Saturday, December 23, 2006

Three Holy Youths

Within Orthodoxy these three friends of Daniel have become an integral part of hymnology and theology. You may know them as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Yet these were their Babylonian names. Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, & Azariah.

We first find them in the beginning of Daniel refusing the kings food for more simple vegetables. They did this out of obedience to God to avoid those things sacrificed to idols. Rather than making them weaker, their diet made them stronger than their Babylonian counterparts. This was a testimony to the power of God in their lives. Within Orthodoxy, this retelling is found in the hymnology leading up to Lent. We are about to give up meat for a period of time as we prepare our hearts for the Passion of Christ.

The next story of the three youths is used constantly in the Church. This is the account of the fiery furnace. These young men refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and are then thrown into the fiery furnance. It was made so hot that the executioners stoking the fire died from the heat. However, the three were seen in the midst of the fire praising God and a fourth mysterious figure was seen with them. Nebuchadnezzar speaks from astonishment about the fourth person and says “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25).” We know that person to be the pre-incarnate Jesus. The boys were removed from the fire and not even a hair on their head was singed.

What makes this story so important gets missed in the West. In the LXX, there are two hymns of praise included at this point and are missing in the Hebrew version we use. These hymns are an essential part of the Church’s hymnography. They are part of the 9 Biblical odes forming the Church’s liturgical consciousness. In this case, the hymns are Ode 7 and 8.

Often in Bibles that include the Apocrypha the two hymns are lumped together and included in one chapter entitled “The Prayer of Azariah”.

Ode 7 is Azariah’s prayer and is found in verses 3-22. This is ode is a song/prayer composed by Azarias when he and his other two friends were thrown into the fiery furnace.

In this prayer, Azariah takes responsibility for the sins of the nation as he praises God. Rather than blaming God for their circumstances, he praises God. This is amazing considering all the evil befallen upon Azariah. He was deported from his homeland, and now has been seemingly martyred for his faith. Yet in spite of it all he does not blame God but cries out in repentance. There is a sense of radical responsibility here found among all the OT prophets. Rather than blame others and God, they also see their own sin as contributing to the evil around them.

Ode 8 is found in verses 29-68 yet it is the hymn of all three. It is a hymn of praise bringing all creation together in praise of God. This is characteristically Orthodox. Man is the union of matter and spirit, and part of man’s purpose is to be the “priest” for all creation. He is the voice and representative for all creation in praise to God.

Here are a couple hymns highlighting the importance of these three in the life of the Church.

Vesperal hymn. “The youths of God walking forth amidst the flame, rejoicing in the dew of the Spirit as though they were in a garden, did go before and foreshadow therein the mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ. And in that they were wise men they quenched by faith the power of fire. And as for Daniel the righteous, he did appear closing the mouths of the lions. Wherefore, by their beseechings we plead with thee, O Savior and Lover of mankind, to deliver us from the everlasting and unquenchable fire, and to make us worthy to receive thy heavenly kingdom”

What does this teach us?

1. foreshadows the Trinity (another hymn: Let us praise the divinity of three flames, one light shining from a single nature in three persons. The Father without beginning, The Word who is of the same nature as the Father, and the consubstantial Spirit who reigns with Him. O youths, bless your Creator and Redeemer, praise Him, you priests, and all you people, exalt Him forever!)
2. foreshadows the Incarnation (the fourth man in the fire)
3. power of faith over evil.
4. deliverance from eternal fire. (the Babylonian executioners died from the heat of the fire)

Vesperal hymn “Thy holy youths, O Christ, when they were in the furnace of fire, as though in dew, did go before and foreshadow mystically thy coming from the Virgin, which hath illuminated us without burning. And righteous Daniel, wonderful among Prophets, when he went before and explained plainly thy divine Second Coming, did shout, saying, And I saw the thrones placed, and the judge sat, and the river of fire came before him. Wherefore, by their beseechings, O Master, deliver us.”

What does this teach?

1. Foreshadows Christ’s coming from the Virgin. (another hymn: We the faithful recognize in you, O Theotokos, the spiritual furnace, and just as He saved the three youths, the Most high has renewed the entire world in your womb. For He is the Lord, the God of our ancestors, worthy of all praise and glory.) This and the burning bush of Exodus is often seen as image of the Theotokos. Mary contained the fire of the Godhead in her womb and was not burned. The Church is enthralled by this mystery.

There is a lot of content here. One day I would like to go back and explore some of the themes mentioned in Odes 7 & 8. Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Daniel and the coming Christ

This Sunday (Dec. 17, 2006) we had finished our journey through Philippians, so rather than starting Ephesians I took a side trip.

Throughout the Nativity season multiple OT prophets are commemorated. This is no accident because they all point in some way to the coming Christ.

This particular Sunday, Daniel and his three friends are commemorated. The discussion centered around how they pointed to Christ and what role they played in Orthodox theology.

Rather than summarizing the story of Daniel here. I want to point out three major prophecies of Daniel that point to Christ in a dramatic way.

Daniel 2:34-35: "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were made of iron and clay and broke them into pieces…and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35). This prophecy comes straight from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In summary, it is a dream about a statue made of four major elements that represent four different empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, & Rome). Both Daniel and Isaiah prophecy about this stone. The prophecy about the stone in Daniel is for pagans and the prophecy about the stone in Isaiah is for Jews. The Lord Jesus Christ is that stone which is laid first, in the foundation of God's entire creation, for He is the Word of God and the Wisdom of God; second, as the foundation of the Old Testament as the preparation and third, as the foundation of the New Testament as the fulfillment. It was during the Roman Empire that the stone appears and begins the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Also, this passage refers to the virgin birth. The stone is cut without the aid of man. Often within Orthodox hymnology you will see Mary referred to as the Uncut Mountain.

- Daniel 7:13,14. Another prophecy as a result of a dream. This time the dream is from Belshazzar. Rather than a statue like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, this dream is made of four beasts. Yet they represent the same four empires. Belshazzar sees the “Ancient of Days” which is God and then the “Son of Man”. The Son of Man is Christ and this title is used frequently in the gospels. The Son of Man is given an eternal kingdom.

-Daniel 9:24-27. This is an amazing prophecies that pinpoints the Incarnation perfectly. The prophecy uses 70 weeks to designate times in the near future. Weeks in Jewish thought is merely a group of seven. In this case, the group is seven years. So 70 weeks would be 490 years. Daniel prophecies that after the decreed for the restoration of Jerusalem there would be 69 weeks until the coming of the Messiah. He will suffer for his people in between the 69 and 70 weeks. The decree for the restoration of Jerusalem was issued by the Persian king Artaxerxes of the dynasty Archaemenidae in 453 BC. In accordance to the prophecy, the Messiah was to suffer for the cleansing of human sins in the period between 69 and 70 weeks. If one adds to the year of the issuance of the decree of the restoration of Jerusalem 69 weeks, i.e. 483 years, then this equals the 30th year of the Christian method of numbering years.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Philippians 4:4-23 Rejoice! Redux.

Phil 4:4-23 Rejoice! Redux.

4. Paul again returns to the theme of rejoice or to have joy in the Lord. He even repeats it twice. Then it seems that he begins a list of things that are intended to help support our ability to rejoice in the Lord.

5. “Let your reasonableness be known to all men” Reasonableness or forbearance- (always ready to yield, gentle, mild, reasonable, it is the opposite of returning evil for evil). It is the ability to bend and not break. This is greatly important for the Philippians because they were experiencing both persecution and betrayal in their midst. In order to secure joy in their lives, they had to lean on Christ and not necessarily take matters into their own hands.
The second half of the verse states that the “Lord is near” not necessarily that the Lord is coming soon but that He is closely present with us. We can afford to be gracious to everyone because Christ is with us (Farley).

6. “Stop being anxious” but with prayer and entreaty with giving thanks let your requests be known. Anxious is the same word used of Martha in Luke 10:41. Paul adds thankfulness as an important element to eliminating worry. Thankfulness is important because it fills the heart with gratitude and strengthens our faith.
Giving of thanks is at the heart of our worship as humans as within our Liturgy. The Eucharist means to give thanks. Our offering to God is ultimately an act of thanksgiving. In the anaphora, the priest says “Let us give thanks to the Lord”

7. The result of thanksgiving is that the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.

8. Paul then gives us a great list of virtues and thoughts that will help in keeping joy in our lives. Thoughts are vitally important to the Christian and often form our spirituality. There is a whole Orthodox teaching on intrusive thoughts and the battle with them. However, it is enough here to point to two verses - Prov. 23:7; 2 Cor. 10:5.
Farley, “We should see life sacramentally as being crammed with the gifts of God and discerning God’s glory in the world.” The great example here is Paul’s example in the Philippian jail. Paul had just been beaten and unjustly arrested yet he offers thanks and praise to God.

9. Paul reminds again to follow his path. It is the sure path to bring God’s peace.

Verses 4-9 are the epistle reading on Palm Sunday. Why? As one member of our class stated, we are about to enter one of the darkest times of the Church. We are brought to the lowest point, yet we must not despair because joy is still available and will be poured out in its fullness on Easter Morning.

10. Paul begins to thank them for his gift.

11-13. Paul speaks to the needs that he has. He does not want to appear to be complaining about lack for he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in. The reason is that Christ empowers him no matter what circumstances he finds himself. Contentment is not due to outward conditions but on the Lord.

14-23. He is letting them know that what was given by them was worthy of praise. Their gift has
benefited them more than it has him. It has given the Philippians the following:
1. Share is his afflictions. 2. fruit to their account. 3. offering to God (a sacrifice was given with hope of receiving divine blessing). 4. God will fill all their needs.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Are You Saved?

As a former Evangelical Protestant this was a hugely important question for me. Almost all my religious services were directed at leading a person to a decision about their salvation.

Upon becoming Orthodox, I found that salvation is viewed much differently and that this question is rarely asked. For one thing, salvation is viewed as a process rather than a point in time. I heard recently of an Orthodox seminarian being asked this question by another man. He did not know how to answer and finally answered: "I have been saved, I am being saved, and hope to one day be saved." I am sure this created as much puzzlement with well-meaning evangelist.

For me, wrapping my head around the Orthodox concept of salvation has been a challenging part of my journey. Mostly, because of the difference of vocabulary and definitions. I found that a lot of former Evangelicals have the same difficulty. Then once they "get it", translating it back for the benefit of their Evangelical friends and family becomes a challenge.

I saw all this because Fr. Stephen of St. Anne's in OakRidge, Tennessee addresses this question in his blog. Fr. Stephen is also a convert and because he is ministering in the South, he has to deal with these issues as they are part of the cultural fabric. He does an incredible job communicating these deep truths. I am sure the light bulb will go off for many Evangelicals and converts when they read this, and those raised in the church will just say "Duh, that's what we've been saying!".

Here's the link:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Philippians 3:17-4:3 Pitfalls on the Journey

Phil 3:17-4:3 Pitfalls of the Journey

17. Paul begins this section asking the Philippians to follow his example.
What is his example? Farley suggests that it is to “conform to apostolic pattern; the pattern is the apostolic teaching and example (Rom 6:17)”. Paul readily admits in previous verses that he has not arrived, yet he presses on. His example then is not so much every aspect of who he is but to follow him on his journey. It is the way which is the example--the journey toward Christ. This is what he is confident about. This path is sure and true and will lead to communion with God.
Paul also says to look at others who walk this way and follow their example. Who are those who we can follow their example? Today there are many faithful Christians who are on the path, but the church upholds the Saints for this reason. Here are men and women who have gone before us and have attained the prize. Their life is worthy of modeling. This should encourage us to read their lives and listen to their path.

18. There are many who followed this path but have fallen away. This brings Paul to tears. He is speaking again of the Judaizers. Why did they fall away? They stopped pressing forward; possibly they felt they had attained the prize; they got comfortable at their level of growth. This is why the church always call for repentance. The Church provides for us multiple opportunities to reflect and repent. The fast of the Church are there for us to re-evaluate and repent.

19. Paul gives characteristics of those who left the faith and danger signs for us. 1. Their god is their appetite Ambrose-“impeding the salvation of the faithful by raising questions about the eating of or abstinence of food.”
-What does he mean by this? (Rom 16:18; 1 Cor 6:13; Hos 4:7; Jdg 6:32; Gal 1:15) Chrys “Your belly is given to you to nourish it, not so that it may burst. Your body is given to you that you may rule it, not so that you may have it as a mistress, it is given that it may serve you.” There is a slight pun here. The Judaizers were insistent upon retaining and enforcing the dietary laws of the OT. Paul ridicules them somewhat by saying that what they eat has become their god. Also, it can be extended to the passions in general. Life’s purpose for these people have become the satisfaction of physical desires rather than God’s glory.
2. Their glory is their shame. Farley says their “glory is their shame; Paul’s is the maturity and holiness of the churches he fouded (1 Thess 2:20”. What they purpose to do will ultimately lead away from Christ thus becoming shame to them.
3. They set their mind on earthly things. Once again Farley states, “The Judaizers insisentence on circumcision makes the Cross irrelevant (Gal. 6:12)”.

20-21. Paul now gives motivation to continued growth. The Christian’s citizenship exists in the heavens; remember that the Philippians were proud of their Roman citizenship (Farley). Clement of Alexandria “we know that this is well said, for we ought to live as strangers and expatriates in the world…not using the creation to satisfy our passions but high-mindedly and with thanksgiving.”

4:1-3. Paul encourages them to stand firm. Marius Victorinus says that they are to be “united as one, thinking in harmony”. Paul makes his exhortation very practical by mentioning a situation in the church. His exhortation is to two women in the church; Paul does not take sides; Yet he encourages his yokefellow and the other Christians to work with these women for reconciliation and unity. Who is this yokefellow? Some even in the early church (Clement of Alexandria) suggested St. Paul’s wife because of the marital language that yokefellow suggests. Farley suggests that is was the husband of one of the women and maybe the brother of the other one. This is Chrysostom’s theory as well. Marius Victorinus suggests the yoke fellow is Epaphroditus. He also mentions Clement in this passage who is to become a later bishop of Rome. Ultimately this reminds us that we are to help each other on the race – we are not lone ranger Christians.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Philippians 3:1-16 A Call to Rejoice

Philippians 3:1-16 A Call to Rejoice

Here is a brief summary of Phil 3:1-16. I will update it with more detail.

Paul issues another call to rejoice almost as if he is ending the book. Then he becomes concerned about those who would steal the joy of these Christians, by establishing a standard other than Christ.

Paul is reacting against a group of people within the church known as the Judaizers. The whole epistle to the Galatians is a defense against them. Judaizers were Jews who embraced Christianity, but felt the need to enforce the Mosaic regulations upon all who were Gentiles. The Gentiles were to be Jews first before they could become Christians. Paul reaction is that to enforce Judaism is to diminish what Christ has done.

He begins his argument here by stating that if anyone could uphold themselves before God through a strict standard of Judaism it was himself. Paul was from the right tribe, studied in the right Jewish schools, and performed all the actions of a zealot. Yet he counted all this as “crap” (see Farley’s text), when held up to the person of Christ.

Jesus himself reacted against this standard of holiness when he encountered the Pharisees. Jesus’ reaction was to be “perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” This is a much more exacting standard than the outward focus of the Pharisees, yet because of its “impossibility” it forces the seeker into a relationship with God in order to attain it.

Paul then upholds the way to God as the way of faith and not by upholding Jewish ritual. However, this way of faith is not necessarily an easier road to travel, and in fact may be more difficult. Paul explores the depth of this communion of faith in 10 & 11. Those who walk this path of faith not only experience the resurrection of Christ, but are called to experience the crucifixion and death of Christ. There is no Easter without Good Friday. To deny the experience of Christ’s suffering in ones life is to deny the path of faith.

In verse 12-16, Paul reaffirms that this path of faith is not instantaneous transformation, but a journey. This is amazing considering the dramatic Damascus road experience Paul encountered. Yet to never move beyond that experience would have caused a stagnant faith that may never have grown. We have been saved, we are being saved, and we hoped to one day be saved. Paul calls the people to remember not to look at any spiritual attainment but only at the distance between yourself and Christ and to keep pressing onward.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Theological Lectures

Thank you to Tad Dryden for filling in for me this past weekend. Hopefully, I won't have to travel for a while.

Our class will be sponsoring coffee hour the Sunday before Christmas (Dec. 24). Anyone who wants to participate, please let me know.

Tad went through Philippians 3:1-17 and I should be posting notes shortly.

In the meantime, here is something new I found online. I found some Orthodox lectures on various topics. If you don't listen to the all make sure you listen to the lectures by Fr. Roman Braga. Parishoners at St. Michael's may know him. He is the priest at the Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Mich. Fr. Roman spent many years in a Communist prison in Romania. This experience transformed him and gave him wisdom that has become precious to the American church.

Here is the link to the lectures:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Philippians 2:19-30 Two Faithful Men

Paul sends Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians. Because Paul is not able to physically visit the church that he loves so much, he sends two trusted men back to them. Timothy is somewhat his representative and Epaphroditus is returning to his home parish of Philippi.

This passage tells us a lot about these two men, but from these examples we can gain insight into a model for ministry in our time.

19-24 Timothy

Timothy is the son of a Christian parent and a non-Christian father. However, it is apparent that he gained much from the influence of his mother and grandmother. It was from them that he received his Christian faith and instruction in the Scriptures.

Paul discovers him on one of his missionary journeys and takes Timothy with him to be his partner in ministry. Timothy becomes a “son” to Paul as Paul mentors him in the faith.

One characteristic of Timothy that we see throughout the NT, is his youth. He apparently was pre-30’s when he was ministering throughout the Pauline mission field. Paul encourages him many times because of this seeming “inadequacy”.

Timothy later settles as bishop of Ephesus after the death of Paul. He ultimately becomes a martyr himself in Ephesus.

In this passage, Paul sends Timothy in place of himself to minister to the Philippians. Here are some criteria that Paul has chosen in order to minister effectively: like-minded with Paul and he sincerely care for the Philippians. Paul also commends him because he does not seek after his own needs (such as those chided in chapter 1), but he seeks only to glorify Christ (21).

25-30 Epaphroditus.

From what we know of Epaphroditus he was a presbyter (priestPhilippiipppi or perhaps the bishop of the city. It does appear that later he becomes bishop of the city. He had come to Rome bringing gifts from the Philippians, and had gotten stuck in Rome due to sickness. He is the one who is carrying the letter back to the Philippians. Paul seems to be consoling the Philippians that Epaphroditus did not abandon them but was delayed in returning due to sickness.

Paul speaks highly of Epaphroditus and by extension is praising the virtues of the Philippian church. Paul introduces liturgical language once again into the letter in verse 25. He says that Epap. ministered to his needs. The word for ministered comes from the root word “leitourgia” where we get liturgy. By using this word, Paul frames Epaphroditus’ ministry in the context of an priest making an offering to God. This means that Epaphroditus’ act is not mere service to the apostle Paul but an act of worship to God. This fits our understanding of the sacramental priesthood in that when the priest makes the offering of bread and wine to God in the Liturgy he is doing it as our representative. In him, we the church are participating in the offering. The Philippians in this example participated in Epaphroditus’ offering to Paul. This also describes accurately every Christian’s role as a member of the royal priesthood. Every time we perform ministry it is an act of worship as we offer something to God.

Another characteristic of Epaphroditus is that he risked his life for the Gospel. Christ was first and he was second. In verse 30, Paul says that he risked his life. This term is a gamblerÂ’s term for rolling the dice with the chance of winning (Farley). He was willing to role the dice with his life for the sake of ChristÂ’s glory.

In class, we discussed these two men as model for us in ministcharacteristicsracterisitics stood out that both these men possessed and we should as well to be faithful ministers.

1. Obedience. Both were obedient to Christ and His authority in the church. They laid down their will at the feet of Christ.
2. Loyal. Paul could trust them due to their loyalty.
3. Their lives were role models for other Christians.
4. Care and love for people.
5. Their motives were to glorify Christ.

Anything else? Please comment below.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Preparing for the Nativity

Today is an important day for Orthodox. It is the beginning of the Nativity Fast. This fast is similar to the Lenten fast in that it prepares the heart for the coming feast. This is a 40 day fast that will last until Christmas liturgy. Of all our fasts in the Church this one may be the hardest in our culture today. In American culture we tend to celebrate Christmas from November to Christmas day, then all is forgetten as the boxes and trees hit the garbage dumps. The Church prods us to be counter-cultural. Prepare, confess, fast, give alms for the next 40 days, then celebrate. Our celebration should last until January 6--the feast of Theophany.

During Sunday's class, we had a guest speaker--Prof David Drillock. Dr. Drillock is a retired professor of liturgical music at St. Vladimir's. He was at our parish to lead a choir retreat. During Sunday School, he gave a talk entitled, "Preparing for the Nativity of Christ in Orthodox Worship". Below is a copy of his outline and notes that I took during his lecture.

I. The beginning of the Christmas fast
a. Commemoration of the Holy Apostle Philip (Nov. 14)
b. The calling of the disciple -- Come and see!

II. The Entrace of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21)
a. The 3 year old Mary is offered to the Temple by Joachim and Anna.
b. Mary is praised as "the living temple of the holy glory of Christ our God."
c. The singing of the Odes of the Christmas Canon begin:
"Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth, be exalted! Sing to the Lord, all the earth, and praise
Him in gladness, O People! For He has been glorified."

III.The Feast of St. Andrew, the first-called (Nov. 30)
a. Andrew is told by Christ to "come & see!"
b. Special hymns at Vespers
"Tell us, O Joseph, how you led the Virgin into the Bethlehem cave. After
searching the scriptures and hearing the Angel, he says: I am certain that
Mary will wondrously give birth to God Whom the Wise Men from the East will
worship, offering to Him their precious gifts."

IV. Commemoration of St. John of Damascus (Dec.4)
- St. John is a poet, hymnographer, and theologian and author of the Christmas

V. Commemoration of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6)
"Holy Nicholas, sacred herald of Christ, you are a great and fervent helper for
those in dangers, those on land and those who sail, those far off and those
nearby, a most compassionate and mighty intercessor. Therefore assembled
together we cry, 'Intercede to the Lord that we may be rescued from every

"Adorn yourself, O cavern! Make ready, O manger! O shepherds and wise men, bring
your gifts and bear witness. For the Virgin is coming bearing Christ in her

VI. The Three Holy Youths (the children in the fiery furnance)

VII. St. Romas the Melodist - the Kontakion for the Feast of Christmas.
"Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a
cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with sheperds, glorify Him! The Wise
Men journey with the star! Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a
little child."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Philippians 2:12-18 Offering with fear and faith

Phil 2:12-18

In the previous passage, Paul has held up Christ as an example of humility, now he calls them to holiness and perseverance.

12. Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience to his teaching, not just in his presence but in his absence as well. This is instructive for us. It is important to be faithful, but to be faithful when no one is watching is more honorable.
In order to encourage their growth in Christ he offers the following advice: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. The word suggests accomplishment. Paul even uses it in Eph 6:13 in a military context to accomplish heroic feats (Farley). Christ has provided salvation and we are to live up or fulfill what He has accomplished. Paul then adds “fear and trembling”. This is to remind us that we accomplish this task in humility knowing that we are unworthy of such a great salvation.

13. The Orthodox NT does a good job with this verse: “for God is the One Who energizes in you both to will and to energize for the sake of His good pleasure.” The energies of God are His grace. Members of the body consent to cooperate with this energization and our works are transformed by God’s energies. Our works open us up to more of God’s grace (John 1:16). In a sense because what we do is being energized by God, our works become Christ’s works.
Chrysostom: “Mine object in saying this, says Paul, is to relieve your anxiety. Both the eargerness and the working at it are a gift; for if we have the will, the He energizes the willing, He increases our willing…He does not deprive us of free will,…but He shows that by being rightly purposed we receive more eagerness in the will…For it is His will that we live as He desires we should; and if He desires it, He Himself both energizes in us to this end, and will certainly accomplish it.”

14. Immediately Paul warns of grumbling and disputings. Why does Paul warn against this? How does it affect working out your salvation? Does it affect God energizing us? As one person said in class, this voids out everything that has been accomplished in us. We quench the Holy Spirit. We may obey but do so grudgingly not with fear and trembling or humility. Paul warns against this often and is usually suggestive of the attitude that Israel had when wandering the desert. The constantly murmured against the God ordained authority in their lives. It is the rebellious questioning of God’s goodness (Farley), or obeying but grumbling the whole time (Chrysostom).

15. Here Paul gives us the result of “working out our salvation”. The words blameless, unsullied, and without blemish are words of worship and sacrifice. The offerings of the OT were required to blameless and without blemish. Our lives are offerings to God. We are constantly to offer ourselves to God without blemish. This stands in contrast to the world around us.

16. Paul encourages them once again to hold onto the Gospel. This is probably an encouragement to not to apostatize, but to continue the process of “working out your salvation”. Apostasy in the face of persecution was a deep fear and concern of the early Christian. This healthy fear often motivated their Christian life, for they were not only preparing to meet the Lord but perhaps to meet their executioners. They prepared their hearts so that they would stand firm if they were called to witness to the death.

17 & 18. Again the words of sacrifice and worship. In the OT one of the sacrifices was drink offering and it was poured out upon the altar of God. (Num 15:4-5 & 28:7) The Philippians are the sacrifice and Paul is the drink offering completing the sacrifice (Farley). Again, the life of the Philippians is spoken of in terms of worship: sacrifice and service. Service is from the Greek “leitourgia” where we get our word for liturgy. Sacrifice characterizes the nature of true worship. For worship is ultimately offering “myself” to the “Father”. The result of worship is found in vs. 18---rejoicing.
This whole passage because of its worship language gives insight into worship as a paradigm for our lives. One member of class brought this example of the Divine Liturgy to our attention. We prepare ourselves with humility and repentance; our hearts our open as we hear and receive the Word of God; we offer ourselves and the whole world to the Father; we receive Christ’s body and blood with fear, faith and love and our transformed by God’s grace; we go forth rejoicing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Byzantine History Podcast

Today, I ran into an excellent teaching resource. I travel a lot and I am always looking for new and free stuff to listen to in my car. I am linking a series of lectures I found on Byzantine History. Everything is approximately 17 minutes in length, and the author does an incredible job summarizes long periods of history. I have only made it through Julian the Apostate, but so far so good. His decription of Constantine is a bit rough, so you may want to double check his characterisation.

Here's link and I hope you enjoy:

Byzantine Lectures

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Philippians 2:5-11 Humility & the Incarnation

5. Paul has been discussing unity through humility. In order to more fully demonstrate the humility that he is discussing, he presents Christ as the ultimate expression of humility. As we see in the verses below, he does not present specific actions and teachings in Christ’s life that point to humility. He holds up the totality of the Incarnation as the height of humility.
He encourages the church to have this same mind or attitude that Christ had. The word “mind” comes from the Greek word phronema which means mindset. As someone in class mentioned, it is the state of mind that controls and results in your normal action. Whatever your phronema will determine how you act.

6. This passage begins to show the depths of humility that came with the Incarnation. First, He did not “regard equality a thing to be grasped”. Paul is not suggesting that Christ is not equal to Father. In fact, the opposite is being suggested. The word “grasped” means to have or hold onto something that is not originally your own. It could have been acquired by legitimate or illegitimate means. This is why some versions use the term “robbery”. Fr. Farley says that Christ did not clutch onto the power and status of the Godhead like a treasure that He could lose. As a classmate stated, Christ while continuing to be God was willing to relinquish the prestige of Divinity and become man.

7. This further explains what Paul means by Christ relinquishing the status and prestige of Deity. He came in the form of a slave. As God, Christ could have come in any form He desired. In fact, I think most people would have imagined God to come as royalty, yet Christ did the opposite. He was the one person who could choose his parents or situation in life, yet he chose the most humble of circumstances. He was born in a cave used for animals and his first crib was a feeding trough. This alone suggests the level of humility that is present in Christ. It also suggests something that essential to the nature of God. Christ is the face of God for us. He reveals to us the Father. Therefore humility was not something that He “put on” for His time on earth, but it is part of who God is.

8. If Christ demonstrated humility by birth and position in life, His death was the ultimate expression. He was obedient to the Father to the point of crucifixion. Crucifixion was the worst possible death that could have been conceived at the time. Rome reserved it for their worst criminals. The Jews considered it to be a curse on someone’s soul (Deut. 21:23). Yet Christ embraced this most humiliating death out of obedience to the Father.
In class, we discuss the relationship of humility and obedience. We agreed that one could be obedient without humility at least outwardly, but one could never be humble without obedience. True obedience the act of surrender your will to someone else. This not only applies to our relationship with God but all of those in authority.
Another point can be made about this verse especially in relation to Heb. 5:7-10. How did Christ who was God become obedient and learn obedience? First, Christ as God has eternally submitted His will to Father. In fact, their wills are indistinguishable and completely united. But in what way did Christ learn obedience? The Fathers discussed this passage continually because of their struggle with Arianism and other heresies that threatened the belief in Christ’s deity. Christ is two natures in one person. It is His human nature that learned obedience. One aspect of the Incarnation is that Christ took on human flesh in order to deify or sanctify it. Human nature was unruly and wild and separated from God. The Incarnation sanctified man’s nature so that man could participate in the life of the Trinity. The Passion was the pinnacle of obedience and was part of the transformation of human nature so that now it was able to commune with God and ultimately become the dwelling place of God.
One final note concerning this passage will be mentioned. As mentioned above the early Fathers had to contend with this passage to defeat Arianism. The ironic fact is that the Arians used this passage as well to prove that Jesus was not God. Ultimately, the Orthodox position of Christ won the day. The winning argument although was not convincing Biblical exegesis but the argument from liturgy. The Fathers eventually proclaimed that their view was right because that the Church had always worshipped Christ as God and to follow Arius would require a change in the Church’s worship.

9-11. When Jesus assumed our nature His obedience sanctified and deified human nature so that it could share in communion with God. Within one person Jesus united divine nature with human nature. Now our nature can unite itself with God. So even when Paul is talking about exaltation, it is the raising of human nature to the throne of God.

Additional Notes:

The relation of this passage to Mary. Within Orthodoxy, this passage is the epistle reading for two Marian feasts (Nativity & Dormition). Why did the Church choose these readings? I think for two reasons. First it reminds us that Christ is the center of our faith. Mary ultimately points to Christ. In all our iconography of Mary, she is always holding Christ pointing people to him. In fact any veneration we have of Mary is ultimately an expression of that acknowledgement that her son is God. Secondly, Mary is the perfect example of this Christ-like humility. In fact, that is another reason we honor Mary. She is the paradigm for the Christian life. She heard the voice of God, humbly accepted God’s Word, and God was born in her body as a result, then she told those around her what God was going to do. This is the example that we are all commanded to follow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Philippians 1:12-16

Phil 1:12-26 Paul's Confidence

12 &13. Paul adds more words of comfort. Even though Paul has endured the shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings and unfair accusations, he proclaims to them that this is done for the advance of the Gospel. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph has been sold into slavery by his brothers, only to find imprisonment due to unfair accusations. However, through his prison experience he was released and became a leader in the Egyptian government. It was through his leadership he saved the nation and his family from famine. After it was all said and done he proclaimed, “What they meant for evil, God meant for God.” What a testimony?
In what way did the gospel advance? Fr. Farley mentions that “advance” is a military term that imagines an army advancing through uncharted territory in order to take more land. Therefore, this imprisonment is not a setback but is taking more “land” for the gospel. One Father states, “the chains that bind him have become the instruments of salvation.” The whole of elite Roman guard was able to hear the gospel and the believers within the city of Rome.

14. The gospel advance in spite of Paul’s imprisonment led to confidence among the Christians to spread the gospel. Christianity was considered treasonous because they did not honor Caesar as god. Yet, it was becoming apparent because of Paul’s witness they the Christians did not want an overthrow on an earthly kingdom, but the spread of a heavenly kingdom that was rooted in the heart of man.

15-17. Not all believers were thrilled at Paul’s success. These verses begin to explain why. Paul himself states that some were preaching out of envy, rivalry, and partisanship. This has been seen before in Paul’s ministry. See 1 Cor. 1:10-15. Chrysostom said that some of the “Christians” were trying to incite persecution from the emperor in order to discredit or damage Paul’s witness. There were many that did not like Paul’s embrace of the Gentiles and this created discord. Also some of the preaching was done out of opportunism (Farley). These men were seeking power within the Christian church, and Paul appeared to stand in their way.

18. The irony of the situation is that Paul rejoices regardless of the motive of those who are preaching Christ. He is unconcerned about his own reputation and status within the Christian community as long as the gospel is preached.

19. This verse further explains why Paul is rejoicing. His misfortune is causing the church to pray. This gives him confidence, and displays the way that God works through His church. God works in synergy with those who are consecrated to Him. The outcome that Paul rejoices about will happen as a result of the prayers of the Church along with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is giving high praise to prayer and the power and responsibility of the Church in accomplishing God’s work in the world. God never forces Himself, but waits for a willing participant to accomplish His will.
This is also another example of Paul’s humility as the great Apostle asks those he loves to pray for him. A lesser man may be confident in his own prayer life to accomplish such as task (Chrysostom).

20. Paul first states here that he will not be ashamed. This means that he is confident that he nor the Philippians will not deny Christ or compromise the gospel regardless of the sufferings they may encounter. He is confident because Christ has already been glorified regardless of the circumstances, and will continue to be glorified whether he lives or dies.

21. To live is to glorify Christ, and to die for Paul is to be present with Christ for eternity. One father states, “It is not death itself that is gain but to die in Christ. Life is Christ. The one who has hope in Him is always alive, both now and forever

22-23. This expands on vs. 21. To live is fruitful labor in expanding the frontiers of the gospel. Yet Paul struggles here in where he desires to be in the future. To live is to proclaim the gospel, but to die is to be with Christ. Another Father says, “Labor is the gospel I preach. Fruit is to bring many to the hope of life and salvation.”

24-26. Paul is convinced that he will remain with the people for a while longer. He rejoices in this because it for spiritual benefit of others and the communal joy in the faith. It did happen that he was release and continued to minister for a brief time before his martyrdom. Church tradition even suggests that he even took the gospel to Spain. His ultimate release will be another cause of joy among the Christians because the power of prayer and the Holy Spirit will be evident once more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Book Review: Beginning to Pray

Beginning to Pray is a wonderful little book that is simple to read and opens up a world of prayer that is a beautiful encounter with God. Met. Bloom writes very complex ideas into truly simple and wonderful language. There is a sense that Met. Bloom truly knows what it means to pray. The following link will give more info about Met. Bloom.

It is difficult to summarize so much that the book presents. In fact, there are so many nuggets of truth, I imagine multiple readings over time would enhance its value. Here are several things that were especially meaningful to me as I read the book.

1. Prayer is not formulaic or ritualistic. By this I mean, that prayer is not some magic incantation that forces God to behave for us. It is an encounter and a relationship (26). Bloom makes this clear by saying that it can not be forced by us for there is nothing that we can do to make God interact with us. We want God to react and respond to our cries but he has much more justification to complain at our lack of response to Him.
2. Prayer is a relationship of love. This becomes true for us through the beatitude of poverty. All that we possess is a gift from God, and we possess nothing that we can keep. Every gift is a sign of God’s love; holding onto possession takes us out of the realm of love (39-42).
3. Prayer turns inward. The inward journey of prayer is not a journey into myself but through myself toward God (46). It is a risk to go inward, because you strip away those things that you thought were real, this throws one into a crisis that only God can fill.
4. Stirrings of the heart teach us to pray. The prayers of the church teach us to pray, and Bloom gives excellent guidance in applying these to our lives. Whenever a prayer of the Church touches us deeply and stirs us, we should grab hold of this, learn it, pray it and live it.
5. Prayer must be lived. Words of prayer are words of commitment to God. Bloom makes an interesting statement that Christ is not going to be crucified for us every day, there is a moment that we must take up our own cross. When we speak to God we must be willing to live and commit to what we say.

This text is so simple but has the power to transform your prayer life. In the words of the Fathers: "A Theologian is one who truly prays."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Book Review: Partakers of the Divine Nature

The heart of Orthodox theology is the notion of theosis. This is the ability to participate in the life of God and be transformed by this communion. It is a deep communion that allows man to truly touch God and be changed into God’s likeness. The book Partakers of the Divine Nature summarizes the Orthodox theology of theosis. Coming from Evangelical Protestantism there are a multitude of book on living the Christian life. This is the definitive Orthodox version and draws each individual into the life of God. This review summarizes the contents of the book and provides an understanding for partaking of God’s life.

Theosis is a term that describes the process of the Christian life. It is a Greek term that describes becoming like God. This is not a novel idea rooted in late Orthodox theology, but has been part of the teaching of the people of God since the beginning. In the first chapters of Genesis, God creates man in the image and likeness of God. The image is an unbreakable stamp of God upon human nature that can not be eradicated. This is man’s purpose as pointed out in Mt. 5:44, “That you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Gal 4:4-7 calls man to become sons and heirs of the Father. However, through the fall man lost this likeness of God, and the story of redemption and the purpose of the Incarnation was God restoring man once again to become like God and journey this path of theosis. St. Athanasius makes the oft repeated statement that “God became man, so the we might be made gods.”

Through the Incarnation Christ restored human nature and the power of the Incarnation according to the author is “realized in the Holy Spirit” (29). It is a process that begins now and will ultimately be fully realized in the future age, as the author states: “our nature becomes adapted in this life to eternal life.” The important concern is how this can be accomplished in the life of man. It is through the Church that the answer is found. In fact the Church has given us all the objective means to achieve theosis (30). Yet this is not a passive operation in the life of the individual; it requires co-operation by man with the grace of God. Because man is free, God allows him to freely accept or reject His grace which would transform him into God-likeness. The author quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa: “when the righteousness of works and the grace of the Spirit come together at the same time in the same soul, together they are able to fill it with blessed life.”

The Church leads man into ways of receiving God’s grace. Often this is referred to as receiving God’s grace, acquiring the Holy Spirit, participating in the life of the Holy Trinity. All are the same act. Those things that the Church prescribes such as fastings, vigils, alms, etc are not ends or disciplines in themselves. The goal of the Christian is not to become a better faster or chanter but to allow those things to open the heart to God’s grace in order to be transformed. The Christian must be attentive to this place of the heart because it in the heart that the work of theosis is accomplished. The disciplines and sacraments of the Church facilitate this process.

The sacraments are a necessary part of this process. The Sacraments “actualize” the grace of God in the life of the Christian (36). Baptism opens the heart and frees it from the control of the devil allowing God’s grace to penetrate and transform. Baptism teaches us that the Christian life is being oriented to God and thereofre a denial of the world. Life is a continuous turning back to God when we are seduced by the world. This turning back to God is repentance and is often called the second baptism. The act of repentance culminates in the sacrament of confession as the believer expressing contrition and receives freedom from those sins which have enslaved him. Confession then as the author states is not “only the beginning of repentance but the fruit (55).” The Eucharist then is the pinnacle of the sacraments. Both Baptism and confession prepare one for the reception of the body and blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we are united with the body of Christ and enter into a physical communion of God.

The author spends much of the book discussing what he considers the “divinizing virtue”. This virtue is prayer and in many ways it is the common theme that runs through each of the other actions—sacraments and disciplines—that the Christian will experience in the life of the Church. Prayer is communion with God. It is the act of placing oneself in the stream of God’s life in order for it to transform and change. In prayer the Christian learns to appropriate everything given in the other disciplines and sacraments. The author is serious about its role and states “if you can not turn to God willingly or with desire than you can not be healed.” Therefore to accomplish theosis in the life of the Christian, the Christian must learn to pray.

He gives beautiful expressions to prayer. True prayer begins with contrition and ends in freedom from the passions. It elevates man to God not bringing man down to God. St Isaac of Syria says that prayer ultimately births love for both God and man. It is love which will be the ultimate fruit of prayer and the ultimate expression of theosis itself. In fact to transformed into God’s likeness means to become what God is which is an eternal life of love.

Advice is given concerning prayer in that prayer may begin with requests but this is merely preparatory for later stages. This will lead to awe of God and the stripping away of all images of God and will be a clear vision of God Himself. The Jesus Prayer is held up as method whereby man’s life can become a permanent expression of prayer. For by letting this penetrate every aspect of life, man gradually becomes prayer.

It must never be forgotten that the fruit of prayer is love, just as the goal of all the disciplines is theosis As magnificent as the virtue of prayer, it is not the end but the beginning of love for God and man. As the Christian becomes like God he will embrace all mankind in love just as God has done for all eternity. If there is a indicator that theosis is being accomplished in the life of the believer, it is evident in love. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, that you love one another (John 13:35).”

you can check this out at Light and Life here.

and you can post comments below.

Friday, October 06, 2006

New Commenting system

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

This should make it easier to make comments on the posts.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Philippians 1:1-11

Philippians 1:1-11

I. Introduction:

Vs. 1 Paul opens this letter differently than most of his letters. He usual opens with an assertion of his apostolic authority. Here he opens by describing himself as a slave. The bond between Philippi was deep and unlike many of the churches, no one there was challenging his authority. They loved and cared for him deeply, and Paul shares this love by using a term that would suggest their common vocation—that of slaves of Christ.

Vs. 2. Grace to you is a common secular greeting among the Roman world. Paul transforms this phrase. Now the phrase is blessing from God and an acknowledgment that all grace and peace comes from God above. Fr. Lawrence notes that linking Christ and the Father in this blessing is also a tacit belief in the full deity of Christ.

II. Thanks for the Philippians

Vs. 3&4. This portion of the letter begins by Paul giving thanks for the Philippians. It is interesting that Paul say that they give him joy, and that he prays for them at every remembrance. Memory and prayer work together. Often God will bring those to our memory who need prayer. Also, prayer is holding up someone before the memory of God. We are asking that God remember that person. This is a powerful request. The request of the thief on the cross to Jesus was that Jesus would remember him. Jesus affirms his request, and the fulfillment is that the thief would be with him in Paradise. Holding someone before the eternal memory of God is an integral part of intercessory prayer .

Vs. 5 Paul begins here describing the things about the Philippians that give him joy. He is joyful because they are participants in his work of the gospel. How were they participants? They held in common life in Christ. This bond was stronger than all others. They shared in proclaiming the gospel in their daily lives just as he did throughout the Mediterannean. They also shared in his work by providing their prayers and financial support. Chrysostom has an excellent passage that encourages us to participate with those who are doing works that we can not do:
“Thou canst not fast, nor be alone, nor lie on the ground, nor watch all night? Yet mayest thou gain the reward of all these things, if thou go about the matter another way, by attending on him that laboreth in them, and refreshing and anointing him constantly, and lightening the pains of these works. He, for his part, stands fighting and taking blows. Do thou wait on him when he returns from the combat, receive him in thy arms, wipe off the sweat, and refresh him; comfort, soothe, restore his wearied soul. If we will but minister to the saints with such readiness, we shall be partakers of their rewards.”

Vs. 6. He gives another reason for joy in this passage. He is confident that God will continue His work in their lives until the day of judgment. The joy is two-fold. He is joyful that God will not abandon them but continue his work. He is also joyful that he sees within them God’s action which confirms God’s work in them.
Fr. Lawrence points out that “began” and “perform” are both technical terms that describe the beginning of sacrifical ritual. God is making them living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). He says, “offering ourselves to the Lord, however, we are not left to rely solely on our own strength. Rather, God Himself aids us, for He is at work w/in our hearts..." This is the synergy of salvation. Augustine: “God can work in our acts without our help. But when we will the deed, He cooperates with us.”

Vs. 7. This verse gives reasons for Paul’s confidence in them. He once again goes back to this idea of being in communion together for the Gospel. They shared Paul’s bonds, his defense and the confirmation. They shared his bonds and defense through their prayers and financial support. Also their lives were open to the same treatment as Paul, by living as a Christian openly and supporting an enemy of the state such as Paul they were willing to share in the same fate. What does Paul mean by confirmation? The very fact that he would be willing to risk death confirms that he is serious about this Gospel. Chrysostom says that the bonds themselves are a confirmation of the Gospel. They display what is taught. Christ promised persecution, and the bonds are confirmation of that. They are also a witness to the overwhelming truth of the gospel—out of the cross comes resurrection. Out of Paul’s cross, came forth fruits of the resurrection that still affect us today.

Vs. 8 Paul reaffirms his love of the Philippians. He loves them deeply. The word “affections” is literally bowels. This is a strange phrase to an American ear; but the phrase is similar to “from the bottom of my heart”. It has much the same meaning. In fact, we discovered in class that Ethiopians use much the same expression. However, this was not just deep affection on the part of Paul but was characterized Christlikeness. Whenever the gospels speak of Jesus having compassion, it is the same word. This love is unconditional and sacrificial.

III. Request for the Philippians.

Vs. 9. The preceding verses are Paul’s thanks to God for the Philippians. The next three contain requests that he is asking God concerning the Philippians. Paul qualifies this abounding love, by saying that it should be characterized by knowledge and discernment. The word for discernment suggests moral discernment. It is the ability to recognize good from bad and even good from best. This is the same word used in the book Proverbs translated as “knowledge” (Pr 1:4,7,22; 2:4,10; 3:20; 5:2; 10:14; 11:9; 12:1,23; 14:6,7,18; 15:7,14; 18:15;19:25;22:12;23:12;24:4). Love will expressed differently from person to person. Certain ideas and thoughts will be discerned before committing to them passionately.
Chrysostom says :“There is a danger lest anyone be spoiled by the love of the heretics [and] that ye receive no spurious doctrine under the pretense of love.”
Ambrose also says that Paul wants them to be able to distinguish what is useful from what is useless.

Vs 10. Discerning love will give them the ability to prove what is truly excellent. To prove means to recognize the things which are morally excellent and are pleasing to God. To do those things will make them pure and without blemish before God on the day of Christ. Once again the theme of sacrifice is present. The Christian is a living sacrifice and will make the offering of his life to Christ on the day of judgment. Like the unblemished lamb of the OT sacrifice, Paul prays that their life offering will be blameless as well.

Vs.11. Another result of discerning love are the fruits of righteousness. This is a consistent image in Paul. In Gal 5:22, he lists the fruits of the Spirit. In fact, in that passage the word is “fruit” singular, not plural. One can say from that list that the fruit is love and the rests are expression of true Christ-like love. These fruits reflect the live of Christ and express the ultimate person of the sacrificial life which is the glory and praise of God. The offering of our lives will be presented to God in praise to Him. This reflects Christ’s own life and the ultimate sacrifice He made to the Father on the cross. It was a sacrifice not to appease a wrathful God, but a sacrifice of praise—the ultimate act of worship.

note to the class: Thanks for the input this past Sunday. I used your comments when I compiled the above summary notes. I tried to make the class more discussion oriented. Let me know what you thought. Did you like the interaction? Did it move to slow or fast?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Intro to Philippians

City of Philippi:

Philippi was originally a Greek city renamed by Alexander the Great’s father, King Philip. It was later made a Roman colony, and was found near the Greek coast near in the Northern Aegean sea. Today if looked on a map it would be in Greece just below the Bulgarian border (north of modern city of Kavala). At the time of Paul it was part of the Roman region of Macedonia.

The citizens were proud to be Roman citizens and this came with a tremendous amount of privilege at the time.

It was also a wealthy city. There were a lot of natural resources around the area, and it was nice trading community.

(the river where they prayed and were probably baptized)

Founding of the Church (Acts 16):

Paul and his traveling companions had been working in Asia Minor and were intent on ministering further in Asia, yet God stopped them (6). Paul had a vision that a man from Macedonia was calling to him to come help him. Paul and his companions (Silas, Luke, & Timothy) took this as God command to move toward the European mainland (9).

Upon arriving in Macedonia, Paul followed his normal pattern of evangelism: 1. go to a large city in the region 2. approach the Jewish community 3. Preach & gather converts 4. get kicked out of the synagogue 5. use the Jewish converts as the base for the growing church. Because of Paul's background as a scholar he was allowed to participate in the Scripture readings and deliver the homily commenting on the passage of the day. No doubt, he used this to demonstrate the fulfillment of the OT in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Philippi there was no synagogue present. According to Jewish tradition there had to be 10 men present to establish a synagogue. Apparently the Jews who were in the city (mostly women), continued to practice their daily cycle of prayers, and they met at the riverside to do this. Paul met with them and worshipped with them. Lydia—wealthy woman from Thyatira in Asia Minor--was convinced by Paul's teaching and accepted baptism along with her whole house. It appears Lydia was not a Jew but a God-fearer—a Gentile proselyte (14). It was the God-fearers who embraced Christianity so readily. She opened her house to Paul and it became the location of the infant Philippian church (15).

(photo: icons of St. Paul & Lydia in Orthodox church inPhilippi)

Spirit of Divination was cast out:

As Paul and his companions were traveling daily to the place of prayer, they were followed by a demon possesed girl. This slave girl has been enslaved to bring her master profit through her demon possession. She was crying out the truth about Paul saying "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation." She did this for days and Paul became annoyed or “worn out” by her and cast the demon out of her.

Why did Paul stop her if she was speaking the truth? Chrysostom gives several reasons: 1. demon spoke from malice and hypocrisy and wanted to take credit for something God was doing. 2. If Paul admitted this testimony many of the people and new Christians could stumble by thinking that demons always spoke the truth.

Also, there possibly was a level of compassion that Paul felt for the girl and by relying on her testimony for his gain, would have made him no better than her captors.

This caused their arrest and they were beaten and thrown into prison (19-22). Around midnight in Jail they were praying and singing hymns of praise. This would have been one of the times prayer in Judaism--today equivalent to our midnight office. There was an earthquake that provided an escape for all imprisoned. The jailer awoke and was ready to kill himself due to the prison break. Paul & Silas stopped him (28).

There are multiple reasons why the jailer may have attempted suicide. He knew that the prison break would have brought down Roman punishment with the possible loss of citizenship not only for him, but his whole family. By killing himself, if might look as if a prisoner did it, and at least his family could be saved from punishment.

The jailer cries out “What must I do to be saved?” (29). My guess is that he may not betalking about spiritual salvation but salvation for his own life. However Paul uses this moment to give him the means for true salvation---faith in Jesus Christ.

The jailer bathed their wounds and then Paul bathed them spiritually in the waters of Holy Baptism. Chrysostom loves to point out these contrasts. For example, who have the jailer binding Paul and Silas; and then you have Paul removing the jailer's spiritual bondage.

The jailer then takes them back to prison but the magistrate releases them. Paul proclaims his Roman citizenship and scares the local government and they ask him to leave. This threatened to cause scandal and problems for the local government. It was against the law to beat and arrest a citizen without trial. Paul encourages the new believers and leaves for another city.

Themes in the Letter:

1. Letter of thanks from Paul. The Philippians had been a big financial supporter of Paul and other charitable needs of the church at large. They had supported him while he was imprisoned which was important, because the government did not provide for the care of those imprisoned. It was the responsibility of the family and friends of the incarcerated.
2. Exhortation to unity. This appears several times throughout the letter, and Paul uses the situation of two in the church to provide a discussion of unity.
3. Joy in the midst of suffering. This is the major theme of the book. The church of Philippi began this way. Paul and Silas suffering in prison, but singing with resurrectional joy. Once again, he finds himself imprisoned and he writes encouraging them that suffering can bring joy when experienced through the cross.

Liturgical Use:

Phil 2:5-11 used multiple times in the church. It is used as the epistle during the Marian feasts (Dormition, Nativity).

Phil 4:4-9 - The epistle reading for Palm Sunday.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

3rd Annual Institue for Orthodox Studies

If you live near Louisville, KY here are the details regarding the Institute for Orthodox Studies this Friday (Sep 22) and Saturday (Sep 23). The institue will take place at St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church on Hikes Lane. Babysitting will be provided on Saturday and Dinner and Lunch will be free of charge. If you plan on eating please call 454-3378 x6 for reservations.

The theme of the Institute is "Why a Crucified Messiah?"

Friday, September 22

6-6:30 pm Great Vespers
6:45-7:30 pm Dinner
7:45-9:00 pm Through the Cross
Keynote with Q&A
Rev. John Behr, Professor of Patristics, St. Vladimir Seminary

Saturday, September 23

8-8:30 am Matins in the Chapel
8:30-9:00 am Breakfast
9:00-10:15 am Forgiven Sinners Fr. John Behr
10:15-10:30 am Break
10:30-11:45 am First Response & Discussion
Take Up Thy Cross
V. Rev. Michael Dahulich
Dean of St. Tikon Seminary
11:45-12:30 pm Lunch
12:30-1:45 pm Virgin Mother Fr. John Behr
1:45-2:00 pm Break
2:00-3:15 pm Second Response & Discussion
Door Keeper to Eternity: the Parish Priest as Guardian of Souls
V. Rev. Michael Laffoon
Pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church
Irvine, Ca.
3:15-3:30 pm Break
3:30-4:15 pm Discussion with Presenters
Facilitated by Dr. David Bradshaw
Professor of Philosophy, University of Kentucky
4:15-4:30 pm Break
4:30-5:15 pm What is the Church: Concluding Summary on the Significance of Conference Theme for Living the Christian Life
V. Rev. Alexander Atty
Pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church

other info can be found here

Sunday School Book Review

This Sunday begins our new Adult Sunday School series. We will be working our way through the books of Ephesians-Philemon.

The study text that we will be using is The Prison Epistles by Fr. Lawrence Farley.

This book is just one book in the Orthodox Bible Study Companion series. I spoke with Fr. Lawrence and he said that he has completed books for the entire NT, but that Conciliar Press is releasing them one per season. I think currently Romans, Mark, & 1 & 2 Corinthians have been released.

I have worked my way through about a quarter of the book and it is excellent. It is simple to read and follow. Fr. Lawrence using his own working translation rather than a currently available modern text. The benefit here is that it allows him to discuss the Greek wording and bring out nuances that many translations may miss.

I only have one complaint, but I do understand the shortcoming. I wish he had used more quotes from the Fathers and connected the significant passages with the Liturgy. This is something that I will attempt to do in class and my notes on the site. For example, the famous "kenosis" passage in Phil. 2 is used in many of the feasts of the Theotokos as the epistle reading. Why would the Church do this? What does it teach us? We will address these topics in class.

This is not to say that he does not use the Fathers, because upon reading Chrysostom it is evident that Fr. Lawrence has drunk deeply of the mind of the Fathers. I think for simplicity sake he attempted to distill it all into a readible commentary without turning it into an academic text. Well done, Fr. Lawrence.

The church bookstore will have copies available in the next couple of weeks. Or you can click on the book above or on the following link to purchase through Amazon: Prison Epistles

See you on Sunday.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Searching the Devotionals

My last post suggested two excellent internet devotional resources.

Let me give you some tips that can also help more meet from these resources.

Google provides you the ability to perform searches specific sites. By doing this you can look for words and phrases throughout everything that has been posted.

Here's how to do it. As an example let me show you how to perform a search of the Prologue and then you can figure out how to do the same for the Dynamis devotional

In the Google search bar type the following:
then type the phrase or word you are looking for.

For example, if I wanted to search the Prologue for everything St. Nicholai wrote about the book of Philippians then I would type the following: philippians

By doing this you would get 6 entries that would take you to the text. You can obviously do this with any site, but this is especially useful if you are doing any personal Bible study.

If you have other questions or comments, let me know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Daily Devotion Suggestions

The habit of a Daily prayer rule is essential for the Orthodox Christian. Part of the rule that is essential to spiritual growth is some form of spiritual reading. This can be tougher than the prayer rule, because you may wonder what you need to read. I know that I have made it a goal to read through the Bible and have done so, but there were times that I would start in Genesis and then get bogged down in Leviticus. There are several read-through-the-Bible plans that can help get you through by mixing up the order of books.

Another suggestion is to follow the daily readings given in the Church lectionary. If you have a church calendar it will give the daily readings. If all the readings are overwhelming, just pick one and read it daily. There are several resources on the web that are extremely helpful for daily devotions. Let me profile two excellent ones below.

1. Prologue from Ohrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. The Prologue is the result of the Serbian bishop now known as St. Nicholai of Zica. He wrote daily readings that include the lives of several of the saints of the day, a commentary on various scriptures, a meditation on various themes, and questions for contemplation. This sounds like a lot, but the actual text is fairly short, but full in terms of meaning.

The following is a short summary of his like taken from OrthodoxWiki. Nikolaj Velimirović was born in the small village of Lelich in Western Serbia. He attended the Seminary of St. Sava in Belgrade and graduated in 1905. He obtained doctorates from the University of Berne (1908), while the thesis was published in German in 1910, whereas the doctor's degree in philosophy was prepared at Oxford and defended in Geneva (Filozofija Berklija - Berkeley's Philosophy, in French) in 1909. At the end of 1909 he entered a monastic order. In 1919, then Archimandrite Nikolai was consecrated Bishop of Žiča in the Church of Serbia.

In April 1915 (during WWI) he was delegated to England and America by the Serbian Church, where he held numerous lectures, fighting for the unison of the Serbs and South Slavic peoples. At the beginning of 1919 he returned to Serbia, and in 1920 was posted to the Ohrid archbishopric in Macedonia, where in 1935, in Bitola he reconstructed the cemetery of the killed German soldiers.

During the Second World War in 1941 Bp. Nikolai was arrested by the Nazis in the Monastery of Žiča (which was soon afterwards robbed and ruined), after which he was confined in the Monastery of Ljubostinja (where, on the occasion of mass deaths by firing squad, he reacted saying: "Is this the German culture, to shoot hundred innocent Serbs, for one dead German soldier! The Turks have always proved to be more just..."). Later, this "new Chrysostom" was transferred to the Monastery of Vojlovica (near Pančevo) in which he was confined together with the Serbian patriarch, Gavrilo (Dožić) until the end of 1944.

On December 14, 1944 he was sent to Dachau, together with Serbian Patriarch Gavrilo, where some sources, especially the standard Church references, record that he suffered both imprisonment and torture.[1]

After the War he left Communist Yugoslavia and immigrated as a refugee to the United States in 1946 where he taught at several Orthodox Christian seminaries such as St. Sava's Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois and St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary and Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania (where he was rector and also where he died) and St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary now in Crestwood, New York. He died on March 18, 1956. He was glorified as a saint in May 2003.

The whole of the Prologue can be found online at the link below. You can also buy the hard copy as well.

to read click here

to buy click here
2. Dynamis devotional

This is an excellent devotional that is published by St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita, KS. The beauty of this devotional is that it follows the daily readings of the Church's lectionary. Occassionaly it will diverge into the OT, but in doing so they are taking from festal readings that are nearby on the Church calendar. The other wonderful feature of these devotionals is that they can be emailed to you on a daily basis. The emails will always come the day before the reading occurs. These are excellent because they are practical and full of quotes from the Church Fathers.

to read click here

Enjoy and God Bless.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Ladder Steps 29-30: The End

Sadly, this is the last post on the Ladder of Divine Ascent. I am sorry to see it come to an end. I am sure I learned much more than my class in studying it. There was much I could not teach because I could not come close to an accurate understanding much less practical experience of the truth. Hopefully the summaries have been helpful, and they will drive you to the original. As I said in the first post Fr. John Mack's book is an excellent primer to get you started and then I heartily recommend the original Ladder. I know many who read through this book every Lent as the monastics do.

Let me know if this was helpful and if a different format for future notes would be better.

Step 29 - On Dispassion

-the spiritual state where the passions do not exist.

St. John says that this man "regards the artifice of demons as a contemptible joke."

At this stage, the passions of man have become transformed by Christ so much so that temptation, although it may be relentless and fierce, has no affect on the dispassionate man.

Here we come close to the end of the book, and St. John lays out the fruit of our labor to let us know that there is more. Even if you have achieved great strides spiritually…there is more. We never stop growing in God. Christianity is not static, it is always a dynamic relationship with the Trinity. C.S. Lewis in his final Narnia book perfectly describes this journey as "further up and further in". Because we are finite and God is infinite, there is no end to our discovery. Even those saints who achieve dispassion in this life never stop growing in God. Even throughout eternity we continue to grow in God.

Step 30 - On Faith, Hope & Love

In this final step, St. John summarizes the goal of spiritual development much as Jesus and Paul. When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus said that it was love God and to love others. Paul after discussing all the gifts that God gives to man, says, “And now, finally, after all that we have said, there remain these three that bind and secure the union of all: faith, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love, for God Himself is so called. (I Corinthians 13:13 and I John 4: 8 and 16)”

Love is the ulimate expression of our life with God. Love is present in all the steps. Yet each step purifies us so that we can love more truly and rightly. Unfortunately, there is so much self in our life that we do love as we ought and thus the steps train us to love God and man.

This is the goal. It's is not to become better pray-ers or fasters or almsgivers. It is to love. Those disciplines are necessary but they are means and not the ends.

So this study ends with the exhortation, "Love one another."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Louisville Orthodox Book Club & Institute for Orthodox Studies

The Orthodox Book Club will be meeting on Sunday, September 24, at 6:00 PM at the Dryden home to discuss The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death, by Fr. John Behr.

Fr. Behr will be the keynote speaker at the "Institute for Orthodox Studies" on September 22 and 23. He is Professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir's Seminary.

The following is the summary of the book given by the publisher: "By returning to the methodology of the early Church, Fr. Behr invites readers to approach the mystery of Christ in the same way that the first disciples of Jesus Christ learned theology. Fr. Behr examines how we search the scriptures to encounter Christ and thereby realize that we were created for this encounter, thus opening a profound perspective on creation, fall, sin, and salvation history. He further explains how Christ is born in those who are born again in the Church, their 'Virgin Mother,' so that they become truly human, after the stature of Christ, and continue the incarnation of the Word by glorifying God in their bodies."

Fr. Behr has also written The Way to Nicaea and The Nicene Faith.

Click on the name below for more info about his books on Amazon.

Fr. John Behr

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Ladder Step 28

Step 28 - On Prayer

“[Prayer is] A dialogue and union of man with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves reconciliation with God.”

This is the goal of all our spiritual work which is union with God.

“War reveals the love of a soldier for his king, and the time and practice of prayer show a [Christian’s] love for God. So your prayer shows where you stand.”

“Get ready for your time of prayer by unceasing prayer in your soul.”

The rule of prayer is essential to the spiritual life. This is addressed in any Orthodox work on prayer. The rule of prayer should be something done every day regardless of anything else. It should be the minimum that is done that is consistent to your daily life.

“However pure you may be, do not be forward in your dealing with God. Approach Him rather in al humility and you will be given still more boldness.”

Personal Prayer should contain:

1. Thanksgiving

2. Confession

3. Requests

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Prayers from St. Ephraim

"I have the will, but I cannot say that I have the strength. I give what I have. Consider my situation and if it pleases Thee to give me what I lack, grant it to me."
-from St. Ephraim in The Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse.

The above book is an excellent little book that I bought a couple of lents ago. I enjoyed it upon purchase, but only recently picked it up again. I don't know why I put it down. St. Ephraim was an early Christian saint in the whereabouts of modern day Iraq/Turkey. He has written an incredible amount of wonderful poetry that is reflective of his own prayer life.

This book is actually a compilation of another saint of the Church--St. Theophan the Recluse. St. Theophan is a wonderful saint for 19th century Russia. His works are easy to read and contain practical instructions on living the Christian life. St. Theophan took many of the prayers of St. Ephraim and compiled them into 150 prayers so they resembled the Psalter.

This treasure is full of pryaers that encourage repentance and humility and is worth incorporating into your prayer life at least during the fasting periods of the Church. It should be a trustworthy guide toward a life of repentance.

You can find another book review here

& a life of St. Ephraim here and here.

a great blog about a current travel experience with St. Ephraim.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Ladder Step 27

Step 27 - On Stillness

St. John "We are like purchased slaves, like servants under contract to the unholy passions. And because this is so, we know a little of their deceits, ways, impositions, and wiles. We know of their evil despotism in our wretched souls. But there are others who fully understand the tricks of these spirits, and they do so because of the working of the Holy Spirit and because of the freedom they themselves have managed to achieve. We in our sickness can only imagine the sort of relief that would come with good health."

This is one of the rewards of the spiritual life. The place of rest that one comes when they are no longer affected by temptation of sin.

Even though we may not experience this continually we do experience this from time to time.

The paradox is that the path to this type of lasting continuous peace is attained by great spiritual struggle.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Ladder Step 26

Step 26 - On Discernment

Discernement is the ability to know God’s will in every situation; to know how to do battle in the spiritual life; and to understand all the schemes of the devils.

St. John discusses three levels of discernment in the spiritual life and how discernment develops in our lives.

  1. Beginners – self-knowledge.

-What does this mean? The phrase “Know Thyself” comes from Greek philosophy, but what do the Fathers mean by this?

- Knowing yourself is not necessarily a pleasant enterprise. It is a honest self-evaluation that results in repentance, mourning, and humility. It an acute awareness of ones weaknesses, sins, and tendencies to sin.

  1. Midway – know the difference between good and evil in every situation. This does not just refer to ethical dilemmas that may seem gray, but our interaction in the battle for our soul. We begin to see and understand the schemes of the devil.

  1. Perfect – to be so illumined by God that you are able to illumine others. This is not just referring to the ability of good advice, but the ability to help someone actualize God’s grace, to be transformed, to be released from the bondage of their own sins.

St. John then spends the rest of the step discussing the path to discernment, which is to be pure in heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Oftentimes we define knowing God’s will as God putting His stamp of approval on what we are doing.

General Advice toward purity: Destroy gluttony, vainglory, and avarice then you will destroy lust, despondency, pride, dejection, anger.

Demons plan to thwart purity which leads to discernment, and our battle plan:

1. Impede spiritual achievement. Strategy: zeal for God and remembrance of Death.

2. Act against God’s will. Strategy: obedience & humility.

3. Vainglory. Strategy: unceasing self-condemnation.

Other advice in the battle: Be watchful when physically sick for the attack on your soul. Watch the motives for your actions.

A life of prayer is essential in the battle for purity. St. John gives advice on how we respond to prayer in the context of the struggle for purity. What does it mean when God delays answer your cry for help?

1. God's answer would be premature.

2. We are praying from wrong motives primarily vainglory

3. If answered it would lead us to more sin.


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