Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Lost Books of the Bible--Cover Art

Later this year, I have a book coming out on the "Apocryphal"or "Deutero-Canonical" books that are part of the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament, but were removed from the Protestant Old Testament. They are not really lost books. In fact, if you find a book about the "lost books" it is either marketing or books that were never included in any official canon.

Here's the potential cover art:

What do you think of the art? What about the title? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Track 3 - Humility

Long ago, barrenness was always seen as a curse. In ancient times progeny was a sign of blessing and a hope of establishing the parent’s memory beyond the grave. So to be childless was to be feared. Barrenness humbled to the lower rungs of society.

Such a woman was Hannah. She was the wife of Elkanah and shared him with a second wife. Elkanah's second wife bore him children, but Hannah remained barren. Hannah was ridiculed by the other wife because of her childlessness.

The family took an annual trip to the Israelite place of worship. During this trip, Hannah cried out to God in her sorrow, and begged for her humiliation to be removed. Her weeping was so deep that her lips moved before God but no sound was heard. This display caused the resident priest, Eli, to accuse her of drunkenness. She revealed her heart to Eli, and spoke of the prayer and vow she had made to the Lord. She had promised to give the child back to God, if He would give her a boy.

Returning home, she soon was with child. The son that was born would be known as Samuel and he would be a great prophet among God's people. After he was weaned, she took him back to the temple to be given into the care of the priest Eli.

Her return to the temple was accompanied by song. And it is this song in 1 Samuel (1 Kingdoms) 2:1-10 that becomes Ode 3 in the soundtrack of the Church.

The Church in her writings and humility draws 5 ideas from this hymn.

1. No one is Holy but God (vs. 2). No where is this more present than the Ode 3 hymns of Holy Week. For God alone can do what man cannot. He descends into the grave and destroys death.

When it saw you, who had hung the whole earth freely on the waters, hanging on Golgotha, creation was seized with great amazement and cried, ‘None is holy, but You, O Lord.’ –Holy Friday Hymn

You opened out your palms and united things that before were separated, while by being closed in a shroud and a grave, O Savior, You loosed those who were fettered. None is holy, but You, O Lord.

2. God strengthens the weak. God strengthens and establishes those with no power, but to cry out to Him.

3. God exalts the humble. This phrase is common throughout Scripture, and presents a truth that is paradoxical. We are all weak in the presence of God, and that awareness brings God’s exaltation. A simple shepherd, considered the runt of his family, became Israel’s greatest king. Unlearned fisherman transformed the world the message of Christ. At Pentecost, we sing during Ode 3:

Only the prayer of Hannah, the prophetess of old, who brought a broken spirit to the Mighty One and God of knowledge, broke the fetters of a childless womb and the harsh insult of one with many children.

4. God makes the barren fruitful. The impossible becomes possible through the power of God. He is the God of the unexpected. Not only does Hannah image this, but multiple images throughout Scripture proclaim this truth such as Aaron’s rod that budded.

The rod of Aaron is an image of this mystery, for when it budded it showed who should be priest. So in the Church, that once was barren, the wood of the Cross has now put forth flower, filling her with strength and steadfastness. –from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

5. Life comes through Death. Only He, who was Holy, could destroy, and by doing so, He brings life, and forges a way through death to life. This gives humility its power, because it joins man to the Crucified One. On Easter, we sing of barrenness that became life-giving.

Come let us drink a new drink, not one marvelously brought forth from a barren rock, but a Source of incorruption, which pours out from the tomb of Christ, in whom we are established.

Humility is the major theme of this hymn. It the humble that God exalts and transforms through His power. Humility is the way of the Cross, and only through the Cross is resurrection possible.

Have you been humbled by life? How did God offer you hope? What do you do to stay humble?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Easter Sermon Ever!

Each year during Easter Liturgy, the Orthodox Church replaces the normal sermon with the best sermon ever. There is no reason to trump this masterpiece with a modern creation, and if it's read with enthusiasm it will make you heart pump with joy.

This was given by St. John Chrysostom who was born in 347, and later became Patriarch of Constantinople. Chrysostom is not his surname but an honorific title meaning Golden-Mouthed. Even though this sermon is 1700 years old, the truths are so timeless and relevant, it can be transported to any age.
Several years ago, a visiting priest read this during our church's Easter service. He was a former Pentecostal pastor, so you can imagine the cadence and fervor coming through each word. By the end of the sermon, you could feel the joy of the Resurrection.
Here's the text, read out loud for full effect:
If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.
For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.
Are you filled with the joy of resurrection? Have you had a similar sermon-experience?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Track 2 - Penitence

Ode 2: The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)

Of all the odes in our Biblical Soundtrack, this one only gets played during Great Lent, because it is primarily a song of repentance. It is harsh and painful to read. Your mind starts swimming with images of judgment, death, and failure. Fear grips your heart at the abject failure of man and his continued rejection of God.

Moses is preparing for death, and the people he has lead for 40 years are standing on the precipice of taking the land of promise. This land was their place of dreaming while slaves in Egypt and the ultimate goal of their wilderness wanderings. Within a year of the Exodus, they had stood on the banks of the Jordan ready to take the promise and receive this inheritance, but they stumbled out of fear and faithlessness.

Miracles abounded throughout the journey from Egypt, yet grumbling characterized most of their desert steps. Rather than embracing the promise of the God who rescued them from evil, they turned from Him again and again only to suffer the consequences of self-destruction.

Yet out of their failure comes hope, because in spite of everything man does God returns again and again to restore and enact vengeance on behalf of those damaged, disabled, and hurt by their own hand.

Several themes arise from this song of penitence:

1. God is more committed to His people than they are to Him. Israel’s story is one of infidelity to their God, yet God continues to return and rescue. His commitment is unwavering and eternal.

2. Destruction, pain, and death are always the natural consequence of sin and rejecting God.

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rejection of any physical law brings harm to us. No one would dare reject the law of gravity, jump from a high building, and expect to fly. In the same way, sin is a rejection of life, and the willing ingestion of poison. No other outcome, but sickness and death could be expected.

3. God will always come to the aid of those suffering under sin and death and take vengeance.

Clement of Alexandria “For where the face of the Lord looks, there is peace and rejoicing; but where it is averted, there is the introduction of evil. The Lord, accordingly, does not wish to look on evil things; for He is good. But on His looking away, evil arises spontaneously through human unbelief. “Behold, therefore,” says Paul, “the goodness and severity of God: on them that fell, severity; but upon thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness,”

4. The memory of God’s faithfulness and goodness to His people provides a way of escape from the destruction of sin. Moses recalls what God had done for the people as a way of reminder that God is always faithful and willing to forgive. It was memory of the father’s house that brought the prodigal son out of the pigpen and to a path of restoration.

We all know stories of friends or family intent on their own destruction. You may have reached out to help only to be hurt in the process. We are that person. God pours out grace and love to us to rescue us from our own selves, but we reject the lifeline He offers. This shower of love continues throughout our lives, and repentance is our recognition of the snares we have created and our holding out our hand to be pulled from danger into life.

This is our life, but He is a good God and loves mankind.

Related posts: A Soundtrack for Life, Track 1 - Deliverance

Monday, April 18, 2011

Love of Place

I've never been out of the country (well, I did drop into Canada for about an hour back in college, but that doesn't count), but whenever I meet those who are arriving from places afar their responses are always the same: "I loved my trip, but it feels great to be home", "I realize how much I love my country when I saw the Statue of Liberty", "On touchdown, I love this place."

I know I have similar feelings when I have been away for while whether on vacation or business. There is something about where you call home.

It is that love of place that touches on the previous post. It is that love of place that allows you to embrace the beautiful. It is that love of place that will transform it.

Fr. Andrew Damick speaks eloquently about this in a collection of posts on place.

Follow these link to see what I mean:

The Locus and Economy of Community (The Transfiguration of Place, Part II)

Globalization: An Impediment to Salvation (The Transfiguration of Place, Part III)

Thin Places (The Transfiguration of Place, Part IV)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Was the Spark Leading to the Crucifixion?

On April 12, Americans remember the start of the Civil War. Conditions of war had been building for years, but the shots at Ft. Sumter accelerated conflicting undercurrents into full scale war. The shot was the fuse to a powder keg filled through years of geographical frustrations. History is often this way. One critical event releases the full force of tension building, and actions unthinkable months before become reality over night.

Palm Sunday is such an event, and is the doorway to Holy Week, becoming the spark, lighting the fuse, leading to the Crucifixion and Glorious Resurrection. The raising of Lazarus and the subsequent entry into Jerusalem thrust Jesus into the events of the Passion. For throughout His ministry, He threatened the religious establishment and this sudden publicity was their opportunity to ensnare Him.

The Church celebrates this day like other feasts with readings from Scriptures and hymns to enlighten the meaning of the feast. The Scriptures for this feast are Gen 49:1-2; 8-12; Zeph. 3:14-19; Zech 9:9-15; Matt 21:1-17; Phil 4:4-9; John 12:1-18. By reading through these texts and hymns, several key thoughts arise bringing us into an experience of this day.

1. Behold the King. This is a feast of rejoicing. It is a foreshadowing of the feast of Easter. The king is coming and will deliver. We are called to remember Christ comes to us continually in power and glory in the Eucharist. Zephaniah 3:14ff

2. The King is the Suffering Servant. This was not the king most expected. The palms were patriotic symbols originating from the Maccabean era, proclaiming a Jewish self-rule and freedom from foreign oppression. Yet Jesus was not a king of earthly power and dominion, but He was to become the Suffering Servant who would be obedient through the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. According to Rabbinical philosophy, when Messiah came, He would ride into Jerusalem on a white horse. If however, Israel was not ready for Messiah, He would ride in on a donkey. And here's Jesus riding on a donkey, not so much confirming rabbinical speculation as fulfilling prophetic indication, for hundreds of years earlier, Zechariah said the King would come riding on a donkey (9:9).

“Humbles Himself and comes from Bethany riding on a dumb beast.” Vespers of Palm Sunday

3. Accept the Kingdom. The Feast summons us to accept the rule and kingdom of God as the goal and content of the Christian life.

Theophan the Recluse: The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil 2.13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established.
4. Praise of Innocence. Innocent children offer palms and praise, which is contrasted with the anger of the Pharisees. The innocent were able to see Christ as King, but the sinfulness of the Pharisees darkened their hearts from understanding. The cries of Hosanna meant “save us now”. Little did they know the form their salvation would take.

“From the mouths of babes and infants you have founded praise.” Vespers

“The children honor Him with palms and branches.” Vespers

5. Prefigures the Gentiles. The Fathers see in the colt an image of the Gentiles being tamed by Christ so they could be brought into the fold of the people of God.

“Riding on an untamed colt, you have prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles, those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to faith.” Vespers

6. Tragedy of the Betrayal. Many of those praising Jesus during the Entry were also calling for His crucifixion later in the week. This tragic turn of events is a warning to all that we too are never far from betrayal of the One we praise. Each sin is a kiss of Judas and cry of “Give us, Barabbas”.

Regardless of the events set in motion by Palm Sunday, it is cause for rejoicing. For the King has come and will deliver us from the bonds of death and provide entry into His kingdom.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is Orthodoxy American?

Cradle Orthodox don't leave Orthodoxy for no faith but for an American faith. Orthodoxy's journey to America was a blessing from God. However, we have struggled to incarnate the body of Christ in American clothes. Our people have become thoroughly American in character. Outside of the Church they act, think, and speak like Americans, but their life inside does not reflect this transformation. This is our great challenge. We must answer the question, "What is America?", and incarnate the body of Christ in American clothes if we are to impact the nation where we have been planted.

The Church has always done this task. The most obvious example of this is the communication of truth in the language of the people to whom the Church entered. Many nations and peoples can thank Orthodox missionaries for creating an alphabet and giving them the gospel in their own tongue.

Yet language is not the only way the Church has incarnated herself among the nations of the earth. The character and culture of a people are embodied by the Church. The Church embraces those things that were intrinsically good and beautiful among a people and transforms the bad.

The Greek missionaries to the Slavs did not impose Greekness but allowed the Slavic character to become Christian. The Russians coming to the native peoples of Alaska did the same. One beautiful story regarding this cultural embrace is over Orthodox fasting rules. A missionary to a Northern tribe in Siberia found that Caribou was the primary staple in these people's diet. This created issues for times of fasting when abstinence from meat was the rule. The missionary wrote to his bishop for advice and the bishop wrote back, "Have the people eat less caribou."

Today each traditional Orthodox country has a unique character that is expressed in cultural traditions, food, songs, stories, and styles of music. For Orthodoxy to enculturate and become indigenous in America the same must happen. Too often we have remained "old country" rather than Americanize.

So what is American? What is the character of our nation that is true and beautiful? Can you name those things that are unique to soul of this country?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Mission & Evangelism - Orthodox Style

Orthodox in America and around the world often gets criticized for lack of evangelism and missions. In some ways this is fair. In the US, we have often created insular communities with little organized community action.

Yet, looked at from a large historical perspective this criticism is unwarranted. Look out over the scope of the globe and most of Europe and Asia have been touched by Orthodoxy. A large majority of our saints were missionary saints. In the 20th Century, Orthodox missions has been vibrant through Africa and parts of Asia.

Missions have been hard for us due to persecution. Orthodoxy in the Middle East has been under the thumb of Islam for centuries so survival often takes precedence over expansion. Eastern Europe was under the Ottoman yoke after the fall of Constantinople, and after a brief period of freedom the Communist scourge took over and decimated the Orthodox world.

Yet after the fall of communism, the Orthodox of Russia have shamed us all by displaying a commitment to spreading the Gospel. At the fall of Communism in 1991, there were 7000 Orthodox churches in Russia. As of right now there are 28,000. Tell me another church body that has seen fourfold growth in 20 years. That is pretty impressive. It's not just Russia these believers are reaching, but they are entering the edges of their homeland to affect traditional Muslim societies as well.

One courageous individual was recently brought to my attention due to AFR's podcast Postcards from Greece by Fr. Peter Alban Heers. Fr. Peter details the life and ministry of the Newly Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev and his missionary activity in Moscow and beyond in two parts.

Fr. Daniel was born in 1974 and was shot dead inside of his parish at the hands of radical Islam on Nov. 2009. Over his ministry he had reached out and personally converted at least 80 Muslims, which made him a target of radicals. He had been threatened for years.

Not only did he reach Muslims, but the unchurched, neo-pagans, and others were brought into the Church under his ministry. He was intentional and aggressive, and he was very systematic in approach to ministry and mission. One area of great strength was creating missionaries and evangelists among his own laity.

All Orthodox should examine his ministry which could become a model and paradigm for how evangelism and mission could be done in our multicultural age. Moscow is not much different than Paris, New York City, or even Louisville, KY in the diversity of religious climate and the advance of secularism. He provides a witness and example of the effective yet traditional approaches to spreading the Gospel.

I would really like to do some future posts looking at the details of his ministry and how it could apply to our situation in America.

For now, here's some further resources and links:

Fr. Daniel, please pray for us that we will have the courage to take the gospel throughout our neighborhoods and around the world.


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