Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jephthah's Daughter

In Judges, there is a disturbing story in the midst of a heroic and praiseworthy leader.  This man, Jephthah, was an illegitimate child, was rejected by his brothers, excommunicated from the presence of his clan, and forced to live in a land of foreigners.  

In contrast to the judges surrounding his story, he did not have multiple wives and prolific numbers of children, as if to create a ruling dynasty memorializing his own heroism.  Jephthah did not even have a son who would carry on his name, only a daughter, a daughter who appears precious to his very soul.

Out of fear from invading armies, his brothers called him back from the exile they imposed upon him to lead them into victory over their enemies.  Jephthah's only condition was future acceptance and continued leadership of his clan.  They agreed.  

Jephthah cries to God for victory and out of zeal or desperation makes a vow to God, unthinkable to modern ears.  If victorious, he will offer as a burnt offering whoever greets him first from his house.  

Jephthah is victorious.  As he marches home, he catches sight of his dwelling, with shouts of joy and affection his daughter burst forth from the house.  Immediately he cries out, tearing his clothes, expressing the grief of his heart with the violence of his hands.  

This daughter, his only daughter, the only hope of any heirs, is to fulfill his vow before God.  The daughter acquiesces to her father's plight, and demonstrates a level of faith, a faith remarkable in the face of what is to come.  

After giving his daughter time to mourn her own grief at the prospect of never marrying and bearing her own children, the vow is fulfilled.

What happened to Jephthah's daughter?  Was she offered as a human sacrifice or is there more to the story? Theron Mathis

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Pearl 4:3 - An Image of the Eternal Light

St. Ephrem's The Pearl 4:3

Not as the moon does, thy light fill or wane ;
The Sun whose light is greater than all,
Lo! of Him it is that a type is shadowed out in thy little compass.

O type of the Son,
One spark of Whom is greater than the sun!
The pearl itself is full,
      for its light is full ;
Neither is there any cunning worker who can steal from it ;
For its wall is its own beauty,
Yea, its guard also!
It lacks not,
since it is entirely perfect.

And if a man would break thee
To take a part from thee,
Thou art like the faith which with the heretics perishes,
Seeing they have broken it in pieces and spoiled it :
For is it any better than this
To have the faith scrutinized?
The faith is an entire nature
That may not be corrupted.
The spoiler gets himself mischief by it:
The heretic brings ruin on himself thereby.
He that chases the light from his pupils
Blinds himself.

Fire and air are divided when sundered.
Light alone, of all creatures,
As its Creator, is not divided;
It is not barren, for that it also begets
Without losing thereby.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Bible - the Director's Cut

This was originally published for the Anglican journal Forward in Christ

The Bible - The Director’s Cut
          There are a group of books of the Bible with an image problem.  It is as if some budget conscious movie editor kept cutting for the right length and content, leaving the scraps on the cutting room floor.  Then along comes the offended director, collecting each scrap together, compiling them for the curious, calling it the “director’s cut” for rabid fans.  These extra books are commonly known as the Apocrypha, and while not considered canonical by many Christians they are profitable and should not be ignored.  

            Many Bibles today do not have these books, and the ones that do have placed them in an appendix between the Testaments.  The English Bible Tradition originally contained these books, and from 1549 onwards the lectionary attached to the Book of Common Prayer contained lessons from them.  Also, the 1611 King James Bible contained the books, and only later due to Bible demand and publishing costs were the books left in the editor’s office.  

            Not only do historical events cause us to ignore these books, the name of the books themselves create an air of mysterious, arcane, and forbidden knowledge.  They are Apocrypha--the hidden book--the portion of a past swept under the rug.  You have to be a bit of a rebel to enter these pages, and what self-respecting well-scrubed Bible believer wants that brand.  Not only is Apocrypha an odd label, their other label, Deutero-canonical, is a mouthful and sounds so academic it might require a PhD and the knowledge of multiple ancient near-eastern languages to decipher the contents.  The Greeks have coined another term that is more tongue-numbing, anagignoskomena, but the English translation “the readables” sounds much more agreeable, inviting the common Christian to enter these texts with an expectation of profit.  

            Profit is the stand we should take towards these texts, and we would be in good company.  St. Athanasius recommended the reading of these books to catechumens and the newly illumined, for the reading encouraged a life of Christian heroism, a life of virtues in the face of sacrifice.  This is my argument and exhortation, beyond the question of canonicity, these books are profitable, profitable because they are practical, they are entertaining, they deepen our reading of the New Testament, and ultimately they reveal Christ.  

            Practicality can be a dangerous yardstick, and is often an excuse given by those who do not read Scripture.  By practical, I mean writing that can be readily applied to life without penetrating layers of interpretation.  Much of the New Testament fits this bill and within the Old Testament Proverbs is perfect example.  This is not to suggest that the Pentateuch or the Prophets lack application, they don’t, but it takes work on the part of the reader.  The Wisdom of Sirach, or Ecclesiaticus, is immensely practical, perhaps more than Proverbs due to its length.  Sirach is a collection of classroom notes from a famed Jewish Rabbi in the 2nd Century BC.  Like other Wisdom literature, it is the practical application of the Torah into daily life.  Much of the text feels contemporary, and the timelessness of its wisdom forces us to re-examine our own behavior.  For example, Sirach 2:1-6 teaches: 

“My son, if you come to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation. 2 Set your heart aright and constantly endure and make not haste in time of trouble. 3 Cleave to him and depart not away, that you may be increased at your last end. 4 Whatsoever is brought upon you take cheerfully and be patient when you are changed to a low estate. 5 For gold is tried in the fire and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity. 6 Believe in him, He will help you; order your way aright and trust in him.”

This is great advice for all who choose to carry the cross of Christ, and a great antidote to the health and wealth materialism infecting the American Christian landscape.  This is but a sample, within this book alone there is advice on leadership, marital life, finances, work, friendship, and parenting. 

            Tobit, another book, but in a different genre, tells the story of a father and son seeking to live out their faith through tremendous strife.  Application is not far removed from this story.  The father gives constant admonitions and the three integral virtues, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, appear again and again in Tobit’s exhortations and life.

            Entertainment was another element of profitability I mentioned, and this may seem strange.  Yet engaging stories have the ability to help us transcend ourselves into the lives of others, experiencing their own struggles, and hopefully imbibing their virtue.  The stories of the various Maccabean books are such stories.  Early Christians embraced these books readily as reading material, because of the examples of faithful self-sacrifice which they were endured at the hands of the Roman state.  Reading of old men rising up in faith against oppression, of a widow suffering through the martyrdom of her children, of virtuous believers crying out to God for salvation in the face of certain doom is as compelling as any action-packed bestseller.  

            Judith, Tobit, and the Maccabees may be page-turners, but they lift the heart to new heights.  These men and women face such tribulation yet they rise above it all through faith in God.  Their testimony enlivens the heart, forcing us to our knees in confession of our own weakened Christianity, a Christianity that knows little of sacrifice beyond the segments of expendable time we offer most weekends.  What is disguised as entertainment has the ability to inspire our life into new territory, and sacrificial living.  

            As absorbing as many of the books can be, their nearness in chronology to the New Testament helps us understand the world where Jesus lived.  The political climate comes into greater clarity after understanding the Maccabean story, a story of a remnant of God’s people throwing off the oppression of the Greek empire, creating for a period of time a restored dynasty, recalling the glory days of King David and Solomon.  No doubt these days of glory were highly expected under the Roman yoke as well, and Jesus fit the profile of a man who could rise up and bring down the pagan kingdom for the establishment of a new, and perhaps, eternal, Jewish empire.  On His entry into Jerusalem, the people waved palm branches,  a symbol of patriotism coming from the Maccabees.  The palms expressed victory and freedom, and an expectation of deliverance, but this is lost on us if we have skipped the stories in our study of the Bible. 

Thoughts and hopes of resurrection were also commonplace among Jews during the time of the Apocrypha.  It was this teaching that helped many Pharisees and commoner embrace the teachings of Jesus, and prepared them for His own Resurrection from the dead, becoming the first fruit of a new humanity, giving hope for all.  In the book of 2 Maccabees, an elderly widowed mother watches her sons become martyrs, enduring each death as a stake to her own heart; yet she cries out to them in encouragement and with the hope of resurrection: “Therefore the Creator of the world, who formed man in the beginning and devised the origin of all things, will give both breath and life back to you again in His mercy…Don not fear this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, that in God’s mercy I may receive you back again with your brothers (2 Mac 7:23,29).” 

Much of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can be found in the Apocrypha, helping us realize the Jews listening to the words of Christ were familiar with these teachings, the difference was He appeared as the personification of the tradition of the Wisdom of the Torah.  St. Paul and St. James seem to be affected by the Apocrypha as well and within the school of teaching coming from these books.  This should be no surprise to us given Paul’s Pharisaical background, with their belief in the Resurrection is common to all of the “Readables”. 

Understanding the life and times of Jesus and the apostles is important, but the revelation of Christ Himself in these pages is their supreme accomplishment and profit.   In the small book of Baruch, there is a prophecy of God becoming man and walking among his people:  “This is our God; no other shall be compared to Him.  He found the whole way of knowledge and gave it to Jacob…afterwards, He was seen upon the earth and lived among men (Baruch 3:36).”  In the middle of 1 Ezra, a contest erupts over the what is greatest upon the earth, emerging from the king’s court is the Jew Zerubbabel, who wins the contest by proclaiming Truth is supreme.  This is not intellectual Truth, but Truth personified, Truth Zerubbabel identifies with the person of God, for whom we know as the God-man Jesus Christ. 

These passages above are more apparent pictures of Christ, but images abound in the characters of these stories:  Judith sacrifices herself for her village, her sacrifice allows her to behead the enemy; Tobias enters the death-filled bridal chamber, defeating a demon, coming forth the next morning to the joy of the bride’s family;  Susanna is falsely accused of scandal, condemned to death, only to be resurrected by the wisdom of young Daniel.  The types reveal Christ, and the drama of His life, death, and resurrection play out again and again, reminding us this is a cycle of grace, a play sancitifying the actors courageous enough to embrace such a role. 
           Today, book stores dedicate their shelves to inspirational retelling of Christian tales, practical steps designed to apply Biblical teaching, theological tomes designed to deepen our knowledge of Christ, yet this has been done for us in these under-used texts called Apocrypha.  When the urge to gather inspiration from the newest Christian biography strikes pick up Tobit; if steps to the successful Christian life is desired delve into Sirach; and when escape into a thrilling adventure is needed curl up with Judith or the Maccabees.  Beyond these concerns, our Savior, the Alpha and Omega, the Logos, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world is present on the pages of the Apocrypha proclaimed in prophecy, clarified in proverb, and wrapped in images, like grave clothes ready to burst with resurrected glory. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Forge 1.25.2012

The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is a great resource, and its blog The Sounding is about to get new life.  Melinda Johnson has been given the task of collecting writers from every spectrum of life to contribute, and the reboot will take place on Feb. 1.

Here's a guide to iconography in Lexington, KY.

Did you know that an Orthodox Baptism took place in the house of US President John Quincy Adams?  Nicholas Chapman gives the details at OrthodoxHistory.

It's hard to beat this photo, especially if you are Orthodox and a Potter fan:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

12 Great Feasts of the Church - Cliff Notes Version

In the book of Joshua, upon crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land, Joshua commands that 12 stones be taken from the Jordan to be set as a memorial of what God accomplished, perpetuating the faith and instructing future generations.  The 12 Great Feasts of the Church serve this same purpose, as we celebrate and remember the works of God in the past, present, and the future.  

Several years ago, our class went through each feast looking at the Scriptures and hymns that make up these celebrations, and out this study this guide was created.  This is a starting point to deepen the celebration of each feast and increase the memory of God in our lives.  

1.  Sept. 8  Nativity of the Theotokos

Gen 28:10-17; Ezek 43:27-44:4; Prov. 9:1-11; Lk 1:39-49,56;
Phil 2:5-11; Lk 10:38-42;11:27-28

Keys Thoughts:  Wheel of Salvation Begins to Turn/ Prepare our Hearts for God

2.  Sep. 14   Exaltation of the Cross

Ex. 15:22-27; 16:1-2; Prov. 3:11-18; Is. 60:11-16; John 12:28-36; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; John 19:6-35

Keys Thoughts:  The Cross is Foolishness, Wisdom of God, the Power of Salvation, Path of Salvation

3.  Nov. 21  Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple

Ex. 40:1-35; 1 Kings. 7:51-8:11; Ezek 43:27-44:4; Heb. 9:1-7; Matins & Lit. Gospel same as Nativity

Keys Thoughts:  Mary becomes the Temple/Man is to become the Temple/ Glimpse of Christmas

4.  Dec. 25  Nativity of Christ
            Micah 5:2-4; Hebrews 1:1-12; Matthew 1:18-25; Baruch 3:36-4:4; 
            Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4, 8-10; 
            Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Hebrews 2:11-18; 
            Matthew 2:13-23; Gal. 4:4-7
            Keys Thoughts:  Incarnation/ God is With Us/ Sun of Righteousness

5.  Jan. 6  Theophany
            Isaiah 35:1-10; Acts 13:25-32; Matt. 3:1-11; Isaiah 1:16-20; 
           Acts 19:1-18;   Mk 1:1-8; Isaiah 12:3-6; Rom. 6:3-11; Mk 1:9-15; 
            Isaiah 49:8-15; Titus 2:11-14; 3.4-7; Mt 3:13-17 ; Genesis 1:1-13; 
           Exodus 14:15-18, 21-23, 27-29; Exodus 15:22-27, 16:1;  
           Joshua 3:7, 8, 15-17; 2 (4) Kings 2:6-14; 2 (4) Kings 5:9-14; 
           Isaiah 1:16-20; Gen 32:1-10; Exodus 2:5-10; Judges 6:36-40; 
          1 (3) Kings 18:30-39; 2 (4) Kings 2:19-22; Isaiah 49:8-15; 
          1 Cor. 9:19-27; Luke 3:1-18; 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Mark 1:9-11

Keys Thoughts:  Christ’s Mission is Revealed/ Trinity is Revealed/ Baptism opens the door of Salvation/ Creation is Sanctified

6.  Feb. 2 Presentation of Christ in the Temple
            Exodus 12:15-13:16, Leviticus 12, and Numbers 8; Isaiah 6:1-12;
            Isaiah 19:1,3-5,12,16,19-21.Heb. 7:7-17; Luke 2:22-40

Keys Thoughts:  Fulfillment of the Law/ Living Sacrifice/ Waiting on God leads to an Encounter with God/ Prophecy of Christ’s Mission

7.  Mar. 25  Annunciation of the Theotokos
            OT readings same as Nativity of Theotokos Heb. 2:11-18; Luke 1:24-38

Keys Thoughts:  Beginning of Salvation/ Hear the Word, Receive the Word, Proclaim the Word.

8.  Palm Sunday (Sun before Pascha)

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

Keys Thoughts:  Behold the King/ Accept the Kingdom/ The King is the Suffering Servant/ Innocence of Praise/ Prefigures the Gentiles/ Tragedy of the Betrayal

9.  Ascension (40 days after Pascha)

Is. 2:2-3; Is. 62:10-63:9; Zech 14:1-11; Mk 16:9-20; Acts. 1:1-12; Lk 24:36-53             

Keys Thoughts:  Promise of the Holy Spirit and Second Coming/ Man’s Nature is Glorified

10.  Pentecost  (50 days after Pascha)

Num 11:16-17,24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezek 36-24-28; Jn. 20:19-23; Acts. 2:1-11; John 7:37-52, 8:12

Keys Thoughts:  Promise of the Holy Spirit is Fulfilled/ The Holy Spirit is God; Unites the World; Bestows Wisdom; Empowers Christians; Brings Holiness/ Man should Fear God; Confess Sin/ Praise God/ Seek God.

11.  Aug. 6 Transfiguration

Ex. 24:12-18; Ex. 33:11-23; 34:4-8; 1 Kgs 19:3-16; Lk 9:28-36; 2 Pet 1:10-19; Mt 17:1-9

Keys Thoughts:  Trinity is Revealed/ Glory of God is Revealed/ Fulfillment of Law & Prophets/ Lord of the Living and the Dead/ Preparation for Crucifixion/ Man’s Destiny is Glory

12.  Aug. 15 Dormition of the Theotokos
             same as Nativity of the Theotokos readings
              Keys Thoughts:  The Great Example/ The Hope of Salvation

Where is Easter (Pascha)?  It is the Feasts of Feasts, and contains all the above.  Each of the 12 flows out of Easter.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pearl 4:2 - Let the Pearl Reprove in the Ass's Stead

St. Ephrem's The Pearl 4:2

Because Balaam was foolish,
A foolish beast, an ass spoke with him,
Because he despised God Who spoke with him.
Thee too let the pearl reprove
     In the ass's stead.

The people that had a heart of stone,
By a Stone He set at nought,
For lo, a stone hears words.
Witness its work that has reproved them ;
And you, ye deaf ones,
Let the pearl reprove to-day.

With the swallow and the crow did He put men to shame ;
With the ox, yea with the ass, did He put them to shame ;
Let the pearl reprove now,
O ye birds and things on earth and things below.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Judges: Lefty and the Fat Man

The sun beat down on his head as he trudged along the rocky path to bring presents to his oppressors.  Ehud was chosen from his people to be the tribute-giver, and had somehow gained a measure of trust from the enemy, but he felt like a traitor.  Regularly gathering the first-fruits and prime livestock for this back-water Moabite empire that had managed to enslave his people, he loaded his cart and camels with extortion.  

Entering the palace, the guards grabbed him, two brutes rifling his sacks, removing them from the pack animals, laughing at his ringlets of hair, hanging down his face in front of his ears, the marks of the devout or patriotic among his people, marks most cut long ago hide their true heritage.  Ehud's small tribe had a greater secret to hide than the edges of their hairlines, for this secret forced them to embrace a clumsy existence, marking them as slow and stupid.  Most of his people were cursed with the left-hand.  

Some, of which Ehud was one, used both hands equally well, and if his wits were about him, this right-handedness made him appear more trustworthy and intelligent among the superstitious Moabs, branding him with the curse of tribute-giver.  

Grabbing his ringlet of hair, the guard slung him onto the stairs to begin his march of humiliation.  Each step was an effort because of sticks jammed into his calves or rammed in front of his feet.  Finally light burst out above him, and the strange mix of incense, spiced foods, and human sweat, turned his stomach, especially the rank sweat.  Tripping one last time, he fell at the feet of the laughing despot, Eglon.  Years of tribute were taken advantage of, and spread like butter over the body of this behemoth.  Looking more like an upright, overfed bull ready for slaughter, than a fearful ruler, his laughter shook the room.  

Like most visits, Ehud patted the right side of his tunic indicating a special gift for the glutton.  Eglon, fearful of the avarice of his guards, dismissed them and ushered this little peasant into his private chamber.  
Once the door shut, he rubbed his hands together, excited for more.  Ehud’s left hand reached into his tunic then thrust this offering into the belly of the ruler.  Blood drained from Eglon’s face in shock, looking down at his belly as if he were praying to it for salvation, he saw the hilt of a dagger poking forth, held tightly by the fat of his abundance.  Each move forced the dagger to tear deeper in his innards, and he saw the offerings made to this god spill forth from his gut along with his life. 

Ehud stood motionless before the dead tyrant, knowing he should run, but shocked at the prospect of freedom.  With the door still shut, he escaped through a window, leaving behind bewildered guards waiting for their master. 

Quickly he ran home, raised an army of deliverance, and this man, cursed with the left-hand, turned that mark of trouble into a weapon of victory.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Forge 1.18.2012

This past week Fr. Stephen Damick created a mini-firestorm in response to the viral video "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" (you may have seen it on FB).  His post was a brilliant response.  Thank you Fr. Damick.  And if you haven't picked up his book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, please add it to you must reads.

Fr. Jonathan over at Second Terrace, wrote one of the best pieces on the necessity of the Ever-Virginity of Mary.  This can be a hangup for a lot of people, but he does a great job placing it into doctrinal context with all his usual rhetorical prowess.

Here's a snippet:
"When, in fact, the Bible does: Mary is called "blessed," and could not be called so if she were to have relations with another man while the Father of her Son was still alive."
and this
"and if someone were truly virginal like Mary ... then oughtn't I do the same? Am I not beholden to at least try?This terrifying thought is the main reason why the Ever-Virginity of Mary is so opposed. "
 Another Climacus Conference is on its way to Louisville in February, and this year the focus is on Byzantium.  I don't know how David does it but there is a powerhouse lineup including Kyriacos Makrides and Daniel Larison.  Good Work, David!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ecumenical Councils at a Glance (part 2)

451 - 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon

Heretics: Eutyches
Heroes: St. Leo (the Great) of Rome. 
Decision: Condemned Monophysitism. After examination of the Tome of Leo affirmed it as "the faith of the Fathers." Affirmed completeness of the two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ: divinity and humanity (perfect God and perfect man).
Canons: Affirmed canons of previous three Ecumenical Councils.  Reaffirmed New Rome (Constantinople) as second in honour (following Old Rome) of the patriarchates. 

Statement: “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, recognised in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ”

553 - 5th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople

Heretics: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Eutyches, and Origen
Heroes: Emperor (Saint) Justinian (the Great) 
Decision: Condemned the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, who had been Nestorius' teacher and declared the Logos to be a different God than the one called Christ and who taught the Lord Jesus Christ was troubled by desires of human flesh and passions of the human soul. Condemned Origen, Didymus, and Evagrius for teaching the pre-existence of souls, re-incarnation, the ultimate salvation of demons, heavenly bodies possessed souls, and other errors.

680 - 6th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople

Heretics: Monothelitism, representing Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul, Peter, Pope Honorius, and Cyrus.
Heroes: St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Martin (Pope of Rome)
Decision: Condemned Monothelitism (a belief the Lord Jesus Christ had only one will and one energy). Affirmed the Lord Jesus Christ, though but one person, after His incarnation possessed two natural wills and two natural energies, just as He possessed two natures.

787 - 7th Ecumenical Council at Nicea

Heretics: Emperor Leo IV and Constantine V
Heroes: Empress Irene; St. John of Damascus; St. Germanus
Decision: Condemned Iconoclasm. Affirmed veneration (but not adoration, which was for God alone) of images.
Canons: Decreed those secretly keeping Jewish customs (e.g. keeping the Sabbath) but pretending to be Christians should live as Jews openly, but be excluded from the Church. Established monastic regulations. 
Statement: “Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also they should be kissed and they are an object of veneration and honour [timitiki proskynisis], but not of real worship [latreia], which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the Divine Nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands.”

Did you recognize any of these heresies in today's world?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Pearl 4:1 - Trust not Scrutiny

St. Ephrem's The Pearl 4:1

The thief gained the faith which gained him,
And brought him up and placed him in paradise.
He saw in the Cross a tree of life;
That was the fruit,
He was the eater in Adam's stead.

The fool, who goes astray,
Grazes the faith, as it were an eye,
By all manner of questions.
The probing of the finger blinds the eye,
And much more doth that prying blind the faith.

For even the diver pries not into his pearl.
In it do all merchants rejoice
Without prying into whence it came ;
Even the king who is crowned therewith
Does not explore it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Your Own Personal Baal

In the imagination of their hearts, the sky god Baal looked down with longing upon the earth goddess Ashtoreth, overcome with desire toward her, he took her for himself, and through this union--creation sprang forth.

The peoples of Canaan, for their own safety, security, and the fulfilling of their own desires created a system to explain, control, and placate these elemental forces.  Much like we bend nature with technology to satisfy needs and passions, these ancients sought their own religious techniques based upon their own observation of their world.  

If Baal was angry, life, weather, and crops would go bad--so he needed something to soothe his restless heart.  Sacrifice was required to settle Baal and bring harmony once more.  This was not so much as worship as it was manipulation.  

Sexuality, fertility rites, and debauchery were acts that prompted Baal and his goddess Ashtoreth to move in favor toward man.  And Israel was attracted to this and tempted by it, for not only could passions run amok in this system, it provided control and power over ones life.  You had your own god at your disposal to grant wishes and bring gifts upon request, if you knew the right steps and formulas, binding the power of the elements for your own desires.  

Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua, was not like this--He was wilder and unable to be domesticated into a beast of burden.  This is harder stuff.  Worship is worship not manipulation.  Worship does not satisfy His wrath, it provides union with Him, but will cost you your life.  Success, fruitfulness, and goodness may come as by-products of this relationship but they are no guarantees, except one--He is your God and you are His people.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Forge 1.11.2012

The Forge 1.11.2012

I shouldn't but I am going to comment on the Tebow furor.  First, I am a fan.  I would love him on my team.  He's got character, he's positive, he's charismatic, and he is a leader.  But he tends to be a lightning rod for many in the secular press, and I don't think the press's ire is intended to be directed at Tebow--it's target is the rabid fan.  There's a large segment of of American Christianity that feels the need to be validated.  To be validated in American society you need the stamp of celebrity, and Tebow fits the bill for many.  This is a large burden for anyone including Tebow to bear, but gives a glimpse on how much of secular culture American Christians have imbibed.  For another perspective, fellow blogger On Behalf of All has written of Tim Tebow and the Saints

I mentioned before the growing revival that is occurring in Russia since the collapse of Communism.  This post and video shows us more Revival In Russia

Occasionally I am asked about resources used for Sunday School preparation, especially in relation to the Fathers of the Church.  Here's my secret:  It's an online reference to the writings of much of the Fathers and early Christian writings.  It's searchable and easy to use.  

The other resource I use is Blue Letter Bible.  Bible Gateway is another, but I like the variety of Blue Letter, and it is easy to use.  I probably should do a post where I pull back the curtain on the tricks of the trade.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ecumenical Councils at a Glance (part 1)

Several years ago, during an ambitious catechism program, we tried to squeeze the most essential Christian content into 12 weeks.  If nothing else, I was able to develop a couple concise handouts that have been helpful for teaching.  The OT Skeleton was one of them, and I have one for the 12 Major Feasts of the Church I will post.  

Below is part one, we sketched out for the 7 Ecumenical Councils.

If you are not a history or theology nerd, the thought of the Church councils can instantly put you into a coma, yet if you are a Christian you can thank these men for preserving the faith you have received today.

Here is something to remember.  These were not men huddled in coffee shops arguing over the finer points of theological minutiae, impacting little their lives or their neighbors. These men were not theorists, they were practitioners of the Faith.  They embodied the Way of the Cross passed on to them since the time of Pentecost. 

For them, the decisions at the councils were matters of life and death, and to neglect such matters would destroy man's ability to be saved.  

The councils were not about theological reflection but about protecting the way of salvation. 

God became man so man could become like God, and to dilute this truth endanger's redemption.  

Every council is ultimately about this statement, and therefore about Christ.  Each council defends His humanity and deity.  For if He is not fully God, then He has no power to save man. If He is not fully Man, then man is saved only partially, and not saved at all.  

325 - 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea

Heretics: Arius—Jesus was a created by God and not fully God, but a super-human or demi-God.
Heroes: St. Athanasius. 
Decision: Established the Symbol of Faith (Nicene Creed). 
Canons: Determined formula for determining Pascha (Easter). Condemned mandatory celibacy for all ranks of clergy. Determined prayers on Sundays should be offered standing. 

381 - 2nd Ecumenical Council at Constantinople

Heretics: Macedonianism, Apollinarians, Eunomians, Eudoxians, Sabellians, Marcellians, Photinians.
Heroes: St. Gregory the Theologian (aka St. Gregory of Nazianzus) and St. Gregory of Nyssa 
Decision: Condemned Arianism. Condemned Macedonianism which denied divinity of the Holy Spirit. Defined the Holy Trinity as one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each fully God of the same essence. Expanded Symbol of Faith from Nicaea I into what is now commonly labelled the "Nicene Creed" but is more properly known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Condemned Apollinarianism which taught the Lord Jesus Christ possessed the divine Logos in place of a human mind and was therefore fully divine, but not fully human. Condemned Eunomians (an extreme form of Arianism), the Eudoxians (semi-Arians), the Sabellians (who taught the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three modes of manifestation of the one God, denying the distinction of Three Persons), the Marcellians (who taught the Logos was an impersonal divine power issued from God entering into a relationship with Jesus to make him the Son of God), and the Photinians (who taught that Jesus was a mere man upon whom the Logos rested). 
Canons: Ranked the relative importance of the five patriarchates with Old Rome first and New Rome (Constantinople) second. Established regulations for church discipline, including standing during prayer on Sundays and the days of Pentecost. Established manner in which heretics were to be received into the Church. 

431 - 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus

Heretics: Nestorius
Heroes: St. Cyril of Alexandria
Decision: Condemned Nestorianism which taught a separation between the Lord Jesus Christ's divinity and humanity. Affirmed the term Theotokos. Upheld the Christology of Saint Cyril of Alexandria.
Canons: The Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) was affirmed and changes to it were forbidden with punishment of deposition for clerics and excommunication for laity prescribed. Established the rights of each province should be preserved and inviolate (i.e. bishops from one province have no rights over other provinces). 

... to be continued


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