A New Creation, Recapitulation, and Lazarus

November 5, 2017 marks the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. This Sunday I have the blessing and joy to serve Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Spokane, Washington. This wonderful parish is pastored by Fr. Andrew Welzig, who was away to California to attend a wedding. The epistle reading comes from Galatians 6: 11 – 18. I emphasize two verses,

May it not be for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world was crucified to me and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor is uncircumsion, but only a new creation (Gal 6: 14 – 15).

St. Paul is dead to the world system, and the world system is dead to him. He knows of a new reality, a new existence, and he knows of a new creation. He knows of a new life of which is has life — life in Christ, and Christ alive in him. We read from Galatians 2: 20, “I was co-crucified with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” St. Paul’s natural life is no more. He is a new man, a new creature, who now is alive to Christ who imparts his life to him, and exists within him.

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By Faith Alone! Really???

Martin Luther

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses against the contemporary expression of the Roman Catholic Church. Granted, many of his objections were justified, but Luther could not maintain control of the forces of the Reformation. Because of other radical personalities of the day, the consequences of his actions — ultimately — led not to a reformation, but a deformation of the Christian faith.

The resulting theological assumptions of the Reformation include, among others, Sola Fide (meaning justification/salvation by faith alone). In this posting I will only discuss “by faith alone.”

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“The Only Living Boy in New York” — Here I Am

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

“The Only Living Boy in New York” is my favorite song by Simon and Garfunkel. It was one of their final songs as a duo being recorded in late 1969. Its origin comes from Art Garfunkel’s departure from New York to Mexico to film “Catch 22” (“Tom, get your plane ride on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico…”).  It is a great acoustic guitar song, with wonderful melody and lush vocals. The song’s bridge in its final presentation is fantastic fun to play, but it’s the lyrics of the bridge that win my attention:

“Half of the time we’re gone / But we don’t know where / And we don’t know where.”

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Henry Walpole: English Martyr and Saint, and Model for Our Day

The Tower of London. It has quite a name. It is quite a place. From it you see the London Bridge and the Thames and a great deal of modern, bustling London. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist destination. However, its name for most denotes imprisonment, pain, and death. That was not its initial purpose. It was built to show the wealth and power of William the Conquerer. In actuality, few met their deaths within its walls, but it did serve as a prison and a very dark place for many. Among those imprisoned and tortured in the Tower was St. Henry Walpole.

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The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain: Life Intersects Death

In the gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, we read of the raising of the only son of a widow in a town called Nain. It is interesting to note that we read of two processing groups of people. These processions contrast greatly.

The first procession is led by and centers around Jesus — he, his disciples, and a great crowd are moving to Nain. This procession is a procession of life and light. The second and contrasting procession is led by those bearing the dead body of the only son of a widow. This procession is one of death: they are bearing this young man to his grave. His mother, a widow, faces a “death of destitution” now that she has no support in life. The widow who conceived her son in the hidden, dark stillness of her womb now delivers him to the hidden, dark stillness of his tomb. (That tomb, though, will serve as a second “womb” in another day when he dies again. From this “womb” he will emerge in the new, eternal life of the resurrection.)

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The Dogs of Keswick

“Pub Poodle”

Keswick, England is a beautiful town in northwestern England — in the Lakes District. My wife and I (together with my cousin and his wife) arrived via a bus ride into the heart of its market district. We stepped into dog central where the canine population that day nearly equalled the human population. I love dogs and a smile spread across my face. We spent three too short days in this lovely town, and a great deal of my time was spent watching the dogs and their interactions with their humans. I’m no longer a girl watcher — long gone are those days — only gets one into trouble. People watching? Equally problematic. But dog watching? That’s where it’s at, and it’s a wonderful way to get to know the people who love their dogs.
This is clearly a self-indulgent posting (but isn’t that what blogging is all about?).  I hope you enjoy the photos taken of the dogs of Keswick!

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Chistus Victor – A Primer (Part Three)

RECAPITULATION

Within the salvific model of Christus Victor there is the wonderful concept, or better, aspect of recapitulation. Since this posting is part three of a primer of Christus Victor, let me move immediately to the New Testament, specifically St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Having declared to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he intended for him [Christ], for the purpose of the fulness of time: to gather together all things [anakephalaiosasthai ta panta] in Christ, those things in the heavens, and those things on earth (Eph 1: 9 – 10).

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Christus Victor — A Primer (Part Two)

A REVERSAL OF MISFORTUNES (STEP BY STEP)

Icon of the Annunciation

STEP ONE: We must have a different spiritual being who approaches the woman — one who is holy and truthful. The following New Testament passages come from St. Luke’s Gospel:

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee by the name of Nazareth towards a virgin having been betrothed to a man by the name of Joseph from the House of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. And upon approaching her he said, “Greetings, one-having-been-graced, the Lord is with you (Luke 1: 26 – 28).

Gabriel, unlike the serpent of old, does not deceive. He clearly declares his message:

And the angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, for you shall conceive, and the Son born of you will name Jesus. He shall be great and be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David. And he shall rule over the House of David forever and his Kingdom shall not end (Luke 1: 30 – 33).

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Christus Victor – A Primer (Part One)

INTRODUCTION

Anselm of Canterbury

Cur Deus Homo? , or, “why did God become man?” This is the historic question asked by Anselm of Canterbury. In answering this question, he set forth the typical western, and has arguably become the dominant Protestant, view of salvation. By extension, his answer puts forward the typical (again dominant Protestant) view of salvation — substitutionary atonement. Here, God the Son became human to satisfy the Father’s just demand for satisfaction for humanity’s rebellion against his will. God the Father pours out his wrath against humanity on his Son — Jesus dies a horrid death and the Father is satisfied. From this humanity’s sin debt is paid by Christ, and we are in a legal right standing with God the Father — we have peace with God. To the Eastern Church, this is foreign, and somewhat repugnant. As a historic, and ancient, alternative the Eastern Church puts forth the model of salvation known as Christus Victor. A primer is set forth in the following postings.

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Watership Down Character: Blackavar

Blackavar

In Chapter 35 of Watership Down, “Groping,” Bigwig has infiltrated the Soviet-style Efrafan warren, and makes this observation of its inhabitants: “…never in his life had he seen such a cheerless, dispirited lot of rabbits.” Due to the oppressive rule of General Woundwort the warren was in decline, and Bigwig observes a disfigured rabbit. Adams gives this description:

This rabbit had very dark fur — almost black. But this was not the most remarkable thing about him. He was dreadfully mutilated. His ears were nothing but shapeless shreds, ragged at the edges, seamed with ill-knit scars and beaded here and there with lumps of proud, bare flesh. One eye-lid was misshapen and closed askew. Despite the cool, exciting air of the July evening, he seemed apathetic and torpid. He kept his gaze fixed on the ground and blinked continually. After a time he lowered his head and rubbed his nose on his forepaws in a listless manner. Then he scratched his neck and settled down in his former drooping position.

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“Wigglin’ O’ The Puppy” — A Fun Song

Albert as a puppy

My wife and I have five dogs: two males and three females. They are a small mixed breed — a blend of Bichon and Havanese. Though small, they have big hearts and personalities. They’re active. They have the run of our three acres, where they dig, run, and chase both squirrels, and an occasional rabbit (though both species always outrun them). We’re also “back yard” breeders with the dogs. The joy is not only to see the puppies when they are born, nurse, and grow, but to see the joy they bring to those who buy them. We continually receive photos of their now grown dogs as they have grown and enriched their lives.

Shortly after the births of our first litters, I composed the following poem, setting it to a tune that popped into my head (what I think is a traditional Irish / Scottish folk tune, or something like a sea chanty). It is entitled “The wigglin’ O’ The Puppy.” I hope it brings about a smile and a chuckle!

The Wigglin’ O’ The Puppy (Key of G)

……………G.                                                 C.
Oh, the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin o’ the tail,
G                                                   D                       D7
For their cute black noses an ocean I would sail,
G.                                                           C.
And for their sweet puppy kisses a mountain I would scale,
…………….G.                                                  D              D7        G
Oh, the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

Chorus:
………………G.                                  C
Oh, they love to play and they love to bark.
……………….G.                                                          D.             D7
And they love to chase squirrels when they go to the park.
………………G.                                               C
And they cock their heads when they hear this reel
…………G.                                                  D            D7        G
O’ the wigglin’ of the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

Oh, the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!
In spite of all the cuteness there’s a dark side to my tale
And to overcome the terror I must be heart n’ hale!
Oh, the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

Oh, they love to play and they love to bark.
And they love to chase squirrels when they go to the park.
And they cock their heads when they hear this reel
O’ the wigglin’ of the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

Oh, the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail,
O’er the peein’ and poohin’ I someday will prevail,
But now in their wake of ruin, I can only wail
At the wigglin’ o’ the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

………………G.                                    C
Oh, they love to play and they love to bark.
……………….G.                                                           D             D7
And they love to chase squirrels when they go to the park.
………………G.                                               C               C7
And they cock their heads when they hear this reel
G.
O’ the wigglin’ of the puppy…
……………………………………………………………D.           C        G
O’ the wigglin’ of the puppy and the waggin’ o’ the tail!

Albert grown up

Yours,
Fr. Irenaeus


Sunday of the Man Born Blind: God’s Work Manifested

The Sixth Sunday of Pascha gives to the Church the account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In this Sunday’s gospel reading (John 9: 1 – 38), Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned that he was born blind. Was it the parents or the man? Jesus answers, “Neither this one nor his parents sinned.” Our Lord gives the ultimate answer: “[He was born blind] in order that the works of God might be manifested in him” (John 9: 3). This is an astounding answer, and it should speak volumes to us as we move through the difficulties of our lives.

We have asked this question, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” We have heard others ask the question as well. The common, unthinking — usually unspoken — answer is “I don’t know.” But, it reveals more of the person when an addendum is added to the question: “Why didn’t this happen to someone else?” To this question the answer is, “To whom would you have this happen? To whom would you wish your misfortune?” No one wants difficulties, hardships, misfortunes, or suffering. But, though unwanted, they come our way and mess up our happy lives. Thus, when the question is asked, “Why me?”, let our answer be, “In order that the work of God might be manifested in me!” When we give this answer, we answer in faith. Further, we bring to life St. Paul’s teaching: “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5: 16 – 18). With this answer and purpose in mind, I wish to offer this understanding of this day’s gospel.

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SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC (FOURTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA)

Prior to today’s theme, we have read of the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection: the apostle St. Thomas, and then the myrrh bearing women. These two Sundays’ themes declare to us the fact of the resurrection. Today’s theme is quite different: we are asked to confront the weaknesses and sins which remain in our lives in light of our Lord’s resurrection. This day, we return to a lenten-like consciousness to bring our lives in line with Christ’s light and life.

The gospel reading comes from John 5: 1 – 15. We have a description of the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem, and we are informed the pool was surrounded by the ill, the blind, the paralyzed, and the crippled. They all waited for the pool’s water to be “disturbed” by an angel: the first one in upon the disturbance was cured. Among those near the pool was a paralytic who “was ill for 38 years.” Jesus approaches the man (whose name is not given) and asks him: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5: 6). This man then explains his dilemma: “I have no man that could cast me into the pool when the water is disturbed. While I am going another descends into the pool before me” (John 5: 7). Jesus then acts to heal him apart from the pool’s water. “Jesus says to him, ‘arise, take up you mat and walk.’ And immediately the man became healed and took up his mat and walked” (John 5: 8 – 9).

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Thomas Sunday: Believing Without Seeing

The Agape Vespers,  which close the first day of the Feast of Feasts, put forward the Gospel reading of John 20: 19 – 25. In this passage, Jesus appears to the disciples in  his glorified body. He commissions them as his apostles, exhales the Holy Spirit to them, and then is gone. Thomas was absent. Upon his return the others declare to him their experience, and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. But, Thomas doubts: “Unless I cast my finger into the nail wholes in his hands, and cast my hand into his side [wound from the roman’s spear], I shall not believe” (John 20: 25). His doubts will last only another week:

And after eight days his disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. While the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Place your finger here and behold my hands and cast you hand into my side, and do not be faithless, but faithful!” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 26 – 28).

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Joy, Gratitude, and Trust: A Priest’s Reflections on Psalm 15 (MT 16)

Joy, gratitude (or thankfulness), and trust are attitudes of faith. These are not optional, but are essential. By the exercise of these attitudes, they are strengthened within our lives and become attributes. By such exercise, faith is increased in our lives. The exercise of these attitudes also leads to deeper prayer, charity, and discipline, and other virtues of our faith. Psalm 15, according to the Septuagint accounting of the Psalms, Psalm 16 by the Masoretic accounting (common in western traditions), is an inspired declaration of joy, gratitude and trust.

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Forgiveness Sunday

When the Church comes to Forgiveness Sunday, she is at the very threshold of Lent. Lent begins the next day, and we then walk in its themes, hymns, and preparations for the coming glorious day of Pascha. During the weeks of Lent, we are not to be grumbling about its disciplines. Even more, we are not to be gloomy and downcast. No, we are to engage Lent with a joyful, thankful energy. Why? Because we are to engage these weeks working with the Holy Spirit that we might be revived spiritually.

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Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son is the second pre-Lenten Sunday. The gospel reading for the day, is of course, from St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ parable. This parable is well known — even among those who embrace secularism and have never heard from, or read from, the Scriptures.

images-29As we all know, a father’s youngest, selfish, and ungrateful son shockingly asks his father for his portion of his inheritance while his father is still alive. The father agrees and gives it to this son. The son of course leaves for a distant country where he squanders his wealth in immoral living. He comes to poverty, and a famine hits this land. He is forced to the despicable role of tending swine. He awakens to his condition and repents. He plans to return to his father, family, and home, but as a hireling — he is no longer worthy of sonship. His rehearsed confession before his father is composed, “I have sinned before heaven, and before you!” He journeys home in shame. However, his father graciously embraces his repentant son. The son is clothed, welcomed, and feasted back into the company of the family — as a son! All is forgiven, and all is restored!

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Guitar Review: Yamaha LL-TA (TransAcoustic)

I love acoustic guitars. There’s a T-shirt that sums it up for me. It reads, “Love one woman, many guitars.” I think I just fell in love today with a guitar I met at Tacoma’s, if not western Washington’s, best music store: Ted Brown Music. A sales associate named Steve introduced me to Yamaha’s new LL-TA dreadnought. OK, so it may only be infatuation, but let me tell you about this guitar.

img_0635Honestly, I haven’t cared for the vast majority of the Yamahas I’ve played. Several years ago I picked up a LL bodied 12-string, and immediately put it back — stiff and lifeless. However, I have truly appreciated their A Series dreadnoughts. This Yamaha dreadnought caught my eye. I pulled it off its wall mount and began playing the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” I was impressed by the easy playability, and its very open, clear, and pleasant tone. Steve saw my attention and informed me of its truly unique and incredibly innovative electronic feature: in-built chorusing and reverb! Unplugged you are able to access reverb and chorusing! The TA stands for Trans Acoustic — it is self-amplified, or better, self-effected. Wow! Then, after Steve set up a bass amp (YES, a Fender Rumble 500 watt head and cab) this feature came alive like no other acoustic-electric I own, or have ever played! Wow, and wow! In this new universe, the Kinks’ “Village Green,” the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” and “Norwegian Wood” — songs I’ve played for years — sounded completely new to me. Wow, wow, and wow!

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Watership Down: Its Biblical Parallels and Allusions

Whether it’s literature, music, cinema, or anything creative, I view the work and critique it through a theological lens. Richard Adams’ wonderful book, Watership Down receives the same treatment. I have written of the spiritual dimensions of the characters in earlier postings, e.g. Hazel, Bigwig, and Lord El-ahrairah. While reading through the book’s pages I noted many times the biblical parallels that Adams places in his first work. In this posting there will be a few examples of biblical references, or allusions. The mythology and primitive religion in this novel has no direct correspondence to Christianity — Adams does not write an allegory. In fact, Adams has stated in interviews that he intended no spiritual or religious theme to be in the book. But, again, parallels and allusions are found — and with some you would have to be a bit myopic not to see them.

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Mary’s Christmas Offering

nativity-iconIn the Orthodox Church Christmas is also known the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Rightly, we focus on our Lord’s birth. Rightly, we celebrate the birth of God in human flesh. The other person of note is Christ’s mother, Mary. In the Church’s theology she is called Theotokos, meaning Bearer of God. She gave birth to God because God took flesh from her.
St. Luke gives us the birth narrative:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled…And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she bore her firstborn son, and she clothed him and laid him to bed in a feeding trough (Luke 2: 1, 3, 4, 6 – 7).

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