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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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Uneven Square: New Blog that will focus on Modern Greek Art


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… - N.G. Pentzikis

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.” 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Conversations with Abba Isaac: Spiritual Neurosis

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that there is a certain spiritual neurosis that religious people often develop and that this is indeed nothing new and something that we Orthodox are not immune to.  Our beloved Father and contemporary, Saint Porphyrios, speaks on this topic at some length:
For many people, however, religion is struggle, a source of agony and anxiety.  That’s why many of the ‘religious minded’ are regarded as unfortunates, because others can see the desperate state they are in.  And so it is.  Because for the person who doesn’t understand the deeper meaning of religion and doesn’t experience it, religion ends up as an illness, and indeed a terrible illness.  So terrible that the person becomes weak willed and spineless… They make prostrations and cross themselves in Church and they say, ‘we are unworthy sinners’, then as soon as they come out they start to blaspheme everything holy whenever someone upsets them a little. 

To read the entire article please visit the following link:


Monday, March 9, 2015

Conversations with Abba Isaac: Saint Paisios and Positive Thinking

There are few, if any, who have been more devoted to Abba Isaac than the Blessed Elder Paisios who recently was incorporated into the registry of Saints (1/13/15). Not only did the Holy Elder deeply love the teachings of Abba Isaac, but even more importantly, he lived and incarnated all that the great Abba Isaac taught.

To read the complete article please go to the following link-

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Conversations with Abba Isaac: For the Health of Body and Soul

Abba Isaac, the great athlete of God who competed in the desert and won innumerable crowns, offers us a sacred reason for being attentive to our bodies. Throughout his homilies, Abba Isaac reminds us of the necessity of physical involvement in prayer. He praises the “delightful bending of the knees.” He teaches, “Sweet to the laborer is bread earned by his own sweat.” And that, “Until a man has sweated, the bread of truth will not satisfy him. The body, which is the laborer, sweats, and it nourishes the rational mind.”

To read the complete article please follow the link below:


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The History and Future of Water

by Fr. Micah
It is thought that when our earth was first formed it was dry, a land with no water. We can only imagine the first rain.  It came in the form of cosmic ice crashing into the surface of the earth; ice born from stellar amniotic detritus, a byproduct of birth on a cosmic scale.
An epoch of unprecedented violence slowly covered our planet’s surface with oceans.  Every child upon hearing the word earth envisions a sapphire jewel suspended in space.  An image delightfully contrasted with cold dry Mars.  A image of life and the other, if it had ever lived, death.  This peaceful and silent image of our planet seen from space belies the violence that begat it.
In the book of Genesis we read that in the beginning, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Science confirms what Genesis intimates, life arises from water. From the moment of conception we are inextricably linked to water until the day we die.  In fact we are to a large extent constituted by water.  We need water.  This most basic and profound need has shaped human culture and civilization as well as each and every person.
This need teaches us a most profound lesson; we are not nor can ever be autonomous.  A wise man of the last century once wrote, “Acute discomfort compels primitive man to look for nourishment. Then, as he advances towards rational cognition, suffering discloses to his contemplative mind both his own imperfection and that of the world around him.”
This need leads to desire and causes us to look outside of ourselves.  Our first instinct is to move towards our mother and to drink.  Here we are nourished, sated, and rest.  Life begins, moves, and by necessity we drink.
Early humanity’s desire for water led them to streams, rivers, and lakes.  Groups of people, tribes and families were confronted by others as they approached the shore of the lake.  This desire has forever led to both conflict and communication.  We learn that to survive we must adjust the rhythm and place of our existence, otherwise life will end.
Our desire for water acquired a new and profound depth as humanity began to plant seed.  These seeds, as with all life, must have water to grow.  Here, perhaps for the first time, humanity looks to the heavens not merely from fear, curiosity, or admiration but from a deep desire for rain.  With agriculture comes the prayer, “let it rain.”
From the fruit of our labor and the art of civilization a new drink is made.  This drink is not contingent on need but is desired none the less.  We desire to share a cup with others even if it is not necessary for survival.  We desire to drink with others because the shared cup is a celebration of the presence of the other.  Families do not need to gather together and share wine, friends do not need the beer they enjoy with one another, and it is not necessary for a husband and wife to begin there day together with a cup of coffee.
However despite the lack of need, the desire remains.  This separation of desire from need distinguishes us from every other living creature.  We no longer drink to live; drinking is now an event of life that is intertwined with relationships not based on necessity but rooted in the desire to hear, see, touch, and know the other. 
Sharing a cup of water is sharing existence with others.  We taste from a stream that leads back to the coldness of space and the birth of a star.  In the glass of wine we taste the labor of the vinedresser, the culture of a people, and the distinctiveness of a soil brought about by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago.
Need and desire... Desire that has not need…  Now we arrive at the quintessence of tragedy, desire without fulfillment. We drink and live.  We drink and share life.  Life ends and we thirst for more.
We cannot accept dying.  Even if the individual is capable of quietus, we fight and rebel against the death of those with whom we once drank.  We find in humankinds most ancient epic the hero Gilgamesh bitterly weeping over the death of his beloved comrade Enkidu.  Orpheus descends into the bowels of the earth to rescue the wife that fate had robbed him of.  Juliet strikes herself with a dagger upon seeing her beloved dead.
Our thirst for life and more significantly the life of our beloved is not sated by metaphysical belief in an afterlife. Religion and philosophy does not preserve the voice, sight, and touch of the one I love.  What comfort is there for a mother who cannot hear the cry of her child?  No idea or mere belief can grant the husband a single glance of his wife’s smile.  What religion can restore the caress of my grandmother’s hand?
 Here we arrive at an impasse, the only real impasse, death.  Even on a cosmic scale we know that entropy holds sway and that just as every voice will fall silent every star will one day be extinguished.
We ask ourselves, what is life? What answer is there other than that it is a cup of water poured out upon sand.  In the end, so it appears, we are left with nothing more than a valley of dry bones.  Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?”
+ + +
As wise as the Preacher was who spoke such words, we can no longer concur with him when later on he says that there is nothing new under the sun.  There is something new, a person who I believe has made all things new.  “He,” a holy sage has said, “does not hold heaven and hell in His hand.”  He does not promise an ephemeral heaven any more then He condemns to hell those who have violated some legal code.  He was before time with God His Father and the Father’s Spirit.  He was the Word that God spoke and brought the universe into being.  He was born of a Virgin and has shown us that, while remaining one with the Father, He has become one with us sharing fully our life and existence even unto death.
He, having shown that the relationship with the eternal Father was greater than death, has risen.  He waits for us in a city at the end of time desiring to embrace all those who have chosen to live as He lived, die as He died, and will have been raised as He was raised.
Though His Kingdom is yet to come or rather- is coming, He has not left us alone. His Father’s Spirit, who shares equally the pre-eternal counsel and communion with Father and Son, is with us.  He is the Spirit of Communion who frees us from every division and distance.  He brings to us the cool breeze of the Kingdom to come and a taste of Life eternal.
The Spirit grants us freedom.  We are born no longer from necessity we are given the gift of a new birth.  In the waters of this new birth we receive a new name, a new identity no longer wrapped up with the vicissitudes of a biological life which from the moment of conception is inextricably bound with dying. 
As it was with the ancient temples we are anointed and set apart.  The Spirit imperceptibly seals us, giving to us as a priceless gift all that the Father has shared with His Son since before the beginning of time.
In the end all that was done by the Son of Man was to lead us to this table and to drink and eat.  In this cup we do not partake of wine magically become a supernatural collection of blood cells and plasma.  Rather, we become one with the body that by its Resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of the Father has revealed itself to be the bearer of the fullness of divine existence.
Drinking of this cup is an event of communion that while being realized in a specific time and place sets us apart and lifts us out of the confines of that tragic river flowing unto death.  Instead it becomes for us, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”  All that is needed of us is that we desire this water.  If we desire this living Water we must empty ourselves and make room for it and be like the bride that forsakes every lover for her bridegroom.
I have heard it said that when man fasts He eats to live and does not live to eat.  However, it is for this cup that we not only live but came to be and will find our true rest.
+ + +
As I sit and write I hear you grumble.  This is another religion, another attempt to console with beliefs and doctrines in the face of the tragic futility of the thirst for the transcendence of death.
No my friend I have not met. This is a meal, a celebration, a looking forward to the Resurrection, a new identity begotten from a hope.
Now you do not simply grumble, you laugh. “You still die,” I hear you say.  “At least those who place their hope in some otherworldly and bodiless heaven have some comfort.  All you have is hope! Is it not easier to rationalize death or even accept it as an illusion?  Where is your proof and where is your evidence?”
I cannot prove, nor do I have any evidence that would be acceptable in a court or lab. My hope rests upon what is to come, or rather, He who is coming.
“Blind faith, groundless hope!” you shout. 
Not blind. Because:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
 “All is based then on the tenuous thread of the testimony of a few fishermen?”

My faith is in a Cup.  The cup that Christ shared with the Apostles on the night He gave Himself up.  The Cup He drank with His friends and Mother after His Resurrection.  The Cup in which the Martyrs hoped, the ascetics strived to be made worthy of, Kings and Queens, poor and rich, Saints and sinners, have all tasted.  This is a cup of anticipation, of waiting, a confirmation of our hope, and a prayer that the Kingdom comes.

“What if that Kingdom does not come, if the resurrection is only a dream?”

It has been said that if there is no resurrection our faith is in vain.  Thus my faith is the substance of things hoped for and only when the dead are raised will my faith be confirmed in truth.  This is no worry for me, I am not anxious because of what I have learned from drinking.

The table has taught us, as if by the Lord’s very hand, that all is a gift.  I know the giver in part by the gift and such a gift is not given with one hand and taken by another.  Everything, from a cold drink of water on a hot summer’s day to the feel of my wife’s embrace, is a gift.  I cannot doubt God anymore then I doubt the taste of water or the touch of my wife.  The water brought to earth by the birthing of a star, life’s first step from the water onto dry land, the story of the woman of Cana, the smell of beeswax candles, the embrace of a friend, the taste of warm bread, the day I was married, the coolness of a old stone chapel, Miracle working Icons of Panagia, the blue of the sky, Pentzikis’ books, grass between my toes, the pet dog who once comforted me, a book I cannot put down, a night so peaceful I don’t want it to end, watching clouds on by back,  the parable of the prodigal Son, that one episode of the twilight zone, Holy Week, apples, seeing planets with the naked eye, the relics of St. Panagis, the smell of flowers, drawers full of memories, Bay Leaves on Holy Saturday Morning, the moment running goes from torture to fun, a good cup of coffee,  a great pirate story, knowing friends and family are only a room away, forgiving and being forgiven, the surprise of meeting someone new, sun kissed cheeks, elephants, Supernovae, beautiful old buildings, dogs, sweet potato fries, the City of Thessaloniki, the I.P.A I cannot drink, creating a piece of art that God alone will know, New York City’s first snow at Christmas time, kayaking, old libraries, the anticipation of a letter in the mail, Sunday mornings, Autumn, Winter, Icons of Panselinos, Spring, the sound of an air mattress inflating at 3 a.m., Summer, discovering new places, discussing time travel with friends who failed physics, tasting a foreign food for the first time, grass that grows between the crack in concrete, St. Nicholas Kavasilas, the ache you feel when you say goodbye, waiting for a single person in a busy café, knowing how little we know, learning something new, being tired after working hard, forgetting something painful, reading the Psalms, fishing, feeling that your prayer is heard, closing your eyes on a windy day, snow that covers dirt and softens sharp edges, visiting the house where a saint once lived, a child’s innocence, an elder’s wisdom, a cool pillowcase, the Anaphora of St. Basil…  All is a gift; all is a miracle and wonder, and what response have we but to take up the cup of thanksgiving!

Some will ask, “But what of suffering, pain, war, hate, racism, hunger, rape, genocide, cancer, burns, a child’s funeral, never knowing a parent, divorce, suicide, addiction, loneliness, violence, adultery, pride, a family broken by alcoholism, illness... what of this?,” you ask.  “Are these gifts from your God?  Doesn’t the innocent suffering of a single child call into question the very existence of a Loving God?”

I do not have an answer. I do not believe that God gives an answer.  Certainly we can speak about the gift of freedom to reject God, life, and to embrace the way of death.  But I believe that as true as this is it does not suffice in answering our question in the face of concrete and personal suffering.

I recall Job who received no answer or vindication from God.  In the end (we must remember it is the end that will judge) an answer to his question is superfluous in face of the coming of God Himself.  Again I return to the table… In the cup the King of all, spit upon, hated, and crucified comes to us as broken bread, poured wine and water, and we the broken people gather to receive our King trusting that in His brokenness all will be made whole.  This is why the prayer of His body the Church, the most essential of prayers, is, “thy Kingdom come”; this prayer is and has ever been our only need, the desire for which all creation groans, and the final fulfillment.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.  He which testifieth these things saith, surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
(Apocalypse of John 21:2-7 / 22:17&20)

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.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Conversations with Abba Isaac: Kung Fu and the Way of the Ant

In many ways and for many years, I unconsciously approached prayer in the same way.  I thought that if I could only spend a few days with a “master”, prayer would become easy, or if I just read the right book, I would be able acquire the art of prayer.  I read dozens of books on the topic.  I just needed to find the right words to inspire me, to give me the proper technique…

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Conversations with Abba Isaac: Screen Asceticism

by Fr. Micah H.

Abba Isaac calls us to moderation in all things just as the wise Solomon reminds us that, “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you be sated with it and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16 RSV)

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