“…but with true love.”

Elder Porphyrios2As Elder Porphyrios reminds us, we need to remember that this war we are waging against the pull of the world, more often than not will be won with “true love.”  I admit that I am on Facebook to stay in touch.  I moved an inordinate number of miles away from all that is familiar to me, and while I settle in and make my way, I stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook.  I also belong to several online pages where we discuss various subjects, and offer prayers for one another.  And my journey of mileage has also become a journey of philosophy and theology…a journey of “theosis.”

Theosis is a term that many who study purely western theology and philosophy often disagree with.  As found on OrthodoxWiki: “Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”  This definition quite often frightens people because they think, that you think, that you can become God.  And that is not the point, at all.  The point is that we strive for the perfection that is God’s.  We cannot be God, because God is God.  But we can become as God when we strive to obtain that mindset, outlook, and philosophy of the attributes attributed to God.  Basically, we live the Ten Commandments.  And I mean really live them.

I have been reading several different sites recently and I have noticed that all of them seem intent on out-doing one another in their use of terminology and their “holiness” factor.  Personally, one of the reasons I find myself veering more and more to the East is the simplicity of it all.  God just is.  Forgiveness just is.  Love is love.  Prayer is to God.  We act, we live, we believe quite simply that God is LOVE…and we try to live that each and every day.

I read a blog the other day by a single dad. He was lamenting the treatment of a young boy in line, in front of him at Costco, by the boy’s father.  The man belittled his son and made him cower in fear of him.  And I could relate to that so much.  I do not believe for a moment in breaking a child.  I believe we need to guide them and mold them into the adults we see the potential of them being.  And words can be everything to a child.  In explaining the concept to my son, I explained that parents are like the bumpers in bumper bowling…we allow them to sway from side to side, but we keep them heading to the pins at the end of that alleyway.  They may bowl slowly; the may throw the ball; they might just push it to begin rolling.  Regardless of how that ball was put on the alleyway, the bumpers keep it safely on its way to the pins. (Unless it’s me bowling, and the people two or three lanes on either side need to be on guard…I am the worst bowler, ever!  Bumpers or no bumpers!!).

Reaching people with words and sermons and theology sometimes does not allow them to proceed where they need to be headed.  Sometimes our lofty terminology and theology turns them completely away from organized religion.  Sometimes our words make them walk out the door, and opt to never go back inside.  When I read some posts and I see things like, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” I get a little “sideways.”  Mostly because people who say that often mean that unless you attend a Roman Catholic Church, are baptized, confirmed, and receive communion in a RC Church, you are going to hell.  There are those who feel that Catholicism brought Christianity to the world, so all Christian religions are tied to the Catholic Church. Protestant sects are ones that have “some” of the truth, but do not live in the “fulness” of the truth, but can find salvation.  Then they talk about the Orthodox as Christians gone astray through politics and governments running their Church, when in fact their theology was brought to them through seekers sent by Tsars and others to investigate Christianity around the world. They loved the Byzantine worship they came across the best and took it back with them to their homelands and there developed their version of it.  So it has some of the markings of the Church (apostolic? not so much) but once again, do not enjoy the fulness of the truth to be found in Catholicism.  See how hurtful words can be?  What is interesting to me is that there is no mention of all the Eastern Churches who are independent Churches but align themselves with the Bishop of Rome (sui juris).  People speak, using words that are often hurtful to those they speak about, without knowing what they are really saying.

We had a group at a former Latin parish that were very much a part of the exclusionary ideas of Fr. Feeney. (Feeneyism is a term for the doctrinal position associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Feeney favored a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesium nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation” – Wikipedia).  They did not believe that anyone who, even if they led a good life but did not know Christ, would enter heaven.  It caused many heated debates, even though the Church excommunicated Fr. Feeney for his “opinions” in the late 70s.  Words can hurt.  Sermons and posturing can hurt.

I have many relatives who are not Catholic.  They believe that I am going to hell; that my husband, children, and now grandchildren will go to hell with me.  They have talked to me, my children, and extended family members about my family’s terrible predicament.  They have never accepted that our faith is true, and honest, and real.  One family member is a former Catholic, who left the Church as a young adult, with an 8-th grade-confirmation-class-understanding of the faith.  Making adult decisions based on knowledge gained at 12 or 13 is not the wisest road to choose.  And words can hurt.  They have hurt – for years.  Non-acceptance is hurtful.  Using words to try and drum-home a point of view that is contrary to the one you are talking to, can hurt.

Elder Sophrony of EssexWhen my heart is heavy, and words become a noisy gong in my life, I tend to retreat.  I know that a cup of tea, as Elder Sophrony shares, can be a great reliever of stress and despair.  And I quite often retreat to enjoy a hot “cuppa.”  But my mind is still rolling over words.  I am finding myself more and more put off by strong rhetoric, be it in the marketplace (the mess with Target and identity theft comes to mind), sports (a previous post when I addressed the NFL playoffs), politics (so much, SO MUCH, comes to mind there), and even my faith.  Why is it that we have to resort to harshness when GOD IS LOVE?  WWJD?  Indeed, what would Jesus do?  He sat with sinners; He laughed with them and dined with them, and He loved them.

The Church is not a place for those who have “made it.”  It is not for those who “are saved.”  The Church is a huge tent, in which there are many rooms: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way I am going.” (John 14: 1-3).  Christ tells us that there are many rooms and that if we believe, He will come for us and receive us “to Myself.”  It like a previous post when I spoke about the grace and healing we find in confession – the mercy that envelopes our whole self, all of who we are, all at once.  God is mercy; God is forgiveness; God is love.

Why cannot our words reflect that? Why cannot our methods of reaching one another reflect that?  Why do we strike out at those who are different than we are? If it is not exactly what we think it should be, it obviously has to be wrong?  Why do our perceptions of the Divine Truth separate us from our families, our friends, or even fellow believers, who are also seeking the Divine Physician in His hospital, the Church?

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

We come into this world alone; we leave this world alone. The very least we can do is to be kind to each person we touch, every day we come into contact with others.  We need to begin in our homes, in our families, with our friends, and in our parishes.  God is Love!  True Love!

Eph 5-8

“…existing forever and always the same”

Unknown,_Iran,_mid-16th_Century_-_The_Rothschild_Small_Silk_Medallion_Carpet_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is a photograph of a 16-th century Persian (modern-day Iran) tapestry.  Tapestries are incredible things.  If you have ever attempted any sort of work with thread and fabric (no, buttons do not count) you will be amazed at the skill involved in creating tapestries.  The Medieval Period saw a rise in tapestries and most castles had them hanging on their walls, depicting events from the lives of those living in these castles, or perhaps a heraldic tapestry explaining their genealogy and symbols of their families; some were religious, depicting scenes from Scripture; many were mythic, depicting scenes from famous myths.  I love tapestries.  I attempted crewel work, needlepoint, and cross-stitching, so I know how working with a needle and fabric can become obsessive, and how it is also tedious at times, but it also can be filled with moments of grace and peace.  The outcome is almost always worth all the moments spent creating it.  Well, for my works, never look on the back of them! They are a mess of knots.  True artists who created these amazing tapestries did so with no knots showing – front or back!

200px-PazyrykfullThis is the most famous tapestry still in existence, in that it was woven in the 5th century and is the oldest surviving tapestry in the world.  Even with it being so ancient, the colors and patterns are still visible and portions retain their vibrancy 1500 years later. I gaze at it and wonder who crafted it, what they wanted it to be used for, and a little about their lives.  “I love all things old..” I have a plaque with the complete saying on my kitchen wall…and I do appreciate things historical and ancient.  My college major was anthropology, so my heart has always rested in history, most especially physical history.

As I have been pondering things this week, I have been thinking about my Church, my faith, and my fellow sojourners on our way to our ultimate goal – eternity with our Creator.  And I have come to realize that our faith is a master-tapestry, created by Our Lord.  When we take a step back, or away, from the things we hold close, we sometimes are given a chance to view them differently.  Tapestries typically look better  the further you stand away from them, although quite often to appreciate their fine details, you have to alternate between closely viewing them, and then taking a step back.  For me, I found myself engaged in repartee with others on the internet, and in my personal life, and this repartee was sort of tearing away at my peace.  I found myself hurting at the words of others. So I have tried to take a step back, or away, from these conversations.  I have been praying about it, ruminating on it, and I have sought advice about this and one of the answers today made me realize how much of a “tapestry” life truly is.  All these threads, weaving together (and not meant in the eastern, Asiatic, or Eastern Indian philosophical sense) to create a pretty incredible tapestry we think of as Christianity. The vibrancy and life all around us, before us, and after us is being captured by God in an amazing array of humanity, and human expression.

I find it so interesting that those who profess to have this belief in Christ Jesus, and Him Crucified, are so ready to verbally crucify their fellow Christians for not saying, acting, or believing exactly as they do.  We do not represent the Body of Christ, His Church, well when we cut down our fellow Christians.  Christ told us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35) and when He told us, His followers that, He meant it.  And how did Christ love us?  He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on a cross – for my short-sightedness, for my sinful nature, for my acts that contradict the teachings of Christ.  He did that for me – more than 2,000 years ago He did that for ME.  And He did that for each of us, whether we choose to follow Him or not; whether we opt to be truly Christian, He laid down His life for each of us.  We do not repay or acknowledge that sacrifice when we argue over whose method of worship is more authentic, who has the better translation or who has the most authentic liturgy.  We pride ourselves on being authentically “apostolic” Churches of Christ.  But how are we mirroring the teachings of the Apostles when we belittle our fellow believers?  How do we show that the teachings of Christ and His Apostles has reached our hearts when we belittle and disregard, out of hand, the opinions of others?  As I have posted online before, “My heart hurts.”  I am so very disappointed in some people who purport to have this incredible education and insight and yet use acerbic language to lash out at others and in very mean ways, put to shame opposing viewpoints. And so many of us pay lip service to the plight of Christians around the world, being persecuted for the selfsame faith we all proclaim.  How does that reflect the Word of Christ, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me“? (Matthew 25:31-46).

I have been blessed with a pretty amazing journey to get to where I am.  Life has had many ups and downs, and many interesting, if erroneous, side trips.  But as I look back on all of it, I can see God’s hand, gently guiding me to where I am now.  And because I was taught to see the “big picture” through the study of anthropology, history, and cultures, I feel blessed to be given glimpses of these “larger pictures” now and then.  And recently I became aware of how divergent our Church truly is; how “universal” is such a true statement.  When Christ instructed the Apostles to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19) the Apostles actually did what they were told!  They went to “all nations!”  In the world at the time, the Apostles reached amazing geographical goals.  They covered an amazing amount of territory for the time in which they lived and traveled.  Any of us would be hard pressed to equal some of their journeys, even with all the conveniences of today.  The countries they visited included India, Japan and China (some dispute whether or not St. Thomas made it to China, but recent developments suggest he did), the entire Middle East, and portions of Europe, including Spain (St. John).  Wherever these Apostles went, they established Christ’s Church on earth.  We Melkites jokingly tell our Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before Rome did, as he established the Church in the Middle East (Antioch) first!  He traveled extensively and he preached to the people in the ways they could understand (which is a simple way to explain the differences between the Church of Antioch – where the term Christian was first used – and of Rome).  Each of these Churches reflected the cultures the Apostles came across.  And these churches are still alive today! All of them!  We have many Churches in communion with Rome, who recognize and acknowledge the Pope as the “first among equals.”

We in the East love Vatican II.  We were allowed our Liturgies in the vernacular and are still encouraged to worship as we were handed down the faith, from the Apostles and Church Fathers.  Most of us in the East use the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil.  There are other variants that are equally as beautiful.  We have a friend who is a priest of the Syro-Malabar Rite and the liturgy he celebrates is pretty amazing; different from what I am used to, but equal and amazing in its own right (or rite!).  Each of the 22 or so Churches (or rites, as some prefer to call them) in “communion” with Rome have their own Divine Liturgies, with 7 of them (including Rome) having their own Patriarch, and all professing the same Christian faith.  But each Church is different.  And that is part of the tapestry of our faith.

I love being Byzantine and I have become enamored of my Byzantine traditions and the teachings of the early Church Fathers.  I loved learning Arabic at our Melkite parish, and learning to cook some amazing Arabic dishes.  In fact, for our potluck at Church this weekend I will be bringing majedra (spelled many ways) – a wonderful dish of lentils, rice, and onions I was taught by my Arabic friends in California.  And recently I have discovered the foods of yet other cultures (Ukrainian and Polish) and love pyrogies (so many ways to spell that!!) and other delicacies that I wish I had known much sooner!  (The languages may have to wait a bit! LOL!)  I have dipped my toes into many teachings of the Orthodox and thoroughly love so many Orthodox saints.  St. John of Kronstadt is my all-time favorite and he is Russian and decidedly not Roman Catholic.  His wisdom crosses imaginary “boundaries” of culture, tradition, and religion and he shares Truth in any language; a Christian Truth.  I was raised in an English immigrant household, who sort of swayed into Protestantism.  In college and my early 20s, I dated quite seriously a Jewish man and spent two years exploring Judaism (drove the Rabi crazy!!). As a 20-something adult, I chose to become Catholic.  From there, some 20 years later, my journey brought me to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. And because of a geographical move almost 6 months ago, now I attend a mostly Polish/Ukrainian/Ruthenian/Byzantine Parish.  My experiences in life are a tapestry in and of themselves.

cropped-church.jpgThe photo above is one of my favorites.  It is the ceiling of a Russian Orthodox Church.  It exemplifies the tapestry of faith.  Every square inch is covered in iconic expressions of our faith.  I find it comforting and inviting.  And this is what I am trying, poorly, to convey.  We need to welcome an extra thread to our growing tapestry.  There is definitely right and wrong; there are absolutes.  I am not arguing that we forgo holding fast to the teachings of Christ Crucified.  I am not saying that we allow for heresies to flourish without objecting strenuously to them, and defending Truth when no one else will.  What I am trying to convey is a spirit of tapestry; a spirit of love and welcoming to those we come into contact with who may have questions, who may have thoughts divergent from our own.  We cannot pretend to be missionaries in our own backyard when we speak angrily or nastily to those we come into contact with, who even attend Church with us.  I agree that the Church is a hospital for the sick, but it certainly is not a place were the patients attack one another.  It is a place where we all seek healing and love and safety.  In order to illustrate my emotions on this, I will share my favorite part of the Divine Liturgy, the prayers of the Anaphora:

It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:  Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.”

When we, as a people of Christ, recite these and many of the other prayers of the Divine Liturgy, let us also pray with the intention to live our lives as Christians who believe what we pray.  We believe that there are a myriad of angels around the altar, we proclaim His coming, we acknowledge that He picked us up when we fell, created us out of nothing.  With tongues we proclaim the love of God; let us also with our tongues praise and pray for our fellow Christians, regardless of which tones they sing, what translations they use, which “rite” or Church they belong to.  Let us truly weave the tapestry of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Cross sunlight rocks