From a radical to a moderate

Just finished reading “My Year Inside Radical Islam” by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a book I didn’t expect to take as long to read. Perhaps it was due to the writing style which, to be honest, I didn’t care for that much.  Granted, the author had no literary aspirations when he set out to write this memoir. Instead, he wanted to tell his story of the relatively short time he spent inside fundamentalist Islam which, as it turned out, was probably not the best time to be associated with the religion: just a few years before 9/11.

The book is about Daveed’s search for God. Though he is of Jewish background his search brings him to Islam. He doesn’t encounter the fundamental side of Islam right away. Rather, he spends some time working for the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and it was mostly there that he discovers the many different things which are “haram”, or forbidden by Islamic law. Things such as, shaking hands with women (or being alone with them in a room), owning or being near a dog, paying interest, listening to music… Some of the things he came in contact with were somewhat extreme, even refuted by other, more lax Muslims.

But he wrote the book to tell his story as an employee at Haramain since the very branch he worked for was later designated a terrorist entity by the Treasury Department in the wake of 9/11. By that time he had already embraced Christianity. So, the book doesn’t have as its goal the spread of Islam; nor Christianity for that matter. It’s the story of one man’s personal religious experience.  As such, I admit it wasn’t that exciting.

A few days ago I posted a news piece about a pastor who prayed for his “hot wife”. I was still reading this book while I made that post and considered the contrast of the two faiths: on the one hand I was reading about Daveed battling with Islamic rules which pretty much covered all facets of life: from strict prayer rules to which hand to wipe with. While on the other hand you had a preacher who is so opposed to “cookie-cutter prayers” that he’ll say just about anything.  Daveed doesn’t go much into the Christian faith other than to mention a few sermons he heard that changed his view on Christianity and the understanding of God. For instance, he recalls a pastor who spoke about how we are not worthy of God’s love but He still loves us.

I suppose the book would be more interesting (for me, at least) if he had converted to Orthodox Christianity. We also preach that very same Christian message of God’s unconditional love, yet our Church is also rich with a wide assortment of rules, regulations and canons. Granted, they don’t go into every single detail of everyday life. I understand why this memoir was written, what with all Muslims all of the sudden being instantly treated as terrorists, but if the story as read as one man’s journey from Islam to Christianity it seems as though not much is said for the fullness and authenticity of the Christian faith other than it being a church where everyone is loved.

Just my two cents.

The Human Face

God’s Human Face

By Hieromonk Calinic (Berger)
H/T:  Holy Cross Romanian Church (here)

The human face expresses all the nuances of the soul. The fact that we humans have a face shows that we were created to communicate with each other; we were not created to be isolated individuals. From this point of view, the human face and the human word share a common purpose – both are the means through which the feelings of our hearts and the thoughts of our minds are shared with others. The face, as much as the word, is a means of interpersonal communication and communion.

The human face not only has the ability to express the state of the soul in any given instant; but also, in many ways, the face can become a record of our lives. This does not mean that marks or lines created on the face over time can be interpreted correctly on first glance. For example, it could be that a person pure in soul has a stressful look due to certain sufferings which are unknown to us. Nevertheless, more often than not, a grace-filled soul can be clearly seen shining through a grace-filled face. This impression must be confirmed by the person’s words and actions, as other means of communion. The face and the word together communicate what is in the soul of a person.

The same is true for the incarnate Son of God.  Since the Incarnation, God has communicated Himself to us in a new way: through a human face. Beyond the beauty, majesty and power of the created world (which indirectly reveal God’s wisdom and power to us), and beyond His words spoken to us both by our Lord and through the prophets (which reveal God’s thoughts directly), God now expresses Himself to us in the most intimate, personal, and human way possible: through his human face.

This is one reason why the veneration of icons in the Orthodox Church has such a central place in our worship and in our dogmatic beliefs. God’s presence among us is manifold: He is present with us through His words in Scriptures, through His body and blood in the Eucharist, through His uncreated energies as grace, through the beauty and majesty of the created world – and through His human face, as present in His holy icon. The icon of Jesus Christ is always recognizable. It always depicts the same face of God Incarnate.

One Orthodox theologian, Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, has made several important observations on the interrelatedness of the icon with the other forms of God’s presence among His people. Divisions in Christianity have mostly taken place where one aspect of God’s revelation has been seperated from others and viewed in isolation from the rest. For example, wherever God’s words in the Scriptures have been taken as the only authentic revelation of God, there have Christians been subjected to a myriad of subjective, human interpretations and opinions. Only when all the means of God’s revelation and presence are held together is the Christian Faith itself held together in the One, Holy, Apostolic Tradition. The holy Mysteries and the Icon of Christ both prevent the subjective interpretation of Scripture, since both reveal a differentof Christ, as God and as deified Man. Only all taken together give us the full Christ. It is the same in normal human relations: the same words can be interpreted differently with a different expression of the face. The expression on the face (here, on the Icon) must be confirmed by the words (in the Scriptures) and actions (in the Sacraments) for usness of the Christ.

Thus, the icon of Christ conveys to us not only the fact that the Son of God became a man; but more than this, it conveys the infinite love and compassion that led Him to become incarnate, as well as His knowledge of our deeds, His patience with our weaknesses, and His sternness regarding His coming again as universal Judge. The genius of traditional Orthodox iconography (as executed by talented and godly iconographers) allows the face of Christ to be depicted in such a way as to express all of these dimensions of His personality simultaneously. The human face of Christ in His icon thereby becomes not only a reminder of God’s humanity but also an aspect of his actual presence among us. We commune with Christ not only in the Eucharist but also through His words in Scripture, His icon, and with all the meanings (logoi) of the created world, which has Christ Himself as its Creator (Eph. 3:9) and supreme Logos (Jn. 1:1). All these things together allow us to fully commune with the full Christ.

For this reason, the icon of Christ is inseparable from both Orthodox worship and dogma. The icon is not with us in our Church simply because it is dogmatically allowed. It is with us because it is necessary for dogma. In the Icon of Christ’s face, we see all of His saving actions at once: we are reminded of His nativity, His miracles, His passion and His resurrection (Sunday of Orthodoxy Kontakion). The Icon of Christ manifests Christ, and through it, He Himself continues to work, as the priestly prayer to bless the icon clearly states.

Furthermore, the icon of Christ connects His words and His Eucharist to His person, ensuring that neither one is disconnected or abstracted from Him. Jesus’ words are absolutely unique. His Eucharistic bread is absolutely unique, personal facial expressivity in His holy Icon. Through all these things together Jesus continues to communicate with each of us personally. It brings Him into our presence and brings us into His presence.

The Word of God assumed not just human nature abstractly but became a man, with a specific human face, His face, through which He wishes to communicate with us for all eternity. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Mt. 24:35) – and neither shall His unique and grace-filled human face. This is the very meaning of salvation: to have the “light of God’s face” shine upon us (Ps. 80:7, 19). If Western Christianity (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) considers salvation to be a beatific vision of God’s essence, in Orthodoxy it is rather a vision of the face of Christ. Thus could Father Dumitru Staniloae finish his great work, Orthodox Spirituality, with these words: “The incarnation of the Word confirmed the value of man… But it also gave man the possibility to see in the human face of the Logos, concentrated anew, all the logoi and divine energies. Thus, final deification will consist of the contemplation and experiencing of all the divine values and energies conceived in and radiating from the face of Christ.”

“As long as they keep praying”

H/T: Fox News (here).

Pastor Defends Calling Wife ‘Smokin’ Hot’ in Prayer Before NASCAR Race

A Nashville pastor is defending a NASCAR pre-race prayer in which he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife,” saying he wanted a blessing that would be remembered.

Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church gave the invocation at Saturday night’s Nationwide race at Nashville Speedway. Late in the prayer, Nelms channeled his inner Ricky Bobby when he borrowed a line from the film “Talladega Nights”.

“Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin’ hot wife tonight, Lisa, and my two children, Eli and Emma, or as we like to call, ‘The Little E’s,'” he said, while also thanking automotive companies, like Goodyear and Sunoco, Reuters reported.

Later, in an interview Monday with Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint,” Nelms said he didn’t want to do “cookie-cutter prayers.”

“I want to get somebody’s attention, so that’s been our desire every time we’ve been up there, to try to make an impact on the fans and give them something they’ll remember, and maybe they’ll go home on a Friday night or a Saturday night and say, ‘Maybe I ought to get up and go to church in the morning,'” Nelms said.

Fans at the NASCAR race weren’t the only ones surprised at Nelms’ prayer. His wife heard his invocation for the first time when it was being aired on live TV, Nelm’s said in the interview.

“I don’t rehearse it, so she was hearing it for the first time. She said my daughter laid on the floor laughing. She didn’t even hear me say her name for laughing at me saying smokin’ hot wife,” Nelms said.

Nelms, who has been a NASCAR fan since a young age, was happy for the opportunity to pray at the event and isn’t taking the criticism to heart.

“I’ll take the good (reaction) with the bad any day, as long as they just keep praying,” he said.

Willing Submission to the Law

H/T: Fr. Ted’s blog (here) on last Sunday’s gospel of the the Gadarene Swine. Taken from Archbishop Lazar Puhalo’s book Not by Bread Alone: Homilies on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew:

“Now once more, Christ reveals both His authority and the meaning of redemption. here is no doubt that Christ had power; he will say so directly at the moment of His betrayal. Nevertheless, it is necessary for us that we see not an exercise of infinite power, but a loving exercise of lawful authority. Indeed the exercise of power is part of the very sickness of the fallen nature which Christ came to heal. The demons had seized power over the Gadarene demoniacs, but Christ had healed the men by exercise of the lawful authority which He has over all created things. We understand, therefore, that we are not saved by the coercion of power, but by our own willing submission to the lawful authority of Christ. Christ came to release us from bondage and make us free children of the household, saved by love, not led into a new bondage by the exercise of a power though He certainly did possess ‘all power in heaven and on earth.’”

Camp

Been away from the keyboard these past few days.

Last week I was one of the clergy assigned to the first week of our church camp in Shadeland, PA.  Then, on Saturday I went down to Atlanta (my former, and first, parish) to join them on Sunday for the celebration of their church Slava, Sts. Peter and Paul. I returned yesterday afternoon.

This afternoon I received a 20-part email with a bunch of camp pics. I guess I should note here that the photos are courtesy of Lana Balach, who comments here occasionally. She was one of the volunteer moms that week.  One of her favorite things about camp is when Fr. Rodney is there  she can attend his early morning Hours and Matins service which he serves at 5am when at home but he bumps it up to 6am while at camp. The photo above, in fact, was taken one early morning on the way to church.

Being the ego maniac that I am I went through the many photos and picked out the ones of me which I will now attach to this post:

The Glorious Fruit of Repentance

“What is divine consolation?  I will give you an example, so that you will understand it better.  A young child does something wrong: let’s say he breaks one of his father’s tools, and he is upset over it and cries; because he considers it to be a big mistake. The more the child cries and admits the damage done and continues to suffer over it, the more the father caresses his child and tries to console him. ‘It’s alright, my child; don’t cry, don’t worry.  It’s not so serious; we’ll buy another tool.'”

Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos 1994

“Cruel friends”

Reading a post Fr. Stephen Freeman had on his Glory to God For All Things blog I found this beautiful poem by Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic. If the path to our salvation is through our humility, for the one who humbles himself shall be exalted, then we should thank God for our enemies who do just that, who, as Bishop Nikoaj says below, in reality and taking in consideration what they do for preparing our soul for salvation, are nothing other than “cruel friends”.  Enjoy:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitter against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.