Well over a decade ago I encountered a man who was rejecting the Church (though he was not a parishioner of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church which I serve as an assisting priest). He quoted a verse from St. Luke’s gospel to justify his departure from the Church. The verse that was shoved in my face comes from St. Luke 17:21, “…The Kingdom of God is within you.” Knowing Greek I tried to offer a correction to his misapplied verse. It did not work. Justifying himself he left the life of the Church and will not return. His conviction was that since the Kingdom of God was within him he needed no one to instruct him, and had no need to follow the ways of Christ within the context of the sacramental life and teachings of the Church. He wanted spiritual autonomy simply because he wanted to continue in an adulterous affair.
This verse from St. Luke’s gospel has been and is misused by many to justify many things — none of them come to any good. With this posting I offer a much better translation and interpretation of St. Luke 17:21. Let’s begin with the context. Jesus has gathered around him both Pharisees and his disciples: he is in the midst of this gathering. Given this setting we read this,
Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ Behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst (he basileia tou theou entos humon estin).
In the fifth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, we learn about the calling of St. Peter (along with Sts. James and John) in Luke 5: 1 – 11. Upon witnessing the miraculous catch of fish, Peter falls at Jesus knees and states, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you’ll be catching men.” Then Peter, James, and John leave everything and begin to follow Christ.
Thus, St. Peter and all the Apostles were to gather together a scattered, lost humanity into the “boat” (nave) which is the Church. This is a picture of Recapitulation: all and all things are gathered into union with Christ (Eph 1: 9 – 10). Christ founded a Church built upon St. Peter and his confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt: 16: 15 – 20). It is in the Church that we hear the Scriptures, move through the liturgies of the Church, worship God, and participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Here we are cleansed and nourished by the Eucharist. By all this, by faith, Christ is formed in us.
Now comes a change of imagery. I will shift from the catching of schools of fish to the gathering together of charms of finches, murders of crows, and the gathering together of chickadees, nuthatches, pine siskins, and humming birds to name a few. Several years ago I began feeding birds. First I began feeding crows peanuts, then humming birds, and finally finches, and other birds that will gather at feeders. There are a number of bird feeders and bird baths around the back patio of our house. The birds are nourished, and many nesting groups are prospering in this environment (this is especially important today with the loss of habitat for many avian species). We now hear a fantastic array of voices, and observe their amusing behaviors.
But, unfortunately, there have been a small number of casualties when a bird slams into a window. A few days ago in mid-September, a gold finch was rescued. The finch slammed into the window, and I witnessed it dropping to the concrete. I immediately went outside to assess the situation. The finch was still alive, but clearly stunned by the impact. I picked up this member of my “flock” and cupped it in my hands to keep it warm. Prayers were said, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on your creature.” Its sides were gently stroked to stimulate it. Prayer and warming continued for some time. Then, I took the finch into the house. The alien surroundings aroused the bird to full consciousness. I took it back outside, and within a few moments the finch flew away from my hands to the branches of a walnut tree to rejoin its charm.
This finch happened to be rescued by a priest, and this experience soon began to be seen as an image of pastoral care. For, we too can become injured and stunned by our collisions with the events of life in this world. Upon such injuries we have two options: remain isolated, or enter into the care of the Church for spiritual revival. In the Church the injured come into the care of bishops and priests who stand as Christ for the flock — a bishop or a priest is alter Christus (“another Christ”). By such faithful and loving ministry, it is ultimately Christ who administers the needed healing within the Church which he founded.
Hence, when so injured and stunned do not isolate yourself. Come to the Church and be ministered to by its life and Sacraments. Thus, you will receive the healing care of Christ the Great Physician. You will be restored and return to flight!
The following link offers a corresponding homily:
The birth of Mary is celebrated every year on September 8. A hymn from the Liturgy of the day reads,
By your nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna [Mary’s parents] are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, you people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: the barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life!
Given the words of that hymn, the world, and many of our Christian brethren must think us fools and mad! But, we Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of Mary, the mother of our God, without apology and with confidence. We honor her, we do not worship her. We acknowledge her as the New Eve: her obedience in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel releases the knot of Eve’s disobedience. By Mary’s obedience, God the Son (who is the New Adam) can rescue, release, and save all of humanity. By Mary’s “YES”, God becomes fully human — a creature — and by his Incarnation gathers all of humanity and all of creation in himself in a relational union (Eph 1: 10)!
Psalm 84:1 – 3 (LXX 83: 1 – 4) reads,
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars.”
Regarding the sparrow and the swallow, the Psalmist’s observation may be taken as a side observation, taken at a glance and to be dismissed by those with the more serious mind of faith. This would prove to be an error. This “off hand” verse comes from the eye of informed, mature, and loving faith.
I named a palm tree (Big Leaf), and have spoken to it on more than one occasion. Wait! Please, wait! Don’t send for the “nice men” quite yet! Please, read this posting before you make the call.
This “insanity” all happened one Wednesday morning while on vacation in Mazatlan, Mexico’s Emerald Bay resort. I had finished an abbreviated Matins (Orthos) on the balcony overlooking a gorgeous infinity pool and the Pacific Ocean. I then began reading Psalm 84 (LXX 83). There was a steady breeze off the ocean which moved a broad, tough leaf of a palm tree between the spokes of the balcony’s railing. The large leaf was moved to the left, to the right, but always paused in a middle position in front of me before the back and forth motion resumed. I read this, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God (Ps 84: 3)” I thought of God’s care and love for all of his creation, and that as Christians we are to care for, and bring dignity and blessing to every creature.
Christian salvation is far more than a juridical proclamation of innocence: it is relational. Our salvation is an ontological union with the Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. This union with Christ imparts to us our destiny in Christ. St. Paul writes of our union in Christ:
Therefore, if you were raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Think of the things above, not upon the things on earth. For you died [together with Christ] and your life has been hidden together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, who is your life, might be revealed, then also you will be revealed together with him in glory (Col 3: 1 – 4).
Our lives are to correspond to this reality, and we are to “Put to death, therefore, the ‘earthly’ aspects of your life: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). This list is not limited to these sins — St. Paul expects us to get the idea.
We are to have an additional response which requires positive action. As we are to eliminate corrupting habits, we also are to acquire new habits, new virtues:
Therefore, clothe yourselves, as the elect of God holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfection. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you were called in one body. And become thankful (Col 3: 12 – 15).
In his epistle (letter) to the Church in Galatians, St. Paul writes,
But knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we believed in Christ Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law, because by works of the Law no flesh is justified (Gal 2: 16).
Here, St. Paul writes of the Mosaic Law — the Law given to Moses by God in the Sinai wilderness. This Law helped define the Jewish people, and set them apart from their Gentile counterparts. However, through much of his ministry St. Paul battled the Judaizers. These were Jews who came to faith in Christ, but insisted Gentile converts to Christ become subject to the Mosaic Law, chiefly circumcision. In brief, St. Paul countered their argument by stating, “if you Jews cannot keep the Law, why do you want to impose it upon Gentiles?”
“Oh! Who can be ever tired of Bath?”, writes Jane Austen. I think I get it. The highlight of a recent vacation in August, 2017 to the UK and Ireland was hands down Bath, England. Bath is some distance west and a bit to the south from London. Prior to my time in this city, I knew Bath for its famous Roman Baths, its cathedral, the lovely Avon River, and of course, Jane Austen (and, yes, there is a Jane Austen museum). I had seen photos and videos of all the above, its Georgian architecture, and surrounding countryside, but nothing compared to the actual experience of three days in the city.
This Sunday’s gospel reading comes from St. Matthew 4: 18 – 23. Here, Jesus calls his first disciples: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John. All four men were by occupation fishermen. Our Lord calls them as we read in Mt 4: 19 – 22:
And he says to them [Peter and Andrew], “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother in the boat with their father Zebedee repairing their nets, and he called them. And they immediately left their boat and father and followed him.
These and the other Apostles, and the whole cohort of Jesus’ first disciples, became fishers of men. Their apostolic ministry gathered Jews and Gentiles alike to Christ, that all may be in Christ, and all may exist in the Ship, the Nave, which is the Church. And it is in this Ship that we are transformed into the image of Christ. (It is interesting to note that though we are likened to fish, yet we are to become like the Fish — the Ixthus — the Greek word for fish which became an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”)
Fishing can be a wonderful past-time. It can also be frustrating. Though getting “skunked” presents its disappointment, nothing is more frustrating than the inexplicable, insoluble, and massive knot that can come off the bail. There is no time to undo the undoable. You cut, retie as quickly as possible, and cast again. Fortunately, God has patience with such messes.
The Fall produced its own insoluble knot. Pride, deceit, disobedience, cowardice, and capitulation destroyed the simplicity and clarity of the Garden. The “No!” shouted out by our first parents drew all of humanity and all of creation into the massive tangle of the knot of sin, death, darkness, and alienation. All of human history existed in this tangle of misery. However, we weren’t left in this twisted prison: “But when the fulness of time came, God sent his Son, born from woman…” (Gal 4: 4).
I am told I come from Irish and Welsh ancestry. These ancestors likely fled to America to escape famine and poverty. Thus, with the last name of Williams, I have no reason to doubt the claim. I do recall two very ancient great aunts who were from Ireland visiting my father’s and uncles when I was a small child. They spoke an unintelligible form of English, and they scared me quite a bit. Yet, I never thought that much of my Irish/Welsh heritage until much later in life — not until my theological conversion from evangelicalism to all things catholic, and then becoming an Orthodox Christian and priest — was any importance realized. This posting is not much more than a sharing of my photos, experiences, and thoughts of too short a time in that lovely country.
During late August, 2017, my wife (Janice), my cousin (Charlie), his wife (Renee), and their daughter (Charlene), and I were in our final days of a wonderful vacation to England, Wales, and Ireland. Our first experience of Ireland was in the wonderful city of Dublin. I was coming down with a head cold whose grip began to be felt while flying from Glasgow to Dublin — some of my energies were spent concocting the perfect “cocktail” of prednisone, decongestants, and antihistamines (no worries…I am also a pharmacist!). However, the remaining energies were devoted to our Irish experience.
St. Gregory was born in Constantinople in the year 1296. He was born to an aristocratic family. His father was in service to Emperor Andronicus II Paleologos. His father died while Gregory was relatively young, and is then raised by the Emperor. His intelligence and abilities were recognized, and he received the finest education available to him. Though the Emperor hoped Gregory would serve his government, the young man desired to serve Christ instead. His monastic life began when he was about 20 years old on Mt. Athos at the monastery of Vatopedi.
His monastic disciplines grew at various monasteries under a variety of teachers, as did his spirit in Christ. Then, in 1326, he and other brothers escaped Turkish invasion and fled to Thessalonica where he was ordained a priest. After some time, he gathered together a small community near the city. In 1331 he returned to Mt Athos and began to write theological works (he was in his mid-thirties). During this decade all changed for Gregory.
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.”
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
As 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!