Only Love Reveals God

Below is a homily delivered by His Grace Bishop Ignjatije of Branicevo, pictured above with me and my little kum Nikolaj Krsic at the Diocesan Days in California. The sermon was loosely translated:

“…Today’s story, or today’s event, transcribed by the Holy Apostle and Evengelist Luke, a meeting between Christ and, as it is says there, a Jew who was truly for the law and that things be done according to the old way and that nothing changes. And he wanted to test the Lord, to see whether He, too, respects the Law of Moses. The Lord, knowing this, asks him what does it say in that Law of Moses.

Of course, the man replied that its written that we love the Lord God with all of one’s soul, strength, mind, but also one’s neighbor as oneself. Yet, that which is not written in the Law of Moses – and what the Lord now wants to tell this man, and in that manner He wants to tell us – and that is that it does not say in the Law of Moses that the Jewish man love a Samaritan, to love those who are, in any way, sinful and who are not of the same Jewish nationality.

And the Lord tells this story and He chooses these people [characters], among other things, He shows that this martyr who was beaten and brought to near death by theives was not helped by neither a Jew, the Jewish priest, nor that Levite, who is also Jewish but he was helped by a regular, ordinary person who was a Samaritan; for the Samaritans and Jews didn’t really get along as that usually occurs in life. Not only among nations but also people; people don’t get along because it’s a result of sin to not be able to stand the other person. The first thing that man did as a sin is that he hated God, as that other, or he didn’t want Him and only then every other person, after that first sin, he hates and considers his enemy. And the Lord speaks of this now as a virtue, in relation to the Old Law, according to the old way, the way this man thought the law is to be kept, and the Lord tells him something which the man didn’t even anticipate. And which always happens when something new appears, it affects us and we don’t desire anything new. In that way the Jewish people didn’t want Christ who, in fact, brought something new. He brought grace, as the Apostle Paul says, He brought love and not the law. And so this Samaritan who showed love is the neighbor and the Lord tells him, go and do likewise.

But something I wanted to especially point out from this morning’s gospel story is that this commandment – to love God, contains also the commandment to love our neighbors. And that love for our neighbors, to love them as they are. We usually love our own. And so when the other person is not related to us or our neighbor we like them but somehow we want them to be like us, to be similar to us, to be how we think they should be. However, being that every person is an unrepeatable being; and such love, which implies that you love someone and make them into what you are, that’s not love that’s egoism. When in that person you, in fact, love yourself.  True love is to love someone as they are. For this reason the Lord stresses that, when He says that love for our enemies is divine love, pure love. Because our enemy is neither similar to us, nor does he do what we want to do …. that’s an enemy. And he calls us to the Lord. Our love must be free, because you want to love someone not because they are like this or that. That’s how the Lord loves us. He doesn’t love us because of what good we have done to Him, we crucified His Son. But He loves us because He wants to love us. And with that free love of His He makes us unrepeatable, singular beings, He makes us so precious that He gives His life for us. Just as when we love someone so much, so deeply that we could give our lives for them, when, in fact, in that person we see God. That’s why the Holy Fathers say, only love reveals God. And so the great Apostle John says we can’t know God through knowledge, only through love….To love someone sincerely means to reveal God among us, for God is love. To Him be glory and honor. Amen.

Clergy Double Bookings

H/T: Theology and Society (here)

Priest Books Wedding and Funeral at Same Time; Apologizes for “Bride and Gloom” Ritual in Serbia

Serbian Orthodox priest Father Jefrem Ratkovic was forced to apologize, after he recently scheduled a wedding at the same time as a funeral in the central Serbian town of Ljig, the Austrian Times website reports exclusively today (November 26, 2012).

When bride Dragana Jovic, 23, arrived at the church dressed in white, she found dozens of mourners dressed in black together with a coffin containing the body of a local man, Nemanja Petrovic, 86.

Both the brightly-dressed wedding guests and the dark-clothed mourners had started to take their places in the church by the time the priest arrived.

After he realized that he had scheduled a wedding and a funeral at the same time, Father Ratkovic asked the mourners — and their coffin — to wait outside while he carried out the wedding, and then the funeral was allowed to go ahead. He told the local media, “Double bookings can happen in anything, the Church is no different. I have apologized though, and both sides were fine about it.”

Real Face of the Hague

H/T: B92 (here)

Hague Tribunal showed it real face, patriarch says

BELGRADE — Serbian Patriarch Irinej said on Sunday that the Hague Tribunal had finally showed its true face by acquitting Croat Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač

He added that the Tribunal also proved that it was a political court.

“With this verdict the Tribunal removed a mask from its face and finally showed that this is a political court that lacks basic legal and ethical norms and whose goals is to find those who are guilty innocent and innocent victims declare perpetrators,” the patriarch said at a memorial service to Serb victims of the 90s wars on Sunday.

According to him, the Hague Tribunal’s decision compromised the right to justice and confirmed “that it is not founded on legal norms but on interests of great powers”.

He added that thanks to the Hague Tribunal nobody was held responsible for 200,000 expelled Serbs, torched homes of Serbs, their churches and thousands of killed.

“It is obvious that the Hague Tribunal is covering up the crimes against the Serbs,” Irinej stressed, adding that “it turns out that Serbs committed crimes against themselves”.

“We ask the unjust judges, whose fault is it then,” the patriarch said.

He called on the Serbs to remain united and ask for Russia’s support.

The patriarch noted that Serbia should join the EU if the member states “accept us for who we are, with our holy land, culture, religion and language” but “if they condition us with Kosovo, we should not accept the invitation”.

“We have to know who our friends are. We want to be in Europe but not at a price of renouncing our holy land, our homes and cemeteries. If they do not want us the way we are, we will continue to live our difficult lives, just like we did 500 years ago,” Irinej added.

“The message from this holy gathering should be our determination to cooperate with everybody, especially with our Slavic brothers from whom we expect support, protection and hope,” he stressed.

Members of refugee associations, PM Ivica Dačić, First Deputy PM Aleksandar Vučić, parliament Speaker Nebojša Stefanović and ministers attended the memorial service.

After the memorial service, a protest march was held. Several thousands of citizens took part in it, demanding justice for Serb victims.

Days of Thanksgiving

This day of Thanksgiving, although deeply rooted in English traditions from the Protestant Reformation of days of fasting and days of thanksgiving, is a holiday loved by all I think.  Probably because of it’s simplicity: no pressure to find the right present, no candies or stuffed teddy bears. It’s a national family reunion of sorts – everyone’s invited, many places of business are closed, everyone knows when it’ll be. But each Thanksgiving is different, some years we’re all together some years not.

Thanksgiving was not always on the fourth Thursday in November. On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt  signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.

The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest.

In later years, religious thanksgiving services were declared by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

Pilgrims and Puritans who began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving”, including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.

Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.*


Man and Angels

A happy feast day of St. Archangel Michael to all who celebrate today.

H/T: A homily delivered by Fr. Robert Arida; Holy Trinity Orthodox Church (here)

The feasts of the Church are always challenging us to experience reality as something more than what our senses can perceive and what our minds can comprehend. Celebrating the Feast of St. Michael together with all the bodiless powers of heaven, we are invited to enter a reality which extends beyond the physical including the parameters of time and space. The celebration of the angels affirms the multifaceted dimensions of created existence. Therefore, the feast beckons us to take those initial steps into a fuller reality – a richer reality – where we enter into a con-celebration with the immaterial powers of heaven praising and worshipping the One God in Three Persons.

From within this festal celebration unity between humanity and the angels is revealed. The diversity of human existence joined to the diversity of angelic life forms a symphony of created plurality maintained within the unity and plurality of the Holy Trinity. Man and the angels are called by God himself to celebrate the liturgy of new and eternal life. Given this liturgical context, we can say that the con-celebration of the new and everlasting covenant by human and angelic beings offers an epiphany of the incomprehensible unity and diversity of God who desires to raise up every one and every thing into his very being. Together with the angels, we who are in Christ form the UNA SANCTA given to the world for the life of the world and its salvation.
Human beings are incomplete without the angels. So too are angels incomplete without human beings. The solidarity and unity of creation revealed liturgically stresses the reciprocity or sharing of knowledge between angels and men. The angels teach us and show us that our knowledge of God – and therefore our communion with God – is direct and not through intermediaries. This basic reality is implied in the Genesis reading for the Feast. Before the giving of the law by angels to Moses (cf. Gal. 3:15-20), Jacob dreams of a ladder set up on the earth and reaching to heaven. We hear that “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it”. (28:12) At the top of the ladder is God—not the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac, not tablets etched with the law nor a scroll containing the words of the Prophets who were yet to be born. The angels in Jacob’s dream reveal to him and to us that the human ascent to God is first of all initiated by God who through his angels – through his messengers – calls us to ascend to him and to abide in his life.

The angels of Jacob’s ladder are not intermediaries but precisely the bearers of Good News. They declare to Jacob and to us that we are called to ascend into divine life. By their ascending and descending, the angels in Jacob’s dream bring time and eternity into an inseparable embrace where God, and his creatures—bodiless powers and human beings—dwell in never ending communion.

However, the ascent to God is a struggle. Genesis offers us a vivid picture of this struggle as Jacob wrestles with what appears to be a theandric being – a GodMan being. After the wrestling match, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel i.e. the one who wrestles with God. (cf. 32:28)

Like Jacob, our ascent to God is indeed a struggle. It is an ascetical struggle in which we wrestle with God, with ourselves and with each other ever striving with the Holy Spirit to overcome our physical and spiritual passions, which bind us to a one-dimensional existence of sin and death.

Angels and men exist in order to participate in the divine life. Yet, this participation is not exclusively for the supra-rational and rational beings.  The angels are created to assist humanity in maintaining its union and communion between God together with all creation. Angels do not rule over humanity. They are the servants of humanity. They are charged by God to assist humanity in bringing the creation into a never-ending and ever progressing intimacy with divine personhood and divine life.

Angels have the vocation to assist humanity in transfiguring and deifying creation. Human beings with the help of the angels are to lead the creation not only to Christ but also into Christ. Hence the COMMUNIO SANCTORUM – the communion of holy ones and holy things – is possible when men and women with the assistance of the angels offer or raise up in the context of the Eucharist the entire created order into the deified life of the Triune and Tri-personal God.

While teaching and assisting humanity, the angels are also being taught. Man teaches and shows the angels that through the incarnation of the pre-eternal Word and Son of God the physical body is predestined to be the abode of divinity. The physical body is destined to be the temple of the uncreated light. Man’s ascent to God teaches the angels that material and physical existence are not naturally separated from God. On the contrary, the ascetical ascent of the human person to God makes possible the restoration of the proper relationship between God and all of creation including the hosts of the immaterial and bodiless angels.

However, the restoration of the relationship between God and creation requires the involvement of the angels. Just as humanity is called to reveal the beauty of deified physical reality to the angels, it is the angels who remind the human person that the physical must not be treated as an end in itself. The angels show the physical to be transparent i.e. not bound to itself and to its spatial and or temporal parameters but having its beginning and end with God.

It is here that restored and fallen realities come into conflict. In the language of the Bible Satan leads the rebellion against God. Satan is the great adversary who travels the world seeking to lure his accused into a mesh of lies that ultimately leads to sin and death. In Genesis, Satan leads man and woman away from God through the lie of self-apotheosis. Consequently, those created in the image and likeness of God are sealed by Satan with the mark of death, which spreads to the entire creation. Satan is the lying accuser. He is also the diabolos – the great divider – who seeks to separate every one and every thing from God. Fallen angels and fallen humanity freely collaborate in tenaciously holding back the creation from discovering its purpose and achieving its end. Rebellion against the creator is manifested in the rebellion of the fallen against creation. For the fallen seek to keep the creation fractured and disintegrated.

The battle of restored and fallen realities is described in the reading from the Apocalypse. We hear of two opposing armies – one led by the Archangel Michael and the other by Satan. The account forms part of the culminating cosmic drama in which the faithful of the Church i.e. those who have been regenerated and restored to life by the blood of the Lamb share in his victory over sin and death. This victory is shared not only by the faithful. It is also shared by the archangel Michael. The victory over sin and death through the blood of the Lamb makes possible Michael’s victory. In the Gospel according to St. John, the Lord announces before his crucifixion that “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself.” (12:31-32) The Apocalypse affirms the victory of the cross as it describes the fall of Satan from his privileged place in heaven. Because Christ has taken upon himself the sin and death of all humanity, he identifies himself with the world ruled by Satan. Consequently, the Lamb of God stands accused not only by religious and political figures – not only by Jews and Gentiles – but also by Satan. The ruler of the fallen accuses the Lamb of seeking to overthrow his dominion of sin and death. And what is the penalty for this rebelliousness? – death on the cross. But, to the horror of Satan, the cross is transformed by the Lamb into a weapon of ultimate victory. Christ the Lamb has destroyed death by his death. The lesson read from the Apocalypse declares that Satan, the accuser, is defeated by the accused. It is Michael the Archangel of God and his army who rout the evil one and his allies: “…they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” (12:8) Defeated and expelled from heaven, Satan continues to maintain his authority. Thrown down to earth Satan continues to prowl “around like a Lion seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pt. 5:8) Satan’s time in the world is short.  Nevertheless, like a cornered animal Satan now strikes the hardest. It is the UNA SANCTA that must strike back with ascetical vigilance nurtured by the Holy Spirit.  With St. Michael and the angels, we are to extend the work of the crucified and risen Lord through time, space and beyond. Together with the angels we are to draw every one and every thing into the unity of the Son of Man upon whom angels ascend and descend. Amen.

Those Serbian Terrorists Again

The Serb-hating Madeleine Albright once argued with Colin Powell about intervening in Bosnia by saying: “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?” (Who ever said that if a woman ruled the world there’d be no wars?) Well, the US intervened. And now, I suppose, it’s time that Bosnians started thanking America for their support:

H/T: BBC News (here)

New York bomb plotter Adis Medunjanin sentenced to life

A Bosnian-born US citizen has been sentenced to life in prison over a plot to bomb the New York subway.

Adis Medunjanin, 34, was convicted in May of multiple US terrorism offences, including conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

Two former schoolmates who helped to plan the attack had pleaded guilty and testified against Medunjanin.

The men were trained by al-Qaeda in Pakistan before agreeing to participate in the plot, prosecutors said.

The attack was planned to coincide around the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but was foiled when the trio realised law enforcement officials were following them.

During the trial, defense lawyers argued that US agents unfairly coerced Medunjanin and intimidated his family, admitting that Medunjanin wanted to fight for the Taliban but did not want to cause death in the city where his family had settled.

Medunjanin was arrested in January 2010 after deliberately trying to crash his car on a busy New York expressway in what prosecutors said was a final attempt at committing murder for his cause.

“Justice demanded a sentence of life for this al-Qaeda operative, who was dedicated to mass murder and destruction in the New York City subways,” US attorney Loretta Lynch said.

“Scores of innocent New Yorkers would have been killed or maimed had Medunjanin succeeded.”

Robotic ‘exhibit’

Appearing at a US court in New York for the hearing, Medunjanin read from the Koran in Arabic for several minutes before Judge John Gleeson interrupted and asked him if he intended to say anything in English.

Medunjanin asked for more time to finish one verse, then shifted into a critique of American foreign policy.

“What kind of system endorses torture?” he said, as some of his relatives wept. “Is this really the best system that humanity ever produced?”

He maintained his innocence, saying he had “nothing to do with any subway plot or bombing plot whatsoever”.

Judge Gleeson told Medunjanin his remarks made him appear like an robotic “exhibit” of extremism, and had created “the impression that you’re asking me to sentence you like the committed, anti-American jihadist you seem to want to be for the rest of your life”.

Medunjanin showed no emotion as the sentence was announced. His family declined to speak to reporters as they left the sentencing.

‘Heart of everything’

During the trial, Najibullah Zazi, who admitted masterminding the plot, and Zarein Ahmedzay, who were both went to high school with Medunjanin, testified against him, likely in hopes of lighter sentences.

They testified that they had travelled to South Waziristan, Pakistan, with Medunjanin in 2008. There, they were trained by members of al-Qaeda and were encouraged to plan suicide-bombing missions when they returned home.

They told the court that they had considered targeting the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square and Grand Central station.

Zazi testified that they targeted New York’s subway trains at rush hour because it was “the heart of everything in New York City”.

He said he had learned to distil ingredients for explosives from products such as nail varnish remover that are sold at pharmacies.

Zazi also told the jury that they dropped the plot, which was partly paid for with $50,000 (£31,000) in credit card charges, when he noticed a car following him in New York.

“I think law enforcement is on us,” Zazi remembered telling Ahmedzay. He said he sent a text message to Medunjanin that said: “We are done.”

The two are awaiting their sentencing hearings, currently scheduled for next year.