As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Festal Letter of the holy Athanasius (Lent)

From the second Festal Letter of the holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (died 373):

Now some have related the wonderful signs performed by our Saviour, and preached His eternal Godhead. And others have written of His being born in the flesh of the Virgin, and have proclaimed the festival of the holy passover, saying, 'Christ our Passover is sacrificed;' so that we, individually and collectively, and all the churches in the world may remember, as it is written, 'That Christ rose from the dead, of the seed of David, according to the Gospel.' And let us not forget that which Paul delivered, declaring it to the Corinthians; I mean His resurrection, whereby 'He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;' and raised us up together with Him, having loosed the bands of death, and vouchsafed a blessing instead of a curse, joy instead of grief, a feast instead of mourning, in this holy joy of Easter, which being continually in our hearts, we always rejoice, as Paul commanded; 'We pray without ceasing; in everything we give thanks.'

So we are not remiss in giving notice of its seasons, as we have received from the Fathers. Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto Him, and being followers of the saints, 'we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,' as the Psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven.

We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar.). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi, and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th, let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost, wholly rejoicing and exulting in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

The brethren which are with me salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Slaves, Hirelings and Sons

Early on, as I began to move from Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism, I began thinking of the motives people have for becoming Christian. I found that the method of the Revivalists that so many Evangelicals hearken to seemed to be attempting to scare people into heaven, or out of hell. Consider this excerpt from Johnathan Edward's sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."
Steve Camp penned some lyrics to a wonderful, Evangelical response to this sermon. I can't find them, but I remember a part of the chorus in which he sings, "But the hands of an angry God are pierced and bleeding." Leaving aside the heresy of an angry God, I return to my first point. Edwards, and other preachers, were trying to scare people out of hell.

The more I thought about that idea, the more I hated it. It was the spiritual equivalent of a shotgun wedding. What groom wants a bride who only marries him because, if she doesn't, he'll kill her? Actually, there's probably quite a few, but men who actually love their wives don't want them to love out of fear (as if you could), but ... well ... out of love! I expressed this idea to my family, and one of my sister's said, "How dare you!? You are going to remove the method of saving some people from hell!" I didn't change my mind then, but I recently came across a quote from an Orthodox source which makes me question my conviction:
Some people obey God out of fear of hell; these people are slaves of God.
Some people obey God out of hope of reward; these people are employees, trusting that God will honor their faith.
Some people obey God simply because they love Him and want to be and do what pleases Him. These people are sons and heirs.
But in a great household, all three - the slaves, the free hirelings, and the sons, all are members of the household.
At Communion, in the Greek tradition, the deacon calls "With fear of God, with faith, and with love: Draw near" calling all three kinds of Christians to union with God in the Eucharist.
Interesting, says I. Perhaps this is a bit more realistic than my perception. It recognizes that the best way is to be loving sons and heirs, but there is still a place for the slaves and hirelings too. OK, I can accept that. Here's another excerpt, this one from George MacDonald's sermon on Freedom:
Those to whom God is not all in all, are slaves. They may not commit great sins; they may be trying to do right; but so long as they serve God, as they call it, from duty, and do not know him as their father, the joy of their being, they are slaves—good slaves, but slaves. If they did not try to do their duty, they would be bad slaves. They are by no means so slavish as those that serve from fear, but they are slaves; and because they are but slaves, they can fulfill no righteousness, can do no duty perfectly, but must ever be trying after it wearily and in pain, knowing well that if they stop trying, they are lost. They are slaves indeed, for they would be glad to be adopted by one who is their own father!

Where then are the sons? I know none, I answer, who are yet utterly and entirely sons or daughters. There may be such—God knows; I have not known them; or, knowing them, have not been myself such as to be able to recognize them. But I do know some who are enough sons and daughters to be at war with the slave in them, who are not content to be slaves to their father. Nothing I have seen or known of sonship, comes near the glory of the thing; but there are thousands of sons and daughters, though their number be yet only a remnant, who are siding with the father of their spirits against themselves, against all that divides them from him from whom they have come, but out of whom they have never come, seeing that in him they live and move and have their being. Such are not slaves; they are true though not perfect children; they are fighting along with God against the evil separation; they are breaking at the middle wall of partition. Only the rings of their fetters are left, and they are struggling to take them off. They are children—with more or less of the dying slave in them; they know it is there, and what it is, and hate the slavery in them, and try to slay it.

The real slave is he who does not seek to be a child; who does not desire to end his slavery; who looks upon the claim of the child as presumption; who cleaves to the traditional authorized service of forms and ceremonies, and does not know the will of him who made the seven stars and Orion, much less cares to obey it; who never lifts up his heart to cry ‘Father, what wouldst thou have me to do?’ Such are continually betraying their slavery by their complaints. ‘Do we not well to be angry?’ they cry with Jonah; and, truly, being slaves, I do not know how they are to help it.

When they are sons and daughters, they will no longer complain of the hardships, and miseries, and troubles of life; no longer grumble at their aches and pains, at the pinching of their poverty, at the hunger that assails them; no longer be indignant at their rejection by what is called Society. Those who believe in their own perfect father, can ill blame him for anything they do not like. Ah, friend, it may be you and I are slaves, but there are such sons and daughters as I speak of.
I think this hymn best captures these ideas, and I hope it to be true for me:

My God, I love thee, not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
nor yet because, if I love not,
I must forever die.

Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
upon the cross embrace;
for me didst bear the nails and spear
and manifold disgrace.

Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
not seeking a reward,
but as thyself hast loved me,
O everlasting Lord.

So would I love thee, dearest Lord,
and in thy praise will sing;
because thou art my loving God
and my eternal King.

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Trees

St John Damascene

But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was for the distinguishing between the many divisions of contemplation, and this is just the knowledge of one's own nature, which, indeed, is a good thing for those who are mature and advanced in divine contemplation (being of itself a proclamation of the magnificence of God), and have no fear of falling, because they have through time come to have the habit of such contemplation, but it is an evil tiring to those still young and with stronger appetites, who by reason of their insecure bold on the better part, and because as yet they are not firmly established in the seat of the one and only good, are apt to be torn and dragged away from this to the care of their own body.


This is from the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Prayers by the Lake

Check it out. These prayers are beautiful! I've also been thinking about the following excerpt from Huck Finn. As we meet the protagonist, he is conflicted as to whether he should turn in the slave, Jim, which he believes to be the "right thing to do."

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter - and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The strong call their wishes justice; the weak call their wishes rights; the pious call their wishes truths. - anonymous

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"My religion is like no other."

One of the things I tend to notice Christians doing is trying to make Christianity "completely different" from everything else. I also seem to see some Orthodox Christians trying to do the same thing. There is actually a problem with this way of thinking.

Having something be "completely different" doesn't make it true. In fact, it may indeed lend credence to the idea that it is not true at all. There are many many ways that Christianity is very similar to other religions (and Orthodoxy to the rest of Christianity).

You can't go around basing your faith in Christ on the ability to hang on to a 'difference' between Christianity and something else. It just doesn't work. You have to hang on to Jesus...a living person...who is God. It's the only way.

Here are some examples of how 'Completely Different' thinking works:
  • Some New Agers agree that the kingdom of God is within you. Some scholars, wanting Christianity to be 'completely different' from New Age thought, go to the Greek and decide that it says "among you' instead of 'in you'. Voila. Now we don't agree with the New Agers. However, we are now no longer in agreement with the Fathers.
  • Someone makes a convincing argument as to why religion is bad. We want to be 'completely different' from other religions, so we claim that Christianity is not a religion.
This type of thinking has to stop. First of all, it ends up distorting the faith, because we keep feeling that in order to combat culture, we have to makes changes to the faith itself. Also, it causes us to be failures at evangelism because we end up developing a "view" of other religions and of Christianity that is distorted.

I don't know how many times people from other Christian churches had to correct my thinking when I first got on the internet and actually met people practicing those religions in chat rooms. I thought I had all the answers, having been raised in a smattering of Protestant churches (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Foursquare, non-denominational) and progressing through Roman Catholicism. I found out just how distorted my thinking really was.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil

I recall, back in the day, reading some lyrics to a Stryper song which went something like "To hell with the devil." Later, I worshipped at a church which sang a praise song with a similar theme. I was taught that, though we had authority (given by Christ) over the enemy, that we should also not disrespect him as even St. Michael, when arguing with him over the body of Moses, said, "The Lord rebuke you."

More recently, I've found another thread of though which implies, as the title of this post suggests, that we should have sympathy, even love, for Lucifer. I offer you two quotes, the first from St. Isaac the Syrian and the second from Fr. Romanides (who is quite offensive to Western Christians, for good reason). I covet your thoughts on both, especially the radical (to me) idea that "hell is the lowest form of salvation):
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart that burns with love for the whole creation — for men, for birds, for beasts, for demons and for every creature.

Augustinian Christians, both Vaticanians and Protestants, are literally unbalanced humans, and had been indeed very dangerous up to the French Revolution and are potentially still quite dangerous. They were never capable of understanding that God loves equally both those who are going to hell and those who are going to heaven. God loves even the Devil as much as He loves the saint. "God is the savior of all humans, indeed of the faithful" (1 Tim. 4:10). In other words hell is a form of salvation although the lowest form of it. God loves the Devil and his collaborators but destroys their work by allowing them to remain inoperative in their final "actus purus happiness" like the God of Thomas Aquinas.

You've got to pray just to make it today...

It might be time for a change of pace. It seems like we've reached an impasse on the issues addressed and there's little movement toward a common position. I thought we'd talk about something more constructive. What is the nature and purpose of prayer?

My personal beliefs can be summarized thusly:
  • Prayer is for us more than God. It changes us.
  • Prayer is commanded by God, especially for one another.
The latter is self-explanatory. The former I will unpack a bit. I'll warn you now, this connects to my idea of God as dispassionate fire. Before I begin, I'd like to give my own struggle with prayer. My family used to all pray together every night. Our prayers were, naturally, somewhat childish and conversational: help us with this and that, make Grandma feel better, thanks for letting us go to Chuck E. Cheese, etc.

Always, as a child, I had the belief that talking to God was like talking to an adult. Don't offend Him. Show respect. If you're disrespectful, He'll be mad. Later, I added things (not sure where I got them), like God doesn't want to talk to me if I have unconfessed sin (meaning I have to be moving in the right direction at least) and thinking of my relationship to Him as a marriage. For instance, if I was cheating (and God knows when I'm cheating on Him), it would be bad to talk to my wife as if nothing was happening.

Then, I began to look into Catholicism, especially the Rosary and other devotions as well as the liturgy. I began to see a new dimension to prayer. I learned, through the RCC, of both the corporate and the contemplative types of prayer (this is a WONDERFUL website for rosaries and chaplets). The former seemed more dutiful and the latter more deep. Yet, I still had my hangups, especially the marriage thing.

Finally, I learned about meditative prayer through Orthodoxy in addition to more about contemplative prayer by reading Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. In addition, through Orthodoxy, I began to believe (or understand) that prayer did not affect God in any way. Neglecting it did not anger or sadden Him and practicing it did not make Him happy. Prayer was for me, it changed me, it made me in His image.

So, as you may have guessed, I compartmentalize prayer into four categories:
  • Conversational: We talk to God in a manner similar to other humans. We tell Him our worries, thank Him for His blessings, and intercede for others. The entire process makes us feel closer to God and, especially with intercession, we learn to care for others.
  • Corporate: Corporate prayer is kind of like conversational in that it has the same goals. The main difference is that we do it together. We pray with one voice with those around us, with those who have died and with those yet to be born.
  • Contemplative: This prayer encourages us to contemplate God. In the Rosary we reflect on the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. In the Divine Mercy chaplet we contemplate the Blood of Christ. Brother Lawrence, at all times of the day, deliberately imagined himself in the God's presence.
  • Meditative: This form of prayer is much like Buddhist meditation. However, where Buddhists seek to lose themselves in the cosmos (achieving unity with all by having no self), Christians seek deeper union with God. My three favorite prayers in this vein are:
Ultimately, I now believe that I should pray all the time, especially when I am sinning, because it will give me the strength to live a more holy life.

Friday, February 03, 2006

I AM

I AM the Light in darkness
I AM the Face of Spirit
I AM the humble King
I AM the lowest God
I AM the wealthiest Pauper
I AM the hungry Creator
I AM the Husband of harlots and virgins
I AM the Father of orphans
I AM the Friend of outcasts
I AM the Freedom of prisoners
I AM the peaceful Warrior
I AM the cleansing Blood
I AM the dying Healer
I AM the condemned Judge
I AM the Rebel who is Law
I AM the sentenced Forgiveness
I AM the Betrayed by a kiss
I AM the Forsaken by friends
I AM the Love despised
I AM the living Victim
I AM the Thief of transgression
I AM the Death of death

Thursday, February 02, 2006

As Iron Sharpens Iron

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Candlemas)
From a Sermon of Sophronius, Bishop of Jerusalem (AD 638)

In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.
The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, beloved, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.
Through Simeon's eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.
By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honour.

Canticle of Simeon, Luke's Gospel 2:29-32:
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

The River of Fire

I've referenced the article/essay The River of Fire several times, but I'm not sure anyone but me has read it yet. Pretty much everything I've been saying comes from this article. It rocked my theological world. Might I suggest that those of you who are looking for sources and such from me read it? It might save time, even if you are not convinced by its utter and undeniable truth. :-) I'll tell you now that it is blatantly rude to the West (while I am passively rude) in the introduction. But if you can get past that, and to the core of what it says, it will convey what I'm trying to say better than I can. It is also extremely well referenced.

While you're there:

These really do a much better job of explaining what I'm trying to say that I do. However, I would be very pleased if you were to lift quotes and such from the text and post them here, with your reaction, for discussion.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Quote from St. Isaac of Syria

The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner he bears witness to His justice, accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with goodness! The aim of His design is the correction of men; and if it were not that, we should be stripped of the honour of our free will, perhaps He would not even heal us by
reproof.