Friday, April 30, 2010

A Whole New Upstairs

Well, the new carpeting was put in yesterday. It's like moving in, AGAIN, second time in as many months, since we had to do much of the same stuff the painting required, moving furniture around, removing drawers to make the furniture easier to move around... We are very tired.

Hint from Helen: If accuracy of color is important to you, do NOT buy carpet on the basis of a tiny sample.

The sample we had was about 3x5 inches. You cannot get a proper idea of the color from such a small swatch.

So how did our colors turn out? Well, the color called "Chateau White," which in the store looked creamy, almost white, looks beige in our house. I'm so glad we didn't get one of the slightly darker shades I had preferred! I didn't want a beige carpet, but if I must have one, this is about the prettiest, being relatively light. And of course it's a huge improvement over the dark, pine green we used to have. So I'm content. Demetrios loves it.

As for the red, it turned out not to be that Chinese color at all, when installed in our house. Neither is it one of those dark, rose reds or wine reds. Nothing subtle or muted about this; it's pure, bright, cherry red. And it's smashing! It looks even better than I had hoped it would; in fact, much better. It's as deep a color as the old, pine green, but unlike that, this one isn't gloomy; this one glows. So even though it's by no means a pale color, it lights up the dark hallway. In fact, it makes the white walls look pink at the bottom, an interesting effect. It looks great on the stairs, too, adding spark to the downstairs hallway, with its white walls and white, tiled floor.

We feel we have a whole new upstairs, all freshly painted and carpeted and tidied, all clean and bright.

Now all we need is curtains in one room and bedspreads (counterpanes) in each room; we don't have a single one. I think I'll crochet or knit lacy ones!

More Upcoming Projects

These are two doilies by Herbert Niebling, a 20th Century German designer of lace, of "Art Knitting". If you are a knitter, don't they rather radically revise your notion of what it is possible to achieve in knitting? And even if you aren't a knitter, don't these images rather stretch your idea of what lace is? They do both of those for me, which is why I am eager to knit them.

They're intended to be doilies, but by knitting them with baby fingering yarn instead of crochet thread, and on normal needles instead of toothpicks, I'm going to make baby blankets or afghans out of them.

The one reminds me of jellyfish, and I already know how I'm going to attach it to a background in a color very close to the one shown here, a deep, ocean blue.

The other is gladioli or some such flower, not sure. Haven't figured out the color(s) for it yet.

I've acquired both patterns and can hardly wait.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off-line for Awhile

Later this morning, the installers are coming to re-carpet our entire upstairs, which as of now, still has its original carpeting, about 30 years old. New carpet is to be off-white in two of the bedrooms. The other two, plus the hallway and stairs - bright red! The name of the color is "Chinese Lacquer," and it's apt. As most of the rest of our house is white, this should add a much needed, if eye-popping, splash.

Anyway, I must now disconnect my computer and move it to another how soon when I shall be able to get it back onl-line.

You Go Back to your Prayers and Let Us Handle It

or, If I were Irish, This Would Make me Scream

But as I'm only part Irish, and no part Catholic, and the letter is therefore not addressed to me, I merely sigh.

This is the concluding section of Pope Benedict's recent letter to the Irish concerning the mostly-homosexual, pedophile scandal. It outlines, as you see, how the Pope proposes to deal with it. My captions inserted, in blue, so you can see a quick summary of How to Deal With This Crisis.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

I'm setting aside Lent this year as a time when you should pray.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country.  You should go to Confession and do penance and try to obtain mercy for the Church.  I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

You should make reparations for the sexual abuse by adoring the Eucharist.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

A Papal Visit

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I'm ordering a retreat ("mission") for clergy and monastics, to review conciliar documents and papal teaching on priesthood.  I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

Always keep in mind that you are dependent upon us (priests) for your salvation.  In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the priesthood. “The priest”, he wrote, “holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods.” The CurĂ© d’Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.” Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

In some countries, we've already taken steps to protect children.  We just haven't applied them in Ireland until now.  Never mind why; the important thing is, now we have begun to work on it.  What, specifically, we are doing, we needn't mention.  I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for the safety of children in church environments. Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

Here's a special prayer for you, opening with a very tactful reminder that you'll go to hell unless you remain a faithful Catholic.  I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church.  And, finally, to deal with this sorry situation, here's my papal blessing.  As you make use of this prayer in your families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen. With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Not that I particularly recommend it, but you can read the entire letter at the Vatican website, together with the prayer.  You'll find nothing about policy change or concrete reforms or disciplinary steps or safety measures to protect children, not a word.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Mutterings on Evolution

"Thousands or millions of generations, that's how long it takes for one species to branch out from another. So where are all the fossils? They lived for millions of generations, and we don't have a single fossil for so many so-called intermediate life forms?"

"If life just happened by chance, and if the changes happened by chance, then there's no need for further explanation. In fact, there's no possibility of further explanation; it's just chance. In other words, it isn't scientific; there's no science involved, any more than if we say God created life, to which they object because it isn't scientific."

"I'm reading this whole book on how vision works in the human brain, and even a whole, thick volume can only give us a rough outline of all the processes involved. Vision alone is so complex it would take forever for it to evolve by chance and natural selection - and vision isn't even a billionth of what all goes on in the human brain! No, literally nothing short of infinite wisdom could create that."

"I've discovered the Missing Link! The Missing Link between the apes and Homo sapiens! It's these mad, so-called scientists!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cardinal Levada's Interview

Tonight on The News Hour (PBS) we watched Cardinal Levada, an American, being interviewed. The interview will be posted on the News Hour website by sometime Wednesday; for now, there's only a preview, here

Cardinal Levada is the man who now has Pope Benedict's old job.

He evaded or otherwise failed to answer several of the questions. And once or twice, you just couldn't help feeling he wasn't being truthful, as when the interviewer (Margaret Warner) asked whether the current scandal had taken the Cardinal by surprise, and he said it had. And then a few minutes later, he said, yes, he had dealt with child abuse cases in his diocese when he was a mere bishop. "Many," he said. And then we remembered that this man has been in charge of handling them all, worldwide, for the past 5 years. And the scandal took him by surprise?

He also, albeit less vigorously than some others, tried to blame "the media." It is of course true that there is child abuse everywhere, not just among Catholic priests; in America, the accepted statistic is that one of every 4 girls is the victim of incest. One in four!! But no, the press did not cause this scandal, and to try to change the subject and shift attention to the press is not a good way to deal with the scandal.

Come on, Cardinal Levada! What your people desperately need now is some straight talk, not to mention action, from the Vatican. You know, something to lend credibility.

Or maybe not; what do I know? Perhaps, what they should have, painful though it be, is a lot more exposure to you and the others like you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nous and Concepts

If you show an infant three balls or three apples or three anythings of interest, and then when he isn't looking, you remove one of them, that infant's eyes will look around for the missing one. He knows it's missing.

He can't exactly count. He doesn't have any words ("one, two, three...") or any symbols (1,2,3) so he cannot rightly be said to have numbers. Yet he knows if something is added or subtracted. He plainly sees it and understands what he sees.

That's his nous operating, and it strikes me as a pretty cool example of it.

Nous is the spiritual faculty you so often hear spoken of in Orthodoxy. It truly knows without necessarily having any concepts. Or words. And we see big trouble when a religion becomes a system of concepts. That would be like the child memorizing: "Three minus one is two," without having any experience of what that's all about, without ever having seen it demonstrated, but just taking it on faith, just blindly subscribing to the formula.

Of course, if it's just a formula, that fact also opens it to debate. Upon what authority is the answer two? Is this answer binding upon my conscience? Is it heresy to claim the answer is three? Isn't it narrow-minded (and/or uncharitable) to insist the answer is precisely two and not, say, two and one-tenth?

Orthodoxy is not like that because it is not a system of formulae. Orthodoxy is more immediate, more direct, than any concept; it is like the baby recognizing when something is missing, or added. The words/concepts are just the molds into which we try to fit the Church's Life in Christ and His in us, for the purpose of expressing it, so imperfectly. They are not themselves the objects of our belief.

Why Evolution is True

That's the name of the book Demetrios picked up at Barnes and Noble this evening; he's been wanting it some time. It's supposed to be the best on that subject, better than Dawkins' book, according to Dawkins.

This should be interesting, as Demetrios thinks evolution is perhaps the biggest lie in the world. He's busily underlining passages and scribbling microscopic notes in the margins. Once in a while he can be heard to mutter something like, "Self-replicating molecule! Show me one!" Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Upcoming Projects

At long last, I've decided how I can use that lovely "Print o' the Wave" pattern, above, that I've been hankering after for weeks now.  I was inspired by the gorgeous "Harebell Lace" at right.  I'm going to adapt both patterns to make runners for furniture in two different bedrooms.  "Table scarves," as it were, for dressers, nightstands, and chests of drawers.  In real wool, fine wool.  Most of our bedroom furniture needs the tops covered, on account of the finish being, um, imperfect, shall we say.

I  calculate that I have another three or four weeks to go on my current project, depending upon how much knitting I decide to do each day, and then I'll be ready to tackle one or the other of these.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Queen Elizabeth and I

In My Dreams!

In 1952,  a magazine arrived at our house showing three women on the cover, all wearing black, their outfits complete with black veils. 

"Who are these?" I asked. 

"Those are three queens," Mom told me. 

"Why are they dressed like that?"

"Because King George has died and they are dressed that way to show how sad they are.   This is his widow, Queen Elizabeth, over here.  And in the middle is his mother, Queen Mary.  And over here is Princess Elizabeth, King George's daughter.  Well, since her father died, she's the new Queen Elizabeth."

"Her father died!"  That was hard for a four-year-old to take in, even though I was nearly five.  She must be incomprehensibly sad.  And she was so young, and so pretty.  And she was the new Queen.  My little heart broke.

When the family was finished with the magazine, I cut off the front cover and hid the picture under the mattress of my doll's pram.  I would take it out every once in a while and look at it, sometimes kiss it, and put it back in its hiding place.

I can't recall what eventually became of that magazine cover, but the feeling I had then has never left me.  And from that day, it has always been my dream some day to meet Queen Elizabeth.   She came here, right here to Richmond, Virginia, a few years ago, and I would have given up almost anything to go see her.  But Dad had just been put in a nursing home and was confused and lonely and I felt I had to be there with him.  So he and Mom and I watched news coverage of the event on the nursing home's dining room television while we ate supper.

In my dreams I've met her rather often.  Once I dreamed Demetrios and I were having breakfast in our little flat in London (No, we don't have one in real life!) when the doorbell rang it it was two men delivering a new table.  It was the most beautiful table, shiny brass, round, with a blue marble top.  I was surprised; I had not ordered a table.  "What's this all about?" I asked Demetrios.

"Oh, I bought it especially for the occasion because the Queen is coming for luncheon."

"The Queen?  Coming here?  You mean the Queen is coming to have lunch with us today and you're only telling me now?"

"Relax," he said, with a smile. "It's being catered. You don't have to do a single thing except look pretty."

Well, I woke up before the actual luncheon, but in another dream, Queen Elizabeth came to visit our whole family at the beach cottage. And she enjoyed her Saturday with us so much that she invited us to come to church with her the next day, and we did.

Last night I was at one of the royal garden parties, and I finally met the Queen. This time I was sure it was real, not a dream. And what did I do when I thought my dream had at last come true? Acted like a star-struck teenager. I was so ashamed I went slinking off to some dim room.

A few moments later, the Queen appeared in the room, with a small entourage, all the people with her behaving very decorously, with proper reserve. I didn't even look up. I wanted to make myself small.

Then the Queen sat down, looked around, and sighed. "I rather miss being around any queenophiles," she said. ("Queenophile" was presumably something like russophile or anglophile.)

I said, "But you are around a queenophile. I'm definitely a queenophile!" If it was flattery she wanted, she'd come to the right place, except that mine was sincere admiration.

She obviously relished it, and so began a lively conversation we both enjoyed. I even ended up telling her about the magazine cover and the doll buggy, everything. We had such a good time that for once waking up wasn't even such a great disappointment.

Recently I saw a television program about one of the Queen's garden parties. It mentioned that people can fill out applications for invitations. I think I'll try to do that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What's Going On With Poland?

The first thing is, you do not put the whole top layers of your government, plus your top military leaders, plus your leading cultural figures, all on one airplane. Everybody knows that.

And now comes the second really bizarre thing: using the excuse of the cloud of volcanic ash covering most of Europe and making flying impossible, European leaders have cancelled their plans to attend the funeral of Poland's President and First Lady, which was yesterday in Krakow.

Hey, Angela Merkel, ever hear of a train? Or a car? Krakow is only a few hours by road or rail from Berlin. Not that far from other European capitals, either.

The whole thing is weird. Or maybe it just has to do with difficulty making new security arrangements so hastily for the traveling heads of state.

But if Poland's new government should now make any radical departures from the old, then I think it would be time for us to begin to suspect there's more to these events than meets the public eye.

P.S. We, by contrast, really cannot get to England or Greece just now. Fortunately, when I tried to book a flight several weeks ago, Demetrios said no, he wasn't ready. So we haven't bought our tickets yet. We will go as soon as that volcanic ash cloud permits!

Meanwhile, we're having new carpeting installed upstairs sometime in the coming week. Guess what color most of it is? Red! As in very bright red. Think something between fire engine red and cherry red. Most of our house is white (and two of the bedrooms are to be carpeted in white) so this red will really perk it up! We decided to go for romance this time instead of practicali It's very cheap carpeting, though, so if we decide we don't like it, we won't have lost much.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Does God See When He Looks at You?

And Does it Matter?

A Matthew Gallatin podcast I recently cited speaks of a phrase "one hears frequently in Evangelical circles. I used it hundreds of times in my Evangelical life and I’ve heard it at least that many more. Anyone raised in the Evangelical world has been told this: because Jesus died on the cross, when God looks at me, He no longer sees me. He sees Jesus instead."

The variant of it I've usually heard and read is, when God looks at me, He doesn't see my sins. He sees the righteousness of Jesus instead.

If this were literally true, we'd all be in big trouble. Because, if God doesn't see my sins, how will I flee to Him when in distress because of them? How can I pray, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness" or "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord"?

Furthermore, we can't really say of God that He is blind to reality. One reality is that I am a sinner. We can't assert that the God of Truth denies the truth.

Perhaps this phrase about God not seeing our sins means not exactly that God is unaware of our sins - surely He is very clear on that point! - but that when He looks at us, although He sees our sins, He also and mostly sees a another, perhaps deeper, reality. The sticky part comes when we try to say that that other reality is. The reality that I am a sinner is thought to be made into a new and non-manifest reality, namely that I am not, by God's declaring it to be so. That's magic. God doesn't just say abracadabra and I'm suddenly a saint in spite of my continuing defilement in thought, word, and deed. To the extent I am a sinner, I am not yet a saint, and to the extent I am a saint, I am no longer a sinner. That's the reality.

What God does see, in addition to our sin, is our repentance and our faith. And He counts our faith as righteousness because it truly IS, and always was, the very definition of righteousness. Keeping faith with God as best we can (and that last is usually fairly pitiful), is the very definition of righteousness and, let us note, not some substitute for it.

But I suggest that when we look at God, we need to see a deeper reality, and that reality is: it isn't anything about us that prompts God to love us or be gracious to us or be compassionate, kind, merciful toward us. It isn't because He doesn't see our sins or because He only sees Christ's righteousness or even because He sees our repentance and faith. It's nothing about us at all. It's something about Him; namely, that He IS love. He comes to seek and to save the lost sheep. He comes to heal the sick. He comes to die and rise for us, while we were yet sinners.

That's what the Evangelical phrase ought to mean, not that God fails to see what's there, but that He does not treat us accordingly. Or rather, He does treat us according to our sins, just not in the way we had expected. Where we had expected the punishment we deserve, He instead heals our sins, corrects us, sets us on a new path, forgives us and restores us, comes to dwell in us and glorifies us.

Christ is Risen!
Truly He is risen!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When Hard Times Hit

My next-door neighbors, Frances and Dickie, have hit some very, very hard times.

Dickie had a heart attack some 5 years ago, and a triple or quadruple arterial by-pass operation. And they didn't have health insurance. Just last week I found out they maxed out all their credit cards to pay their medical bills, and haven't been able to repay the credit card companies, so their credit is ruined. Collectors are telephoning constantly.

Dickie hasn't been able to work since, as he was a manual laboror, forging steel.

Last summer, his heart began acting up again, and he had to have a stent put into one artery.

In retrospect, in now seems obvious (so obvious that a lawsuit is probably in order) that he picked up hepatitis from receiving contaminated blood during that surgery.

Hepatitis doesn't go away. Ever.

Six weeks or so ago, Dickie was in the yet hospital again, where several conditions were discovered, the worst of which is cirrhosis of the liver. Merriam-Webster Online defines it as: "widespread disruption of normal liver structure by fibrosis and the formation of regenerative nodules that is caused by any of various chronic progressive conditions affecting the liver (as long-term alcohol abuse or hepatitis)".

Notice the word "progressive." Cirrhosis only gets worse with time.

Dickie has never abused alcohol, even before he got religion. But after his conversion, he never touched alcohol. I know because I have offered it to him several times in the past. He is a Baptist tee-totaller.

Frances runs a child care business out of their home. But with the current economic slump, fewer women have jobs and need daycare for their children. Frances has had to lower her prices to attract more children, and she still has only 6, two of whom are infants. She has help once a week, but has to pay that helper.

Dickie's medications include (but are by no means limited to) an antibiotic that costs $350 per month and another something that costs $185 per month. That's WITH Medicare, which he is old enough for by now, but Medicare stops paying after you get to $2800 and doesn't resume until after you cross the $5,000 mark. That's every year.

Dickie is getting rapidly worse. It won't be long before he will be unable to drive (i.e., get out of the house and have some alone time and some peace from all those small children). Stairs are already not easy for him.

He is busily cleaning out his garage and getting his elaborate gardens all tidied up - while he still can. We even caught him raking sweetgum balls from our yard a couple of weeks ago. He couldn't do that today, I think.

He can hardly eat anything and what he does eat isn't good for him, just a lot of sweets. He threw up yesterday and has fallen three times this week alone. (Yesterday I took a walker over there, that we had left from the time Demetrios' foot was broken. But that wont' really help much as the cause of his falls is fainting, probably from low blood pressure.)

To top everything off, their 16-year-old granddaughter is going to have a baby in June. A baby Frances will end up keeping for free or for very little pay, as she has all her grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. The mother-to-be still has a year of high school, and only has a part-time job. Her own mother, a youngish widow, had a baby out of wedlock 5 years ago, so there's really nothing she can say to her teenaged daughter.

I don't know. It's just so sad. We help as we are able, but what's to become of these dear, God-loving, upright, sweet, salt-of-the-earth people, I don't know. Please pray for them, and if you feel moved to do more, we can figure out some way.

Human Reason Stands in Need of Enlightenment

Here is an excerpt from an outstanding article by a long-time Internet friend of mine, Fr. Andrew Damick. (His blog, Roads from Emmaus, is linked in my sidebar.)

Many times on this blog I have defended human reason from those religious people who would suppress or devalue it. But I have usually failed to point out that it, too, has its limitations. Human reason is God-given and therefore to be treasured by every lover of God, but it certainly is not infallible. Nor can it reach all the way to heaven to find God. Rather, as Fr. Andrew points out, God has come looking for us. Human reason, just like everything else human, needs divine enlightenment to work properly.

Thus, whether speaking of the initial conversion or the ongoing process of growing in holiness, the whole human person must be engaged, but that engagement only works within the context of communion with the Divine. Practically speaking, that means that, even when once inside the Church, we are not called upon to set aside our reason, but rather to be prepared to have it transformed, to realize that we came to the hospital to be healed, not to take up the job of hospital administrator. So there is the need for trust, but it is a trust based in experience, not blind belief.

This discourse probably seems circular, and it is, but then, so is human existence. The point, finally, is that there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason, and even feelings, emotion and intuition, in making decisions, even big spiritual ones. The key element is that there be humility in doing so, because humility is the only way to permit communion of any sort, especially the kind needed for communion with the Divine.

When I was a kid, having been given a solidly Christian identity by my parents, I came to believe that the big divide in the world was between believers and atheists. But there are of course very few actual atheists, and even the big-money ones of our own day are mostly just celebrities who will fade when their time comes. What I have learned, through making many foolish decisions of my own and also through my experiences with others and as a cleric, is that the great divide is really between humility and pride.

Pride insists that there must be some human power or set of powers that can apprehend all things. But this really is not so. We are limited creatures. No matter what self-esteem propaganda may have been tossed at you today on a billboard or on Facebook, you are limited. You cannot grow up to be anything you want. You are not limited only by your imagination. You have real limits that go beyond your will. Acknowledging that, and most especially acknowledging deeply within that you will someday die, will transform your outlook into something else.

Epistemology is quite critical, whether it comes in initial conversion to the community of faith or in the ongoing conversion that is needed to attain to authentic holiness. But let me suggest an epistemology of humility. Even if there is no God, such a posture will at least help you to see the flaws in your own reasoning. But if there is a God, then humility will open you up to divine illumination.

I hope you will click on the link at the top of this post and read the rest of Fr. Andrew's post.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Penal Law in the Church?

There is no such thing as "penal law"in the Orthodox Church. We aren't into punishment. A priest hardly ever lays a "penance" upon us after we have confessed our sins, unless it is a very grave sin such as adultery, and then he may prescribe some discipline as medicine for soul and body, although he will still read the prayer of absolution over us. He may even tell us we are not spiritual healthy enough to receive Holy Communion for the time being, without harming ourselves further. This, because we believe partaking of the awesome Mysteries of the Lord without proper preparation backfires and is actually damaging to soul and body. (I Corinthians 11:29-20)

Even excommunication is supposed to be an act of love, for the correction and healing of the person and, in the second place, for the good of the Church. (I Corinthians 5: 4-7) Excommunication does NOT mean toe the line or go to hell.

Anyway, we don't have penal law. Everybody is already in bad enough shape and the whole idea is the cure their miseries, not add to them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Marriage and Celibacy

I've been a member for many years (10?) of a very liberal Catholic discussion group online. Recently someone there asked me some questions about married Orthodox priests. So I answered, and for about 36 hours there was dead silence on the normally active list. When someone finally did reply, it was to ask, "How do you know Jesus was celibate? Scripture doesn't say anything about that."

And with that the debate was off and running, over, of all things, whether Jesus was really celibate! From there, all kinds of side trails opened up: how reliable are the Gospels anyway, as history? When Jesus "praised eunuchs," did that amount to endorsing celibacy? Surely St. Paul's preference for celibacy could be explained as a reaction to his mistaken idea that Christ would return any day or any moment now? (Implication: Christ didn't; hence we can dismiss the Apostle's advice.)

I didn't participate in any of this, wondering what was the point, why it was such a big deal to them. Then it occurred to me, "Well, it's because they're against priestly celibacy" so finally I wrote this, and now I think I'd like to share it with you:

Oh, goodness. A debate over whether Jesus was married is the last response I would ever have expected to my post. I suppose the argument arises because this impinges upon the hot-button issue of mandatory priestly celibacy. Perhaps it also has to do with other imposed sexual disciplines I've heard Catholics complain of, who call it oppression.

Well, we do not have anything we consider oppression coming from the Orthodox Church. Mandatory clerical celibacy is obviously a non-issue with us. The Christian ideals concerning divorce and contraception are applied to us by our priests and bishops under the guidance of the Holy Spirit on a case-by-case basis, more strictly or more leniently, according to what we are able to bear without being crushed; that is, the rules are applied according to what will best support each person's eventual salvation. So, unless you wish to engage in guilt-free fornication or adultery, there's nothing you'd be inclined to consider tyranny. The rest of us aren't fighting any sexual battles with our hierarchy.

For that reason, perhaps, we feel quite free and easy about accepting the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, which says Jesus was never married. (Note: we do not accept what Catholics call Tradition; that is something else.) Neither do we worry about what scholars say about the historicity of the Gospels; instead, we concern ourselves with what holy people (those in whom Christ is clearly manifest) have told us the Gospels mean for us, that same meaning also taught us from within our own hearts where the Holy Spirit dwells and teaches.

When we say celibacy is the higher life-style, we do not mean marriage is not holy! For the Orthodox, it most emphatically is. It is an exalted life-style. In fact, Christian celibacy itself is a kind of marriage, the most exalted form of marriage: taking Christ for ones Spouse.

Having no political stake in it, we also have no difficulty accepting what Jesus said about celibacy. He said it's for the sake of attaining salvation, implying it's a higher life-style. But He also stressed, it is NOT a discipline meant for everybody. (The Orthodox understand Jesus' remarks about people making themselves eunuchs to mean that they practice celibacy. Not that they literally castrate themselves.) After Jesus gave His teaching about divorce,

His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it." (Matthew 19:10-12)

St. Paul's teaching is in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. He also favors virginity over marriage, admitting that this is his own judgment and not a divine command. He also points out that it is not meant to fetter anyone, but to conduce toward their own happiness and spiritual advancement. The Orthodox still find his advice applicable and wise. Whether or not the time is short before the Lord's return – a thing nobody knows – we all ought to live as though it were very short indeed. And we for sure don't think it would be wise to pit our own "wisdom" against that of the Holy, Glorious Apostle. Or to accept anybody else's over his.

You are obviously free to disagree. I'm just explaining the Orthodox understanding, in response to some questions.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

If You Should Find a Baby Wild Animal

This is the season when such orphans are mostly found. Here's what to do if you come across one.

1.) Do not rescue it until/unless you are certain it really is an orphan or it really is in a hazardous situation (exposed to dogs, for example).

Bring your cats inside for a few days; walk your dog on a leash for a few days.

Mother deer leave their young unattended while they go off to feed, and only return at dusk. So that adorable fawn is probably fine. Leave it alone until the next day unless you see clear signs of injury or sickness. By the next day it ought to be hiding in a different spot.  If a fawn is starving, it is likely to follow you around, and then you know it needs help.

Mother cottontails also leave their young alone in the nest, returning only at dusk. Bunnies in the wild are only fed at dawn and dusk. Arrange some twigs or string in a pattern over the nest. If you find that pattern disturbed the next morning, you know the mother has been back.

A bunny as big as a baseball is already on its own, even though that's hard to believe.

2.) If you are sure an animal needs rescuing, pick it up, put it in a box with some old rags (not terrycloth towels, as tiny claws tend to become tangled in the loops of the fabric) and supply a little warmth. A strong lamp shining down on the creatures will do the trick, as will a heating pad set on LOW and put under only HALF the box (so the baby can crawl to the other side if overheated). Or you can halfway fill an old sock with uncooked rice, tie the end, and nuke it for 30-60 seconds in the microwave. Wrap the heat sock in several layers of rags and set it beside the orphan(s). You only want to supply about as much heat as the mother's warm tummy would.

3.) DO NOT FEED the babies anything or give them any water. Inexperienced people tend to choke babies this way. Especially do not give milk, as it gives most wild babies diarrhea, which is very dangerous for them. They need a special formula.

4.) Call your nearest wildlife rehabilitator. If you don't know the number, your vet almost certainly has it.  The Internet is also a handy tool for locating rehabbers.  It is in the best interest of the animal (s) - and your family - to let someone trained and licensed handle this job.

5.) In the Eastern U.S. and Canada, the following species are considered "rabies vector species", meaning the chance that they have or carry rabies is higher than in other species: fox, raccoon, groundhog, bat, skunk.

The rabies virus is carried in the saliva, so you do not have to be bitten to get it; you are at risk if you even get the saliva on your skin. Therefore, your first job, if you discover orphans of these species (or of any species, for that matter), is to protect yourself, your children, your neighbors, and your pets. Try to place a cardboard box or other secure, non-airtight container over the wild babies, weight it down with a brick or stone, and then call your county's animal control department to come get them. Animal control will take them to a rehabber who has been vaccinated against rabies.

Guard the babies while you are waiting, so no children, pets, or wild predators get to them.

If you absolutely have to handle a rabies vector species (for its own good, I mean, not to play with it or show it to people or anything like that) wear thick gloves, preferably with rubber kitchen gloves under them. WASH YOUR HANDS afterward, thoroughly.  Of course you do this after handling any animal, right?

Squirrels do NOT carry rabies. Not a single case has ever been reported. It can be induced in squirrels in the lab, but has never been seen in the wild.


Animals old enough to threaten you are old enough to hurt you.  (Exception:  baby oppossums are all threat and display, but no bite.) 

Babies with eyes still sealed shut will almost never try to attack you.

A squirrel whose tail is already fluffy (bigger around than your thumb) is already capable of inflicting serious damage.

Friday, April 9, 2010

When a House is Not a Home (Or, Playing the Game)

Well, you know me [said my friend Beatrice], I couldn't bear the thought of catching that mouse in a spring trap and killing it. But no way could I have it in my house, either. So Jim and I rigged up a live trap in the living room, where we had seen the creature. First, we laid a thin square of cardboard on the floor. Then we propped up a glass mixing bowl, using a pencil. You know, eraser end holding the rim of the bowl, pointy end sticking into the cardboard. We used kite string to hang a piece of bread with peanut butter from the top of the pencil. The idea was, the mouse would tug at the string to get at the bait, the pencil would fall, the glass bowl would come down and trap the mouse.

And it worked! In the middle of the night we heard the glass bowl drop. We ran into the living room to find this little mouse running frantically around and around the inside perimeter of the bowl. All we had to do was carry it outside and dump the little guy into the garden.

But mice don't come singly, I said to Jim, they come in tribes, so we are going to have to keep doing this every night until we trap the whole lot.

The next night, we set up our live trap again, and sure enough, just as before, the bowl came crashing down, we ran to see the result, and a little mouse was again scurrying around and around inside the bowl.

This went on for 13 nights, until on the 14th night, the mouse inside the bowl was sitting there licking the last of his supper off his whiskers and waiting calmly to be put back outside. That's when we realized we'd been feeding the same mouse, night after night!

So this time we waited 'til morning, and then we drove the mouse to the other side of town to let it go.

I've had similar experiences with wild animals returning. Thirty years ago, I got a call from an angry neighbor demanding I should come over to her house and retrieve my damn squirrel. She had been carrying groceries into her house when, without her noticing, the squirrel followed her in. Then as she was unloading the bags, the squirrel climbed up the back of her leg. When she screamed and flailed, the squirrel climbed up her living room draperies, where he was now sitting and chattering.

Once a raccoon got away from me about three days before he was to have been released out in the country. He was the most beautiful raccoon I have ever seen because he was almost solid black, a gorgeous little fluff-ball, when he first came to me, peering up at me from large black eyes as he noisily drank from his bottle.

Several months later, I carried my arthritic little pocket-sized poodle outside one morning to do his duty, then picked him up to bring him back indoors, and just inside the door to the screened porch I stopped and gasped. The black raccoon, now a forty-pounder, was asleep on the table whereon he had been raised, where his nest box and then his first cage had sat. I had walked right past him, unawares, on my way out.

He opened one eye and looked at me.

I wasn't about to go past him again, that close. Poodle and I went around to the front door.

Fortunately, the raccoon ambled away come dark, and I haven't seen him again.

I'm sure you already know the moral of all these stories.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Slamming into Summer

Not six weeks ago there was snow on the ground here. Now the weather forecaster says be happy; the temperature will finally cool off tomorrow: only reach the mid-80's Fahrenheit!

The trees here are so confused that they began sprouting blossoms and leaves at the same time, leaving no chance to admire branches bedecked with just flowers.  Our grass already needs mowing.

Don't we even get, you know, a transition period, a gradual working up to Summer, a season called Spring?

I really cannot complain, as Summer is my favorite season and given my way, would last forever and ever, but this is weird. This makes me worry about global warming.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sweet Christ on Earth

The conservative Catholic blog, Rorate Caeli, printed an excerpt from the speech Cardinal Sodano gave before Pope Benedict XVI on Easter Sunday.

The speech was in defiance of the allegations concerning the pope in this latest round of the homosexual pedophile clergy scandal, and the blog post excerpt came complete with this alarmingly hostile looking graphic.

Here's the excerpt:

Holy Father, the People of God is with you, [the People] who are not impressed by the idle gossip of each moment, or by the troubles that at times hurt the community of the faithful. Jesus, in fact, had told us: 'In this world you will have troubles,' immediately adding, 'but take heart! I have overcome the world'.

Last Thursday, in the Holy Mass for the benediction of the Holy Oils, Your Holiness edified us all by speaking of the goodness of God and recalling the inspired words of the first Bishop of Rome, the Apostle Peter, who described the attitude of Christ during his Passion with these words: 'When he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly' (I Peter ii, xxiii).

Holy Father, we will treasure your words. In this Paschal feast, we will pray that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will keep supporting you in your mission at the service of the Church and of the world.

Happy Easter, Holy Father! Happy Easter, Sweet Christ on Earth! The Church is with you!

(You can watch and hear the speech on Youtube, here, although of course it's in Italian.)

The part of it that most interests the Orthodox is that phrase at the end, addressing the Pope as “Sweet Christ on Earth.” That’s a phrase originated, so far as I can determine, in the 14th Century by Catherine of Siena, she who took it upon herself to advise kings and popes, to disastrous effect, and died at 33 from over-fasting.

“Sweet Christ on Earth.” This deals a much bigger blow to ecumenical relations with the Orthodox than the current scandal does. Apparently people who use this phrase consider the original Christ tucked conveniently out of the way in heaven, where He minds His heavenly business, leaving earthly affairs to his alleged Vicar, the pope. This notion is also what makes possible the Catholic doctrine In Persona Christi Capitis which says that the priest, during sacraments, stands in the Person of Christ the Head [of the Church].   Laity act as members of the Body of Christ, while clergy act as the Head.

Dear Catholics, please reconsider. Nobody, nobody at all, can stand in Christ’s place or stead or act in His Person. The simple reason is, He Himself is still acting in His own Person. He Himself is still standing in His own place. His place is not open to anybody else. He is alive and well upon this earth and walks among us and leads His Church Himself, in Person, directly, even if invisibly. He alone is our Head.  It is blasphemous to suppose anybody else worthy or capable of filling His place on earth, or standing in His Person, any more than someone could in heaven.   It isn’t as though Christ were replaceable here or there.

Our Sweet Christ on Earth is the very same divine-human Person as Our Sweet Christ in Heaven, and it isn't any pope, but the One born of Mary who died upon the Cross, conquered death, and rose on the Third Day.

P.S.)  I don't know that I like this website in general, but here is its page of Catholic quotes to the same effect as "Sweet Christ on Earth" that may be of use and/or of interest.

Reprint: Why Did Jesus Die (Parts 16-17)

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)

P.S.)  That Christ's risen body was not immediately recognized by His disciples is something really, really cool!   Why?  Because it dispels the notion they were hallucinating.  If their own minds had been making all this up, their minds would have pictured the familiar face and body of Jesus.

* * * * *

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 (death). 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)

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Glory to Thee, O Lord!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reprint: Why Did Jesus Die? (Parts 13-15)

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. 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 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.)

* * * * *

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..." (hymn from 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 everywhere and 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.

* * * * *

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)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reprint: Why Did Jesus Die? (Parts 10-12)

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; this, 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)

* * * * *

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?

* * * * *

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)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reprint: Why Did Jesus Die? (Parts 7-9)

Why Did Jesus Die? (07) To Justify us - (Not)

Actually, our justification was accomplished by His resurrection, not His death (Romans 4:25) and this point is important. Nevertheless, I am going to include our justification under the reasons Christ died, since His death and resurrection cannot rightly be discussed apart from each other anyway, and since, after all, you can’t be resurrected unless you have first died.

One effect of Jesus’ death was that He thereby escaped from the jurisdiction of the Law. For the Law only “has dominion over a man as long as he lives.” (Romans 7:1) But Christ died. He indeed rose again, but what does the Law know of that?

And the extra wonderful thing for us is that in Holy Baptism, Christ permits us to follow Him through that freeing death and into a whole new realm, His resurrection Life, the Kingdom of God, the realm of the Holy Spirit, heaven.

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:3-11)

Death has no more dominion over Christ, and no more dominion over us who dwell safely in His bosom. And if death has no more dominion over us, what can the Law do to us? And if we are members, even, of the all-righteous Christ, "of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30), what charge can the Law even bring?

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:1-6)

We are sinners; but Christ shares with us His own, righteous Life and the Law cannot even charge us. We deserve to die; but Christ has already given us His own, eternal life and death cannot touch us. This is how Christ justifies us: by giving us Life, by being our Life.

By being the Life of our Life and the righteous Heart of our hearts, He justifies us, at the same time both fulfilling the Law in us and making it all moot.

Christ “wiped out the indictment that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14) He simply took it out of the way. He cancelled it.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the *Spirit of life* in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

* * * * *

Why Did Jesus Die? (08) To be our High Priest

In the Old Testament, priests had to be the descendants of Levi. There was only one exception, a mysterious figure named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) who brought bread and wine to Abraham, or Abram as he was still known then. Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God...” (Hebrews 7:3) “Melchizedek” translates to, “King of Righteousness.” Besides being a priest, he was the king of Salem, which means “Peace”. He was therefore the “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Peace.” For all these reasons (and more), he is a type of the Christ. Hence, David, in prophecy, calls Messiah a priest forever according to the order Melchizedek (that is, a non-levitical priest). The Epistle to the Hebrews quotes the verse.

The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
"You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek."
(Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 7:17,21))

Christ is a better high priest than those of the Old Testament, Hebrews argues. He is a better priest because he is a better person, in fact, a perfect man. (5:9) He does not need to offer any sacrifices for sins of his own. (7:27) God himself ordains him. (7:21) He brings a better sacrifice: himself. He comes not offering "the blood of goats and calves, but ... his own blood." (9:12) He only needs to make the sacrifice once for all, and does not have to repeat it over and over. (9:25, 10:12) He offers it not in a man-made temple, but in heaven. (4:14, 8:2, 9:11) He “ever lives to make intercession” for us. (7:25) He is the guarantor of a better covenant. (7:22)

Christ died to become our High Priest forever in a new order of worship, spiritual worship, of a higher order than that prescribed in the Law of Moses. “God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth”. (John 4:24)

Christ Died to Fulfill His Office as Mediator Between God and Man.

Christ is the Mediator between God and Man in more than one sense. He is the Mediator first of all by His incarnation, because in His one Person He united human and divine natures. Next, He is the Mediator because He brings to us the gift from God, the divine, immortal body and blood, and He brings to God the gift from us, perfect obedience, faith, and love. At His crucifixion, He is the Mediator because His death fulfills all the obligations of the Old Covenant, closes the book on it, and ushers in the new covenant. “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) The Old Covenant was not to be ended until it had first been fulfilled (Matthew 5:18); else God would have instituted it for nothing.

A covenant, in Hebrew history, is sealed with blood. The covenant with Abraham was sealed with the blood of circumcision; the covenant given through Moses was sealed with the blood of animals. The covenant in Christ is sealed in His own blood. “This is My blood of the new covenant,” He says. (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24) In this sense, too, He is the Mediator of the new covenant.

We note in passing the vast difference between making intercession for others and being the Mediator. There is, and can only ever be, one Mediator, but there are as many intercessors as Christians. When we, with and in Christ, converse with "dead" saints, (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30), we are not mistaking them for The Mediator.

(Neither are we, in asking them to pray for us, engaging in necromancy, which is a form of fortune-telling, conjuring of the spirits of the dead to reveal the future – a practice very strictly forbidden among us as being the equivalent of apostasy, forsaking trust in Christ.)

The saints are intercessors. Christ is the “one Mediator between God and Man” (I Timothy 2:5-6), because of the mighty, fearsome, mysterious, cosmic deeds He alone has worked for our salvation.

* * * * *

Why Did Jesus Die? (09) To Ransom and Redeem Us

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45)

“Ransom” language about the crucifixion emphasizes both our captivity to the devil and the great price Christ paid to set us free.

There is a right way and a very popular but wrong way to think of how He ransomed us. The wrong way is pointed out by St. Gregory Nazianzus:

To whom was that blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and glorious blood of God, the blood of the High Priest and of the Sacrifice. We were in bondage to the devil and sold under sin, having become corrupt through our concupiscence. Now, since a ransom is paid to him who holds us in his power, I ask to whom such a price was offered and why? If to the devil, it is outrageous! The robber receives the ransom, not only from God, but a ransom consisting of God himself. He demands so exorbitant a payment for his tyranny that it would have been right for him to have freed us altogether. But if the price is offered to the Father, I ask first of all, how? For it was not the Father who held us captive. Why then should be blood of His only begotten Son please the Father, who would not even receive Isaac when he was offered as a whole burnt offering by Abraham, but replaced the human sacrifice with a ram? Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because he demanded it or because He felt any need for it, but on account of economy: because man must be sanctified by the humanity of God, and God Himself must deliver us by overcoming the tyrant through His own power, and drawing us to Himself by the mediation of the Son who effects this all for the honor of God, to whom He was obedient in everything... What remains to be said shall be covered with a reverent silence… (In sanctum Pascha, or. XLV, 22’, P.G., t 36, 653 AB, quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 153.)

The wrong way to understand Christ's having ransomed and redeemed us, then, is the overly literal way.

In Orthodox understanding, Christ “paid the price” for our redemption in much the same way a soldier might pay a heavy price, might even “pay the ultimate price”, his life, to free his country. Or when we look at the body of a victorious athlete, sweaty, dehydrated, exhausted, aching, when we consider how much of his life he had to give up for training, and when we say what a stiff price he paid for his victory, we do not mean he bribed the judges or referee or paid off his opponent. We mean he endured a severe ordeal. That is how we mean it when we speak of Christ having ransomed us or having bought us with a price.

We do not mean that God exacted any price, but that the circumstances did. We have seen some of those circumstances in previous posts in this series. One of them was that the Old Covenant remained unfulfilled; and if it was not to have existed all those millennia for nothing, it must be fulfilled, by a sacrifice of perfect obedience, before the New Covenant was instituted. Another circumstance was that the divine, immortality-bearing blood was needed for giving us life. Death must be defeated, satan must be deprived of his subjects, ultimate love and forgiveness must be openly revealed, and so forth. Such tasks, exacting a stiff "price," were left for Jesus to do if we were to be saved. God the Father did not require to be paid off in exchange for being merciful, though; such a notion leaves no room for forgiveness.

Truly, there are whole theologies (almost all heterodox theologies, in fact) that leave no room for actual forgiveness, in fact deny it, and can only offer us the shabby and gloomy alternative of displaced punishment. That is because there are people who think it would be morally wrong for God simply to forgive outright, without taking "just retribution", on the theory that to to so would undermine the moral foundations of the world. To fail to punish, to offer "bare amnesty" would be, they think, conniving in the evil.

But for the Orthodox, the foundation of the world is not a moral code, but a Person, Jesus Christ. And it is perfectly just for Him to do whatever He wants with what is His own. (Matthew 20:15) He is allowed to have mercy, true, free mercy, upon whom He will have mercy. (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15,18) He is not required to strike some legal bargain. The law is not the be-all and end-all, Alpha and Omega; Jesus Christ Himself is. (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13) Nor does forgiving a sin equate to conniving in it. Much to the contrary, forgiveness, bare amnesty, is a major component of how God eradicates sin. Forgiveness is a principal weapon in the arsenal of arms against the devil. And as far as I know or can think, Orthodox Christianity is the only faith that genuinely offers it.

When we speak of Christ having ransomed us or redeemed us, then, we refer to our slavery to satan and how much He gave to liberate us from it. We mean that to get us back from sin and death cost Him a great deal - a price He gladly paid, for love of you and me, "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 12:2)