Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Old Testament Skeleton

The Old Testament is a huge book and as a teacher I am constantly looking for tips and tricks to help the layperson sort all these pieces together.  It covers 2000+ years of recorded history, and is written by at least 40 different people.  Sometimes you need mental pegs to hold all the material.  Without a knowledge of the OT, it really makes the New Testament more confusing.  

One resource I have used again and again is 10 keys dates to help put everything into context.  You can fit everything into this historical framework.  

  • 2000  Abraham
  • 1500  Exodus
  • 1000  David/Solomon/Division
  • 720    Israel Falls to Assyria
  • 600    Judah Falls to Babylon
  • 530    Exiles Return
  • 300    Greek Rule
  • 160    Maccabees
  • 60      Roman Rule
  • 4BC    Birth of Christ
Granted, most of these dates are rounded off, but it sure makes it easier to remember.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Forge 12.28.2011

If you have any money left over from Christmas, then here's a book suggestion.  Fr. Andrew Damick's Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.  It's an excellent summary of the every conceivable variation of Christianity and other world religions in comparison with Orthodoxy.  It is well-written and you don't need a seminary education to understand. I would easily recommend this book to any high-school or college student trying to understand their faith.  

Have you heard the theory about the date of Christmas?  That Christians co-opted a pagan festival for their own purposes.  Here's a great article questioning that popular notion:  Calculating Christmas

Even if we did adopt a pagan celebration, this article artistically says "So What", and proclaims that "Christmas means that the unconquerable god of the Romans just got conquered. A pagan Roman holiday just got stuffed with more Christianity than a December Turkey stuffed with spiced bread crumbs."

And since we are only a couple days into the feast of Christmas, here's a final article reminding us of when and how long this celebration is:  When is Christmas Anyways?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Judges - Living Springs of a Broken Heart

The first chapters of Judges overlap the ending of Joshua and set the stage for the remainder of the book.  The tribe of Judah becomes the new leader to drive out the rest of the Canaanites, and a familiar face from the sons of Judah appears once more.  Back in the wilderness, 12 spies were picked to scout out the land, and only two embraced the promise of God and the hope of victory.  The rejection of conquest by the majority relegated the people to 40 yrs of wandering, but the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, became future leaders for the people of Israel.  

The last years of Caleb’s life mentioned in Joshua are recounted again in this first chapter.  Aged Caleb needs help conquering the last remaining bits of his inheritance, and seeks out a man of bravery with the promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage.  The man that steps forward from Caleb’s tribe of Judah is Othniel.  Othniel appears a couple chapters later as the first judge mentioned in this new era of Israel, but this story bypasses Othniel’s victory to focus our attention on Caleb’s daughter Achsah.  

As expected Othniel conquers the territory, winning the hand of Achsah, a woman who inherited her father’s faith, who demonstrates what a prize she must have been in the eyes of Othniel.  Othniel’s portion of land  was dry and barren, bereft of water that would produce food for his family, prodding him to ask his new wife Achsah to approach their patriarch Caleb for better lands, but Achsah proves wiser than this.  Coming to her father, she asks for a blessing; and like a good father, he promises her the desires of her heart.  Rather than asking for place of fertility, she requests the source of fruitfulness, springs of living water, an upper and lower spring flanking the boundaries of their land.  

By shining the spotlight on Othniel's new wife Achsah, the author offers a piece of wisdom early in this book.  Achsah, riding upon her beast of burden to petition her father for a source of life, is an image of the Christian, reigning over and domesticating the passions of the beastly body, coming to the Father of all to ask for life.

Her request is for springs of water, a consistent image of Baptism, those grace-filled waters of purification, but the Christian who has entered those waters has no need for a second baptism.  Or does he?  

The Fathers speak of a spiritual act that functions as a second baptism.  It is a gift—the gift of tears, and these tears manifest themselves in our lives twofold.  One set of tears is that of repentance and contrition, coming from a sense of our failure and sinfulness in the presence of the Holy, fearing for judgment deserved.  

Following behind these tears of compunction is the relief at God’s immense love for mankind, the grace of His presence, the release from the slavery to these sins.   This sense of joy springs forth from the heart into tears from the eyes.  These are tears of love and longing.  The lower spring of tears are from fear and failure, but the upper spring of tears are from love and the desire to be united with the Creator.

Even in this image the cycle of Judges appears, tears of sinfulness and slavery supplicate God for His salvation, then turn into joy at His great love for mankind.  Achsah provides wisdom in many ways.  

May we pray like her for tears to cleanse our heart and unite us with the Father above.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ is Born! A Song of the Virgin to her Newborn Child

Hymns on the Nativity of Christ: Hymn 11

St. Ephraim the Syrian
(The Virgin Mother to Her Child.)
I shall not be jealous, my Son, that You are with me, and also with all men. Be God to him that confesses You, and be Lord to him that serves You, and be Brother to him that loves You, that You may gain all!
When You dwelled in me, You also dwelled out of me, and when I brought You forth openly, Your hidden might was not removed from me. You are within me, and You are without me, O You that makes Your Mother amazed.
For [when] I see that outward form of Yours before my eyes, the hidden Form is shadowed forth "in my mind," O holy One. In Your visible form I see Adam, and in Your hidden form I see Your Father, who is joined with You.
Have You then shown me alone Your Beauty in two Forms? Let Bread shadow forth You, and also the mind; dwell also in Bread and in the eaters thereof. In secret, and openly too, may Your Church see You, as well as Your Mother.
He that hates Your Bread is like him that hates Your Body. He that is far off that desires Your Bread, and he that is near that loves Your Image, are alike. In the Bread and in the Body, the first and also the last have seen You.
Yet Your visible Bread is far more precious than Your Body; for Your Body even unbelievers have seen, but they have not seen Your living Bread. They that were far off rejoiced! Their portion utterly scorns that of those that are near.
Lo! Your Image is shadowed forth in the blood of the grapes on the Bread; and it is shadowed forth on the heart with the finger of love, with the colors of faith. Blessed be He that by the Image of His Truth caused the graven images to pass away.
You are not [so] the Son of Man that I should sing unto You a common lullaby; for Your Conception is new, and Your Birth marvellous. Without the Spirit who shall sing to You? A new muttering of prophecy is hot within me.
How shall I call You a stranger to us, Who is from us? Should I call You Son? Should I call You Brother? (Matthew 12:50) Husband should I call You? Lord should I call You, O Child that gave Your Mother a second birth from the waters?
For I am Your sister, of the house of David the father of us Both. Again, I am Your Mother because of Your Conception, and Your Bride am I because of Your sanctification, Your handmaid and Your daughter, from the Blood and Water wherewith You have purchased me and baptised me.
The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His Mother; and as by a second birth I brought Him forth so did He bring me forth by the second birth, because He put His Mother's garments on, she clothed her body with His glory.
Tamar, who was of the house of David, Amnon put to shame; and virginity fell and perished from them both. My pearl is not lost: in Your treasury it is stored, because You have put it on.
The scent of her brother-in-law slunk from Tamar, whose perfume she had stolen. As for Joseph's Bride, not even his breath exhaled from her garments, since she conceived Cinnamon. (Song of Songs 4:14) A wall of fire was Your Conception unto me, O holy Son.
The little flower was faint, because the smell of the Lily (Song of Songs 2:1) of Glory was great. The Treasure-house of spices stood in no need of flower or its smells! Flesh stood aloof because it perceived in the womb a Conception from the Spirit.
The woman ministers before the man, because he is her head. Joseph rose to minister before his Lord, Who was in Mary. The priest ministered before Your ark by reason of Your holiness.
Moses carried the tables of stone which the Lord wrote, and Joseph bare about the pure Tablet in whom the Son of the Creator was dwelling. The tables had ceased, because the world was filled with Your doctrine.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Judges - No God?

Before reading, here are a couple thoughts about the setup for the book of Judges.  Chronology is almost impossible to pin down.  Even though each cycle from sin to salvation is given a number of years of oppression then a number of years for peaceful rest, to total all those years generates a calculation either too long or too short for what we know about the time from Moses to King David.  It appears the author is giving us snippets and vignettes from this time, as evidence each tribe gets a representative judge.  Then in the middle of the of the list of judges, full attention and space is given to the man Gideon.  The structure alone suggests the author is not recounting a linear history, but has a design in place, without Gideon being highlighted as the ideal judge.  

The book begins by giving the third-born tribe of Judah a new preeminence, guaranteed by God’s stamp of approval.  This has been coming for some time, even in Genesis, we find the older two brothers abdicating their leadership responsibilities, until Judah himself, in spite of his failures, failures humiliating him into leadership, takes charge in their encounter with the disguised Joseph.  Judah’s tribe takes Joshua’s mantle and leads the people in another military victory, and the first judge we encounter, Othniel, is from this tribe.

Not only does Judah receive pre-eminence, but Benjamin is spotlighted for his failures.  Right next to Judah’s early victory, Benjamin fails to subdues it’s inheritance and even loses a major city previously won.  Then in the last chapters, Benjamin’s failures are placed on display before the entire nation of Israel, bookending Judges with their own disaster.  The only positive light Benjamin receives is the judge Ehud who delivers his people from Moabite oppression, but even Ehud follows Judah’s Othniel.  

Tradition ascribes the authorship of Judges to the prophet and final judge Samuel.  Samuel transitioned the nation from a confederacy of judges to a monarchy, begrudingly anointing the Benjamite Saul as first King, only later to anoint God’s kingly choice in the unexpected David from the tribe of Judah.  Samuel in organizing the material of Judges is setting us up for Judah’s ascendance and the failure of Benjamin as a choice to the rule the nation.

By choosing a judge from each tribe, Samuel reminds us no tribe, no family, no person in Israel escapes the cycle from sin to salvation.  

They are all guilty, and their failure will eventually move the nation from the ideal of theocracy to a less than desirable, but effective, monarchy.  

As readers, we catch ourselves in the same spot, forgetting God, and doing what is right in our own eyes, because there is no king in our life as well.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Forge 12.21.2011

Christmas is right around the corner, and there's plenty of interesting Christmas posts floating around the ether.  Mystagogy has as an interesting set of links regarding the phrase "there is no room at the inn".  This has become a standard Christmas theme especially in plays, cards, and TV movies, but the meaning may be different than you think.

A good friend and fellow blogger Rick Mansfield posted a Christmas quiz that he used in his Sunday School class.  Check it out and see if your Biblical Christmas knowledge is as good as you think it is.  Christmas Quiz.

Here's a great Christmas post by a fellow St. Michael blogger, that has some great resources for celebrating Christmas with the kiddos, information about the Nativity Fast, and how to prepare for the coming birth of the King.  

Evlogia has been crafting a series of posts on the Jesse Tree that are wonderful to read.  The Jesse Tree follows the Old Testament path to the birth of Christ.  This is such a brilliant set of post, it would make for a great blog project next year.  Bloggers could sign up for one or two of the branches and post their reflection.  (hint, hint, Melinda Johnson).  

If you own an iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you can now subscribe, read, comment, and follow the blog through Google Currents. Here's the link to get started.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here's to the Israelite Judges

I stumbled onto this great poem by Fr. Lawrence Farley, and because of ongoing Sunday School preparation the book of Judges is almost always on my mind.  I hope you enjoy, and make sure to add Fr. Lawrence to your blog reader, and check out his books as well.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:
lying facedown and forgotten, buried
in the backpages, doomed to molder, their very names
left unpronounced by all save German scholars
who sit in towers of Teutonic irrelevance,
scribbling unreadable tomes for the anaemic.
They deserved better.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:
not old men who sit heavily on British benches,
white wigs perched ridiculously on bald pates
consulting books, handing out sentences,
but young men, running furiously down foothills,
their hot blood intent on their cold swords,
shouting wildly to the wind about God and death and freedom,
young men whose arms hugged their women hard
and hoisted their children high,
and brandished their swords swiftly
so that their flashing could illumine the pagan darkness.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:  freedom fighters all
who died and defied their oppressors, using
an oxgoad and an ass’s jawbone to leave
their vandalizing mark
on Philistine apartheid
and Midianite swastika.

Here’s to the Israelite judges:  in our day (when
every man does whatever is right in his own eyes)
may they arise again from the Bible’s backpages, throwing off
their graveclothes of obscurity
and shout to us of freedom and courage and martyr’s blood.

Here’s to them!  Even now they are arising,
one after another, from their graves,
putting the dagger of daring in our trembling hands
and a shout of exultation in our too-long-silent throats.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Pearl 3:3 - The Seed of Grace Bears Fruit

St. Ephrem's The Pearl 3:3

The Queen of Sheba
Was a sheep that had come into the place of wolves;
The lamp of truth did Solomon give her,
Who also married her when he fell away.

She was enlightened and went away,
But they were dark, as their manner was.

The bright spark which went down home with that blessed [Queen],
Held on its shining amid the darkness,
Till the new Day-spring came.

The bright spark met with this shining,
And illumined the place.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Revelation of the End of All Things - The Anagogical Sense

There is a rumor, that north of this barren place exists a land lush with green rolling hills dotted with flowers, bird, and butterflies, flanked by large piney forests full of wild game and run through with streams and creeks.  The source of all this goodness is a river that gathers and spreads its fertile waters throughout the land.

The old ones tell of a time that at the edge of this fertile plateau, the river tumbled off into a waterfall sharing the nourishment of this northern country with our own.  Some tyrant full of greed dammed the waters of this generous river, plugging off life from our little plot of earth.  Now we hovel in the sides of ditches, onetime creeks fed from above, sheltering ourselves from the elements, looking for a puddle of moisture to slack our constant thirst.  

Rushing at us with panicked excitement, a horseman cries out for us to climb out of our trenches and run from these cracked beds.  He speaks of an unknown warrior who defeated the tyrant that had spread death into this valley.  The victor is to bring us life once more, destroying the dikes that held captive those life-giving falls.  

For hours we wait with our families, licking our cracked lips, seeking shade from the heat above and below, then a rumbling fills our ears.  Water surges along those old banks bringing the sweetness of the mountains and the hope of new life.  

Today there is a land above, where victory is complete, and evil and death has been destroyed, yet we live in its shadows, but any life, and hope, and sweetness we have flows from this kingdom above.  

From time to time, the fullness of that ultimate hope and final destination of all things, burst through the veil of this life, and we see where we are to go.  

This is the Anagogical sense.  Anagogical means to look up and describes the heavenly, the cosmic hope, the ultimate purpose of man.  It differs from typology in that the anagogical presents Christ as triumphant ruling and reigning as king.  Spiritual realities that transcend earthly existence arise from mundane stories.  

It may be difficult to find this sense in every passage we read, but both the type and the moral flow down from the truth it represents.  Joshua crossed over Jericho with the children of Israel into the Promised land, signifying the baptism that all the people of God would experience as the first step in the life of faith, also instructing the faithful that he must embrace the death of Christ in order to experience the resurrection.  

Yet all this is rooted in the Heavenly Promised Land where Christ reigns as King.  

Each week we are reminded that our very life is rooted not only in the Cross, the Grave, the Third-day Resurrection, the Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting at the Right Hand, but all those things which have come to pass for us includes the Second and Glorious Coming.  

Our faith flows from the future kingdom, and the anagogical reminds us of this.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Forge 12.14.2011

Here are this weeks miscellaneous gatherings:

The Bible is a scented garden, delightful, beautiful, it chants our ears with birdsong in a sweet, divine, and spiritual harmony, it touches our heart, comforts us in sorrow, soothes us in a moment of anger, and fills us with eternal joy.  -St. John of Damascus

If you like unique slices of history, this site does a great job of pieces together little known stories of American Christian History

If you are a American news junkie, you tend to get the same story regardless of whether you are watching Fox, MSNBC, or CNN.  Regardless of your feelings about the so called "Arab Spring", it has not been good for Christians or Jews in the region.  Here's a different take on the situation in Syria from an American who traveled there and was shocked at what he found:

Here's a story about a recently discovered ancient Christian city in Egypt:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Judges and Bible Thumping

We recently started going through the book of Judges in our Sunday School class, and even though it traces event taken place long ago, the stories remain fresh. Here's a little intro, providing a short summary of the events:

Sin, Slavery, Supplication, & Salvation, I shout! 

An old-time preacher is channeling me with a 4 part alliterated list, yet this list summarizes the repeated cycle of this book.  The Bible reader got hints of this as Israel was in the wilderness, and glimpses in Joshua (remember the Achan story), but it is on full display in Judges, setting the stage as a microcosm of Israel’s history.  

The Pharisee in us all snickers at Israel’s continual fall into sin and slavery, and their cry of supplication for salvation from God.  In our distance from the events at hand, arrogance bubbles up, giving thanks to God that we are more enlightened than these ancient dolts, but if we allow a moment of reflection our life is shot through with this cycle as well. 

This past year, past month, past week, even today we have fallen into “the sin that so easily besets us”, kicking ourselves for own weakness.  Thank goodness for forgiveness and redemption.

Not much has changed in 3500 years.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Pearl 3:2 - The Faith to the Ends of the Earth

St Ephrem's The Pearl 3:2

Very glistening are the pearls of Ethiopia, as it is written,
Who gave thee to Ethiopia of black men.

He that gave light to the Gentiles,
Both to the Ethiopians and unto the Indians did His bright beams 

The eunuch of Ethiopia upon his chariot saw Philip:
The Lamb of Light met the dark man from out of the water.
While he was reading, the Ethiopian was baptised
And shone with joy, and journeyed on!

He made disciples and taught,
And out of black men he made men white.
And the dark Ethiopic women became pearls 
         for the Son;
He offered them up to the Father, as a glistening 
         crown from the Ethiopians.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Track 9 - Fulfillment

Track 9 - Fulfillment (Luke 1:46-55; 67-79)

For the final song on the Biblical soundtrack, two voices, come together as one, one a young girl unknown by man, raised by faith in holy seclusion, the other an old priest, without heirs, made mute by doubt before the holy.  Together they sing of fruitfulness at the coming of children destined to announce and bring deliverance to all mankind.

For centuries their people had waited for deliverance, stories had been told of Moses and their ancestors escaping the clutches of an evil Pharaoh, of Joshua driving out idolators, of heroes rescuing the oppressed by the miraculous hand of God, of King David unifying their people and his son Solomon exalting a nation to world prominance, of exile and return, of persecution and victory, only to ask, "Will my generation see God's hand, surely we are poor again and now is the time for salvation?"; and salvation came as a baby.

The previous 8 hymns have been revealing portions of the story of redemption, now song 9 in small slices and glimpses like a teaser trailer for a movie, shouts to all with ears to hear, "The Incarnation is almost here; the great drama of redemption is about running to its final climax; these are the first shots in the war against death and hell; a humble, insignificant, young virgin is chosen to overturn the world."  

The life of this young virgin is evidence of the way God operates.  Outside of man's conception, not using the strength of man, but avoiding it, even overturning it, silencing all doubters, this work is something only God can accomplish.  

Zacharias, the elderly priest, confirms this not in what God has done or how He works, but those Old Testament event and prophesies are coming to fruition in One Man.  From time immemorial  each story and character, each law and prophecy, each proverb and song, have been but brick and mortar, supports and foundations, adornments and furnishings to be completed not in a physical kingdom but a man, a simple carpenter born from a virgin announced to the world by a young desert dweller.  

This Man is the Logos, the Creator, the Image upon which all was made.  His very DNA is imprinted onto the blueprint of reality.  He becomes man to return Creation back to the Creator, to destroy death, the great barrier to communion, and to shatter the power of the devil who has used death as a club to control, manipulate, and disfigure mankind.  

He is coming!  He is almost here!  And His entry is the way He comes even today, through the faith of a humble heart, fulfilling all things.  

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Forge 12.7.2011

An interesting article about the journey of the Belt of the Theotokos through Russia:

My book is now available for the Kindle:

A post on keeping the next generation in the Faith.  After spending so much time in the OT, I always worry that we are only one generation away from losing the faith.

If you are at all interested in iconography, spend some time on this site.  Hexaemeron teaches about icons and instruct on the "writing" of icons.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Love Wins - What it means to be saved

This is a wonderful visual of the nature of salvation and the truth that ultimately Love wins.

ht: Again and Again and many thanks to Steve Robinson

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Pearl 3:1 - Beauty Unadorned

Hymn 3:1 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl

Thou dost not hide thyself in thy bareness, O pearl!
With the love of thee is the merchant ravished also,
For he strips off his garments;
Not to cover thee --
     (thy clothing is thy light, thy garment is thy brightness,
      O thou that art bared!)
Thou art like Eve who was clothed with nakedness.
Cursed be he that deceived her and stripped her and left her.
The serpent cannot strip off thy glory.
In the mysteries whose type thou art,
Women are clothed with Light in Eden.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Forge 12.1.2011

Too bad we can't get the Occupy movement over to Turkey to protest this historical travesty

Poet Scott Cairns summarizes the Gospel in 5 words.  

Here's an incredible new resource that connects American Christians to Mt Athos.  This is an English journal connected to the VATOPAIDI MONASTERY on Mt. Athos.  The name of the journal is Pemptousia, meaning the Fifth Essence.  Check it out here:

And here is a sample article from Pemptousia:


Popular Posts