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.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Miracle of Carthage

Commemorated on April 28
from Orthodox Saints Vol.02 by George Poulos

The "Miracle of Carthage" is little known. Until recently this miracle has been met with no little furrowing of the brows. However, with the medical evidence supporting the testimony of those who have been "clinically dead," only to be revived and brought back to life, there is no reason to doubt the remarkable incident that took place in the seventh century, a demonstration of the power of the Lord.

This amazing story was not written by some ancient Greek mythologist, but by a venerable ascetic names Anastasios who lived a pious and studious life in the serenity of the Monastery of Saint Catherine's at the base of Mount Sinai. This gifted religious writer made known this remarkable occurrence during the reign of Emperor Heraklios (AD 625) only after careful scrutiny of a tale that still holds ascetics the world over spellbound with its ring of truth as an example of the power of good over evil.

The scene of this divine expression was somewhere near Carthage, the area now known as Tunisia, and concerns a young soldier whose name is unknown. It occurred at a time in which a plague was ravaging the land, causing the young man to flee with his family from a city where thousands either lay dead or were dying. Married but a short time, the young soldier violated one of the commandments by committing adultery in one of the villages where he had paused in flight.

The soldier took ill of the plague very soon after this ugly episode and after lingering between life and death for a brief period, finally succumbed and was hastily buried. Within hours there emanated from the tomb cries for help; and the tomb was opened by an incredulous family who was struck dumb at the awesome sight of a man, presumed dead, who was very much alive—something of a seventh–century Lazaros. There was no trace of the plague; but the soldier, more awe–stricken than any onlooker, could not bring himself to speak and was
attended to by a family so overjoyed at his return from the dead that it mattered little whether he ever uttered a sound.

It was only when Patriarch Thalassios came to see for himself what God had wrought that the soldier found his voice and proceeded to tell the patriarch what had happened. It was a harrowing tale with a happy ending.

The patriarch listened in awe as the young soldier related that following his entombment, his spirit departed from his body in a darkness in which he could only make out the terrifying figure of what he presumed to be a demon coming to escort him to doom. The specter seized the thoroughly frightened spirit of the deceased soldier; but just as he was about to be dragged to the abysmal pit of the condemned, there appeared two white angels of the Lord, presumably the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who interceded so that he might be more properly judged rather than condemned outright.

The soldier was brought before a series of "custom stations," each station representing one of the many sins of man; and at each he was examined. He was found not wanting in any of the station of adultery he was pronounced guilty. At this point the dark powers seemed to step forward to claim the condemned; but the soldier pleaded with the angels for mercy, proclaiming a sincere repentance for a sin which he might very well have duly atoned for had the plague not taken him from the temporal life.

The angels were as one in their forgiveness; and as the powers of darkness vanished into the depths, the forgiven soldier's spirit was returned to his body. It was then that his human life was reasserted and he issued the call for help. This incredible incident had taken place in a span of three hours, but the patriarch could see that in that short span of time the young man had acquired a singleness of purpose. The soldier would make a true repentance on earth for whatever sins he had committed.

The plague had taken its toll on the body; and with the rigors of ascetism and fasting, making further demands on the flesh now know to be less than that of the spirit, the young soldier died. After his death no sound emanated from his tomb; and to this very day, particularly in monasteries where its memory is kept fresh, the saga is a reminder of the triumph of the human spirit.

Orthodox Saints Vol.02 by George Poulos. © Copyright 1991 Holy Cross Orthodox Press

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The First Kontakion on the Resurrection

Death was swallowed up in victory
At Thy resurrection from the dead, O Christ.
Hence, glorying in Thy passion,
And always celebrating it, we rejoice.
With jubilation let us cry out,
“The Lord is risen.”

Once the host of lawless people handed over
Life to the tomb, God to death,
And the One who despoiled Hades to Hades;
With the result that a mortal made mortals immortal,
And One who was dead, at a word, raised up the dead.
They placed guards at the tomb of the One who rules all at His nod.
O the folly of you lawless ones!
If He is dead, have no fear.
If He is alive, pray to Him and cry with us,
“The Lord is risen.”

Encouraged by the senseless plan of the lawless,
The soldiers occupied the tomb,
And an army guarded the King.
Outside of the tomb were soldiers;
Within was war between Christ and Death.
As the former gained strength, the latter lost strength;
The One overpowered those below,
The latter cried out to those below,
“The Lord is risen.”

So while Death was being overpowered,
And while Hades was stirring up a tumult
The guards said, “Now what is the trouble?”
The first watch of the night, those within were quiet;
The second watch, they were at rest;
But on the third watch, they were shaken.
They mourn and rejoice at the same time;
They weep and they cry to one another, “Woe, alas!”
Then, rejoicing, they say to one another, “It is true,
The Lord is risen.”

The earth was shaken by great fear,
And the stone was rolled away from the tomb.
A soldier exclaimed,
“Is not this man who now raises up Adam
And is resurrected, is not He the same one
Whom formerly we guarded on the cross
When all were frightened?
Then He burst rocks apart; now He has moved this stone.
Furthermore, He is the same One
Who has rent the veil and opened the tomb while we were sleeping.
“The Lord is risen.”

For others a stumbling block, for us gain;
For the lawless shame, for us glory;
For them a scourge, for us life.
Because, in truth, the Lord is risen.
Even if those who guard the tomb took money
So that they would willingly keep silent,
The stones themselves will cry out
That without the aid of human hands
This stone cut from the mountain has risen,
Just as once from the womb of the Virgin,
So now from the tomb,
The Lord is risen.

Thou, O Savior, didst come forth unbegotten
From the Virgin’s womb, leaving her virginity unsullied;
Just so now Thou hast abolished Death in death.
Thou hast left in the tomb the fine linen of Joseph,
But Thou hast raised from the tomb the ancestor of Joseph;
For Adam came following Thee; Eve came after Thee,
All the earth is prostrate before Thee
As it sings the song of victory:
“The Lord is risen”

from the First Kontakion on the Resurrection
St. Romanos the Melodist, 6th century

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blood and Mirrors

We are no journeywork of stars,
but star-dross, fallen into despair;
our eyes reflecting, not angels, but dust.

And, our blood runs salt with tears
of God, weeping for his children.

Holy Friday

Through a tree Adam lost his home in Paradise, and through the Tree of the Cross the thief made Paradise his home. For the one, by eating, transgressed the commandment of his Maker; but the other, crucified at Thy side, confessed Thee as the hidden God. Remember us also, Savior, in Thy Kingdom.

For my sake Thou wast crucified, to become for me a fountain of forgiveness. Thy side was pierced, that Thou mightest pour upon me streams of life. Thou wast transfixed with nails, that through the depth of Thy sufferings I might know with certainty the height of Thy power, and cry to Thee O Christ the Giver of Life: O Savior, glory to Thy Cross and to Thy Passion.

When Thou wast crucified, O Christ, all the creation saw and trembled. The foundations of the earth quaked in fear of Thy power. The lights of heaven hid themselves and the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, the mountains trembled and the rocks were split. With the faithful thief we cry: Remember us, O Savior.

O Lord, on the Cross Thou hast torn up the record of our sins; numbered among the departed, Thou hast bound fast the ruler of hell, delivering all men from the chains of death by Thy Resurrection. Through this Thy Resurrection, O Lord who lovest mankind, we have been granted light, and cry to Thee: Remember us also, Savior, in Thy Kingdom.

- from the Stichera at Matins of Holy and Great Friday

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fundamentalism vs. Evangelicalism

Somebody sent me this quote from John Shelby Spong:
Neither evangelicals nor fundamentalists have yet discovered the critical biblical scholarship that has graced the western world for at least the last 200 years. When I last was on a television program with Albert Mohler, it was painfully obvious that he was not in touch with any of the contemporary biblical scholarship of the past century. Both camps seem to me to operate with pre-modern images of the universe as well as God. Evangelicals and fundamentalists like to call themselves conservative Christians, as if there is something called conservative or liberal scholarship. There isn't. There is just competent and incompetent scholarship.

To call ignorance 'conservative' is a clever ploy, since conservatism is a legitimate political perspective, but that word does not translate well into religious categories. My sense is that the difference between those who call themselves "conservative" Christians and those they call "liberal" Christians is more about being open or closed to ongoing truth than it is about anything else. J. B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled, "Your God is Too Small." That is the peril into which I fear both evangelicals and fundamentalists fall.

Deep down I find that almost every person seeks security in some form of literalism or unchanging certainty, both in religion and politics. I find little difference between those politicians who talk about 'strict construction of the constitution' and those preachers who talk about the Bible as 'the inerrant word of God.' Perhaps it is fair to say that evangelicals draw the line at what must be viewed literally a tiny bit more loosely than do fundamentalists.

The difference, however, is very, very small. For example some people are literal about Adam and Eve; some about the Virgin Birth; and some about the physical Resurrection. I do not believe that any prepositional statement about God can be literally true. I think people should take the Bible seriously but never literally. Literalism is finally and always idolatry. Someday, all Christians will recognize that.
This was my response:
I received this very quote in my periodic e-mail from Spong. I find myself having mixed reactions. On the one hand, I agree that the interpretation of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are not only similar, but are also wrong-minded. I understand, however, their fear. They (and many others) need an ultimate authority to which they can appeal, something tangible. Some have popes, some have councils, and some have the Bible.

The problem with Spong is that he, too, has an authority to which he appeals ... modernity and scholarship. He is willing to drop any belief or make any statement if only he can back himself up with the proper authorities. He, like everyone else, suffers from that most insidious of logical fallacies, the appeal to authority.

The Church appeals to no authority but itself, because that is where Christ gave His authority. The Bible is authoritative inasmuch as it is a product of and affirmed by the Church. The Pope, and other bishops, are only authoritative inasmuch as they are part of the Church. Same with the councils. It is us, together, who are the authority.

That's a scary thing. We want something to which we can point. We don't trust each other. We want to be able to argue using something outside ourselves. But that is not how the Body of Christ works.

Spong, like all other fundamentalists, is wrong.

A question of ethics

First, thanks for both of your responses re: Eriugena. I think you both explained it about the best possible given our meat-brain capacities. Or incapacities. Whatever. I think, as Aaron said, the problem comes when we define God as "infinite" which would mean that all things are of Him. That is why Eriugena (and you) said "nothing" would be a better term.

Moving on, I was preparing my lesson on WWII and came across this bit of info about Bonhoeffer. He said that ethics is determined by two things:
  1. The need of one's neighbor
  2. The model of Jesus of Nazareth.
There are no other guides, since Bonhoeffer denies that we can have knowledge of good and evil. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hymn of Love

This is another attempt to render a Coptic prayer singable. It comes from St. Cyril of Alexandria. I heard it sung to the same tune as Conditor Alme Siderum in my head.

O God of Love, O God of Love
You gave to us a new command
That even as you gave us Love
We give ourselves to all of man.

The Love you gave us was Your Son
The One Begotten of You, He
Our life and our salvation won.
May we give of ourselves as free.

Though sinful servants, we request
Through all the struggles of our days
A mind forgetful of the past
A heart to love all, and your ways.


Prayer for Love
From Coptic liturgy of Saint Cyril, Fifth century

O God of love, who gave us a commandment that we should love one another,
even as you loved us and gave your beloved son for our life and salvation;
we pray you to give us, your servants, in all times of our life on the earth,
a mind forgetful of past ill-will, and a heart to love our brothers and sisters.