Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 28, 2012

Our first trip in our new car (other than to the supermarket) was to Liverpool yesterday, to go to church there. Except we never made it.

We did have maps this time. We even had a map so large in scale, so detailed, that it took three whole inches to cover one mile. And yes, we did study it in advance. I carefully marked out our route in red ink, and we went over it together before setting out.

We even departed for the 20-minute drive an hour before church was to begin.

There was a surprise, though. While the map labeled every street and road only by name, the road signs labeled them only by number. So our illustrious navigator never could be sure exactly where we were on the map and our illustrious driver made one wrong turn on a roundabout – toward “Liverpool Airport”, instead of just “Liverpool”.

We found ourselves on a motorway (the UK equivalent of an interstate highway) heading more or less back where we’d come from, according to the road signs, our three maps useless. We gave up and found our way home – without losing our good spirits this time, though, I’m pleased to add. It was a radiant, warm day and the English countryside was sparkling and quaint and charming, and we enjoyed our first ride in spite of missing our destination.

We are going to try again before next Sunday. With another map I hope to find and buy today.

In the late afternoon, we did make it to Julia and David’s house. Demetrios already knew the way of course, but I called them up anyway to get directions, which turned out to be essential. We especially rejoiced to see their boys again, Demetrios’ godson James, with his fiancée, Kim; and Nick. Julia and David’s nephew Rob was there also, with his girlfriend Jo. We all had a barbecue in the lovely sunken garden, and Demetrios and I stayed until 7:30, as the sun was beginning to decline. (I don’t know when it set, but we’re so far north it was still only twilight at 10:00.)

Here’s another snippet from the book we are studying on Tuesday nights, Love Wins by Rob Bell:

* * * begin quote * * *

Several years ago I heard a woman tell about a high-school student who was killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died was a Christian. She said that he told people he was an atheist. This person then said to her, “So there’s no hope then.”

No hope?
Is that the Christian message?
“No hope”?
Is that what Jesus offers the world?
Is this the sacred calling of Christians – to announce that there’s no hope?

The death of this high-school student raises questions about what’s called the “age of accountability.” Some Christians believe that up to a certain agai children aren’t held accountable for what they believe or who they believe in, so if they die during those years, they go to be with God. But then when they reach a certain age, they become accountable for their beliefs, and if they die, they to go be with God only if they have said or done or believed the “right” things. Among those who believe this, the age of accountability is generally considered to be sometime around age twelve.

This belief raises a number of other issues, one of them being the risk each new life faces. If every new baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child’s lie anytime from conception to twelve years of age would actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk?

And that raises another question about this high-school student’s death. What happens when a fifteen-year-old atheist dies? Was there a three-year window when he could have made a decision to change his eternal destiny? Did he miss his chance? What if he had lived to sixteen, and it was in that sixteenth year he came to believe what he was supposed to believe? Was God limited to that three-year window, and if the message didn’t get to the young man in that time, well, that’s just unfortunate?

* * * end quote * * *

Oh, yeah, I remember that bit about the "age of accountability”; I somehow picked it up at around the age of ten-and-a half or 11 and it’s what launched me on my search for the “True Church”. I was confirmed (Episcopalian) on the day after my 12th birthday.

By about my 22nd birthday I had long given up on the naïve idea of the existence of any “True Church.” I

t took until about my 33rd birthday to learn she did exist after all.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Love Wins, Part 01

Love Wins, a book by Rob Bell, is written for Evangelicals, with the aim of helping them 'rediscover a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of unerstanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance.'  So says the blurb on the back of the jacket, adding, 'The result is the discovery that the good news is much, much, much better than we ever imagined.'

I'm not sure how many Evangelicals woulda gree.  it certainly presents a whole series of challenges for them.  Here is a snippet from pages 2-3.  I can't indent it because that's one of the many features Blogger is no longer offering with this outdated browser, but here it is:

* * * * * begin quote * * *

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number 'make it to a better place' and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  has God crated millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?  Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?

This doesn't just raise disturbing questions about God; it raises questions about the beliefs themselves.
Why them?
Why you?
Why me?
Why not him or her or them?

If there are only a select  few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom:  the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate?
Random selection?
Being born in the right place, family, or country?
Having a youth pastor who 'relates better to the kids'?
God choosing you instead of others?

What kind of faith is that?
Or, more important:
What kind of God is that?

* * * end quote * * *

Long-time readers of this blog will appreciate that I find this book delicious.  The questions, scores more of them besides these, are spot-on, and the answers this author provides are very nearly Orthodox, with a quibble or two now and then.

I plan to post more snippets from this book as we get into it more.  I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I am. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

News from England

We arrived in the UK on 16 May, which was a week ago Wednesday, and settled in very quickly this year.  We unpacked immediately, hiked over to Morrison's (supermarket), and managed to stay awake until around 8:30 in the evening, which is at least a semi-respectable time to go to bed when you're that tire.

So why no word on my blog since then?  Because we've been very busy!  Besides church in Liverpool on Sunday, ladies' Bible study/knitting group on Monday, Angela and Stuart's discussion group on Tuesday, dinner with Julia and David on Wednesday, we've been car shopping. 

And yes, we've bought a car!  Other than its color (black) it's perfect for us:  small, inexpensive (second-hand), a reasonable-sized motor so it can handle hilly country, and it has a rare automatic shift.  We decided trying to re-learn the stick shift and with the other hand would be just too much, given that there is also the factor of driving on the wrong side of the road. 

It's a Vauxhall Corsa, that's a GM car.  I had intended to post a picture of it here, but that's one feature that is no longer working on these outdated library computers.  Anyway, it's 5-door model, a hatchback. 

The whole process of acquiring it was a nightare.  To take possession of the car, you have to have auto insurance.  To acquire UK auto insurance, you have to have a driver's license.  To obtain a UK driver's license you have to show you are a UK resident.  To become an official UK resident, you have to apply at the British Embassy in the United States! 

We had given up and were ready to lose our deposit when Demetrios mentioned he had driven all over the UK before, when he was in the US Air Force, and had no problem.  I asked, 'Who insured you then?' and his eyes lit up.  USAA, the very same company from whom we already have auto insurance in America!  So we gave USAA a call, and asked could we add one more car to our policy.

Yes, certainly.

Well, but it isn't in America, it's in England.

No problem.  We can cover it so you can drive all over Europe.

What will it cost?  It was competitive with UK insurance.

How will we pay it? 

Using the same automatic bank draft we already have in place.  We'll just add this new amount every month.

But we are only going to drive this car three months or so every year.

So we'll put it in 'storage status' whenever you aren't driving it, same as we do with your cars in the US, and we'll charge you virtually nothing for the months it's in storage.

Do it!


So simple, so easy in the end, after days of wrangling and running into obstacles at every turn.  Now we feel we have a great deal more freedom in this country.  We can go where we want when we want, whenever we may have enough money for petrol, which over here costs 4 times what it does in the US.  We can take a road trip or two every summer.  (No, we couldn't do that with a rented car; rental prices are prohibitive.)

Stuart and Angela have proposed for our weekly discussion group a book entitled Love Wins (can't italicize or underline that with this computer) by an American pastor, Rob Bell.  I'll post some snippets from this very interesting volume tomorrow, God willing.

Technical Difficulties - Testing

The computers at the library here in Ormskirk all use an outdated browser which is no longer supported by Blogger - or, what is equally annoying, by gmail.

This is just a test to see if I can even post.  If this works, I'll have much more to say!

Friday, May 18, 2012

the Holy Spirit, Part 05

We all need spiritual guidance.

St. John counsels us, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1) Discerning the Holy Spirit, however, is not always easy. In fact, the ability to do it is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:10) Therefore, the cardinal rule of discernment is always: have the humility (and common sense) to ask your spiritual father (or mother)! Lack of humility is never from the Holy Spirit. Every Orthodox Christian needs a spiritual mentor and coach. Ideally, he or she should be a saint overflowing with spiritual gifts like healing and prophecy. In practice, you can get by nicely with anybody who is markedly more mature in Christ than you are. (You only need him to coach you along that part of the path which lies between where you have arrived and where he has arrived.) For most of us, that makes finding someone, if not easy, at least not terribly difficult. Usually it is the parish priest, but it can be anybody, whoever is the most Christ-like Orthodox Christian you know, willing to undertake the task. Your spiritual father will know far better than you if what you have experienced is the Holy Spirit or is from Him.

The following guidelines may be helpful, but they must never replace being mentored by someone who is already a close friend of the Holy Spirit.

Flee! Run; do not walk, if what happened to you involved:

• paying any money for it, even indirectly, for tickets or seats. (Conferences, involving fees for food, transportation, lodging, or study materials, are not included in this warning.)
• any whiff of showmanship.
• insults to your human dignity, such as groveling on the floor or making animal noises.
• loss of self-control. The Spirit of the true God does not do that to you.
• contradictions of holy scripture, the Creed, or the prayers and worship of the Church.
• pointless, meaningless happenings.

Be suspicious if:

• you think you were cured. Consult your doctor before throwing away crutches or discontinuing medications!
• you think you were given a glimpse of the future. Acting upon false premonitions of the future obviously can have unfortunate consequences. Consult your spiritual father.
• the experience involved high emotions and bodily sensations. Spiritual realities cannot be discerned except by spiritual means. Emotional/bodily “highs” are pleasant, often thrilling, and may even help a person get through the week, but they are not what the Holy Spirit is all about. In fact, their presence makes spiritual discernment more difficult than it is in their absence; their presence obscures the Holy Spirit.
• you think you have received the Holy Spirit in other than an Orthodox setting. It can happen, for the Spirit blows free and certainly isn’t confined to the Church, but such an experience should raise some red flags in your mind.
• the alleged spiritual experience leaves you feeling satisfied or pleased with your spiritual condition. It should do the opposite: show you how far you still have to go.

It’s an encouraging sign if our experience bears spiritual fruit (rather than emotional fruit) such as:

• new insight into our true spiritual condition, insight otherwise known as humility
• repentance, meaning sorrow over the ways we have “grieved” God, turning from those ways, and having faith in and rejoicing in His measureless forgiveness. True contrition, turning, and faith are all works of the Holy Spirit. (But subtle counterfeits abound.)
• ability to forgive someone we couldn’t forgive before
• liberation, as when an issue that had blocked our prayer is resolved
• Receiving understandings we needed, answers that are suddenly so obvious we marvel we couldn’t see them before
• courage to do the right thing, of which we were incapable before
• seeing the solution to our problem, which solution wasn’t apparent before because it required humility
• a doctrine of the Church or passage of Scripture suddenly making clear, immediate, obvious, perfect, practical sense

Do not try to discern these things alone, whether by these few guidelines or any others you may find elsewhere. There are always exceptions and evil is often very subtle indeed. Always check everything with a wise and mature spiritual father (or mother). This is how the genuine, living Treasure is passed down, from person to person, through all the centuries.

How do we encounter the Living Jesus? It can happen in many ways. Perhaps most often, Christ comes to us in preaching, as happened to the crowd on the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:37) Sometimes He suddenly makes Himself present to us as we are reading the Bible and the words seem to leap off the page and stab our hearts. other times, He comes when we are not doing anything “religious” at all. Sometimes He discloses Himself in a dramatic manner, as in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 9:1-20, Acts 22:6-16, Acts 26:9-18) Sometimes He reveals Himself as a “still, small voice.” (I Kings 19:11-12) Sometimes the encounter is sudden, and sometimes it steals upon us.

Spiritual experience, a pure gift from God, can happen to anyone at any time – but the Holy Spirit first comes to live within a person in Holy Baptism/Holy Chrismation. Before then, the Holy Spirit works from outside a person; afterwards, from within.

Bishop Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Way, notes:
A distinction, however, needs here to be made between ‘experience’ and ‘experiences’. Direct experience can exist without necessarily being accompanied by specific experiences. There are indeed many who have come to believe in God because of some voice or vision, such as St. Paul received on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). There are many others, however, who have never undergone particular experiences of this type, but why can yet affirm that, present throughout their life as a whole, there is a total experience of the living God, a conviction existing on a level more fundamental than all their doubts. Even though they cannot point to a precise place or moment in the way that St. Augustine, Pascal or Wesley could, they can claim with confidence: I know God personally. (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1990, p. 22)
Notice, too, that “spiritual experiences” are not what a person ought to seek, for such a search is self-serving. Our striving, rather, should be to find and to love and to serve the Truth. Those who do seek spiritual experiences are all too likely to encounter the wrong kind.

Finding God, or rather, being found by Him, is strictly His gift. It cannot be accomplished by all our striving nor is it merited by our striving – but it just as surely will not be accomplished without it, either. This is because seeking itself is already the first phase of being found. (Put another way, the extent to which we actively search for Truth is the extent to which we have come to value it.) In the Scripture, we read, “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6) Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given to you, knock and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) And, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) He is here echoing Deuteronomy 4:29, "… you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Holy Spirit, Part 04

Discerning the Spirits

By now, atheists and biblicists alike will be objecting that alleged firsthand experience of the Living Christ is surely a questionable foundation for an entire religion. How does such experience come about? If may have been rational for the original followers of Jesus, who saw Him alive, to have believed in Him, but is it rational for us? And if there is such a thing as spiritual experience, how do we know it is authentic? False claims to experience of the Holy Spirit abound among all sorts of people – and they all differ in practice and in doctrine.

Historicity is key.

When Christ arose from the dead, He did not appear merely to the twelve disciples, or even just to those plus a small group of other friends and family. As St. Paul wrote:
I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)
 These men and women dedicated their lives to the spreading of the Good News that God had come in the flesh, had conquered death, and would share His immortal Life with anyone who, believing, would repent and be baptized, that is, be initiated into Christ’s own Life. They preached and baptized in the face of perils and persecutions. St. Paul describes some of his:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own country¬men, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-- (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Who does such things for a lie? Only if someone had serious grounds to be thoroughly convinced that Jesus was alive again would he live in such a fashion – and die a martyr, as most of the Apostles did.

Notice, too, what St. Paul says: “I delivered to you…what I received…” Those who had seen Christ alive after His death and burial, and who testified that even after His ascension to His Father, He was present among them, these witnesses initiated their followers into that self-same experience, and vouched for its being the same as theirs. An example of this occurred in Ephesus.
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit."

And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?"

So they said, "Into John's baptism."

Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6; see also Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-18)
 Then those followers did the same for their followers, and so forth, down to this day, each spiritual father and mother seeing to it that his or her children, each according to his maturity, genuinely shared in the original relationship the Apostles had with Christ when He had risen from the dead and ascended on high. As St. John put it, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3)

One of the hallmarks of genuine Christian experience, then, is that while it is an intensely intimate matter, taking place in the innermost depths of our being, yet it is never individualistic or idiosyncratic. Authentic experience of Christ is experience held in common with His whole Church, both in the present day and from the beginning. It is therefore a shared heritage, a joint pilgrimage. Authentic experience of Christ never takes an isolated path. It will be the same experience, the same Life, His other followers have always had. It will be the experience lived by His Church, affirmed by His Church, corroborated and expounded in all her teachings, her worship, and her writings, especially the Holy Scriptures, and handed down from person to person, as a flame from one lit candle to another, from the first Christians to us.

Part 05 will continue the discussion of how to recognize genuine spiritual experience.

Monday, May 14, 2012

From the Family Archives

A "pome" written for my father on the occasion of this 25th birthday, by his mother.  (She used to spank her children with a wooden paddle.)

Petite Pome

Mama's little
Angel child.
Laughing gaily
Gets her riled.

Naughty Dave
Cedar shingle
Made his little
Bottom tingle.

Quarter Century
Long gray beard
Crazier pome
I never heerd.

(He never literally had a beard of any kind.)

The Holy Spirit, Part 03

What “Spiritual” is

Many people mistake emotion for spirituality, but in fact these two are quite distinct. “Spiritual” means having to do with the Holy Spirit. Emotional binges are not of the Holy Spirit; in fact, they are consumer experiences, and as such, are self-serving. The genuine workings of the Holy Spirit, although sometimes dramatic, are always characterized by their sobriety. The workings of the Holy Spirit, while they do not leave the emotions unaffected, nevertheless take place at an altogether different and deeper level of us than emotion does. We are taught that while a visitation of the Holy Spirit is in progress, one feels very reluctant to descend again to the level of emotions; one wishes for the emotions to remain quiet, so as not to distract him from what is happening spiritually.

Neither is the work of the Holy Spirit to be confused with bodily sensations. When our feet start tapping and our hands begin to clap, or when we can feel within our body the rafter-raising hymn stirring us up so that we nearly sing ourselves hoarse, that is not an effect of the Holy Spirit. It may even be a pious, subtle form of pride or self-satisfaction. The Holy Spirit never leaves us feeling satisfied with our spiritual condition. This is because there’s always infinite room for improvement! Nobody who loves God and is honest with himself is ever satisfied with the poor and partial manner in which he manages to return that Love.

Neither is “spiritual” the opposite of “material” or even of “bodily”. Christ Himself took a body. Indeed, the power of the Holy Spirit is very often manifest in the body, as in healings. It is manifest in material objects as well, such as the handkerchiefs and aprons of St. Paul. (Acts 19:11-12) “Spiritual” is more nearly the opposite of “animal” where “animal” is an adjective, as in “animal instincts.” Spiritual life is the opposite of mere biological life. This is what St. Paul means by the Greek word sarx, usually translated, “flesh”, when he writes such things as:
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors-not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:9-17)
St. Paul observes that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are joy (which someone defined as “what remains when happiness has fled”), peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) That last item, self-control, is especially to be noted. If some allegedly charismatic experience puts you temporarily out of control of yourself, it is bogus. You cannot give to God what is not yours to give; cannot give Him yourself if you do not have the control of yourself. Note, too, that such things as patience and gentleness, as practices, often have no emotional appeal whatsoever!

St. James writes, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

What we might call the normal or everyday work of the Holy Spirit is to guide believers into all Truth, the Truth being Christ, to sound the inner alarm in the presence of falsehood, and to sanctify us. None of us should consider himself worthy of such additional gifts as clairvoyance, healing, prophecy, visions of Christ, and the like. We should always be suspicious of such experiences until they are very clearly shown to be of God.

The next part of this series will begin a discussion of spiritual discernment.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"My Food"

So today the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman rolled around again. And I thought of “that song” we used to sing in the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies, and I smiled because this is one of my favorite Gospel readings. It seems to hit me differently every year. Last year, what struck me about this story was that the woman, having just been told all her sins, diverts the topic to enter upon a theological dialogue about the proper place to worship God. The year before that, it was that the woman actually left her water container behind when she ran into the city to tell everyone she had probably found the Messiah. Her original mission was forgotten; her new mission was of overriding importance. I wondered to myself what it would be this year...

It was “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me.” That’s the phrase that smacked me in the face and heart this year. On several levels. Food! That, of course, grabs me every time, who am addicted to it. But “My food is to do the will of Him,” that is, of the Father. To do the Father’s will is what truly nourishes not only Jesus, but all of us. Imagine that: doing the Father’s will, better than food!

I resist doing His will, because it seems such a sacrifice; giving up my own will, as a sort of capitulation. As in that old Evangelical hymn, “I surrender All.” That’s appealing to teenagers and young adults but not so much to those of us who are too old to be excited by a challenge. Especially a challenge that, it seems, may involve, er, austerity, asceticism, deprivation. Sorry, I too often say to God. I will try to do Your will this moment and that’s the best I can do. I can’t promise anything about tomorrow or the day after that or even an hour from now.

And yet, and yet! When we do manage more or less to do His will, then how does it seem to us? Not so much like a sacrifice at all! No, rather, like new freedom and growth and fulfillment, like joy and peace, the kind that shines even through sorrow.

Well, DUH! Of course, because this freedom and growth and fulfillment, this joy and peace, are exactly the point of God’s will! He only and always wills for us whatever is best for us. And how, in those moments, does our contrary will appear, that which was formerly our own will? So petty! So shabby! And destructive, both to those around us and to ourselves.

So to do God’s will truly is our nourishment, is better for us than food, just as the living water He offers the Samaritan Woman is better than the water from the well. And this heavenly food, this living water, are better not merely for our souls, but for our souls and bodies alike.

And on another level (or is it?) whenever I am tempted to overeat, which is all the time, I intend to remind myself: My food is to do the will of my Father. And I hope, with your prayers, this will help.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Holy Spirit, Part 02

The Function and the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit had been known before that wondrous day of Pentecost. The opening words of Bible, in the First Chapter of Genesis, are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” God the Father created the world. He did so by His Word; that is, by His Intellect, spoken: “Let there be…!” It was God the Holy Spirit who effected what God the Father had spoken. The Holy Spirit had come upon all the Prophets; when they said, “The Word of the Lord came to me,“ the Word of the Lord was God’s Wisdom (Who later became Man); and He who had brought God’s Wisdom to them had been the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, however, had come to them from the outside. Christ, before and after His death, had promised to send the Holy Spirit to live inside us:
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)  
"But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)  
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. all things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16: 12-15)
The Orthodox experience is that this promise is still being carried out to this day. The Holy Spirit had always been at work and had always been known, but now He was lavished upon the whole world, to be received by as many was would “repent [change course] and be baptized.” The Holy Spirit, like the wind, always blows wherever He will, but now comes to make His home in the Church and within each Christian heart.

The fact that the Holy Spirit did come, whom Jesus had promised, is further proof of His divinity. The Holy Spirit does all the things Jesus said He would. He shows us the things necessary for our salvation. He dwells within us, in the very center of our being. He testifies to Christ, guides us into the Truth (Christ), and speaks with Christ’s own authority, who in turn speaks with the Father’s authority.

The Holy Spirit is the He Who transformed the cringing disciples into bold preachers of Good News, who made of uneducated fishermen “men most wise.”

The Holy Spirit is the Worker of miracles. It was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus did miracles, and by the same Holy Spirit His closest followers have continued ever since to do the same miracles.

The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. The Holy Spirit is He who sanctifies the waters of baptism, grafts us into Christ, washes away our sins, makes the bread and wine of Holy Communion to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ, anoints us in Holy Unction, joins a man and a woman into Holy Matrimony, and performs the spirit-ual aspect of every sacrament.

The Holy Spirit is He Who makes known to us the abiding presence of the living Christ in our midst. He comes from outside of us into the center of our being, to remain there. The bond we now have with Christ, constituted by the Holy Spirit we have in common with Him, by the human nature He shares with us, and by the Body and Blood He shares with us, is far more intimate than any other union. Jesus compared it with the union of a vine with its branches. St. Paul compared it with the union of a head with the rest of the body, and with a bride with her bridegroom. The reality of our union with Christ, however, far outshines all these pale analogies.

That is why, when the Holy Spirit speaks Truth (Christ) to us, it feels as though that Truth were rising to consciousness from our own deepest selves. It feels like, because it now is, our own self-expression. And this, in turn, is why we can never again, with a clear conscience, deny the Truth; we have the Witness to Truth within our own being. To deny that Truth would be tantamount to denying ourselves.

The Holy Spirit warns us of error. He enlightens our minds to understand the Holy Scriptures correctly. As St. John noted concerning his first Epistle, “I have written you these things concerning those who seduce you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (I John 2:27) The Apostle has written to strengthen our faith and we all need that; but note, as he also notes, that his writing is to corroborate and confirm what the Holy Spirit is already telling us inwardly.

The Holy Spirit is the Creator and Giver of Life, of all life, but most especially of immortal, everlasting Life.

It took the Church a long time, as it did also concerning the Christological dogmas, to put her experience (which is to say, God’s revelation) of the Holy Spirit into doctrinal formulations. At the Council of Constantinople, in 381, the Church proclaimed that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” The Fathers of the Church freely admit we no more know what “proceeds from the Father” means than what “begotten of the Father” does. But the two different terms are used to designate that The Word and the Spirit each has His origin in the Father, and each in His own, unique way. To proceed is not the same as to be begotten; begotten is not the same as to proceed; and neither is the same as to be created. The Father is the sole and eternal (timeless) Origin of Both.

The one Who proceeds from the Father, Who puts into effect the will of the Father, Who has the same powers as the Father, is divine with the Father. The Church proclaimed that the Holy Spirit “together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.”
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fills all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life - come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Holy Spirit, Part 01

… the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us. (Romans 5:5)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

After Jesus had risen from death and before He had ascended to His Father, He instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and wait until they should be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5) The Risen Lord then departed from their sight and they, obeying his instruction, went into Jerusalem where they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14) What happened next changed them all, and every Christian, forever:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?" (Acts 2:1-2)
 It was the fulfillment of what had been foretold by the Prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). The story in Acts, Chapter 2, continues:
Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.'
 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -- Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him:

'I foresaw the Lord always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.'
"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
'The Lord said to my Lord,"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:14-39)    
Notice that St. Peter is preaching not somebody’s philosophy, not abstract ideas nor obscure concepts someone had made up, but solid, concrete experience. His listeners were “cut to the heart” in part because many of them had also witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Given what they had heard for themselves and seen with their own eyes, it was not only perfectly rational to believe in Jesus as divine, but it would have been absurd and even perverse not to, and they knew it. Notice, too, that the Holy Spirit is now being lavished upon “all flesh” including, “your sons and your daughters”, old men and young men, maidservants and menservants – not just upon the Apostles, not just upon the clergy! He is now available to all who will “repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

Part 02 of this series will discuss the function and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Christian Anthropology, Part 03

Theosis: The Destiny for Which Man was Created

Mankind’s beginning and end are both summarized in Jesus Christ. We were created by and for Him, we were patterned after Him, and we are called to eternal oneness in Him. Man’s vocation is nothing less than to be Christ; that is, to be members of Him, co-workers with Him, and co-heirs with Him of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to a union with Him that is neither merely legal nor merely intentional, but is a true communion of being, like the union of a vine and its branches. (John 15:5) The oneness for which we were created takes place at every level: it is material (physical) and rational, moral and ontological, emotional and spiritual, human and divine. He created us to unite us with Himself via the human nature He shares with us, which in turn He unites in His Person with His Divine Nature; and His Divine Nature, in turn, is identical to the Divine Nature of the Holy Trinity. In short, God created us to become, by His Uncreated Grace, with our free and loving consent, everything He is by Nature. We are created to participate in the very activity and life of the Holy Trinity, just as Christ does; in fact, as Christ, or rather, as literal, organic, ontological members of Him. Our vocation is to be holy as He is holy (see Ephesians 2:10), to be co-creators with Him, and co-workers, sharing in all His glory and reigning with Him over all. We are called to be conformed in every way to the image of the all-holy, immortal, glorious Son. We are to become, body and soul, all that He is, to be united with Him in every way – by grace and not by sharing God's unique Essence. (Whatever the unknowable Essence of God is, It precisely does not involve becoming Itself. The Divine Essence is beginningless. Therefore, the thought of becoming God’s Essence is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.)
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Our destiny, while it does include seeing Christ face-to-face, does not include contemplation of the Divine Essence, because knowing the Divine Essence would require being it, and not even merely being It, but having been it forever. To suppose we had been divine forever without being aware of it would be pantheism, and would leave us groping for a satisfactory answer to the question: how and why did Divinity become so degraded as no longer even to be aware of its divinity? When the Logos of God became man, He was still aware of being God.

Our human destiny also does not include what Fr. John Romanides calls,
self-centered eudaemonia [contentment] attained by supposedly identifying the mind with the reality in the essence of God. This is supposed to cause a cessation of all movement of the mind and will toward any other person or thing since there is nothing more desirable for the human intellect than the divine essence... Such theories of eudaemonia simply project and elevate to a divine level the force that rules in the world, the force of necessity and self-interest called "fate" by the ancients. But man was not made for the purpose of finding satisfaction of the supposedly natural, self-centered longings within himself and, thus, of becoming unmoved and dispassionate. On the contrary, he was specifically made so he can love God and his fellow man with the same love that God as for the world. Love that arises out of self-interest is alien to the nature of God just as it is alien to the original destiny of man. (Romanides, op. cit. p. 106.)

Man was not made to be self-seeking and drawn by the supreme One so that, once he has been joined with it, man would cease to desire anything. If in fact the destiny of the soul is to incline toward the highest good and to find self-contentment in it, what kind of relationship can the soul have with secondary beings it if should ever achieve its goal? If the soul becomes totally satisfied by its union with the One, how can it also be inclined toward other beings like itself, or even lower beings, and maintain a relationship of love with them also? (ibid., pp. 112-113)
 In other words, there is no garden of carnal or psychological delights. There are no 72 virgins - nor 72 studs. There is no gratification of passions (nor even existence of any passions), not even the passion to know the Divine Essence, and especially no gratification of animosity by seeing other human beings burn in hell.

Neither does our human destiny involve only our individual selves and God, but the whole Body of Christ. Nor is our unique personhood to be swallowed up into any larger, amorphous whole. Rather, in Christ, each person’s unrepeatable personhood is loved and therefore affirmed, established, sanctified, glorified, christified. In short, Christ is the destiny pre-ordained from before all ages, to which all are called. It is a calling we begin to fulfill upon earth, but which Christ consummates later. It is called theosis (“THAY-oh-sis”), Greek for “deification.” Or, we could say we are to become “Christified”. In the famous dictum attributed to several saints, “God became Man that Man might become God.”

Volumes have been written on this subject, for which reason I will not dwell upon it further here. All I wished to do here is to distinguish the doctrine of theosis from some heterodox concepts of salvation. Of the many books on theosis, two I have read and can recommend are The Deification of Man by Georgios I. Mantzaridis (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984) and Deification in Christ:  The Nature of the Human Person by Panayiotis Nellas (St. Vladimir’s Seminiary Press, 1987).

But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror [or, 'reflecting'] the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Christian Anthropology, Part 02

Man as He was First Created, continued

Man was Created Body and Soul

And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)
Man is unique in all of creation in that he is compounded of matter and of soul. Man, by uniting himself the material and the immaterial, proves them not mutually exclusive. Man is superior to the animals, who lack the soul of man; and Man is superior (ontologically, if not morally) to the angels, who lack bodies. (Man is also superior to the angels on account of his unique destiny. While human beings are destined to become sons and daughters of God, angels are destined to remain the servants of God – and of God’s children.) Man is thus the apex of creation. (Christians are the true Humanists.)

To be composed of body and soul is another facet of being “in the image” of Christ, Who is both God and Man, indivisibly and without confusion. In mankind, creation is endowed with reason and comes to consciousness. In mankind, the creation has the possibility of offering itself to God. Man was created as the priest of creation, as the soul and mind and voice of the whole natural order.
We are therefore responsible for the world. We are the word, the logos, through which it bespeaks itself, and it depends solely on us whether it blasphemes or prays. Only through us can the cosmos, like the body that it prolongs, receive grace. For not only the soul, but the body of man is created in the image of God. “Together they were created in the image of God,” writes St. Gregory Palamas. ( Lossky, op. cit., p. 71.)
Fr. Alexander Schmemann emphasizes that man was created to be the priest of creation:
So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and – in this act of gratitude and adoration – to know, name and possess the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguish¬ing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens,” “home faber” … yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, most basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God – and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. (Schmemann, Life of the World, p. 15.)
Body and soul are not opposed to one another, as though one were evil and the other good, or one were mortal and the other immortal. Neither of these is the case. The body is neither some tomb of the soul nor some evil prison of the soul. In fact, in biblical terminology, “flesh” and “soul” are sometimes even interchangeable. “All flesh” refers to the complete human being as in Genesis 6:12; or in the broader sense, to all living creatures, as in Psalm 136:25. “Every soul” or “living soul” means the same thing, as we read in Acts 2:43 or Romans 13:1. The terms are shorthand for the same, complete reality of body plus soul, both of which constitute Man, who was made for immortality, and yet failed to achieve it.

Nor is “flesh” anything bad in itself. After all, St. John writes that “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and Jesus bids us eat His flesh and drink His blood. (John 6:51-56) St. Luke proclaims that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)

“Carnal” does not always denote something evil, either. St. Paul, requesting donations for the Jewish-Christian famine victims in Jerusalem, writes, “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in carnal things.” (Romans 15:27)

What is wrong is to live carnally; that is, to live according to either our bodies or our souls, for their demands are alike self-serving and therefore opposed to the Holy Spirit. Bodily pleasures are not evil in themselves, but to live for them, instead of living for Christ, is evil. Soulish pleasures (emotional security, intellectual delights and such) are also not evil in themselves, but living for them is as self-serving (as unloving and ungodlike) as to live for bodily sensations.

Note that evil here is the corruption of something good. Its existence depends upon there being something good for it to corrupt, just as a parasite depends upon there being a host from which it can suck its existence. This is why Orthodox theologians sometimes call evil “parasitic.” They mean evil is not something God created, but a corruption of His work. Evil has no being of its own, independently of good.

Man was not created perfect.

Strange as it may sound, the affirmation that man was not created perfect does not mean he was created imperfect! It means he was created a spiritual infant. As an infant, Adam was perfect, and innocent, too; but he had yet to acquire the perfections of mature adulthood. (If he had been perfect from the beginning, he could not have fallen into sin, for perfection is not corruptible.) Rather, our first parents were intended to develop and grow, to increase in wisdom and in favor with God and their fellow man, just as Christ did, in Whose Image they had been made. Adam and Eve walked and conversed with God as with a familiar Friend; but they did not behold His Essence, as some suppose. They had every earthly happiness, but spiritual joys – which come from participating in God’s own Life – lay mostly ahead of them. Life as spiritual beings had only begun, had yet to be learned.
God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been made, into Paradise, giving him the means for advancement in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and even being declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal nor altogether immortal but capable of either… St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 2, 24. (Romanides 125))
Had man been created perfect from the beginning, then his goodness (or wickedness) would be a function of his nature and not of his will. It would be involuntary, that is, and thus morally meaningless. Romanides writes, “He was made needing to acquire perfection, not because he was made flawed in nature and morally deficient but because moral perfection is achieved only in total freedom.” (Romanides, op. cit., p. 126.)

Man was not created naturally immortal.

Again, this assertion, paradoxically, does not mean man was created mortal, either. Our Fathers tell us man was created for immortality, but without having it as a part of his nature. Immortality is not natural, but supernatural, a divine attribute. Not having the divine nature, Adam had no divine attributes such as immortality. Having been created out of nothing, he had no immortality in his own nature, either. God indeed breathed life into Adam, and that life was immortal, but it was also contingent. Being contingent meant the life Adam had was a communion in God’s Life, not yet his own. To secure it for himself, he would have had to grow into a mature spiritual man in a communion with God such as could never more be disrupted. Meanwhile, his life, although immortal, was borrowed, was derived from such nascent and on his part irresolute communion as he already had with God. There was no fountain of life within him; he had continuously to tap into God’s Well of Life.

St. Irenaeus says it is diabolical that man should ever suppose
that the incorruptibility which belongs to him is his own naturally, and by thus not holding the truth, should boast with empty superciliousness, as if he were naturally like to God. For he (satan) thus rendered him (man) more ungrateful towards his Creator, obscured the love which God had towards man, and blinded his mind not to perceive what is worthy of God, comparing himself with, and judging himself equal to, God. (St. Irenaeus, op. cit., 3, XX, 1.)
That man was not created immortal becomes an even more important doctrine in view of modern heterodoxies. If man had been created immortal, then nothing could have killed him – except, presumably, God alone. Such a view inescapably paints God as the as Original Murderer. Of course the heterodox immediately add that in killing man, God was entirely justified; indeed, they say (compounding the slander), His Justice required it. Christ, of course, teaches us the murderer of mankind is and always was satan, not God. (john 8:44)  St. Theophilus likewise teaches:

“If God had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. On the other hand, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Rather, He made him neither immortal nor mortal…but capable of being either one in order that, should he incline toward things of immortality and keep the commandment of God, he would be rewarded by him with immortality and become god. If, however, he should turn to things of death by disobeying God, he would be the cause of death to himself For God made man free and sovereign. (St. Theophilus of Antioch, op. cit., 2, 27.)
to be continued...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Christian Anthropology, Part 01

Man as he was First Created
He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:15-18  Thrones, dominions and principalities are ranks of angels.)
In the Image of God

Christian anthropology, like all things Christian, begins and ends with Christ, the Perfect Man. The first man, although he appeared before Christ chronologically, was made in the image of Christ (not the other way around), and the God-Man, in turn, is the image of God. Man was patterned after Christ and for Christ, because already from the beginning, Christ in His fathomless love intended to come among us as one of us and would need a mother to give Him flesh. Thus, the first and most important statement in Christian anthropology is that mankind is created in the Image and Likeness of God.
Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1: 26-27)
Man in the end is as unknowable as God is. A human person is not reducible to any concept or set of concepts. “…what lies at his core, by reason of his very structure, is a theological being which falls outside the scope of science.” (Nellas, Panayiotis, Deification in Christ, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1987, p. 30. ) For this reason, the Fathers of the Church, although emphasizing the teaching that man is created in the Image of God, never systematized the doctrine. It meant different, though not conflicting, things to different Fathers and Orthodox writers, and still does.
An image is not truly an image if it does not possess all the characteristics of its pattern…It is characteristic of divinity to be incomprehensible; this must also be true of the image. If the image could be essentially understood while the original remained incomprehensible, the image would not be an image at all. But our spiritual dimension, which is precisely that wherein we are the image of our Creator, is beyond our ability to explain…by this mystery within us we bear the imprint of the incomprehensible godhead.  St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Creation of Man, II, P.G. 44,155.)
Some Orthodox writers say it is not permissible for us to compare any human characteristics with divine attributes, period – much less to say these human traits are the Image of God. Granted, man has much that distinguishes him from animals, but none of these distinctions, such as freedom, creativity, and conscience, is yet the Image of God. The Image of God in us, they say, is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, together with the immortality He brings. For these writers, man by sinning lost the Holy Spirit Who was both man’s immortality and the Image of God in him. St. Irenaeus exemplifies this position.

For other Orthodox writers, the Image of God in us consists of “all that distinguishes man from the animals and makes him in the full sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.” (Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way, St. Vladimir’s Seminary press, Crestwood, New York 1990, p. 65.)

In any case, whether they constitute the Image of God or not, man was endowed with certain unique characteristics such as conscience, reason, and reflexive consciousness.

Reflexive consciousness is not only knowing, but knowing that we know; not only being, but knowing that we are.

Man was also made to have dominion over the Earth, to be both the king and the priest of creation, exercising wise stewardship over it and offering it, with thanksgiving, back to God as a holy gift. This is man’s vocation. The implication is that we are not to ravage and plunder the earth. To the contrary, Man is also meant to be a co-creator with God, that is, to shape this world creatively, constructively, together with God.
The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God—and by filling the world with this eucharist [thanksgiving], he transforms his life, the one he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. (Schmemann, Fr. Alexander, For the Life of the World, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1995, p. 15.)
Man was created with Freedom. By freedom, we man both “yes/no” or "either/or" freedom and creative freedom, self-determination. God miraculously “made room” in His creation for other free agents than Himself. By His very will, He allows for the existence of other wills genuinely outside of Himself and able both to will and to do even things opposed to God. Both “either/or” and creative freedom are essential for the attainment of Man’s vocation. Without freedom, we cannot give true love. Without freedom, we are not human, but only smart animals. Without freedom, there is no true morality – or immorality. Without freedom, we cannot be co-creators with God. Furthermore, if men (and angels) have no free will, then they are not responsible for the evil in this world: God is.
Why, one may ask, did God create man free and responsible? Precisely because He wanted to call him to a supreme vocation: deification; that is to say, to become by grace, in a movement boundless as God, what which God is by His nature. And this call demands a free response; God wishes that this movement be a movement of love. Union without love would be automatic, and love implies freedom, the possibility of choice and refusal. (Lossky, Vladimir, Orthodox Theology:  An Introduction (Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001, pp. 71-72.)
Whether or not being “in the Image” means any of these things, for every Orthodox theologian, it is certain that being created in the Image of God means specifically being created in the Image of the Holy Trinity. As the Three Persons of the Trinity all possess one and the same divine nature, so we humans all possess one and the same human nature, although each of us is a unique example of it. (Human beings, however, divide human nature among them, each being so to speak a tiny piece of it, whereas each Person of the Holy Trinity is the whole Divine Nature, not a piece of it.  In other words, there are not three gods.) be continued

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cars that Spy on You?

h/t John, at Ad Orientem

Your i-Pads and cell Phones and computers already do.  Your library does, if requested, and so does your doctor.  (Read that "Privacy Statement"!)  Traffic cams already do.  Some televisions already do.  Some cars already do.  But all cars, after 2015?  Read about it here.