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Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Gregory the Theologian on the Incarnation

"The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I bought a grave today

Nothing exceptional in that of course but it rarely makes it to the top 10 of conversation starters at Christmas parties. In life we are surrounded by death and now can watch it unfold on our TV screens yet still for many this is psychologically still foreign and awkward territory. It’s the winter draught whistling under the ill fitting door. We know it’s there, we feel it but we try and ignore it. So, buying a grave was salutary; it put things into perspective once more. Monks can help us with this one I think. They live in the habit in which they will be buried ... straight into the earth without a coffin. Later their bones will be disinterred and kept in the monastery ossuary for all to see. This life is just a way station on the route to eternity, pleasant or unpleasant in its final destination. Again something we would prefer to ignore, the judgement. Perhaps it’s something we actively resist ... that there is a reckoning. All of which seemed rather distant from the soothing secular soft furnishings of the funeral home. Should Christians spoil the illusion? No, I think not. Life will do that eventually. We can do two things though. We can be prepared ourselves and we can be a sign of contradiction to those who sleep. We should remember that we are the only faith that places death and its resolution in God at the centre of life. We above all should be comfortable with the grave as an ordinary piece of consumer expenditure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Fool in His Heart

Why Atheism is irrational and Agnosticism is not.
Why Theism is established both with reason and beyond reason.

My definition of atheism – the categorical denial of the existence of a deity or deities.

My definition of agnosticism – the inability to be able to know one way or the other whether or not a deity or deities exist.

Under these definitions an atheism committed to positivism will regard an agnostic as a cowardly, misguided or delusional atheist. No matter, I am sticking with these definitions as the claim that positivism is a sufficient description of reality and reality talk is a self defeating position .... bound that is to undermine itself.

So why is atheism (thus defined) irrational?

What is “irrational” though? ... Irrationality is the absence of rationality. What is rationality? Rationality is the conjunction of logical thinking and evidence by the mapping of the former to the latter in a model building process.

Why then is atheism the violation of such conjunctional mapping?

Consider the supposed evidences for theism. One might be the adaptation of life to survival in a given environment. Life has tenacity. To what do we attribute this tenacity? An atheist might simply reply that genes are selfish in their programming for survival. A theist might contend that such apparent selfishness is rather indicative of a grander purpose to life and that this purpose is divinely inscribed in this tenacity.

Now there is no empirical test available to us which might either verify or falsify such a purpose upon which a Creator divinity might be based. An atheist will respond that this absence effectively renders any evidence for God either ill conceived, foolish or dangerous. On this view nothing can be relied upon which cannot be either verified (conclusively) or falsified (conclusively). An agnostic however will regard such not-knowing according to empirical testing as simply that – not-knowing. An atheist must go further and demand that not-knowing in the only truth test that counts as effectively false or nonsensical. As such it is a delusion or a lie to be unmasked and exposed. The true atheist will have an evangelical zeal to extirpate religion as an evil meme in human society. Too much is at stake to allow it to go unmolested. I use an emotive word because atheism is impaled on a dilemma that the very rationality with which it seeks to expose by religion is itself denied by the religion with which it must engage. The temptation will always be to persecute or legislate it out of existence. After all, if you cannot use “reason” what is left?

The American Constitution starts off with a startling piece of Enlightenment epistemology ... “We hold these truths to be self evident.” What it goes on to say is that Creator has endowed humans with “inalienable rights.” So we have not quite left even deism behind just yet! Now if it religion is patently irrational why is this not a “self evident” truth of reason? Why notwithstanding 70 years of evangelical atheism in the Soviet Union do so many Russians still live such delusional lives of faith? Can self evident reason applied to evidence be so obscure, so ineffective in delivering people from the monstrous lie of religion?

Maybe the agnostics have a stronger case than the atheists because their position is rationally defensible whereas the ideological fundamentalism of those who KNOW that there is no God inflates itself well beyond the reach of reason. For an agnostic to be content with not-knowing accommodates both the lack of evidence (in their perception) and a certain epistemological modesty. It is a position of integrity even if theists will be bound to differ on the significance of any evidence presented.

I recall a recent interview on British TV between Dr. Robert Winston the famous physician and Orthodox Jew and Dr. Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford and militant anti-theist. Winston professed his surprise at Dawkins’ indefatigable certainty with which professes his atheism. It is this certainty that renders, in my view, the appropriateness of the title “fundamentalist” for Dr. Dawkins and the irrationality that is the handmaiden of all fundamentalisms.

Finally, why is theism both rational and beyond reason? It is rational in the sense that certain evidences COULD be interpreted as indicative of a deity or deities. A theist, however, recognises the ambiguity that keeps an agnostic in a state of un-knowing. For example, it is often said by believers that the beauty of creation is a hymn of praise to the Creator. But is the smallpox virus part of that hymn, juvenile leukaemia, the evisceration of a zebra by a lioness? There is rationality both in the denial and acceptance of creative beauty and purposefulness. So we must conclude that is there is anything plausible to be said beyond agnosticism, one must move beyond reason without descending into irrationality.

Is such a transcendent rationality possible? Not of course if an empirically falsifiable rational modelling of reality is as much as CAN be applied to the question of truth. But there may be modes of rationality that move beyond that. Such a reasonable approach would intuit transcendent significance to natural phenomena ... NOT as causal explanations but as an infrastructure of meaning within and beyond the phenomena themselves. Music, for example can be explained rationally in its emotional impact on human music makers and hearers but a transcendent rationality will look beyond such features to an echo in the Divine Wisdom that connects us to a powerful sense of Ultimate Meaning, if you like, God. This is the source of course of the great power of transforming art. It cannot simply be enough to explain the process. The purpose or the significance of the experience must be accounted for. It is the very height of irrationality to deny even the possibility of a transcendent ground (God) in such meaning. The same argument can be applied to every field of human endeavour and experience that moves beyond itself toward something ineffable and beautiful, whether this concerns the birth of a child or the track of sub atomic particles in the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

So, I maintain that indeed atheism is irrational and agnosticism not. Further I propose that theism is a plausible option for an honest agnostic who is prepared to reconsider reality from a different and perhaps unaccustomed perspective. For a fundamentalist atheist though such a conversion (short of a miracle of God) is not possible. One’s breath should not to be wasted. Irrationality is like that. With God though, all things are possible. So, as much as it must infuriate him, we should pray for Dr. Dawkins. It’s the only rational course of action.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Monastic Call

Christian monasticism was born in the deserts of Egypt at a time when the way of Christ was consolidating its position in the cities. The apparent success in the gospel’s appropriation of the Empire was a blessing not unmixed with danger. The early monastics flew into the desert not to escape the city and its newly respectable churches but rather to seek salvation at a time when increasing wealth and prestige might have been the undoing of the Church through a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) compromise with worldliness. In this manner the Church’s integrity in both desert and city was preserved. The monastic stood for the gospel’s untameable power, in short for God and the possibilities of an entirely unheard of life in Him beyond the city gate. In the desert wastes new lives were transformed and the gospel returned in power to the cities.

Beyond the limits of ancient maps it was sometimes written:- “Here be dragons.” Indeed this was the truth that the first monks encountered in the desert, a place of combat with adversary powers, with Satan himself. Like a trained athlete the monk entered the arena and faced the ancient foe, for all mankind. The abbas and ammas (fathers and mothers) of the desert pioneered the old ways of sacrifice and martyrdom but in a new setting and circumstance.

Today we have a new setting and circumstance in the west. Orthodox Christians find themselves living in increasingly secular societies that deny the place of ANY religion in the public domain. The State requires that faith be privatised as the price of its freedom. Of course, there is an important truth in this distinction between the personal and the civic sphere. In times past Christians have sometimes been tempted to enlist the power of the State in the repression of dissent and too often the Church has transgressed into aspects of life that could and should never be constituted as ecclesial domains, whether in the sciences, the arts or politics. However, the danger now is that the State will in turn transgress and claim the right to replace God as the arbiter of all that is good and true. When such a State is Godless the fruits will be Godless. We saw this in the brutal totalitarianism of the Soviet Union but it can happen in so-called western liberal democracies as well.

In this new setting for monasticism the call of the angelic life has a profound opportunity and challenge. By its very distinctiveness and isolation from worldliness monasticism is presented with a renewed prophetic vocation by its ability to present a transformation of the common life in God. The city is now the desert where the spiritual meadow must bloom.

In short I think that monasticism will help to restore the credibility of Christianity again in the west. Familiarity with innocuous, adaptive heterodoxy, the bourgeoisification of the Christian tradition has bred a certain contempt and hardness of heart toward the gospel in our culture. Only an Orthodox Christian witness that is both radically obedient to God and warm in its love for Him will now make a difference.

How can such lights be kindled? Only by becoming such a Light oneself. Monastics are born in parishes so the Church must herself once again nurture and value those who take the All-Holy Mary’s assent with utter and complete seriousness. “Let it be unto me according to Thy Word.”

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Just an Ordinary Connection

To hear some Christians talk you would think they had a “hot-line to God.” They are so convinced that God is in daily, direct communication with them, to suggest otherwise would be to compromise on the glorious intimacy that faith and grace bestow. So overweening is this confidence that rarely do they stop to ask:- “Am I hearing right? Is this God or Satan? Is this perhaps me talking to myself? There is no room for such doubts on the hotline. Moreover, if God is speaking so clearly to me should I not like the prophets open my mouth and tell others, “thus saith the Lord”? And if my hearers reject my word are they not rejecting the very Word of God Himself? And aren’t there terrible consequences for such rejection? The logic is inexorable isn’t it? If I am the Lord’s anointed, you should take heed to what I say in his Name. If you do not you place your soul in peril. It is but a short step here from this pride, this hubris, this prelest to the Jonestown massacre and every other craziness that emerges from the cults and sects who assume an infallibility that even the Pope never claims. It even infiltrates Orthodoxy in the rush of young and inexperienced monastics to become “elders” for sycophantic devotees, (usually of the opposite sex).

Against this we must set the standards of the Church for true prophecy which are:-

(1) Counsel must be in accordance with the Scriptures in Holy Tradition as interpreted by the Church not the alleged prophet.
(2) In respect of foretelling the only test is retrospective in terms of previous utterances. Did these things come to pass? Even then, there is no guarantee that future pronouncements will be unalloyed by sin and pride.
(3) Is the speaker living what he or she prophesies? In other words is he or she a servant or a manipulator, subtle or overt?
(4) Is the prophecy received, tested and authenticated in the church? If not then flee from such a voice as from hell itself.

With this in mind we should not say that we have a “hotline to God” that rather that we have “an ordinary connection.” True, God speaks to us. He does answer our prayers, although not always in ways we would like. However, in this life our sin and laziness always generate “noise on the line.” Repentance deals with this interference progressively. We should therefore have a more measured sense of what we and others are able to hear. Sometimes it is the “Word of the Lord.” Sometimes it is not. Discernment is called for.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

By Any Other Name

Some unenlightened Orthodox folks annoy me by referring to the “English church.” They mean the Church of England and however much this might delight a beleaguered Anglican bishop right now the reference just ain’t Orthodox.

There is no “English” Church ... just in as much as there is no “Greek” Church or “Roman Church” either no matter how often these phrases are carelessly used. The Church most definitely exists but the use of a preceding adjective defines nothing at all other than location.

It is simply GPS pseudo-Orthodoxy.

Orthodox ecclesiology may rightly speak (as in New Testament terms) of the Church IN or AT such and such a place or such and such a city. The only admissible adjectives for the Church then are Catholic and Orthodox, by which we also mean, One, Holy and Apostolic. These are terms referring to the ecumenicity of the Church, (the old meaning of the whole world), her unity, her mission, her universality and her inclusiveness ... but not a mention of geography or culture as defining the Church as a local denomination or branch. We have no such concept in Orthodoxy.

So, I indeed beg to differ. The ORTHODOX Church is the “English” Church and every other nation under the sun so let’s drop “English” shall we? What we must say is that the Orthodox Church must express itself locally in the language and culture of its indigenous people. The infusion of its life SHOULD draw on the whole of humanity in God and not any one part, but, most definitely in such a way as to embed the Church WHERE IT IS respecting local traditions and whatever is good and true .... as Pope St. Gregory once counselled St. Augustine of Canterbury.

So I pray and work for the day (however many decades distant) when the Orthodox Church will once again become the Church IN England, (not OF England!)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Kepler's Eye

The Kepler NASA Mission, due to launch in 2009, will place a telescope in solar orbit specifically to look for near earth sized planets orbiting other nearby stars. This has to be (in my book) the singularly most exciting development in our exploration of the Cosmos since our decision to send humans to Mars. Please do visit the Kepler web site here.

For all of you (including myself) who want to participate in a small but significant way, NASA is offering an unlimited opportunity for the public to place their names and short messages on a DVD that will be launched with the telescope. This is what I have said ...

Kepler will open up the possibility of detecting earth-sized extrasolar planets. The scientific, social, cultural, spiritual and (eventually) economic implications of this new Copernican endeavour cannot be underestimated.

So long as humans think of themselves and their world as unique they will remain impoverished and myopic in the Cosmos. Evidence of earth-like planets will translate a well founded supposition into reality. The resultant transformation in understanding of our place in the Cosmos could, arguably, both unite humankind and provide that necessary spur to move offworld and explore.

May we not repeat the same mistakes in the Cosmos as we have on earth but rather develop those finest and highest qualities of which our species is so eminently capable. I am a theist, so may God "make it so."

Revd. Fr. Gregory Hallam

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Orthodoxy is Scary!

“What a strange idea Father!” some might say. Well it’s not as strange as you might think. Such a huge gap has now opened up between Christianity as practised in the Orthodox Church and other Christian traditions that I regularly encounter a certain “culture shock” from those who encounter Orthodoxy for the first time. This is much more pronounced amongst those who already have some Christian background. “Why such long services?” “You don’t have any of the songs that I love in your church.” “I am just confused; there’s simply too much to absorb,” and so on and so forth.

On the one hand this distinctiveness is useful for it marks out Orthodox Christianity as something quite different from what one usually encounters and not just another rather unusual “flavour.” On the other hand if we don’t help people gently into the fullness of the truth we stand accused as those who “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. “ (Matthew 23:4)

It is instructive to observe what that great Orthodox Christian pastor and Enlightener of Japan, St. Nicholas (Kasatkin) required of his converts ... principally four things only before baptism: a familiarity with the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and regular attendance at Church services and meetings. This was sufficient for the neophyte. Good as though it is, they didn’t have to read Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church”, stand in the nave for three years or learn Russian.

If we have to be restrained in what we “serve up” to converts, in like manner we must insist in our dealings with enquirers that NOBODY finds out all that there is to know and understand about Orthodox Christianity, even in a lifetime. The idea that it must be all “understood” first is erroneous and heavily conditioned by western heterodox ideas about Christian truth.

It is far more important that Christian living keep pace with Christian learning and for the two to interact in a mature and spiritually guided way. For this to happen the neophyte has to “unlearn” not only what he thinks Christianity is all about but also how a living faith is acquired and deepened. Some are simply just not ready for that change in perception. Some are. The wisdom of a pastor and a catechist is to recognise this and to know the practical difference with its implications for an individual soul.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

True Hope

People often assume that Christians believe much the same thing about the death and resurrection of Christ. Of course there may be differences of emphasis but it is much the same story with much the same meaning.

Actually there is some truth in that .... IF it is only the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions that are under scrutiny. Since many people in the west are only aware of these traditions and assume that this is all that there is, the witness of Orthodoxy never shows up on the radar.

So, what is this fundamental commonality between most non-Orthodox traditions and where does Orthodoxy differ? With Pascha (Easter) approaching in the Orthodox Church it is crucial that we acquaint ourselves with these issues because they touch upon the whole meaning of the gospel, its preaching and celebration.
In the "west" the Christian story goes something like this. It doesn't matter on this score whether you are a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. The story and the meaning are much the same.

In Eden humans disobeyed God and broke their relationship with Him. For this they were cast out of Paradise as a punishment and suffered death as a consequence of their sin. This fall corrupted (more - Calvin or less - the Scholastics) human nature thereafter and made reparation with God a human impossibility on account of the gravity of sin (which includes the transmissible guilt of Adam and Eve), its disabling power and God's judgement upon man's transgression. Only God Himself could put humanity back into a right relationship with Him (justification) and impart holiness (sanctification). This He did by suffering the punishment for our transgressions - death - in the sacrifice of His Son for the salvation of the world in our place, propitiating God in respect of the offence of original and subsequent actual sin. By this means Man was restored to a right relationship with Him and was accounted worthy of eternal life made available to him in and by Christ's resurrection.

Notice here that death is both a consequence and a punishment for sin; that someone must bear the punishment justly due for our transgression and that only when Christ has appeased the Father is eternal life possible. The resurrection has no saving significance beyond that which has already been achieved on the cross. The life of the redeemed at best bears the hope of fellowship with God or perhaps (for Roman Catholics) the Beatific Vision. Any transforming union with God can only be characterised by spiritual contemplation not an ontological change in our human nature.

In Orthodoxy however we have a very different account.

In Eden humans chose a demonically inspired autonomy from God and by that choice death entered the natural order and human life specifically. God in his mercy and love removed them from Paradise into this world lest this physical death be compounded by an eternal spiritual death. Now subject to suffering and death, human alienation from the divine life becomes the raw material for Satan's attempt to subvert humanity finally from God. This corrupting influence of the fear of and flight from death makes of sin an ever present reality for the children of Adam and Eve. However they remain free to choose between God and Satan and this outworking of salvation in history eventually enables a Virgin to conceive by the Holy Spirit the Saviour who is both God and Man. This incarnation which includes the whole dispensation of Christ from his birth to his resurrection unites our human nature to God and redeems it. As we repent and live ascetically for God in the power of the Holy Spirit the resurrection victory of God over the opposing powers (which led to the death of Christ), we partake of the divine life of the Trinity, the energies of God, and are transformed in an ontological union with God from one degree of glory to the next, (the ascension of our humanity). This salvation process starts in this life and is consummated in the next.

Notice how death is not a punishment from an outraged God in Eden, nor is our banishment. Everything is done out of love. There is no divine anger to placate, no debility of our will, no meaning in the death of Christ without the resurrection (but every meaning with it!). All of the life of Christ saves us and this is by the incarnation gathering everything that is ours into God where it is transformed into the divine image and likeness. Moreover the Holy Spirit is the divine personal agent of our transformation and everything is a coordinated work of the Holy and Blessed Trinity. The Ever-Virgin Mary becomes the model of what it is to be a Christian. She broke down the wall of opposition to God in her own life and womb and by her own gracious response to God. This is what it is to be saved in the Orthodox Church, to be an Easter people.

Finally let us consider the consequences of a faith lived in the first (non-Orthodox) and second (Orthodox) instance. For non-Orthodox Christians the resurrection is something of an afterthought, not in itself as such but in salvation terms. It's difficult to see how the resurrection of Christ actually saves anyone if the death alone has healed the breach between humanity and God through a vicarious (if not substitutionary) punishment. God becomes a threat to be averted in the condition of sin. Of course this is always characterised as an initiative of love but it is the wrath of God that HE HIMSELF must first avert ... which rather begs the question... "Why does God place Himself under such an exterior necessary constraint?" He literally CANNOT forgive without the shedding of blood but notice that it is not death which is addressed here but the offence of sin. In the second Orthodox account is the CAUSE of the disease (death) that first must be addressed if there to be BOTH forgiveness and an enduring change, (regeneration).

When we consider that in the first account humanity has to carry the burden of Adam and Eve's guilt as well as their actual sin it is little surprising that western culture through off this guilt ridden morbidity in the Enlightenment. However, without the saving Incarnation and Resurrection, the spiritually eviscerated remnants of Christianity in the West could offer little more than humanism with a Christian veneer. When faced with bondage to the devil and the corruption of death (the unacknowledged realities here) non-Orthodox Christians eventually either rejected God altogether as an intolerable psychological burden or settled for a truce, an uneasy peace punctuated by the occasional radiance of a religious revival in which something once lost was dimly remembered and partially recovered. for a time at least.

We are now at the end of this degenerative process in the Christian west and I doubt whether anything of the former Easter glory can be recovered. The future for all Christians in the west lies in recovering something of the grandeur and hope of the original Christian vision ... a world utterly transformed by the resurrection power of the divine love. Many have hung onto this paschal hope outside the Orthodox Church. It is now time for the Orthodox Church in the west to put her own own in order and get ready to welcome these scattered and disorientated western children of God both inside and outside the other Christian traditions.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Why do the Innocent Suffer?

The law of "how it should be" is a God implanted sense that all humans have of life's beauty and triumph. Yet we live in a good creation where hurricanes do not discriminate, where evil befalls the good as well as the wicked, where all that is beautiful is in some sense marred. It is as if some spanner has got stuck in the works.

Atheists of course use this as argument against there being a benevolent creator God. With so much senseless waste and misery should we not rather charge this "God" with being a lousy and incompetent designer?

Let us consider this issue raised in that great novel "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Doestoevsky? Here is a short extract from Chapter 35.

Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.

That is the beauty of our humanity that we rage against injustice, that we storm heaven with our protests, that we in no way ever consent to the instrumentalism of sacrificing the one for the many.

Now look what God does.

To mend creation he sacrifices himself for all. He places HIMSELF in the breach of death, the place of horror ... and he vanquishes that, closes the breach, brings resurrection to the fallen.

So, slain we live - with our death in Christ.

Somehow, somewhere in the distant past or perhaps a "time" before time or in realm beyond this something became not as it should have been through the very freedom that God imparted to it. And so it is that everyone dies.

Be thankful though that everyone dies .... yes that even the innocent die, NOT because this is itself good but because the world has to be transformed and it cannot be transformed without eternal life exploding out of this merciless death. We scream that this should not be so. Our outrage though was born in a place from which we have been excluded. To see this longing and revolt resolved we need to return to God who can do nothing other than raise the fallen ... and with them creation itself (Romans 8:18-25).

So, why does not God or the angels lift us out of this? By now it should be clear that just as Christ did not call on legions of angels to deliver him, neither can we. VERY occasionally though, the devil oversteps the mark and uses natural death to try and subvert God's plan. This is when the angels intervene. If Christ indeed had faced death before his appointed "hour" (a continual refrain of St. John's Gospel --- "my hour has not yet come") then the angels would have intervened for Him as well.

No, we all have our God appointed hour and that is when we shall taste the bliss of resurrection and when one more piece of creation will be healed. The devil's tactic though is to encourage us to doubt God's wisdom in allowing innocent suffering. He insinuates that Christ should not have died. But when we lift high the cross the devil always scuttles away howling.

Faith is kicking him in the arse/butt as he so richly deserves.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sharia? No thanks!

Under existing UK law Muslims are already allowed discretion in certain limited circumstances to use their own services and procedures; notably in matters of banking, stamp duty and divorce mediation. This is right and proper for primary legislation is not thereby being subverted. There is one law in Britain that covers all its people.

Sometimes laws are passed that pull against the consciences, religiously informed or otherwise, of some of its citizens. These tensions may be resolved by the democratic process and a sensitive application of derogation for certain groups ... Catholic and Orthodox medics opposed to abortion for example cannot be constrained to perform them.

What we certainly do not need though, in any shape or form, is the application of sharia law for a section of the population. This is divisive, inequitable and erosive of the common values that a singular law must uphold. Far from promoting social cohesion as the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams believes, this would fragment and antagonise disparate social and religious groups.

Moreover, that a Christian Archbishop should call for the introduction of any element of shariah beggars belief. He knows what happens long term in societies that cow tow to Islamic pressure for shariah. We see this going on in Nigeria right now, especially in the north of the country. Dhimmitude (social repression) of a Christian minority may not be on the cards just yet, but this move would be the thin end of a very long wedge.

Mercifully, judging the reactions of all parties in Parliament, this naive and dangerous suggestion will sink without trace. More worrying though is that the most senior cleric of the Anglican Communion should entertaining such crazy ideas. Sorry Abp. Rowan, I had thought better of you than this.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hut Burning for God

In the Orthodox Church a fool for Christ is no jester or attention seeker, quite the reverse. Such a person feigns madness so that the curious and the flatterers will not poison the soul with self regard. The interior life of that person is far from
insanity. Radical Christian living has showered the soul with proven spiritual gifts of healing, good counsel and prophecy. Mostly these gifts remain hidden until God brings them out into the open for the benefit of others. Even so, such “fools” are disturbing people to have around. Amidst the insanity of the world one is forced to ask in the presence of such people:- “What is normal?”

Consider for example a 17 year old youth who becomes a “hut burner.” No this is not another lamentable example of anarchy and pyromania! Introducing St. Maximos Kavsokalyvia who died on the monastic holy mountain of Athos at the ripe old age of 95 in 1365 AD ... but not before he had burnt down quite a few of the rudimentary poor huts that he built, destroyed and rebuilt for himself. They thought him mad of course. “There goes that old fool the hut-burner” they would say; so much so that he became known as Maximos the Hut Burner (Kavsokalyvia, feast 13th January). Of course this was part feigned madness, part straight forward sanity only appearing as madness. It is this last aspect that interests me.

Jesus said:- "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Matthew 8:20) Our Lord wasn’t complaining. This was his choice, not to be encumbered by even the ordinary good things of this world, most would say basic necessities. Why? So he could single-mindedly do the Father’s will.

The minute we can become attached to anything it lays claim on us. Subtly at first and then with great momentum we let “things” come between God and us. It’s more comfortable that way of course. We like security, absence of want, the ability to plan and rely on those plans. But what, if like Job, all these are snatched away? What then? What will save us when we have lost everything?

Some people choose to lose everything to gain Christ, to throw away even the roof over their heads in order to put him first. This is madness to the world of course but radical Christians like St. Maximos remind us that the world is not saved by conventional living but only by costly personal self sacrifice.

Each Christian has quite a lot of “hut burning” to do. Ask yourself, ‘what matters to me most?’ If you can lay that aside for God you have burned a hut. You will warm yourself by its embers for a while but then there will be another hut to be consigned to the flames: and so it goes on until there is only God and a radiant life.

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