Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Vigil

Dad's 88th birthday is going to be in exactly three weeks, August 21. Mom just called and it looks as though he may not be with us to celebrate it. He's in a coma or semi-coma (not clear which) and having convulsions.

I keep thinking how surprised he will be to discover that his youngest daughter has recently predeceased him.

Madison and Elizabeth and I are in North Carolina, visiting their cousins. We've had a wonderful time, but we're also at least 5 and a half hours away from Mom and Dad. We're on standby.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Controversies in Orthodoxy?

Excerpt from an Essay by Frederica Matthewes-Green On why the Orthodox Church Remains Untroubled by Such Issues as Women's Ordination and Gay/Lesbian Rights

How can we resist the cultural tides this way? I have a theory. I think it’s because you can only change something if you have the authority to change it. You have to be in a position of power, enabled to explain and define the faith anew; or you can battle noisily against those in that position, and make it awkward for them to use their power. In any case, faith is understood as something eternally under construction, responding to the challenges of each new generation.

But in the Orthodox Church, nobody has that kind of power. The church is too decentralized for that. Even those who are our leaders are a different kind of leader. Orthodoxy is less of an institution (like, say, the Episcopal Church) and more of a spiritual path (like Buddhism). It’s a treasury of wisdom about how to grow in union with God — theosis.

And that wisdom works, so people don’t itch to change it. It doesn’t need to be adapted to a new generation, because God is still making the same basic model of human being he has from the beginning. Practictioners of the way don’t find it irksome or boring; they just want to get into it deeper. For us, authority is not located in a person or an organization, but in the faith itself - what other Orthodox before us have believed.

Every question is settled by asking, What did previous generations believe? And since previous generations asked the same thing, the snowball just keeps getting larger. Against that weight of accumulated witness, a notion that blew in on the cultural breeze doesn’t stand a chance.

What’s surprising is that there is so little variation from culture to culture. As missionaries carried Christianity to new lands, each new outpost looked back to the "faith once delivered." So Russian, Greek, Romanian, Antiochian and other Orthodox all share the same beliefs. Even the Oriental Orthodox, the Armenians and Copts and others, who have been separated from us since the fifth century, still look an awful lot like us. They, too, are looking back toward the authoritative early faith.

So someone who wanted to challenge Orthodoxy would not be able to locate a building to hold a protest march in front of. The faith is too diffused. And what if a high-ranking hierarch attempted to enforce innovations? He’d be recognized as a kook and rejected. Anyone who disagrees with the inherited faith has stepped outside the building.

Although we don’t have innovation, we do have nominalism. Lots of Orthodox go to church every Sunday but don’t know much about the faith. Yet they know that there is something that they don’t know much about. They don’t try to redefine "Orthodoxy" to cover whatever they’re doing or not doing. If they’re dissatisfied, if they want something more contemporary, if they want to attend a more "American" church, there are plenty they can choose from.

And meanwhile, of course, lots of people are coming in the other door. The Dallas Morning News reports that, in the Antiochian Archdiocese, 78% of the clergy are converts. This means an infusion of parish leaders who are very well-informed about theological and cultural issues, and very intentional about why they have become Orthodox (sometimes at great personal sacrifice).

So instead of spending the last fifteen years fighting and worrying and being bruised in a hostile denomination, I’ve been able to focus on the face of Jesus Christ. I’ve been able to dig deeper into awareness of my own sinfulness, and take baby steps toward spiritual healing. I’m able to worship in an ancient communion full of awesome beauty, one that is now being blessed with quiet revival. My one regret? That I didn’t do it sooner.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Christianity Moots Feminism

Or at least, it's supposed to.

Orthodox Christianity does. In fact, holy Orthodoxy is the only lifestyle I know of that does not make a good breeding ground for feminism. The Orthodox Christian lifestyle, supported by the Orthodox Christian understanding of gender roles, makes any struggle for equality for women unnecessary, superfluous, moot, a non-issue. It does this by taking away all our complaints, or rather, by not having a framework such as gives rise to women’s grievances in the first place.

This will be surprising, probably, to some outsiders looking in and seeing such things as that women not only aren’t ordained; they aren’t even allowed in the altar area, behind the icon screen. But it’s true. What from the outside may look like misogyny or bias or inequality or unfairness does not stem from anything like that. It’s all based upon something else altogether, and it’s that something else, found as far as I can see only in Orthodoxy, that enables Orthodox women to give up (or never take up) feminism.

This point has been driven home to me by a recent spate of discussion in various non-Orthodox religious blogs of women’s ordination, women’s place in the Church, and women’s place in general. I find myself not disagreeing with these bloggers’ conclusions – please note, not with their conclusions! – but with their premise.

This is because what I notice they all have in common is, well, that Platonic - Augustinian concept of the God of Order, displacing the apostolic God Who is Love. For these bloggers, women’s place is ultimately founded upon “the order of creation”. In this order, so it is thought, there are diverse ranks and statuses and degrees of authority. This created order is also thought to be patriarchal. Women are thought to occupy a lower rung than men, to hold an inferior status; and this difference is what gives men authority over them. In other words, it is maleness in and of itself that gives men authority over women; and conversely, it is femaleness in and of itself that makes women subject to men.

Men, here’s a bulletin for you: this teaching actually foments feminism! Women are going to rebel against it - because it isn’t true. And women know it. A woman who has a modicum of self-knowledge knows she, too, is the bearer of God’s Image; that it takes both sexes to constitute that Image; that when He created human beings in His image, “male and female He created them.” A woman knows a man is not necessarily any better, or any worse, than she is. A Christian woman knows her body can be fully as much a temple of the Holy Spirit as a man’s. She isn’t fooled by any male delusions of being superior by reason of gender. She may pretend differently; she may even regard it has her duty to submit to this scheme and struggle against the innate knowledge of her equality; but her heart will always know better. She will either squelch her heart and her personhood or she will rebel. And most women, eventually, will opt for the latter.

But what do the holy apostles teach us? Let’s examine St. Paul’s exhortations to wives and husbands for an instructive example. These are read at every Orthodox wedding, and are found in Ephesians, Chapter 5. The chapter begins, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” The whole chapter is about how to walk in love. The end of the chapter applies this walking in love to marriage:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Now the part about husbands loving their wives “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her” is no mere postscript. It is the context and necessary condition for the wife’s willing submission to her husband. The husband is to give himself, sacrifice himself entirely for his wife, as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church, giving His all, holding nothing back. A husband is to cherish and nourish his wife as his own flesh. Now if my husband loves me as Christ does (!!!), then my relationship to him will be as my relationship to Christ is. Not only will such self-sacrificial love leave me in awe, deeply honoring, loving, and respecting him, freely and gladly serving him; but I will also know and feel I can safely leave myself in his care. If, on the other hand, the husband is not Christ to his wife, then the relationship is already dysfunctional whether the wife submits to him or not; either course she chooses will be distorted, will be destructive.

In other words, in Christianity, love is the basis for all authority, as it also is for everything else. Love is the basis for a husband’s authority. The authority of priests is also rooted in love; a priest will find he is followed in direct proportion to his love for his flock.

In Orthodoxy, love, for the sake of good order, distributes different functions to each gender, in accordance with the natural inclinations or abilities of each. Thus, child nurture, for example, is primarily a woman's job. Protecting the family is primarily a man's job. Being a living icon of Christ to a parish, an icon both inwardly and outwardly (both being important) is something only a man can do. The roles of men and women are different because men and women are; but there is no difference in how much each is valued, no difference in rank or status based upon gender as such. Women are definitely different, and vive la difference! but we are not thought inferior in any way. That's what St. Paul means when he says that in Christ "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) And of course the most important function of all, in church, is receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, and this function is not gender-determined at all.

Moreover, it isn't only women, in Christianity, who are called upon to submit. For love's sake, we are all supposed to submit ourselves to one another. "Yes, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble." (I Peter 5:5)

When you meet someone you can sense is ready to die for you and ready even to live for you, who has given up everything for love of you (because that is the way to love God!), your heart leaps to his service. You instinctively want to fall at his (or her!) feet. You feel highly honored if you are able to do anything for such a person, even if it is only to fetch him or her a Kleenex. You feel ashamed if you have to be asked twice. You feel ashamed you didn’t see the need for a tissue before you were asked. You weep for joy in the presence of such a person. You serve him with all your heart, with gladness, with thanksgiving, with joy.

“Rebellion” – against what?

P.S.) I've found a podcast that says all this far more eloquently than I can. It is entitled, "O Lord, Crown Them With Glory And Honour" and dated Wednesday, June 18, 2008. You can safely skip the first third of the talk, though, which isn't pertinent. (Move the progress indicator to just below the "J" of "June".)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Greek Lessons

Elizabeth found a Greek phrase book near her bed, the kind tourists use. It shows you the Greek spelling, how to pronounce it, and the English equivalent. Lizzie has been fascinated by it.

She spent a couple of hours practicing various words and phrases. She especially practiced saying, "Demetri, s'agapo!" Demetri, I love you!

When he got home, it came out "Demetri, soggy pole," but he quickly figured out what she meant and was so thrilled!

Elizabeth even decided (no prodding, I swear!) to make herself a little vocabulary list. I think she chose the words more or less at random. Here is first edition of it, and the Greek writing is quite good, too!

Kid Bits

Lizzie: I try to lower my temper, but it just doesn't go down.

* * *

Lizzie: If you keep bumping into walls, does it mean God isn't treating you very well?

Anastasia: No! God always treats us well, always, even when it doesn't seem that way. If you keep bumping into walls, it just means you aren't looking where you're going!

Maddy: It means that in our old house, the floor near your room wasn't very level.

* * *

Demetrios: Elizabeth, you have such a sweet voice. Will you sing us a song?

Lizzie: No, I'm too embarrassed.

Anastasia: Please?

Maddy: Sing one of the ones you've written.

Lizzie: No, please. I'm too embarrassed. But I'll write the words down for you!

[Grabs a pen and paper and begins writing, humming the tune all the while. Then, after a couple of minutes, pauses.]

Lizzie: Maddy, do you believe in God?

Maddy: Yeah!

Lizzie: Good. Because I can't write this song if you don't.

[Resumes writing and humming. Goes to piano to play the tune for us, inadvertently singing the words aloud. Then hands me the paper.]

Song to Mom

We love you
We really do
Me and Maddy,
Me and Maddy,
Love you so, love you so
La la la la
We believe in God
We believe in God
That's why we love you

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Elizabeth tells us she has an imaginary friend named Georgina. She looks, speaks, and dresses exactly like Madison, but according to Lizzie, she is much nicer. (How can anybody be nicer than Maddy???)

Madison has never seen her, because somehow she only comes around when Madison is otherwise occupied, usually closeted with her computer.

This Georgina is someone to whom Lizzie feels she can pour our her whole heart and find a sympathetic listener. Sometimes she even shares her complaints about her older sister (which, I think, must be a bit difficult for Georgina to take, but she does). Sometimes, if asked, Georgina even offers kindly advice, which Lizzie says always works.

I just find this such an extraordinary form of kindness! And from a 12-year-old.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Their Mother's Daughters

Once in a while, with Madison and Elizabeth, the way they smile, the lift of a brow, an inflection of voice, and suddenly Barbara shines out at you, just for a moment.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Summer Fun

Tisho, the eldest daughter of my sister Wendy, arranged for a truly bodacious birthday present for my mother. Many months ago, she bought tickets for excellent seats at a performance of "The Lion King" at the Kennedy Center. She bought four of them, one for Mom, one for herself, and one for each of Barbara's two children, Madison and Elizabeth.

But when the time came, Tisho had to be in Texas, where her other grandfather is in grave condition. I was called upon to take her place, use her ticket, and drive the others to and from the Kennedy Center.

So that's what I did yesterday.

I was at a distinct disadvantage from being unfamiliar with "The Lion King." That's right; I got this far in life without ever seeing the Disney film or reading the story. So I didn't know the plot or the characters or anything. Not that there was much of a plot.

The music (John Denver) was so loud that little Lizzie turned off both of her hearing aids. I didn't care for any of it. At all.

However, four outstanding things about this performance made it entertaining anyway, in spite of lousy music and thin plot. They were: the extrardinary, ingenious costumes, the staging and scenery effects, the puppetry (for some of the main characters were puppets), and the little boy who played the young Simba. He was only 11 years old, and already a wonderful actor, singer, dancer, and acrobat.

So, well, I wouldn't have found it worth paying as much for it as Tisho did, but it was still fun. And my opinion was definitely the minority one; the audience gave a thunderous, standing ovation. Lizzie (8) sat at rapt attention throughout, leaning forward, and remarked, as the applause was dying down, "That almost took my breath away!"

We got home at 11:45, having gotten lost on the way home. Had the lights out at 12:45, which is what time Mom and Juliet were ready (her cat).

Today, we visited Dad, who told us he had just arrived (at the nursing home) and was glad to be there after a morning of getting shot at. Asked whether he had fired back, he said he had; and when I wondered whether he had killed any of the enemy, he said yes, he expected he probably had. But he was very tired as a result.

"He must be remembering his days as a soldier and he thinks it's now," whispered Lizzie. Yup.

She fed him his dietary supplement mixed in with some chocolate pudding, and then she and Maddy and I came here, to Richmond. They are going to spend a couple of weeks with us. We're planning a day trip to Virginia Beach tomorrow, with friends. Then we'll go to North Carolina to be with their cousins for a few days. Then back here...

So I don't know how much I'll be posting for the next week or so. Ya'll have fun, and I'll be back whenever I can between now and August 19, which is when I hope to leave for Greece.

Happy Birthday!

Today is my mother's 84th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! I have to admit this photo was taken last year, but I seem to have misplaced the picture I wanted to publish, taken a couple of weeks ago...well, she still looks the same.

It's Bea's birthday, too, who in the days before I was Orthodox, was my spiritual mentor, teacher, best friend. This is a very old picture of her I found on the Internet; I think, if my calculations are correct, she is 81 today. I last saw her some 2 years ago, though, and she hadn't changed to speak of, except that the braid coiled behind her head was smaller. When I knew her, her hair was down to her knees; it appears to be only about half that long now. Here's wishing her happiness today and for many birthdays to come.

Worth Pondering

From the cover story of Newsweek for May 12, 2008, by Fareed Zakaria:

Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. The largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is in Bollywood [Bombay, India], not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

…While we argue why they hate us, “they” have moved on, and are now far more interested in other, more dynamic parts of the globe. The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (Conclusion ) To Rise Again

We have looked at Christ's death with no prospect whatever of truly fathoming it, but merely gazing toward the depths of the mysterious gem through some of its many facets.

But Christ’s death would have been for nothing had He not risen again. The capstone of the Resurrection is what gives ultimate meaning to all the angles we have discussed. Christ could not have healed us if He were forever subject to the same sickness. Christ couldn’t crucify sin and death if He Himself had succumbed to either. If He hadn’t risen, the flesh and blood He gives us would not have been our Passover, but only mortal flesh and blood, useless except as a memorial of a curious, demented, historical peronality. He couldn’t be our Justifier if He himself had not been vindicated by the Resurrection. He couldn’t serve as our High Priest in heaven if He weren’t there. He could not be our Mediator or Intercessor either. Jesus could not have led away death’s captives if He had been as captive as they. He could not have set us the example of crucifying our own flesh precisely in order to live anew, had He not been resurrected. He could not have revealed in His Person our own ultimate destiny, nor would it be our ultimate destiny, if He had not risen. In short, Christ died in order to rise again. The Crucifixion, without the Resurrection, would have left us still on the path to total oblivion.

To recount all the other meanings of His resurrection, supposing it were possible, would require another whole series of posts, for there are many more than we have mentioned (because they aren't directly about our topic, the crucifixion). Other aspects of our salvation Christ could not have accomplished unless He had risen include, for example: ascending into heaven still bearing our humanity; making us His adopted brothers and sisters; sending us the Holy Spirit; glorifying and deifying us; and on and on. I am not planning to write that whole other series of posts, it being too daunting a task, but I hope this series dispels the notion that we Orthodox empty the Cross of all meaning. And I hope it has made accessible to the non-Orthodox a different set of meanings.

If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also for nothing. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For "He has put all things under His feet." But when He says "all things are put under Him," it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (I Corinthians 15:14-28)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not the Happiest Day

Bun-Bun finally succumbed last night. I found her already beginning to turn cold. I held her in my warm hands for a while, but when her first spasm came, I was ready and euthanized her before you could say, "Jackrabbit." Used twice as much of the inhalant as called for to be sure she was quickly relieved of her distress.

Yesterday I took in what I had been told was a baby Gray Fox. Foxes are born in April, so I knew it wouldn't be a baby and I should never have accepted her. Sure enough, she turned out to be three-quarters grown. She growled at me.

So I fed her and flushed her wounds with antiseptic and gave her a bit of antibiotic in case her injuries should become infected, and then I let her be. She ate cat food; she drank wanter. She held perfectly still.

This morning I opened her cage and although she lifted her head, she did not growl. With heavily gloved hands, I laid a small but thick blanket over her; she never flinched. I wrapped her in the blanket, still without protest. I lifted her in it and took her with me to Chris, on the theory that it might take two to examine her properly; I thought two of her legs were probably broken. Plus, how do you treat a huge abcess on the tongue of a nearly-adult fox - without getting bitten? (And you cannot afford to be bitten by a fox, because they are a rabies vector species. I've been vaccinated against rabies, but you still don't take that kind of chance.)

We put her in a dog pen to see what she would do. Would she try to walk? Run? Climb?

Nothing. She defecated and then sat down right there and refused to budge. "That's odd," I said. "You'd think she'd at least try to move two steps away from it." And that's when we began to have a certain suspicion. Maybe she had no idea where to go. We waved our hands before her face. No response. She was totally blind.

I picked her up, wrapped her in her baby blanket, cradled her in my arms. I kissed the top of her head and then, without discussion, we euthanized her.

Faith, Works, Love

The following is from Saint Diadochos of Photiki's work On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts.

He who loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has; for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love's glory. The chief part of virtue, then, is faith energized by love.

HT: Tony-Allen, where you can read the larger passage.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (16) To be the Firstborn of the Dead (Colossians 1:18)

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2)

By dying and rising again, Christ revealed what we shall be like in the general resurrection. Christ arose from death in a real body. In His post-resurrection appearances, He was able to speak and be heard. He had real wounds, into which the disciples could put their hands. He ate grilled fish with them.

Yet this was a very peculiar, mysterious body! It could enter and exit a locked room at will. It could change appearances, so as to be not immediately recognizable by His closest followers. And as His disciples later found out, this new, deified body was limitless, infinite. It had become a body capable of belonging to countless souls.

When Christ raises us, we shall be like Him, although we do not know exactly what that will entail; much less can we analyze it. Here is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (Chapter 15) about our future bodies:

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."

"O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?"
(I Corinthians 15:35-55)

Monday, July 21, 2008

St. John Chrysostom on Faith Alone

Somebody sent me these passages from "the Golden Mouth", and sorry to say, I'm no longer sure who it was. If it was you, please say so, that I may thank you. (Christopher Orr, was it you?) Or did I perhaps copy these from someone else's blog? At any rate, they're always worth reading or reading again.

Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He saith, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” ( John 17.3 ), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that doth but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing (fn. “i.e. believing”) doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. (Chrysostom, Homily XXXI on John (3: 35, 36). NPNF 1 vol.14. Page 106.)

Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” He shows that not faith only, but a virtuous life also is required, and the consciousness to ourselves of nothing evil. Since the holy of holies does not receive “with full assurance” those who are not thus disposed. For they are holy, and the holy of holies; but here no profane person enters. They were sprinkled as to the body, we as to the conscience, so that we may even now be sprinkled over with virtue itself. (Chrysostom, Homily XIX on Hebrews, NPNF 1 vol.14. Page 445.)

But wherefore hath He chosen us? “That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.” That you may not then, when you hear that “He hath chosen us,” imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, saith he, hath He chosen us, and on this condition, “that we should be holy and without blemish.” (Chrysostom, NPNF 1 vol.13. Page 50.3.)

After this, that we may not be confident in the gospel merely preached, nor think that faith only suffices us for salvation, He utters also another, an awful parable. Which then is this? That of the net.“For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”And wherein doth this differ from the parable of the tares? For there too the one are saved, the other perish; but there, for choosing of wicked doctrines; and those before this again, for not giving heed to His sayings, but these for wickedness of life; who are the most wretched of all, having attained to His knowledge, and being caught, but not even so capable of being saved. Chrysostom, Homily XLVIII on Matthew, NPNF 1 vol.10. Page 295.)

"Then in order that not even these should put confidence in their faith alone, He discourses unto them also concerning the judgment to be passed upon wicked actions; to them that have not yet believed, of coming unto Him by faith, and to them that have believed, of care with respect to their life. For the garment is life and practice. And yet the calling was of grace; wherefore then doth He take a strict account? Because although to be called and to be cleansed was of grace, yet, when called and clothed in clean garments, to continue keeping them so, this is of the diligence of them that are called. (Chrysostom, Homily LXIX on Matthew, NPNF 1 vol.10. Page 423.)

True Story

(Texarkana, Arkansas, 1971) Arnie sat atop a bar stool in his darkened kitchen, weeping. “You have to go away,” he sobbed into the shadows. “You don’t belong here, and my wife is putting her foot down. So you have to leave now, tonight. Please, please… I don’t want to kill any of you! I can’t, can’t -- so please, oh, please, just get out now, while you can!”

With such pleas as these did broken-hearted Arnie continue to address his audience - of cockroaches - far into the night; for he had promised to call the exterminator in the morning. Only when crying had exhausted him did he take himself to bed.

And that’s when they left. Yes, they did. Every one of them, hundreds or maybe thousands of them cleared out that very night. He never called the exterminator. And for as long as I knew Arnie, no cockroach was ever seen in his house again.

P.S.) I've no idea what religion Arnie was, if any.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (15) To Blaze our Trail

...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Christ’s death and resurrection reveal our own path and destiny, which is to die to sin, die to death, die to self, to live in and for Him, and to be glorified and deified in and with Him.

It’s in Holy Baptism we are transferred from the realm of sin and death into Christ’s own, crucified and risen Body. But that is only the new birth. If we are not to remain newborns (or worse), we must crucify ourselves to this world, and this world to ourselves. “They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts,” says St. Paul (Galatians 5:24), and again, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

The only way to overcome the habit of living for our animal selves is to combat it actively. This we do by ascetical practices. We struggle not to give our bellies or any other parts of our bodies all they demand. We force ourselves, when necessary, to keep praying. We struggle to deny ourselves the pleasures of evil thoughts, witty replies to those who insult us, and revenge. We try not to complain about anything and to accept whatever befalls us with meekness.

The object of all these and many other ascetical exercises is emphatically not to punish ourselves, but to grow spiritually, gaining mastery over our flesh (animal selves), making it serve us instead of the other way around, that we may, in turn, offer it to Christ, using it to serve others, rather than ourselves. You cannot follow Christ without following Him to Calvary -- not just in your imagination and emotions, but in your way of life. St. Paul writes:

But whatever things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the communion of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal to you this, too. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 37-16)

No saint (person clearly manifesting Christ in his life and in his person) emerges from a bed of roses, but from the fiery furnace of affliction. That is why the Holy, Precious, Life-giving Cross is the theme and the symbol not only of Christ, but of the Christian life. The entire undertaking is to crucify our selfishness and self-centeredness that we may partake of the Divine Love.

“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Dolittle and the Weepy Morning

Bun-Bun has been failing to grow. He eats like a horse, but all the nutrition goes in one end and comes out the other. I’ve been giving him liquid Immodium, but it hasn’t helped. He’s all skin and bones and his fur looks scruffy. His breathing is also labored. In spite of thrice-daily antibiotics. It was thoroughly distressing. I cried. Demetrios said he’d rather see this poor cottontail euthanized than suffer. “Please take him to the vet!” he said, twice.

And then he, who’d had surgery on Wednesday night, got up and dressed and shaved, declaring he would come with me! I cried some more.

I remembered once telling my mother I wish I had a dog.

“You can’t,” said she. “An untrained dog in the house is a nightmare.”

“What makes you think I wouldn’t train him?” I asked, aghast.

“Demetrios won’t let you discipline him,” she said, eyeing me over the rim of her glasses, with a sort of wicked, merry glint in her eyes.

And I knew she was right. He thinks it’s mean of me if I insist upon obedience from dogs I babysit. It’s not as if I smacked them or anything; I merely enforce my commands. If they don’t come, I carry them to where I want them to be. If they won’t sit, I push their little bottoms to the floor. Etc. Demetrios thinks that’s mean.

Once our cat rolled over onto her back and stuck her tummy out to be rubbed, so I stuck out my foot and obliged.

“Don’t do that!” cried Demetrios, appalled.

“Do what?”

“Rub the cat with your shoes on! Shoes are dirty! Take it off!”

I remembered all these things, plus the dying rat he once prayed for and a couple of hours later we found it running on its wheel and stuffing its mouth, and it was healthier than ever – and remembering, I cried some more. I’m really not worthy to be married to this man, Lord.

So off we went to the only animal clinic around that still sees wild animals, half an hour away, Demetrios holding Bun-Bun in a small box in his lap. (“He is not wild,” said Demetrios. “He is perfectly civilized!”) He, holding the baby bunny and I, trying to rein in my tears.

Demetrios, in the veterinarian’s waiting room, introduced himself to every cat and dog, politely inquiring of their owners about their names, ages and breeds.

“Look, look,” he would whisper, when we were seated; and he'd point to a
Beagle puppy and say, “See how he keeps looking at me out of the side of his eyes!”

When the owner of a Bichon brought her a paper cup full of cold water and she wasn’t interested, Demetrios told him, “Maybe if you just hold it still she will come to it. Here, like this…” and taking the paper cup, he tried to persuade the doggie to drink, with no better luck than her owner.

When I took Bun-Bun out to give him a leaf of spinach, Demetrios bade everybody come have a look.

A vet tech made it known that she would gladly offer Bun-Bun a permanent home once he is fully grown. So that broadens my options.

The regular vet wasn’t in today. One of his partners was seeing the patients. A woman. And suddenly, there she was, talking to me exactly the way Barbara used to, except it was all wrong; she was so very short and Barbara, so very tall; and I realized this was the first time since she died I had taken an animal to anyone but my sister and I missed her so fiercely. The doctor went to get Bun-Bun some medicine and I grabbed her Kleenex and my sunglasses. And as soon as humanly possible, I stumbled out of there, sobbing and sobbing.

She says Bun-Bun has some intestinal parasites and should show marked improvement in two or three days.

The Entirely Loveable God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ

So maybe I'm on a rant or a rampage or something, but now that I've finally grasped the Augustinian error of supposing God to be, above all else, a God of perfect order, especially moral order, it seems I'm seeing it crop up everywhere. Here is another instructive example of where you end up if you go by that assumption, and then I promise to quit already. Or at least I plan to; I'd better not promise.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. An umbrella of grace and forgiveness covers you; you are clothed with Christ, shielded from the law, sin and its stain cannot harm you as you are in Christ.

Did you catch that? God’s Law is something from which you need to be shielded! In other words, God's Law becomes the enemy, indirectly making God, as the Giver and Enforcer of the Law, into the Ultimate Enemy.

In fact, the Law of God is not our enemy, but our friend. As St. Paul says, it was our nanny, keeping us for God until Christ should come. (Galatians 3:24-25) The Law showed us how to approximate love until Love Himself should appear to teach us the more excellent way. The Law prepared us to recognize Love when He appeared.

Sin is our enemy. The Law is purely benevolent, beneficial to us; it is only our own sin, without any aid from God, that not only does harm us but can indeed still kill us, if we persist in it, rejecting Love until the end. (See Romans 7:7-13)

In the flesh of Christ, the demands of God’s law are met. The sinner deserves to die. Christ became the Sinner and died our death, fulfilling ever aspect of the Law, every little mark and tick of the commandment. Not only is there no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus, but the just requirements of the Law, the perfect obedience that the Law demands are fulfilled in Christ and given to you as His gift so that also in you, a sinner from birth, the just demands of the Law are met. No longer do we live according to the flesh, that is, our sinful nature inherited from Adam, but now we live according to the Spirit, that is, our new nature given to us by Christ.

And here we have God, demanding from Christ, in our stead, both perfection and punishment, which duel demand is in fact not lawful (only blessings are decreed for those who keep the Law). Let alone is it moral, just, or loving. But the assumption that God is above all else the God of perfect moral order can’t do without the punishment. Punishment is thought to restore that moral order. Suffering is thought to balance out sin. (In fact, only faithful obedience remedies disobedience.) But then, after the punishment is exacted, we're only back to zero, neutral. What we need is positive righteousness. Hence the requirement in this thinking for BOTH punishment and perfection.

And now we come to the invariable, inescapable, tragic result of this kind of teaching. The blog I quoted yesterday went on to say, "We live in the uncomfortable juxtaposition of loving, delighting, and doing; while at the same time despising, abhorring, and rebelling against the law of God." And the blog I'm looking at today says a similar thing.

The mind held captive by the flesh is hostile to God. Have you ever met someone who was hostile to God? I don’t mean simply irked at Christians, which is often justifiable. I don’t even mean upset with the Church, which is often just as justifiable. I’m talking about outright hostility to toward God. Hatred toward the holy. Hostility toward what is pure and just and true.

Well and truly said! The mind held captive by the flesh wants to go its own way, seek its own well-being, comfort, and pleasure and too bad about everybody else. But the converted mind, in Orthodoxy anyway, doesn't experience this ambivalence toward God we so often hear described by others. If you do, maybe you weren't taught that God's Law is a function of His perfect, selfless, unfailing, unbounded Love. We quite naturally rebel against any Law not defined by Love. As well we should; truly, it isn't holy or true or pure or just.

If you want an inkling of what God is like, call to your mind whoever or whatever is most beautiful to you, so tenderly, achingly, wondrously beautiful the very thought moves you to tears. God is the Author of that! Meaning He is infinitely more beautiful, wonderful, loveable, than that. He is more beautiful, wonderful, loveable than anybody can even imagine. There is no "dark side" to God, nothing about Him whatsoever that is not thoroughly, utterly delightful, precious, appealing, and dear. "In Him is no darkness at all."


Friday, July 18, 2008

God as Law vs. God as Love

Here is a perfect example of the error I've been pondering and writing about for several days now, in which the most fundamental characterization of God is thought to be Law, when in reality, the Law proceeds from, and is a function of, Love. Love is the most basic truth about God.

Here is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of the blog post I've just found:

In the beginning, when all was formless and void, God created all things giving it substance and form, establishing order out of chaos. He did so through the Law. By the Law is meant the eternal, unchangeable Law of God, which is the revelation of His will, the standard of perfection, and the mold and fashion out of which all creatures were formed and conformed, so as they would be happy. God is holy, and His Law is holy. His Law is the image of Himself; it is the word of Life and Truth declaring that of which He is the perfect pattern. ‘Be ye holy,’ He says, ‘for I am holy.’ ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’

Can you see how unbiblical this actually is? What does the Scripture say? That God created everything not through the Law, but by His Word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and without Him was nothing made that was made." And that Word was Christ, Who took flesh and came among us.

In what image were we made? The image of the Law? No, the image of the Holy Trinity, the God who is Love. He Himself, not His Law, is "the mold and fashion out of which all creatures were formed and conformed."

Is the Law our standard of perfection? No, for Christians that Standard is a Person, Jesus Christ.

Christ is also the perfect "image of Himself"; Christ "is the word of Life and Truth declaring that of which He is the perfect pattern." He is the revelation of God.

And so forth. Read the whole blog entry to see further implications of this error.

It makes all the difference in the world.

Why Did Jesus Die? (14) To Despoil and Transfigure Hades

There are two seemingly conflicting images Orthodoxy uses most of all to describe Christ’s rescue of us from death: the destruction of Hades and the transforming of Hades. We use these images together, each complementing the other, each expressing the same reality. While these ways of speaking may seem contradictory, the deeper, underlying reality is that every evil, including Hades, is destroyed precisely by being transformed into good, as when a person’s ignorance is destroyed when he acquires knowledge, or his foolishness is destroyed when he acquires wisdom.

Jesus Died to Despoil Hades

On the one hand, we see Christ as the Avenger. He is taking His revenge upon death and the devil, and He has done it, paradoxically, by dying. He enters death’s dark domain to destroy it from inside. Christ died to go down into Hades, which could not contain Him, and burst it open, and release death’s captives. This began and was revealed the moment He died:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53.)

He pillaged Hades; He plundered the grave. He despoiled satan of his subjects and his chief weapon, death, by which he had kept us in slavery all our lives. “Having disarmed principalities and powers [names for ranks of angels; in this case, fallen angels, agents of satan], He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:15) (Note: death is the devil's weapon, not God's!) Here is Christ, not the victim of God’s Wrath, but the one pouring it out, with His blood.

"...the gate-keepers of Hades trembled at beholding Me clothed with a robe spattered with revenge; for I being God, have vanquished my enemies with the Cross, and I will rise again..." ( Greek Orthodox Services, p. 386.)

Death ... not only ceases to claim those who are still to fall [in the future], but also lets free those already captured, being subjected to splendid devastation by the power of our Saviour... Having preached to the spirits in hell, once disobedient, He came out as conqueror by resurrecting His temple like a beginning of our hope … and giving us along with it other blessings as well. (St. Cyril of Alexandria, 5th Festive Letter 1, 29-40 (SC 732, 284), quoted in Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent of Christ into Hades in Eastern and Western Theological Traditions, A lecture delivered at St Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, USA, on 5 November 2002.)

"Truly, Hades was pierced and destroyed by the divine fire when it received in its heart him who was pierced in his side with a spear for the salvation of us who sing: Blessed are You, O delivering God!" (Greek Orthodox Services, p. 384.)

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8) Remembering that God’s justice is eschatological, that is, to be consummated only at the end of time, we know that ‘By descending into Hades, Christ did not destroy the devil as a personal, living creature,’ but for now has made the ultimate victory sure; He has ‘abolished the power of the devil’, that is, deprived the devil of authority and power stolen by him from God.” (Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, op. cit.)

Jesus Died to Transfigure Hades

On the other hand, we Orthodox say Christ died to tread that dark path before us, so that now, when we walk it, we find it full of His Light, full of His Love, full of His Life, full of Himself. His presence makes everything heaven for those who love Him, for to them, He is heaven. His presence destroys death as we had known it, by transforming it into the gateway to new life. The very next two verses of the hymn cited above say:

The tomb [another synonym for Hades] is happy, having become Divine when it received within it the Treasure of life, the Creator, as one who slumbers for the salvation of us who sing: Blessed are You, O delivering God!

The life of all was willing to lie in a grave, in accordance with the law of the dead, making it appear as the fountain of the Resurrection, for the salvation of us who sing: Blessed are you, O delivering God! (Hymn for Great Friday, Greek Orthodox Services, p. 384.)

Sometimes we manage to combine both metaphors in a single verse of a single hymn:

When You, Immortal life, came down to Death, you killed Hades through the dazzling brightness of Your Godhead; and when you raised up the dead from the abyss, all the powers of heaven cried aloud; Christ, our God, Giver of Live, Glory to You! (Greek Orthodox Services, p. 373.)

Jesus died to destroy Hades as hell, transforming it into the forecourt of heaven.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Miscellaneous Bits

Demetrios came home from the hospital this evening. He is resting comfortably in bed. He hopes to go back to work on Tuesday.

St. Francis is the best hospital, by far, we've ever experienced. The staff was obviously trying to emulate the attitude of their patron, Francis of Assisi - and succeeding. One nurse told us the staff had gotten their customer service training from - get this! - the Ritz Carlton hotel people! This hospital is operated much like a hotel, too, complete with room service. And the nurses and techs do NOT come in and bother you all the time; they let you rest and sleep.

The physical plant is elegant, too, beautiful. All except the chapel. It is UGLY. Go figure.

Some woman came around this morning to offer Demetrios communion. Catholic woman. Apparently they had some interesting conversation.

* * *

Today I got a message that somebody had listed me as a friend in Plaxo Pulse, with which I am hugely unfamiliar. So I responded, to discover a whole page of people I was supposed to "confirm." Some of them I don't even know who they are, but I confirmed anyway. So if you've gotten one of those connection thingies from me, and you aren't sure I know who you are, how about please kindly introducing yourself? Thanks! Or else tell me I've made a mistake.

* * *

Four parts left in the "Why Did Jesus Die?" series. Apparently I'm publishing 'em faster than most people can read 'em, so I'll gladly slow down and space the remaining installments out some. Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me by letting me know you read them!

* * *

I can't even begin to express to you how much that Gallatin podcast has meant to me. It answers the riddle that has been plaguing and baffling me for YEARS, which is, why do Westerners interpret Holy Scripture, and especially the Crucifixion, in such punitive terms? And why do they so doggedly stick to that interpretation when another is offered them, and why would they even want to? And what's with this notion that punishment cures anything or helps anything?

Now I think I get it. And what a tremendous sense of relief there is in being able to explain what before had so vexed my mind!

This punitive stuff comes from a failure to understand that, although indeed God is absolutely perfect morally, yet true and perfect morality is not defined by any "code" or set of dos and don'ts. Instead, morality is ultimately defined by Love, is dependent upon Love, is whatever Love calls for.

When so-called "righteousness" is seen as and end in itself, not considered as a function of Love, and thought to be the most basic characterization of God, then suddenly, suffering makes some sense. Because then sin upsets the moral scheme of things. The sinner must be made to suffer, because that is felt to restore the balance in the moral scheme. Put plainly, it just doesn't feel right for a sinner not to have to suffer (unless, of course, the sinner is myself)! At least, in that context it doesn't; Love is a different context. That's why the Prodigal Son's elder brother was so upset. That's why the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up the Samaritan village that would not receive them.

"But He turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.'"(Luke 9:55)

Why Did Jesus Die? (13) To Preach to the Dead

When Christ, upon the Cross, cried out, “It is finished!” He was referring to His sufferings and struggles. He was not yet finished, He was far from finished, working His once-for-all, saving, mighty deeds. Now He descended to Hades to reveal Himself with power to those whom satan was holding captive there and to bring His own Light to them and by it to lead them out of the darkness.


Hades? What is that supposed to be?

Hades is a term borrowed from Greek mythology, used by the Orthodox as a synonym for death. It is a way of speaking about death, which is otherwise very difficult to speak of at all, in which we make spatial imagery out of what is more literally a condition.

Everyone dies, or in this way of speaking, goes to Hades, even the righteous. This does not necessarily involve torment, but before Christ entered Hades, the souls there, separated from (and grieving for) their bodies, lived a sort of shadowy existence, gradually wasting away, heading toward annihilation.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient... (1 Peter 3:18-19)

For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (1 Peter 4: 6)

St. Maximos the Confessor teaches us that these verses mean Christ, when He descended into Hades, gave a chance to everyone there, those who had never heard of Him and even those who had rejected God during their lifetimes and were chastised during their lifetimes accordingly (“judged in the flesh”). (St. John Maximos, Questions-Answers to Thalassius 7. )

St. John of Damascus, similarly, taught that Christ revealed Himself in Hades to those who had been ignorant of Him in their lifetimes.

The soul [of Christ] when it is deified descended into Hades, in order that, just as the Sun of Righteousness rose for those upon the earth, so likewise He might bring light to those who sit under the earth in darkness and the shadow of death: in order that just as he brought the message of peace to those upon the earth, and of release to the prisoners, and of sight to the blind, and became to those who believed the Author of everlasting salvation and to those who did not believe, a denunciation of their unbelief, so He might become the same to those in Hades: That every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth. And thus after He had freed those who has been bound for ages, straightway He rose again from the dead, showing us the way of resurrection. (St. John of Damascus, The Exact Exposition of Orthodox Faith 3, 29.)

The Orthodox do not permit themselves to speculate upon how many of the residents of what had previously been Hades were persuaded, repented, and chose Christ. The point we make is that all were given the chance, and that all henceforth were made (willingly or unwillingly) to live in a place Christ now and forever fills. Death is no longer what it once was! It is no longer separation from God (even if some might wish it were), and it is no longer permanent separation from our bodies, either.

We do not know if every one followed Christ when He rose from hell. Nor do we know if every one will follow Him to the eschato¬logical Heavenly Kingdom when He will become ‘all in all’. But we do know that since the descent of Christ into Hades the way to resurrection has been opened for ‘all flesh’, salvation has been granted to every human being, and the gates of paradise have been opened for all those who wish to enter through them. This is the faith of the Early Church inherited from the first generation of Christians and cherished by Orthodox Tradition. This is the never-extinguished hope of all those who believe in Christ Who once and for all conquered death, destroyed hell and granted resurrection to the entire human race.
(Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, lecture, Christ the Conqueror of Hell)

There are those in the Church (of whom I am one) who believe Christ still preaches to those who die, and in this way, people who during their lifetimes had never heard of Him or to whom He had been misrepresented have their chance truly to know Him and embrace Him. The Church permits such a pious belief, without necessarily endorsing it.

Hades truly ruled the race of man, but not forever, for You, O mighty One, when You were placed in the grave, demolished the locks of death with the palm of Your hand, O Element of Life, proclaiming to those sitting yonder from the ages a true salvation, having become, O Savior, the First-Born of the dead. (Greek Orthodox Services, p. 381.)


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Gall Bladder... what Demetrios is minus one of tonight, and he doesn't miss it one bit. He says he feels sweetly drowsy and relaxed for the first time in days and is glad he isn't suffering the bloating he was expecting. (They have to pump your belly full of gas to do the procedure.)

I told him after supper last night we ought to go to the emergency room, but he was very tired, from two nights of being kept awake by pain, and didn't want to. By bedtime last night, he said he was feeling much better.

That lasted until about 2 a.m. My darling dear waited until 6:00 to awaken me! We were in the ER by 6:45. By 10:00 they had confirmed his self-diagnosis and had put him in a room. The surgery began at 7:00 this evening and lasted forever because, the surgeon said, "the gall bladder was completely rotten" and crammed full of gallstones, not a space left in it. It's a wonder he managed to get it all out through the laparoscope and didn't have to do open surgery.

Demetrios fell asleep as I was leaving, saying, "Everybody's so wonderful. Don't know how to thank them..."

Thank you, God!


Don't Complain About What?

Earlier, I wrote that if we could only learn to stop complaining, even inwardly, then in the process we would have succeeded in becoming saints. And I still say that's true.

It just won't work in my case. Why not? Because I really don't, myself, have anything to stop complaining about! When it comes to bearing afflictions with a saintly attitude, I just have no material to work with. (External material, I mean. There's always the inner mess with which to struggle.) Millions of people would fall on their knees in tears, blessing God every moment, to have it as good as I have in this life.

And if I ever think I have a complaint, I'm just being a grossly deluded, spoiled brat. Period.

And if I stop complaining, I shall simply have stopped being quite so absurd and assinine. It takes considerably more than that to be a saint.


Yet More Joy!

Grace and Aaron are planning, come February, to increase the size of our family. Grace is my sister Wendy's second daughter.

Okay, well, there is a downside to this. It will put Wendy neck-and-neck with me in the Grandmother Stakes, with four grandchildren apiece. Are my own children really going to allow this to happen?

Another joy: it's only about two more weeks now before Wendy, out in California, moves back in with her husband, Roy, in Arkansas, after some six years apart. They are going on a retreat together first, during which they hope to renew their vows, and then they are driving to Arkansas together.

Go for it, Grace! Go for it, Wendy and Roy!


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

But How Does God Want to be Worshipped?

Pr. Hall has a good commentary about church music on his blog.

It's not about pleasing us, moving us, making us feel good. Nothing wrong with feeling good, but that isn't what it's all about. We aren't supposed to go to church to serve ourselves. We are supposed to go there to offer prayers and praises and selves and each other to Him. If He is pleased, our goal is met.

And in the Old Testament, God is incredibly particular about how He wants to be worshipped, spelling it out in great detail. Christian worship (well, Orthodox worship, at any rate; I cannot speak for the non-Orthodox) is a Christianized continuation of that worship, which He Himself specified. It's all about pleasing Him, worshipping Him not only in our minds, not only in emotions, but above all on His terms, "in spirit and in truth."


God of Perfect Love = God of Perfect Justice

God's absolutely perfect morality stems from and is the expression of His perfect love.

Listening again to Matthew Gallatin's podcasts, I thought this one in particular (#6 in the series, "Sola Scriptura and the Philosophical Church") was so important that I took the time this morning to transcribe the whole podcast for you.

Last time, I characterized the fundamental difference between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity like this:

For the Christian East, God is most essentially a God of absolute, self-denying love. For the Christian West, God is most essentially a God of absolute order, most especially absolute moral order. This understanding of God in the West is a legacy it inherits from Augustine of Hippo, who began to develop this picture of God as he began to marry platonic philosophy with Christian theology. That legacy has been carried on by men who stand as his successors, like St. Anselm or even St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the Reformers carry on this same, platonically influenced view of God in their various theologies. When I closed, I said that Christians in the various Western traditions are by and large very unaware of how this view of God impacts their faith. They don’t know how significantly this view alters the apostolic understanding of who God is and what He is like and the role that we human beings play in His life. As I say, this goes back to Augustine, and let’s investigate that a little bit.

First of all, Augustine’s God is not one who is by nature selfless and other-directed. Instead, he is very much like the “Ultimate Reality” of the Greeks, like the already- mentioned ”Good” of Plato or Plotinus’ “One” or even Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover”. The God the Christian West inherits from Augustine is one who ultimately is focused upon Himself, upon His own perfection. And everything He does is motivated by His need to preserve the absolute order that His perfect nature demands. This understanding of God permeates Western Christian life. I found it exemplified on an Evangelical Christian website that I visited just earlier today. In his teaching about the nature of God, this particular minister proclaimed, “Above all things, God is jealous of his own holiness.” Now if you’re paying attention here, you’ll notice that I’m equating holiness with perfect order here. But in truth, that is exactly how the West has come to understand God's holiness. What makes God holy is the impeccable moral order of His being, his absolute moral perfection.

As we shall see shortly, this view of holiness has powerful implications for the Christian West’s basic understanding of salvation and of the believer’s relationship with God. And I think that again our investigation here of these implications may be helped by first having a look at the contrasting Eastern Christian understanding of divine holiness.

Now certainly, Eastern Christians know that God is absolutely morally perfect. That is an aspect of His being not just that we understand, but it is an aspect of His being that we experience in our ascetic and sacramental embracing of God. We often literally tremble in the presence of His perfection. But our experience also teaches us that His moral perfection flows from His self-denying, self-forgetting, other-directed love. It is this love which is the Source of His perfect moral virtue, of His truth, His absolute goodness, His ultimate righteousness.

Jesus makes it clear in the Gospels that perfect morality flows from perfect selfless love. As He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and all your mind This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-40) You see, the Lord tells us plainly here that one who loves fulfills all of God’s moral commandments. Why? Because such a person is like God – completely selfless. I mean, if I love God with all of my heart and all of my soul, and with my entire mind, there is not a smidgeon of me left to focus on myself. I become wholly other-directed, just like my morally perfect Creator. The selfish desires of my own will, which are the source of all my moral imperfections, disappear. The fulfillment of the second command, to love my neighbor as myself, naturally follows.

When I became Orthodox, I discovered that I had spent much of my life misinterpreting this commandment of Christ. Like so many others, I’d taken Jesus to mean that I should love my neighbor with the same fervor and to the same degree that I loved myself — and I love myself a lot. But what Jesus is really saying is that I should be so selfless that I live only for my neighbor. In my neighbor’s presence, I recognize only one existence: his or hers. All my concerns are for him. I keep none for myself. When I empty myself of me, I become my neighbor. God commands us to love Him and our neighbor like this because this is the way He loves us. We are everything to Him.

Certainly, we are creatures who have dishonored Him by our sinfulness. We have willfully chosen separation from Him and willfully embraced the death that comes as a result and we can never measure up to God’s flawless morality. But that doesn’t make God stand aloof from us in disdain. He does not retreat from us, hotly displeased by the way we have marred His perfect universe. Instead, he responds just like the Good Samaritan, who brings healing love to a wounded Jew, a Jew, who just like the rest of his people, hates Samaritans, as we can read in Luke 10:25-37. By the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Holy Trinity selflessly reaches out to heal us of our great disease of death and sin, restoring us to intimate communion with the godhead and with each other.

I’ve heard Western critics of Orthodoxy say that Orthodox Christians do not recognize the holiness of God. They say that in our Orthodox focus on God’s love we forget about God’s justice. But that’s not the case. It’s just that, for us, God’s holiness IS His selfless love – which is ultimately concerned with healing and redeeming us. As for justice, well, justice is a devotion to setting matters right, restoring things to their proper state and their proper relationship. In our Eastern perspective when God unselfishly empties Himself for our salvation, that’s just what He is doing: He makes it possible for us to be right again, to return to the mystical union with God that we were created to experience. Of course, the reason Western critics accuse the Orthodox of not paying enough attention to God’s holiness and justice is that they have a much different view of both, holiness and justice, an outlook that comes from Augustine and his successors. The West interprets God’s holiness as his unapproachable moral perfection, and what’s more, God is first and foremost concerned about preserving His moral perfection and protecting it from all infringements. As for justice, well, the Western understanding of that also comes from the Greek philosophers. To the Western mind, God's chief goal is not the healing of broken human creatures. Instead, it is the re-establishment of the moral order which He conferred upon the creation in the beginning, an order which Adam and Eve messed up.

Let me once again make the contrast plain and clear before we continue. In the Christian East we find a God of perfectly selfless love whose supreme objective is to heal humankind and restore it to intimacy with him. In the West, we discover a self-concerned God who is above all things protective of His own righteousness. When it comes to humanity, His main concern is righting the wrong human beings have done to Him. True, even in this Western view, God’s saving of His own honor results in the salvation of at least some human beings. But their salvation is secondary to healing the wound they have given God. This understanding of God and the nature of salvation is evident in the teaching of Augustine, and we’ll begin to examine that next time.

Why Did Jesus Die? (12) To be our Immanuel

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

“Immanuel,” in Hebrew, means “God with us.” The Lord was not only with us, but was and is one of us. Born as one of us, He lived as one of us, accepting even hunger and thirst, fatigue and temptation. Now He also accepts torture and death, both to experience and to display complete solidarity with the human race. In fact, He accepts even to die as a criminal, between two real criminals.

He even, as a Man, shares the feeling sinners have of being lost and alone, which they interpret as being godforsaken. Quoting Psalm 22:1, He cries, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

We may rightly interpret this in several ways, for instance:

* that Jesus was praying the first words of the Psalm (which ultimately becomes a Psalm of victory)

* and/or that He was reminding the onlookers of that prophetic Psalm

* and/or that, humanly speaking, He was referring to God’s having let this happen

* and/or that He was sharing sinners’ experience of feeling lost and godforsaken

What we must not do, however, is suppose God the Father could ever in truth reject God the Son. That same Psalm 22, the one that begins with, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" later on (v. 24) tells us explicitly that from the Father's point of view, this did not actually happen.

For He has not despised nor abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard.

When He cried to God (not later), God heard Him. Nor is it even possible that the Father should have abandoned the Son in the sense of turning away from Him in anger or disgust and separating Himself, for Father and Son share a single essence. Moreover they share a single, divine will, meaning if the Father had turned away from Him, the Son would also have had to turn away from Himself. Nor could the Father and the Son together be abandoning the human Christ only, for in Christ, humanity and divinity are united inseparably and without partition. Whatever is done to Christ is done to the Person, the Bearer of both natures.

So from God the Father’s point of view this forsaking did not happen. God, in His infinite love - infinite! knowing no limits - never forsakes anyone. He is sometimes said to give sinners up to uncleanness, as in Romans 1:24, or to give them over to reprobate minds, Romans 1:28; but in none of these cases is God abandoning anyone. He is allowing them to go their own way, abandoning Him. St. Paul also writes that God “delivered Him [Christ] up for us all…” (Romans 8:32) but again, this means He allowed wicked men to crucify Him. It emphatically does not mean, cannot mean, God somehow withdrew from His own, incarnate Self!

In fact, paradoxically, the fact that God never abandons anyone is the very point of Jesus’ cry -- for if, in His humanity, God shares even this, the existential loneliness of sinners, worse than death, then it is certain that God is with us forever in all things. Even in this, we are never abandoned. Christ died to share our human lot to the last, bitter dregs, and to redeem it. “Whatever is not assumed,” say the Fathers, “is not healed.” But Christ shares every single thing it means for us to be fallen human beings, except blame. (Hebrews 4:15)

He is with us always and in every way, as our beloved, our hope, our joy and consolation, in all sorrows, in all trials, even in death, even in our feelings of godforsakenness. In life and in death and beyond, He is our Immanuel, our God-with-us.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me,"
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
(Psalm 139:7-12)


Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (11) Jesus Didn’t Have to Die to be our Scapegoat

Ever wondered where the term “scapegoat” came from? No? Well, please allow me to tell you anyway.

In the Old Testament, we read of Aaron, Moses’ brother, being commanded to

take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle…Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the LORD's lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:7-10)

Then Aaron was to sacrifice the goat upon which the Lord’s lot had fallen, according to specific instructions that occupy the next ten verses of this story, and after that was done,

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)

As a model for Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the scapegoat has its pros and cons.

One of the cons is that this passage, running through verse 26, is the only mention of the scapegoat in the whole Bible (that I have found, at least). The scapegoat simply isn't a very big deal. He provides a minor type of Christ, in that he carries away sins. But there is no major prefiguring going on here, no big billing given the scapegoat, as you would expect if it were to be a central way of thinking about Christ. Nobody says, "Behold, the Goat of God, that takes away the sins of the world!" even though the scapegoat did. This is very little here to make into Pen-Sub Atonement.

Here indeed is a clear instance, unique as far as I know, of symbolic transfer of guilt to the goat. (Does anyone know whether the meaning of the priest laying his hand on the head of sin offerings is anywhere specified?) But the scapegoat wasn’t ritually slaughtered for that guilt! His flesh was not offered up on the altar and he gave no blood. He was released alive. Granted the goat’s life-expectancy in the desert was short; still, the point obviously wasn’t whether he lived or died. The point was to get rid of the nation’s sins by taking them off into never-never-land (as it were).

Death has to be combated by death, specifically by the death of the God-Man, who alone can destroy it; but guilt is something God simply takes away. He is the Scapegoat. He is the King in the parable, who forgave his servant’s great debt. He is the Owner of the vineyard, who paid his late-coming workers more than their bargain called for; in fact, there wasn't actually any bargain at all! He only said, "You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive." (Matthew 20:7) He is the Father of the Prodigal Son, who required no payback or punishment, but immediately ordered up a feast and said, “Let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!'

And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:23-24)

Shall we?


God, East and West

Matthew Gallatin has an outstanding series of podcasts with the not always applicable title of "Sola Scriptura And Philosophical Christianity." Part Six of this series is especially excellent. In it, Gallatin, as an Orthodox believer and a philospher, gives his own "diagnosis" of how the Western view of God diverged from the Eastern one. He says it goes back to St. Augustine's thinking about God in overly Platonic terms. For Plato, the "One" (God) was "the Good". What was this ultimate, perfect Good? It was perfect order, specifically perfect moral order. In St. Augustine's marriage of Plato to Christ, God creates mankind because man, like rocks or rivers, is needed to fill a specific niche in His perfect order of things. When man sins, he upsets the perfect moral order which Plato conceives as the ultimate Good. God's concern, in response, is to restore the perfection of His creation. That indeed involves saving some men, but their salvation is secondary to the main objective of healing the wound inflicted upon God by our having messed up His creation.

All this, of course, is very different from the Orthodox understanding, in which the ultimate Good, the perfect holiness, is perfect love. For us, the God of perfect, selfless, self-denying, self-forgetting Love created us because of this overflowing love, so that we could participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity. In Orthodoxy, when man sins, God's immediate objective becomes to restore man. He never turns away from us; never seeks anything for Himself.

Matthew Gallatin fleshes all this out very clearly and succintly, far better than I am describing it, supplying the appropriate Scriptural quotations, too.

Please, please, take 10-12 minutes to listen to it. It's terribly important!


Sunday, July 13, 2008

At our Dinner Club the Other Night

Nick: I suppose I'm a hypocrite, same as many other people...

Daphne: No, you're not!

Nick: Well, thank you, but --"

Daphne: Gimme a break! Nick, you have to be religious before you can be a hypocrite!


Why Did Jesus Die? (10) Substitutionary Themes in the Atonement

A certain theme of substitution runs throughout all the ways of thinking about the Cross. That is, since Christ has died for us, we no longer have to die. "I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die”. (John 11:25-26) He means souls and bodies that have become separated will one day be reunited, having first been perfected and glorified. He also means, by saying “shall never die,” that neither our souls nor our bodies will ever be separated from God.

He died to rescue us from death, as a fireman might die to rescue a child from a burning house. This is how we read such verses as:

4 He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. 5 But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. 6 All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins. 7 And he, because of his affliction, opens not his mouth: he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 8 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death. (Isaiah 53:4-8, Septuagint)

Another place in the Bible where we can discern an element of substitution – or at least role reversal – is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Christ remained righteous at all times, else we could not become “the righteousness of God in Him.” That is why St. Paul is careful to add, “who knew no sin.” We do not imagine that a person, especially a divine person, could literally morph into a thing, especially into sin. Rather, St. Paul means that in Jesus’ dying, sin died. He and sin died together on the Cross. (See Part 04 of this series.) St. Peter means the same thing when he writes of Him “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

If we are circumspect about it (circumspection being necessitated by heterodox teaching), we can also describe this same thing, the necessity of dying to destroy death, metaphorically and say Christ bore the penalty of our sin upon the Cross. We do not mean the Father was literally punishing the world through the Son; for this is not the kind of unmerciful God we worship.

We do mean that what happened, like what happened to a sacrificial animal, had the same effect as if it had been for punishment; that, together with the fact that we indeed deserved punishment, is why the metaphor is apt. God allowed His sinless One to suffer and die exactly as a sinner would; in fact, the same way a criminal in those days did die. (Indeed, He was crucified with two other men who really were criminals.) This, although we were the ones who deserved to suffer and die, while He did not.

Christ assumed our nature; He voluntarily submitted to all the consequences of sin. He took on Himself the responsibility for our error, while remaining a stranger to sin, in order to resolve the tragedy of human liberty and in order to bridge the gulf between God and man by leading him into the heart of His person where there is no room for any division or interior conflict. (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church, p. 153)

Another verse whose irony gives us at least a hint of substitution is, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')." (Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23)

The curses here are prescribed by the Law of Moses. Again, they do not have to do with God the Father blaming His all-righteous Son for our sins. St John Chrysostom explains:

In reality, the people were subject to another curse, which says, ‘Cursed is every one that continues not in the things that are written in the book of the Law.’” (Deut. xxvii. 26.) To this curse, I say, people were subject, for no man had continued in, or was a keeper of, the whole Law; but Christ exchanged this curse for the other, ‘Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree.’ … It was like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment. For Christ took upon Him not the curse of transgression, but the other curse, in order to remove that of others. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, Chapter 3, emphasis mine.)

God the Father, then, is not transferring our curse onto Christ. Christ is taking upon Himself a different curse. He subjects Himself to one curse in the course of freeing us from another.

It was indeed “like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment” – one readily sees the simile – but this is a simile, a figure of speech, for besides such a substitution being legally unacceptable, punishment is not in question where there is forgiveness. To forgive is to rescind the punishment, to overrule the penalty, to cancel the debt, to give up ones claim against another. Forgiveness and punishment are opposites and mutually exclusive. Where punishment is exacted (except in the case of chastisement), there is no forgiveness. And no loving either, but only self-serving, which is something in which our God never indulges. "God is love," and "love seeketh not her own."

Let the Pharisees grumble if they think it unfair, or let the elder brother of the Prodigal Son howl for “justice”; the unkindness is theirs. (And so is the error regarding the nature of justice.) As for us, let us simply fall before Christ’s cross in tears of overwhelming, grateful, joyous repentance.

“For scarcely in behalf of a just man does one die; yet perhaps one might bring himself to die for a good man. But God demonstrates His love towards us, because when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-9)


Saturday, July 12, 2008

St. Cyril of Alexandria on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

What then is the object of the parable? Let us examine the occasion which led to it; for so we shall learn the truth. The blessed Luke therefore had himself said a little before of Christ the Saviour of us all, "And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, This man receives sinners and eats " with them." As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness and love to man, and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men whose lives were impure, Christ very necessarily set before them the present parable, to show them clearly this very thing, that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm, and who knows how to live holily, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct, to be earnest in following His will, so that when any are called unto repentance, even if they be men highly blameable, he must rejoice rather, and not give way to an unloving vexation on their account.

For we also sometimes experience something of this sort. For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action, and abstaining from every thing disapproved by the law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men: while another is perhaps weak and trodden down, and humbled unto every kind of wickedness, guilty of base deeds, loving impurity, given to covetousness, and stained with all evil. And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God, and asks the forgiveness of his former offences: he prays for mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin, sets his affection on virtuous deeds. Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life, he is admitted to divine baptism, and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him. And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this, and even say, 'This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions, and has spoken such and such words, has not paid unto the judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a grace thus noble and admirable: he has been inscribed among the sons of God, and honoured with the glory of the saints.' Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming to the purpose of the universal Father. For He greatly rejoices when He sees those who were lost obtaining salvation, and raises them up again to that which they were in the beginning, giving them the dress of freedom, and adorning them with the chief robe, and putting a ring upon their hand, even the orderly behaviour which is pleasing to God and suitable to the free.

It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for He heals those who are sick; He raises those who are fallen; He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled; He brings back him who has wandered; He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life those who were wallowing in the mire of sin; He seeks those who were lost; He raises as from the dead those who had suffered the spiritual death. Let us also rejoice: let us, in company with the holy angels, praise Him as being good, and loving unto men; as gentle, and not remembering evil. For if such is our state of mind, Christ will receive us, by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

St. Cyril of Alexander, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Sermon CVII.

Some people still cannot accept the thought of God not punishing all sinners, even repentant ones, at least vicariously in Christ (and again, directly, in hell, if they do not repent; apparently the torment and death Christ bore are still not sufficient in those cases). They are the ones who will tell you, "But this parable isn't the whole story." No, but the Father's disposition toward sinners is the main point of the story.