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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thyme and the End of Time

by Fr. Micah

For my Wife

Walking along the rocky coast on a Greek island outside of his wife's village a man picks a bunch of thyme. He takes a strand of dry grass and ties the thyme and hands it to his wife. This moment has been repeated throughout the ages. For as long as the fragrance of the herb has captivated it has been taken up into countless hands. Since the dawn of humanity men and women have walked hand in hand sharing a silence pregnant with meaning and feeling. 

I wonder who was the first man struck by the sparkle in a woman's eye and offered her a flower returning beauty for beauty?  As often as this offering has been made through the countless centuries- each flower, each couple, and every event of beauty, love, and gratitude has been unique.

I return to the husband and wife walking along that rocky coast. The thyme is held with a firm grip as if by holding onto the thyme the moment might not come to an end and time might pause.  This shared evening is unique; it is new and will never be repeated... There will be more flowers picked, more smiles shared, the wind will return and embrace the lovers but that fleeting moment is past.

On that same island over the centuries the words, "we look forward to the resurrection from the dead", have been spoken as a prayer and at times as a cry that wavers between despair and hope.  Many of those voices are now silent and rest within the embrace of the earth like a grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies.  There in the cold earth like seeds they await the spring when all will rise to meet the Lord.

Every moment shared in love, every event of beauty is a still small voice and a gentle breeze from which God speaks to us.

When the Lord comes again, and the dead are raised and we awake, Lord take our hands joined before your holy table into Yours.  We who have nothing of our own will look into Your noble face and say thine own of thine we offer to you... And we will take the humble bunch of time and give it to you. Thank you Lord for all the times you have reminded us of the other that stands beside us, thank you Lord for that day which will be again, and thank you for the thyme.  It is not the most beautiful flower nor does it have the most amazing perfume.  Yet it is ours, given to us by you and shared on an evening that will never end because you have told us that Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Παρόμοια ἠχὼ θὰ λαλήσει,
τοῦ κόσμου τὴν ὕστερη μέρα,
παντοῦ στὸν καινούργιον ἀέρα.
Παρόμοια στοὺς τάφους θὰ ἐμβεῖ
νὰ κάμει καθένας νὰ ἐβγεῖ.

-Δ. Σολωμός

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ecclesia & Eschata

Ἐν δὲ τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ μεγάλῃ τῆς ἑορτῆς εἱστήκει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἔκραξεν λέγων· Ἐάν τις διψᾷ ἐρχέσθω πρός με καὶ πινέτω

by Fr. Micah H.

Eschatology Found
In a recent article Aleksander Djakovac writes that, “the eschatological dimension that has so strongly determined the Christian identity in the ancient Church, suffered a moving back.” Anyone with an even cursory knowledge of Church history cannot but help see the veracity of this statement.  At the same time there has been, or what seems to have been, a rediscovery of the significance of eschatology for Orthodox theology and ecclesiology.  Eschatology is foundational to the thought of many contemporary Theologians of the East including the hierarchs John Zizioulas and Maxim Vasiljevic , lay theologians  Petros Vassiliadis and Pantelis Kalaitzidis, and monastics such as Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra[1] and Hiermonk Symeon Gregoriates.  If eschatology suffered a moving back in the past, with these theologians it is certainly experiencing a moving forward
In the Orthodox Church this moving forward of eschatology was to a large part due to a person made famous by calling people to “move back”.  In 1956 Fr. Georges Florovsky proclaimed in an article that,
…Eschatology is not just one particular section of the Christian theological system, but rather its basis and foundation, its guiding and inspiring principle, or, as it were, the climate of the whole of Christian thinking.  Christianity is essentially eschatological, and the Church is an “eschatological community”…
Despite what for many at the time might have seemed a rather novel statement Florovsky was not, in fact, the first contemporary Orthodox theologian to express the centrality of eschatology for the Church.  More than a decade earlier another Russian émigré, Nikolai Berdyaev, a friend and erstwhile rival of Florvsky wrote,
At any rate, the earliest Christianity was eschatological. The eschatological understanding of Christianity, which was the Gospel good-news about the coming of the Kingdom of God, became confused with an historical understanding. Christianity entered into history. Between the First and the Second Coming of Christ was discerned a prolonged and tortuous historical process. Historical Christianity rendered itself accommodating to this world, in compromise with this world, a distortion of the true and eschatological Christianity, the Christianity of the end-times, as the onset of the Kingdom of God, replacing it with a Christianity of the personal salvation of the soul. But it is impossible to deny, that Christianity is essentially eschatological. There can be naught other, besides the eschatological, without distorting Christianity.
Berdyaev went as far as to say that, “the final and most important feature of Orthodoxy is its eschatological consciousness.”

Eschatology Never Lost
The eschatological consciousness was never lost despite the compromises with the world and the moving back.  Because the Liturgy remained in the East the ἀρχή of life, eschatology was never lost.  Because the Liturgy has the ἔσχατα as its ἀρχή the common Orthodox faithful never ceased to live eschatologically even when they were silent about it.  Where the theologians and philosophers were losing this definitive element of the faith, the people, the poets, and the artists celebrated the last things!
Eschatology is revealed in the vibrant dance of colors found in innumerable Churches and chapels.  It was heard in the hymns and folk songs of the people.  Concerning these icons and hymns Photios Kontoglou reminds us that, “In the works of this ‘mystic Zion’ he [man] finds the fount that quenches his thirst” and that when man, “enters into a Byzantine chapel, he expects to find something apocalyptic.”
Many of the poets and artists drank deeply from this fount of the great city at the end of time, this “mystic Zion”.   In the poetry of Dionysios Solomos can be heard an echo of the trumpet that will sound and the Archangel’s voice that will herald the coming Resurrection.
Παρόμοια ἠχὼ θὰ λαλήσει,
τοῦ κόσμου τὴν ὕστερη μέρα,
παντοῦ στὸν καινούργιον ἀέρα.
Παρόμοια στοὺς τάφους θὰ ἐμβεῖ
νὰ κάμει καθένας νὰ ἐβγεῖ.
The tales of Alexandros Papadiamandis are also a witness to this humble eschatology of the people.
Everyone now lit their candles. The priest read the Resurrection Gospel, and after having glorified the Holy Trinity, he then began with thunderous voice to chant ‘Christ is risen from the dead’ antiphonally with his twelve-year-old son, who had come along on the outing to assist him. That was a beautiful and charming sight there in the impressive marble ruin, made all the more resplendent in the dancing light of fifty candles stirred by the breath of the nocturnal wind. It was a sight at once lambent and somber, bright yet mysterious, amidst the giant oaks that proudly lifted up their mighty boughs to make tall crowns, their rustling leaves scintillating like flakes of gold in the torchlight gleam. And in the shadows and murky spaces amidst the branches, one might imagine unseen Dryads and slender Orestiads holding sway over the dense oak forests, and today metamorphosed into nocturnal spirits, afraid to emerge into the light of the paschal candles. For a time they had taken heart at the Christian God’s desertion of his fine marble sanctuary, but now with wonder they beheld the rekindling of the Paschal torches and smelt the fragrance of the Christians’ incense, there in the depths of the oak wood.
The following text of Pavlos Nirvanas is fragrant with the air of the future kingdom and his words glow with the light of the Resurrection,
In that calm spring night, as the old villager’s lit candle was lifted to the heavens like a greeting towards the twinkling, resurrected stars, the heavens indeed seemed tamer. They were no longer the abode of a God estranged from His people, seated far, far away “up there” on His terrible throne. There now resided a lovable God; one Who had savored all the sufferings that mankind suffered: He had acquainted Himself with all the injustices of the world, He had undergone every kind of scorn, He had paid for every single kind of ingratitude. He was abused, laughed at, spat on, dragged through the streets in bonds as though He were the worst of criminals, and was crucified. He had hungered, thirsted, and had beheld the horror of death. For a moment, He had even seen Himself as forgotten by God Himself, who was His Father: “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” There was no pain that He had not become acquainted with; no heartache that He had not felt; no misery whose poison He had not tasted. He drank every kind of bitter drink that a person could ever drink in this world. And, on a night like tonight, this suffering and tortured person had risen to the heavens and had seated Himself, all-powerful, at God’s Throne, to govern the entire world. How could the Heavens not become “tamed”? An infinite goodness had now engulfed the Firmament.
The charm and power of Zissimos Lorenzatos is precisely in his power to discover the eschata in the now.  The following words of Hiermonk Symeon Gregoriates about the great Mystagogue St. Nicholas Kavasilas could have just as easily been spoken about Zissimos Lorenzatos.  The central feature of his teaching was “The affirmation that the Beyond is to be found in this life, that eternity begins in the present.  In fact because he had a broad humanistic education, he formulated this truth that was accessible to his educated contemporaries.”
Lorenzatos reminds us that, “The fulfillment or restoration of earthly history, ‘the times of restitution of all things’ can be no other than sacred history, in other words the kingdom of God.  There are no other ‘high spiritual principles’ in existence.”  Elsewhere Lorenzatos writes,
Orthodox art, which at its peak, during the years of imperial rule, is known as the art of Byzantium, but which has also existed at every period and in every place where it has left its mark on architecture or painting or music or minor arts… speaks to man of the last things (τὰ ἔσχατα). And the “last things” say that man, or the artist or whoever it may be, must divest himself of his own will as of a “garment of shame” so as to arrive at a state of nakedness.  He must lose his identity in order to find himself…

Eschatology Now
There has been in recent times both a rediscovery of eschatology and a discovery that eschatology was never really lost.  However, a point could also be made that despite the above, eschatology remains quite distant from the consciousness of the greater part of the Church.  What does this have to say about our identity as Church and as Christians?  If the Church is meant to be an eschatological institution but our Churches are more often than not wholly wrapped up in the past or the present, what does this say about the identity of our Churches? 
The first response to this question is that our awareness of eschatology as foundational to the Church is not, thank God, dependent on our understanding or even our awareness.  Lorenzatos reminds us that, “Truth belongs to the Creator, whether we discover it or not, whether we reflect on it or not, whether or not we exist, whether, even, the capacity for knowledge is or ceases to be operative in the universe.  He spoke His revelation to Thomas in the first person: I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”
A second response is that even as we speak of the last things our language betrays us.  The last things are beyond our grasp and our definitions.  We live eschatology in our hope and worship.  Poets have forever tried to give voice to love and yet every poem has failed and in its failure we recognize the nobility of love.  Maximus the Confessor reminds us,
 The great mystery of the Incarnation remains a mystery eternally. Not only is what is not seen of it greater than that which has been revealed- for it is revealed merely to the extent that those saved by it can grasp it- but also even what is revealed still remains entirely hidden and by no means in known as it really is. Let us contemplate with faith the mystery of the incarnation and in all simplicity let us simply praise Him who in His great generosity became man for us.
A third response can be found in the writings of Berdyaev where we read,
Every moral act is a victory of freedom over necessity, of Divine humanness of natural humanness.  If one feed the starving or liberate the Negroes from slavery… then one makes an eschatological act, one makes an end to this world, since this world is hunger and slavery.  Every genuine creative act is an onset of the end of the world, it is a passing over into the realm of freedom, and an exit from going in vicious circles within the world.
None of this is to say that we do not need a deep eschatological awareness.  We may not have this awareness yet we are becoming increasingly aware of our need for this awareness as is so beautifully remarked on by the late Serbian Priest Fr. Radovan Bigovic.  He says of eschatology that it is a “missing dimension of our time” but one that is needed because,
Eschatology is an active and demanding expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God, of the new world that we are expecting; as such , it flows into a dynamic commitment to the present moment, to the affirmation and openness to the future of the Kingdom where the fullness and the identity of the Church are to be found.  The eschaton, which from the Resurrection of Christ and the day of Pentecost, has already started to shine and influence the present and history.
I will conclude this short reflection on the Church and eschatology with a quote.  A quote neither from a  Father of the Church or a theologian but from a poet.
Lord from you everything begins.
And to you everything will be brought to completion.

[1]The Messiah, this King, this new David, Himself, the expected Royalty, came and founded His kingdom, the Church, inaugurating it on the day of Pentecost through the descent of the Holy Spirit… At that moment the Church was born, the new Israel of God, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”, a people dedicated to God. The event of Pentecost is not limited in time, however, but is an eschatological experience of the believer, daily living the life of Christ in the Church. So when we speak of the Church, we refer to an eschatological event, a permanent Pentecost.” 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Color & Being

by Micah
What is color?  Color is a trinitarian event experienced as a relationship between the one who sees, that which is beheld, and light.  Without light there is no color.  In fact color does not exist in “objects”.  The color of everything, from the blue of the sky to the blush of a cheek, is not inherent in the object.  The color actually exists in our perception of the way in which light and an object interact. Autonomously color does not exist. This contemporary understanding of color was hinted at by the ancient Greek Philosopher Empdocles who believed that the eyes were created by Aphrodite, that sight and colors are gifts of love.  “Divine Aphrodite fashioned unwearying eyes.  Aphrodite fitting these together with rivets of love. One vision is produced by both the eyes. Know that effluences flow from all things that have come into being.”
The event of seeing color is unique; I can only see the world through my own eyes.  When I see green I see my father’s favorite color, I feel the way grass felt between my toes when I was a child, and I smell the dying plants my wife is not yet ready to throw away.  When you see green you see ________________.  Here color reveals our personal distinctiveness.  When you and I stand before the sea, we see the same blue, we watch the light play with the same waves, reflecting and refracting. Here color becomes a shared experience which unites us. In color we experience communion and otherness, diversity and unity, life, the very way of being.  
Color is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Orthodox Icon.  In the Icon depth is conveyed not by an artificial construction of perspective but by the layering of color.  Its form is born from a complex dance of colors.  The being and existence of the Icon becomes through color.  Beginning with a dark organic color the iconographer moves to ever brighter colors… from the darkness of non-being into light.
I believe that the first color to come into being must have been blue, the blue used by Panselinos as the background of his frescoes which decorate the Protaton.  This blue is so dark that some consider it a warm black.  Those silent moments in the early morning before the sun ascends beyond the horizon, when no ray of light is yet visible, the darkness of the night sky seems to glow in anticipation of the coming light, this is the Blue given to us by Emmanuel Panselinos.
In the beginning God created light, as this light interacted with the darkness of newly created space, time, and matter- the formless waters, blue came into being.  This blue was beheld by the bodiless powers that tradition tells us were created together with the light.  Those who first beheld color were themselves immaterial and one could perhaps deduce from this that they themselves have no color. With what wonder were they possessed beholding this beautiful blue? 
The first material life capable of seeing color was aquatic, a creature that existed between the blue of sky and the blue of water.  Blue the color of water and sky, the veins beneath my skin. There is something human about the color blue.  The Theotokos robed in blue stands before the Archangel saying, “Let it be done according to thy word.”  This was the true beginning of life.  Panagia makes for her Son a blue cloak from her own blue robes just as she gives flesh to Him from her own flesh.  Our Lord in return clothes her in sacred red.
Christ came to us in the flesh, and was borne in the arms of His Mother. This is seen and confirmed and proclaimed in pictures, the teaching made manifest by means of personal eyewitness, and impelling the spectators to unhesitating assent. Does a man hate the teaching by means of pictures? Then how could he not have previously rejected and hated the message of the Gospels? Just as speech is transmitted by hearing, so a form through sight is imprinted upon the tablets of the soul, giving to those who apprehension is not soiled by wicked doctrines a representation of knowledge concordant with piety. Martyrs have suffered for their love of God, showing with their blood the ardor of their desire, and their memory is contained in books. These deeds they are also seen performing in pictures, as painting presents the martyrdom of those blessed men more vividly to our knowledge. Others have been burnt alive, a sacrifice sanctified by their prayer, fasting and other labors. These things are conveyed both by stories and by pictures, but it is the spectators rather than the hearers who are drawn to emulation. The Virgin is holding the Creator in her arms as an infant. Who is there who would not marvel, more from the sight of it than from the report, at the magnitude of the mystery, and would not rise up to laud the ineffable condescension that surpasses all words? For even if the one introduces the other, yet the comprehension that comes about through sight is shown in very fact to be far superior to the learning that penetrates through the ears. (Saint Photios, Homily 17)
Red is a holy color, it has been so since the beginning of civilization.  The rising sun paints the heavens red.   Red is the fire that sets man apart from the animal.  Red is the color of life, the blood that flows in our veins.  The first color we see is the red of light passing through our closed eyelids.  Red roses offered in love cause cheeks to redden.  When humanity finally crowns its king we used thorns and red blood trickled down His cheek to disappear into the folds of a scarlet robe.  This of course is one of the discrepancies found in the Gospel accounts.  Matthew said the robe was scarlet whereas Mark and John write that it was purple.  I don’t know.  If this discrepancy causes you to question your faith in the scriptures as an objectifiable truth than perhaps you are on the path to encountering the Truth.  I suppose I prefer purple because when the blue and red of Christ’s and Panagia’s garments are joined, all is created anew and all creation is clothed in a royal purple.
The particularity of purple rests in that it does not seem to be a common color.  It surprises for brief moments when all of a sudden the horizon peacefully explodes into a violet splendor.  On other rare occasions the early night sky is dyed with a deep shade of purple by the dying light of the sun. This is a purple reminiscent of imperial Rome.  The Romans received their costly purple dye from the Phoenicians who have given to posterity the inheritance of a phonetic alphabet. Apart from the dye the only purple we can say is common and not entirely fleeting is the purple of certain flowers.  In the Book of Proverbs the mother of king Lemuel tells us that the virtuous woman is clothed in purple and in that great Song of Songs we read of Solomon that, “He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.”  Could this pavement of love be anything but the Way spoken of in Acts in which Lydia the seller of purple rejoiced?  The same awe we experience in seeing the heavens painted purple is encountered when we come upon a purple flower in a field of green. 
Green grass… Grass is always around us, it was upon the grass that our ancestors first stood up.  Grass the foliage of the trees.  The serpent that first convinced man to drink the poisonous draught of death is depicted as green by the artist.  Fallen from the path of love which would have led to immortality, Adam and Eve clothe themselves in green leaves.  Now, until the coming of the new Adam the Archetype of the Old, Adam as all men toils and prays for the rising of the golden sun to chase away the darkness.  They did not know that this prayer is fulfilled in the rising of the second sun of the three sunned divinity.  Painted before us we find a metaphor not impeded but born from the English language.  The rising of the sun is a shadow of the rising of the Son.
When children color they have a dilemma.  What color for the sun?  Some children choose yellow; this seems to be the norm.  A few children prefer orange and if the sun is in ascent or descent perhaps red.  As we grow in stature but seldom wisdom we might realize that light is white.  If we have gained a bit of wisdom we know that white does not show us an absence but is in fact the presence of every color.  Christ upon rising from the dead is clothed in white.  These white garments do not demonstrate a naturalistic or ritual purity.  Robes of light that contain every color teach us that in Christ all creation is recapitulated.  All that is begn with a word spoken by God’s Word.  And all that is will be answered when we learn that all words find there meaning in the Word who is to come.
If I were a poet I would have stopped at purple.  If I were a theologian I would have stopped with white.  I am neither.  So I leave you with brown.  Brown is the most humble of colors.  Brown dust and mud, dried blood and waste, this is not a color I have ever heard a child call their favorite.   Yet it is also the color when mixed with red that gives us ochre the first color with which humanity painted.  I think of brown and see a tree, a cross, and remember that death is destroyed.  Now when I hide my face in my wife’s brown hair I do not fear.  The face of holiness is a rich variety of browns and baked bread is the brown by which we remember a future Kingdom.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:
11 “You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greece's Gift to the World

by Fr. micah

The glory of modern Greece was crowned neither with the olive of the ancients
nor with the diadem of Byzantium. -Aegean Notebooks by Z. Lorenzatos

Καὶ 'ς τὴν κόμη στεφάνι φορεῖ
Γινομένο ἀπὸ λίγα χορτάρια
Ποῦ εἰχαν μείνῃ 'ς τὴν ἔρημη γῆ.
                                                 -Δ. Σολωμός
“And her head is adorned with a crown
Fashioned out of the last few grasses
That were left upon the desolate earth.”

            When visiting the city of Athens a person cannot help but reflect upon the past.  Woven throughout the chaotic streets of Athens are innumerable monuments of antiquity.  These historic monuments do not simply speak of an isolated past but a “present” formed by the thought and ideas of antiquity.  These tangible monuments testify to an ancient world that has shaped our contemporary society, from the lofty ideals of democracy and science, to the hallowed traditions of philosophy and tragedy.  Traced in white marble upon the canvas of the city we encounter that which the West holds most dear.

It is not only the secular that is evident.  As one looks upon the city from a distance you realize that the city is filled with beautiful domed churches that in the morning light appear like hundreds of gems in an imperial crown.  There are hundreds if not thousands of Churches and dozens of cathedrals that hearken to the honorable days of Constantine and Justinian. 

When reflecting on Greece’s contribution to the world, we are often drawn, as are the eyes of every first time visitor, to the Acropolis and the distant past.  Those of us who are of a more contemplative or religious nature might turn to one of the great cathedrals and late antiquity.  However, it is neither the white marble of the Parthenon or the golden domed cathedral that stirs my heart.  Of all the great architectural achievements in the city of Athens the one that I believe represents the most genuine and significant offering of Greece to the world is the Church of Saint Dimitrios Loumbardiaris.  This Church together with its surrounding path and park were designed by the architect and faithful son of the Church: Dimitris Pikionis.   The Church is small and is made of the broken detritus found at the site upon which it was raised.  The Church is largely hidden from view.  You cannot see it from a distance but rather you stumble upon it after having begun the journey of walking on the surrounding paths.  The paths themselves draw the eyes to the ground where you might conclude together with the Thessalonian author N.G. Pentzikis,
From studying the monuments of our religious tradition, I have drawn conclusions about the symmetrically unsymmetrical and about the fact that an uneven square may be geometrically more correct than an even one, about rhythm as the basic element explaining the world and human life…
The Church is hidden, constructed of broken stone, reused clay tiles, it is imperfect, “symmetrically unsymmetrical”, humiliated, and herein rests its beauty and its glory.

Neither the laurel crown of antiquity nor the royal diadem of Byzantium is capable of revealing the truth found in a “crown fashioned from the last few grasses that were left upon the desolate earth” as Lorenzatos reminds us.  Greece’s great contribution to the world is not Western Civilization, democracy, philosophy, science, imperial glory, or her monuments… none of these are able in the final analysis to free man from either death or himself.   It is not revealed in the past but in the living Greece that we find in the architecture of Pikionis, we hear in the poetry of Solomos, we read about in the stories of Papadiamandis, we smell in the wild thyme that grows alongside the road, and we feel in the cool darkness of a country Chapel.

The monuments of ancient Hellas will someday be lost to the vicissitudes of time and decay and the glory of Byzantium will be remembered only in stories and books of history but the living Greece, which has as its leaven the power of unassuming love, will endure.  Like the flickering oil lamp place before icons in homes and Churches this living Greece will endure.  For 400 years it endured slavery and persecution and has filled heaven with Martyrs and Saints.   Like the marble path of Pikionis, the more it is trampled and stepped upon the smoother and more brilliant it becomes.

I will conclude with the words of a holy man of the last century.  He was a stranger and visitor to Greece who made his home for many years in the Garden of the Panagia.  He reminds us that in the end it is not “what” Greece has to offer the world that has the power to redeem it, but “Who” Greece has to offer the world.

 After long study of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel I discovered a partial analogy in the fresco with my conception of the Creation of the world. Look at Christ in the fresco, at the gesture He is making. Like some prize champion He hurls into the abyss all who have dared to oppose Him…This, to be sure, is not how I see Christ. Michelangelo possessed great genius but not for liturgical subjects.

Let us reconstruct the fresco. Christ, naturally, must be in the center, but a different Christ more in keeping with the revelation that we have of Him: Christ immensely powerful with the power of unassuming love. He is not a vindictive gesture. In creating us as free beings, He anticipated the likelihood, perhaps the inevitability, of the tragedy of the fall of man. Summoning us from the darkness of non-being, His fateful gesture flings us into the secret realms of cosmic life. ‘In all places and fulfilling all things,’ He stays forever close to us. He loves us in spite of our senseless behavior. He calls to us, is always ready to respond to our cries for help and guide our fragile steps through all the obstacles that lie in our path. He respects us as on a par with Him. His ultimate idea for us is to see us in eternity verily His equals, His friends and brothers, the sons of the Father. He strives for this, He longs for it. This is our Christ, and as Man He sat on the right hand of the Father. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The City of Bread: A Nativity Reflection

By Fr. Micah H.

For much of human history mankind ate what was available.  He ate what he could find, digest, pick or kill.  In fact there is a growing amount of evidence that, contrary to certain misinformed fad diets, humanity in many places ate grains.  However, it was only in the last 10,000 years with the rise of agriculture and the city that bread became a staple for much of humanity.  “Staple” does not really do justice to the significance of bread for Western and Near Eastern civilization.  Bread was and is (perhaps to a lesser degree since the advent of modernity) identified with life and livelihood. In Greek villages when a man died it was said that he had stopped eating his bread and in nearly every city street of America man goes out to, “make some bread.”  From a “breadwinner” of a family to the “breadbasket” of an empire, bread is life on a scale writ both large and small.

The association of bread with life, livelihood, and culture was spoken of by Saint Nicholas Kavasilas in his excellent commentary on the Divine Liturgy.  We set aside for God, as first fruits of our life, these gifts of human food, whose purpose is to sustain the life of our bodies; especially because life is not only maintained by food, but also symbolized by it.  The Apostles said of Christ: “We ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” to prove that they really saw Him alive.  And the Lord Himself ordered them to give the woman He had raised from the dead something to eat, in order to prove the presence of life by means of food.  Saint Nicholas also reminds us that bread and wine are peculiar to man, unique elements of human civilization differentiating us from all else that possesses life.

Bread, concurrently, also represents that which is humble and mundane. The base desires of man spoken of by Juvenal with his bread and circuses and the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky who tells us that nothing is more certain than bread, remind us that bread does not merely signify life but is a sign and symbol of life in its most tangible expression.

Just as death is coupled with life present within bread is the seed of tragedy.  We come to table and break bread yet with time and years every table is left empty.  The bread we eat is bitter.  It ensures our biological survival for a time, but, as that old Greek idiom reminds us, we too will one day cease from eating our bread.  Life can perhaps be measured by bread.  When it is new and fresh it brings joy yet with time it will mold and ultimately cease to be bread becoming dust.

Also hidden within bread is another seed. It is the bread which represents self-preservation, exploitation and slavery, the industrial desolation of the earth, and the technological abuse of nature.  A child who spends his life in a field but will never know what bread tastes like. Wars are fought for bread while plates, mouths, and stomachs remain empty.

The horizon of bread is vast, its depth of meaning incomparable.  One moment it can be shared with friends and family, a cause of celebration and in the next we hear the anguished cry of that great philosopher king, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity… there is nothing new under the sun.”

Hidden from the sun in the depths of a grotto all is made new.  In the city of Bethlehem which means the house of bread, not far from where man first tasted bread with all its bitterness, Bread has come down from heaven.  He shares in our everyday and mundane existence… He eats humble bread in humility with those who have been humiliated.  With bread He feeds the hungry reminding them that we do not live by bread alone.  Bread is a symbol of life, He is the Bread of Life, and he who comes to Him shall not hunger again.

He did not begin a new religion or a new school of philosophy and He did not give us an ideology or ethical system.  He shared with us the bread of His flesh, He reveals to us a new way of eating and drinking that is not driven by our autonomous biological desire to sustain this body of death.  We eat, desiring communion with the cause of life, a shared way of life, and an image of the Life to come.

Born in the House of Bread from a Virgin, is the Bread from heaven born of the Father before all ages.

Just as salt kneaded into dough is present in every part of the bread, so Christ has not left any part of life’s bread absent of Himself.  He has tasted the bitterest of breads and as a golden loaf of bread comes forth from the oven He has come forth from the tomb granting life.  He meets with us on our lonely journeys and reveals Himself to us in the breaking of bread.  No bread too humble and no bread can compare to His humility. 

Bread was a symbol of life and now has become the Truth of Life without end.

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. (John 6:48-51)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Salvation: Ecclesial & Religious

As an example of Ecclesial Salvation one might read the "Life in Christ" by St. Nicholas Cabasilas.  For examples of Religious Salvation I would recommend two texts that despite being radically different share a common religious soteriology. They are the Westminster Confession (http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/) and the proceedings and canons of the council of Trent (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent.html).  


Ecclesial Salvation
Religious Salvation
Love as Way of Being
Love as a Virtue
Fast & Feast
Sacred & Profane
Life & Death
Soul & Body
Mysteries as End
Mysteries as Means
Fasting as Communion
Fasting  as Private
Call of Beauty
Danger of Beauty
Touch of Resurrection
Soul in Heaven
Confession is Suffering
Confession is Statement
Freed by Future
Defined by Past
Cover the Sinner
Avoid the Sinner
Christianity = Mysteries
Descending into Hades
Getting to Heaven