Monday, October 21, 2002

How Do I Love Thee...

Well, I've been doing some thinking on something that perhaps I've always sorta known internally, but never really thought through in a concrete manner. Love is something learned. We live in world now, however, where it is rarely taught. Is it any wonder that we have SOOOO many crazy notions of love floating around? Is it any wonder that we often end up doing harm in the name of love? We must begin to RElearn what it means to love. Notice that it is a verb. It means action and not merely a state of being. That is as good a place as any to start.

If love is an action, then it can only be learned through example, and not just conceptually. We cannot learn love intellectually of rationally. It cannot be described in those terms. It must be experienced to be known. It has to happen to us. It has to affect and change us to be recognized. I think this is a large part of why so many in evangelical circles walk away unchanged in church. This is not to say they have no concept of love at all. I am in no way saying they are devoid of love. Rather, our western culture has frequently denigrated love to an intellectual concept, and the western church has forgotten what it means to be fully loved. I do not say they heave rejected it; they have not known it's fullness to reject. They are part of a system that rejects the Biblical notion of the Body of Christ. For lack of a better way of putting it, they don't know any better. My heart truly breaks for them, as I too did not know any better, and it was only when someone, my dear brother James pointed out the truth to me, that I came to understand more clearly. I understand the anguish in Paul's words "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14) This was not mere rhetoric, this was his life, to bring the truth of the transforming love of God in it's fullness to the world.

True love transforms that which is unloving. In the presence of love, we are inspired to new heights, to accomplish the previously unachievable. This is what happens to us when we come into the presence of Almighty God in worship. We come into the presence of the unknowable. We, in our finite minds, cannot know the essence of God. It is completely other to us. What we can know is his energies, his expressions of himself to us. So while God is love, He also expresses himself in love.

So now I ask myself, how does God express Himself? Does he come down and speak directly into our ears? Perhaps, but not usually, but would we know his voice if He did? Does he write us letters that deal directly with what we are going through, a sort of "not quite audible voice"? Some would argue that this is what the scriptures are; God writing letters directly to us. But in all honesty, they aren't "to us" in any but the loosest sense of the word, us the CHURCH. It is in the Church that we know we can truly trust God's voice. Sure, God may speak to us otherwise, but how do we know we can trust it? How do we know it's His voice?

But that is only tangential to what I'm really driving at here. God's greatest expression of his Character to us is his love. But by what means do we know his love? If His love is so much greater than our own, how do we begin to know and then reflect His love? I had an epiphany of sorts the other night. Cybil and I had finished our evening prayers, and I went outside to have a smoke. I was thinking and marveling at the beautifully pure love that came through in her prayers. So much compassion, so much humility, and genuine desire for the salvation of others, to the point of giving up of herself. I came to know love in a way I had not known before. I can't really place my hand on it, or put it to words. But inside, I knew the reality of it. It affected me, changed me. The love of God was new and fresh to me. In effect, I learned something of God's energies, his character, from my wife-to-be. God was revealed to me through her. I learned that I can only fully know His love through those who have experienced it, who can affect me in the ways that they have been affected.

Someone once told me I might be the only Christ someone will ever know. Lord have mercy on them if this is so. My understanding of the Love of God is so narrow and weak, that I wonder if they would even see Christ in me at all. But put my little bit in with that of Cybil's, and there is something more. Add that experience to that of the rest of my Parish, and we have something even greater. In western Christianity, the understanding of the Body of Christ is all but lost. It has been denigrated to being some "invisible" concept that has no tangible meaning to the believer. Gone is the idea that we are LITERALLY connected to Christ the head. He is the head, and we are the Body. It is in this connection that we truly know the love of God. It is in this connection that we see in part what we will someday know in full. It was in the prayers of my precious Cybil that I came to experience the love of God in a new way. It is in the intimate communion of all the Saints, that we begin to grasp what is so clearly beyond our individual selves. We are not just a collection of individual believers; we are the Body of Christ.

We cannot know God in his essence, but we can in how He expresses Himself, which He did perfectly in His Son. We are the Bride of that same Son. He is our head, who loves us. We know His love as we begin to love ourselves, in the manner in which we were created. Man was not created to be alone. We were designed to need others. Let us begin to BE that spotless virgin bride. Let us put aside our petty cares, and submit ourselves to the Church (and through that to Christ the Head), that we will fully be able to become what we were created for, that we might know in it's fullest, the love of God.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

On Bishops and Conciliarity

Well, it's been over a week, and I apologize to all three of you who actually care enough to see what's up in my life for the absence. I've been quite busy with school, anthropology to be specific. Now on to the interesting stuff.

We had the distinct pleasure of welcoming to our Parish the missionary Bishop of Ghana. WOW. It was overwhelming to be in the presence of such a Godly, loving man. His stories of utter faith and dependence on God, his passion for the people of Africa, his willingness to go and do whatever his calling requires, and his utter humility, all of these were truly inspiring. It gives me hope that perhaps someday I will be saved from my own wretchedness.

It has been inspiring to me in many ways. A friend of mine recalled to me a qoute he overheard once. "All bishops should be locked up in a closet and only let out for confirmations and ordinations." I admit to formerly having these kinds of misgivings about Bishops. I recall, during an Episcopal visit from the Bishop of my former Anglican church, sitting down and listening to the two Bishops complain about other Bishops. Undoubtedly, they were frustrated with the liberal tendencies they saw in these other men. But isn't that the problem with the Protestant paradigm that has effectively done away with the authority of the Church?...with a paradigm that in its very essence is founded in schism? How can there be any uniformity of faith or doctrine, when any bishop who doesn't agree with his church, can do just what the founders of his church did...schism.

Gone is the importance of conciliar love, working through the issues in order to maintain uniformity of faith and practice. This is the sad state of Western Christianity. Please understand, I do not say these things in pride, but in true sadness. There are a great many Anglicans who really desire a united church. But I fear that the western ideal of "come out and be separate" in order to achieve "right doctrine" prevails there. Even the nature of the Eucharist isn't always certain, and in fact was the reason for the schism of my former denomination. Sadly, this has historically tended to be par for the course. As I said, I truly ache for the conservative Anglicans, as this was where I come from. While I pray for them to return home to Orthodoxy, I know it will be a hard road to travel, because historically it seems the willingness to be separate has prevailed in their way of thinking. Lord have mercy on them, and on us.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

My Big Fat Greek........MOUTH

Well, it’s been almost a week since the last post. Hope I haven't made all two of you wonder if I had dropped this project of mine altogether. It's just that my mother taught me, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." So I, for once, have taken those words to heart. This begs the question though, of what is good speech. So often, I think I know what would constitute something good to say, but alas, as usual, I've had to reprove myself.

For the past few months, since leaving the Anglican church, I've had a whole bunch of people ask me about my decision. Many people might be hesitant to offer an explanation. Others may find it difficult. Then there are people like me, who have absolutely no problem whatsoever sharing. But here I am, now three months later, not even an official catechumen, face to face with the above mentioned question. Put more precisely, I keep looking at my own heart, and I keep finding it filthy, and my speech flows right out of that same heart.

I could probably easily fill up one hand (that means I'm too ashamed to actually count) with the number of people I've managed to either irritate, cause to become angry, or failed to show love to within the context of discussing Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, I'm so deaf to the alarm bells for pride, that I often fail to recognize it until the damage has run its course. The fact that at times I've managed to successfully communicate the love of Orthodoxy makes me want all the more to try.

Here, though, is the problem. I've found something beautiful, the Holy Grail if you will. Why should I not want to share it? After all, when we find something of this magnitude, don't we want others to have it too? Yes, I want them to have it, and sometimes that's the problem. I want it, but they don't. Plain and simple. I forget that it took me two years of soul searching and intense study to get where I'm at, the first year of which was spent trying to refute the very thing I've come to embrace. But no one shoved it down my throat.

Yet there have been times where I have come dangerously close to trying to do that very thing. I have fallen into the trap of reason. In and of itself it is not a bad thing. In fact it is an excellent tool, when used for the right job. But logic never changes hearts. Love does. Love is the one thing that words will always fail to express full. Words and logic will never contain all that love is. Love, in order to be known, must be experienced. Similarly, Orthodoxy must also be experienced to be known for all that it is. It will never be known merely by my words, or my reasons.

I guess perhaps my motives have only been half pure, as mixed in there was a little pride, the Pharisaic leaven that causes the whole loaf to rise. I have allowed the pride of my logical reasoning infect my love for mankind, weak as it is, in my attempts to show others what I've found. Perhaps for now, I will concentrate more on living Orthodoxy, than talking it. Perhaps then I will find a more effective way of showing the world why Orthodoxy matters, the love of God shown through me (in spite of me) rather than me "showing my god off".

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

The pursuit of holiness.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about this. So far I have come up with one thing that I can stand firmly upon in this regard. I am utterly unholy. But here's the really strange part. The more I struggle against my sin, the more I realize how utterly sinful I am, how pervasively I have allowed sin to mar and taint my being.

And yet, Christ told us "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Can this be achieved? Can we attain to a state where we no longer sin? If not, what does this statement mean? I'm sure we could find some convoluted way to fit it into our theology, but in doing so, are we really being honest, or are we trying to find some way to say "It's ok to sin, I'll be forgiven. After all, I'm human etc. etc." or some other less conspicuous way of making ourselves feel good? Are we really that powerless against sin, that we MUST sin? Or do we have a choice. Have we really stopped viewing sin for what it is, that which draws (entices) us away from the love of God?

Now please understand, I'm not pointing the finger at anyone (well, except myself). In the end, I want to be holy. No wait, I want to be HOLY! I am so sick of how I allow myself to continue sinning. Do I dislove God that much? How many times have I said, "of course I love God, but....." And the really sick part, is that sometimes I get all indignant and self-righteous about my right to not love my neighbor, about my right to react in anger, or my right to slack at work because of how little they pay me etc......Sure, that person may deserve those consequences, but can you imagine a world where we all got everything we deserved? There is a serious problem with our thinking when we call sin (that which is not done in love) our right. And yet we (I)continue to do so. What's the answer? Or better yet, perhaps we should be asking, What's the problem?

Perhaps the problem is that we aim to low. Perhaps we no longer truly aim for perfection. Perhaps, in believing it's not possible, we lose the race before the whistle ever blows. I know in my own life, I've become so accustomed to sin that I often fail to see it. For so long I've had the attitude that sin is just a normal part of life, I often fail to realize I can choose not to. If I truly won't be tempted beyond what I can bear, then why is it I live the way I do. It's because I choose to. I could choose not to, indeed every sin is a choice, but I don't. I'm so comfortable in my sin, I've failed to even try.

But what if someone did come to a point where they no longer sin, where they continually choose to live out the love of God. That is the goal I aspire to. I long for theosis. It's a change of person. It's choosing to embrace, fully embrace with my whole being, the love of God, allowing (again denoting choice) the purifying fire of his love to change us, to cleanse us of our impurities. We change our lives all the time to accommodate our human relationships, in which love is imperfect. We do this everyday. Love motivates change. So in a very real sense, I sin because I am unwilling (will=choice) to let God purify me.

Holy Tradition teaches that there was a sinless one. Someone who so unselfishly lived their life, who so fully embraced the purifying fire of God's love, that they did live a sinless life. Did you notice I played the pronoun game? Mary, the Holy Virgin, Our Lady Theotokos, lived that life. She wasn't superhuman, she wasn't endowed with any "special spiritual powers", she wasn't immaculately conceived, she wasn't free from the effects of the fall of man, she just ran the race faithfully. She let her love for God be so encompassing that she willingly embraced God with her whole being (literally in fact). She held our infinitely Holy Savior within her womb. She showed that it was possible for us, fallen humanity, to fully submit to the will of God. THAT is what I long for! Deep down, my being knows that this is my natural state, that in fact it was what I was created for. Oh Holy Virgin, pray for my soul, that I might begin to hate sin, and love righteousnes! Thank you for your example of purity in love!

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