason Daley in the 8 July 2011 issue of DISCOVER magazine writes an article about how humans assess risk entitled, “What You Don’t Know Can Kill You.”   It is a fascinating article but here I want to focus on one quote and compare it with something presented in the Book of Genesis.   Daley wrote about the findings of psychologist Paul Slovic and how we make decisions which involve a choice with some type of risk:

“But of all the mental rules of thumb and biases banging around in our brain, the most influential in assessing risk is the ‘affect’ heuristic (note: a heuristic is a mental shortcut or bias which our brains use in making choices which allows us to make instant decisions).  Slovic calls affect ‘a faint whisper of emotion’ that creeps into our decisions.  Simply put, positive feelings associated with a choice tend to make us think it has more benefits.  Negative correlations make us think an action is riskier.  One study by Slovic showed that when people decide to start smoking despite years of exposure to antismoking campaigns, they hardly ever think about the risks.  Instead, it’s all about the short-term ‘hedonic’ pleasure.  The good outweighs the bad, which they never fully expect to experience.”

Speaking about risks and warnings, long before there were anti-smoking campaigns, we can think about the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, contemplating the forbidden fruit:

 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”  (Genesis 3:6)

The mental mechanics of decision making and weighing risks has not changed in humans in the past couple of thousand years.  Health campaigns and even dire warnings from God do not stop humans from giving in to the “affect heuristic”, aka as temptation.   We may have much more information than the ancients, but our brains work the same.  Despite highly informational warnings, we take risks because we convince ourselves the pleasures outweigh the negative consequences.  The story of Eve is the story of us all.   We don’t read Genesis to discover ancient history and or modern science.  We read it because it offers us insight into what it means to be human, and why the world is the way it is.  Despite the Enlightenment’s optimism that all humans need is to be better educated, information and education don’t always outweigh our desire for pleasure and self-satisfaction.  What science calls the “affect heuristic” is called temptation to sin in Christianity.   Same concept in different contexts.  And on issues such as smoking, despite huge differences in assumptions, much of science, Buddhism and Christianity agree:  it is bad for you and you need to learn to say no to your desire.  Truth is truth.