Thursday, March 31, 2011

Track 1 - Deliverance

Slavery is a distant memory for our culture and one we would like to forget. Yet it is no surprise that the American slaves embraced the images of the Exodus to provide hope and relief during their time of bondage. Sadly, slavery is still with us today but hidden among our neighborhoods and countries throughout the world. Today there are more slaves in the world than at any other time in history. This is not metaphorical slavery but true captivity where people are treated as chattel and property and deprived of any outward freedoms.

Louis Etongwe rescues people from slavery in Virginia and Maryland. This is not slavery from the old south but from modern America. His stories are harrowing, but touching as this modern day Moses delivers people from hidden enslavement.

This modern story of slavery leads us directly into the first Biblical ode. Understanding the slaves of the American past and knowing the stories of deliverance among modern slaves, can help us tap into the emotion of the ancient Hebrews as they stepped onto the shores of the Red Sea. Looking back at their former masters swallowed beneath the waves, the reality of their freedom was complete. For many may never have known a time when they were not in bondage, but now they were free. Moses had promised this day but certainly doubts persisted. The crashing of Pharaoh's chariots in the Red Sea confirmed their hopes. Their salve masters would haunt them no more. The relief and deliverance forced up a cry of rejoicing from their hearts and this song of deliverance is the first in our soundtrack for life.

The Ode of Moses in Exodus (Exodus 15:1-19)

15:1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song to God and spoke, saying: Let us sing to the Lord, for he is very greatly glorified: horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 He was to me a helper and protector for salvation: this is my God and I will glorify him; my father’s God and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord bringing wars to nought, the Lord is his name. 4 He has cast the chariots of Pharaoh and his host into the sea, the chosen mounted captains: they were swallowed up in the Red Sea. 5 He covered them with the sea: they sank to the depth like a stone. 6 Your right hand, O God, has been glorified in strength; your right hand, O God, has broken the enemies. 7 And in the abundance of your glory you have broken the adversaries to pieces: you sent forth your wrath, it devoured them as stubble. 8 And by the breath of your anger the water parted asunder; the waters were congealed as a wall, the waves were congealed in the midst of the sea. 9 The enemy said: I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoils; I will satisfy my soul, I will destroy with my sword, my hand shall have dominion. 10 You sent forth your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty water. 11 Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you? Glorified in holiness, marvelous in glories, doing wonders. 12 You stretch forth your right hand, the earth swallowed them up. 13 You have guided in your righteousness this your people whom you have redeemed, by your strength you have called them into your holy resting-place. 14 The nations heard and were angry, pangs have seized on the dwellers among the Phylistines. 15 Then the princes of Edom and the chiefs of the Moabites hasted; trembling took hold upon them, all the inhabitants of C’anaan melted away. 16 Let trembling and fear fall upon them; by the greatness of your arm, let them become as stone; till your people pass over, O Lord, till this your people pass over, whom you have purchased. 17. bring them in and plant them in the mountain of their inheritance, in your prepared habitation, which you, O Lord, have prepared; the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have made ready. 18 The Lord reigns unto ages of ages and ever. 19 For the horse of Pharaoh went in with the chariots and horsemen into the sea and the Lord brought upon them the water of the sea, but the children of Israel walked through dry land in the midst of the sea.
These songs are primarily sung during Matins and it is to the various canons we can turn for commentary. The overarching theme is God's deliverance from bondage, and His triumph over evil. Thankfully most of us in the West have never experienced literal bondage and slavery, yet bondage is the unfortunate state of mankind after the fall of Man. The power of Exodus points to these spiritual realities that threaten to engulf humanity into a living and eternal darkness were it not for the hand of our Savior.

God's deliverance and triumph is retold in at least four major ways throughout this song.

1. Triumph over the bondage of sin.

2. Triumph over the bondage of affliction.

3. Triumph over death.

4. God is a God of deliverance.

This last point summarizes God's actions in this hymn. He is a God of deliverance. Because we have been delivered by Him, we are called as the Church to join in this ministry of deliverance.

Theron Mathis

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Nuclear Cross

The Japan catastrophe is mind boggling in the amount of death, suffering, and destruction caused by one event. As more and more stories enter the news stream, the horror keeps growing. Yet in all this suffering, incredible stories appear that inspire the soul.

Tonight, the news compared the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl to the current situation in Japan. In doing so, the stories of those who averted greater disaster were recounted. At Chernobyl, the workers who reentered the facility to contain the meltdown did so knowing that it would be their own demise. Within three months of containment, they all died.

Today we hear of Japanese workers making the same sacrifice. They are giving their lives for their countrymen, and are doomed to be the walking dead for next several months. Radiation poisoning of this magnitude rarely is pretty and pleasant to the human body. These workers, of all people, know and understand the pain this will place on their lives for the next several months. Yet, they lay down their lives.

Stories of such noble sacrifice challenge my own heart and life. Could I do the same? For, I struggle to make minuscule sacrifices for my family and fellow man.

As Christians, we believe that the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Christ lie at the heart of reality. Reality is crucified love and in this image man was made. It is with hope and joy that across all times and peoples, this image burst forth as man (perhaps unknowingly) reflects in sacrifice the heart of his Creator.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (The Gospel of St. John 15:13).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Priests, Prayer, and Purple Demons

Lent is upon us, and strange things will begin happening. The purple demons of Lent come out in force. How can you tell the purple ones have arrived? You have trouble making it to church, meat is everywhere you look, you miss morning prayer when the alarm clock mysteriously stops working, church politics gets crazy. You've seen it. Lent is a battle, and knowing this should us fight.

Those who feel the brunt of Lent are often our clergy. Their workload is increased due to the increased number of services. The pressures of ministry are concentrated. While we should prayer for our clergy throughout the year, during Lent there is an urgency of prayer for them. One of their main jobs is to equip us, the laity, for the work of the ministry. For this we should offer thanks and prayers, especially during this intensive period of the year.

Here is a prayer taken from the Antiochian Little Red Book:


O Lord Jesus Christ, enkindle the hearts of all thy Priests with the fire of zealous love for thee, that they may ever seek thy glory; Give them strength that they may labor unceasingly in thine earthly vineyard for the salvation of our souls and the glory of thine all-honorable and majestic Name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Best Soundtrack for Life Or Your Money Back

A Facebook friend and fellow Orthodox blogger is running an FB experiment. Each day he is posting a separate song that is part of his soundtrack for life. My guess is that much of this is tongue in cheek, but it is fascinating. This is something I could never do. For me, it would be like getting a tattoo; as soon as I made my decision public, I would be embarrassed by its level of uncool. Growing up in an age of tv, radio, & movies, most of us probably have songs that evoke deep memories. My soundtrack would be a strange mix of brit pop, movie soundtracks, 80's/90's CCM, early rap, and a college foray into grunge. I still hear "Eye of the Tiger" in my head whenever I motivate myself to start a running regimen every 3 years. Decades after hearing a song, I am amazed that I can still remember the words.

Songs do have power. They have a way of entering the heart of man through the back door. The music, rhythm, and rhyme drop the rational defenses of the mind and touch that intuitive part of us where we know but do not know how. Songs create and sustain memories. Familiar phrases and chords stir up past events so they become present to us once again. Throughout human culture, man has used songs to pass on their cultural identity and tradition. Israel was no exception. The Psalter and much of the OT are hymns and songs capturing the essence of their experience of God. Once set to music this tradition is delivered into the heart and moved forward to future generations.

Somewhere in the life of the church, hymns were lifted from the pages of Scripture to create a soundtrack for the Church. The Psalter has always been sung and continues to this day, but 9 separate songs were chosen that express the Church's encounter with the Holy Trinity. These songs process chronologically from Moses to the priest Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist), and were codified in a liturgical form called the canon.

The 9 odes create a form that allows the liturgical poet to weave a topic through each song. It is in the 6th century under the pen of such saints as Sts Romanos, Andrew of Crete, and John of Damascus that the form flourishes. I would guess that the nine had been accepted and prayed as a separate group for some time prior, yet any info that readers may have on their origins would be helpful.

Several years ago, we discussed each ode in our Sunday School class. Over the next couple months I will summarize the content of each ode and show how the Church uses them to communicate the gospel and the path into the kingdom of God.

Each of us have songs that generate memories and feeling. These 9 should become part our own soundtrack and shape our hearts and actions for eternity.


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