The Conception of God

9781483413051_COVER.inddI received a copy of The Conception of God, Eternal Life by V. Rev. Milan Popovic in today’s mail.  A  slim book with only 76 pages but since picking it up I felt compelled to blog about it.  The book deals with questions we all have: the existence of God; our existence, who are we? what is the meaning of life?  While science gives us answers it tends to generalize, assuming “that all people think and feel alike”. Thus we turn to God, to Scripture to find answers not about the big questions but about ourselves.

Having only read the first few pages I can’t give a proper book review but look forward to reading it and blogging more about it in the coming days (if time – and new baby – permits!). 

For now I leave you with the opening passage:

Several years ago, a college student came to my office. After being seated, he said, “I have come to tell you that I don’t believe in God.” It was obvious to me that it was a challenge to engage me into an argument in which he was expected to be the victor.

“You are not alone in your disbelief in God,” I commented. “Cats and dogs don’t believe in God either. As a matter of fact, no animal in the whole world believes in God. The capacity to entertain faith in God is one of the few privileges with which man is specially endowed, such as articulate speech, scientific and artistic endeavors, and evaluation of mortality. Therefore, I am not viewing your lack of faith in God as a distinctive mark of your superiority, as you apparently regard it.”

He was visibly astounded by this unexpected trend of thoughts and remained silent. Then I continued, “To me, your disbelief in God is fully understandable. When you were a child, you entertained childish and unscientific conceptions of the world and God. As you grew up, your conceptions of the world gradually changed, and today, they were mature, However, your religious conceptions have not passed through the same type of evolution; they are still immature and erroneous. Today, you are rejecting your own immature and unrealistic conception of God.”

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

altarJesus performed many miracles during His earthly life that are recorded in Gospels. We read how He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, calmed the storms, walked on the waters. In this morning’s reading we also hear of a miracle, Christ heals a paralytic – a man who was paralyzed. The reading is short: it says He came to His own city (which was Capernaum), and a paralytic was brought to Him lying on a bed. Jesus healed the man and he stood up and “departed to his house”.

This account is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark. Matthew gives us a very brief version.  When we hear of this same in account during Great Lent it’s from Mark’s gospel and we read how it was his friends that carried him on a pallet, on a bed, they brought him to a house where Jesus was staying and many people had come to the house to listen to Jesus preach. There was so many people that that these four friends couldn’t bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus so they carried him on the roof and dropped him down.

Naturally, all three gospels that describe this event differ in their narratives; or, each evangelist tells the story his own way. While Matthew’s version is very brief and the others will give us a little more detail,  one thing is the same in each account – neither the paralytic nor his friends ever say a word. They never talk!  Yet, in each account we read the same thing: “when Jesus saw their faith”. They didn’t talk about their faith, they didn’t say what they believed or how they believed. Jesus simply saw that they had faith.

Now, that’ a very interesting detail considering the healing that Christ would perform. Not the physical healing of the man’s paralysis but the healing He performs right before that when He says to him: “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”  You see, this is  Christ’s greatest miracle: He has the power to forgive sins!

And both of these are unseen. How can Christ “see” the faith of someone? Moreover, when He says “your sins are forgiven”, does the paralytic “see” anything? Can he “see” his sins disappear into the air?  Furthermore, we read that the Scribes who were standing there and watching everything happen said to themselves, “This Man blasphemes”, and then Jesus “knowing their thoughts”. In other words, of the Scribes, the paralytic, his friends Christ is the only one who talks; He’s the only one who does anything in the reading.

But right before He heals this man of his paralysis, He asks a simple question. He says to the Scribes who are angered that He forgave the paralytic’s sins: What is easier to say, Your sins are forgiven or to say arise and walk. But that you might know that the Son of Man has power to do this ….. and then He heals the man.

Here’s the point, the greatest miracle Christ performs as miracle-worker is that He can forgive us our sins. Ironically, if we truly want to, we have the same power.  Of course, we can’t forgive our own sins, but we have the power to forgive others their offenses against us.  And for this miracle Christ asks all of us as He once asked the Scribes: What’s easier – is it easier to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to walk on water, to calm the storms, to move mountains?

One wonders, if we think forgiving others is hard are we, then, the ones who are truly paralyzed?

Wisdom and virtue

Digital Universe (14)Below is a snippet from an article by Jonathan Pageau on Orthodox Arts Journal here.  The article is fascinating but one thing that caught my eye, and attention, was this idea of what we see through machines is more real, truer, than how we experience them.

It’s scary how much we rely on our smartphones. Even the name we’ve given them is disturbing – all of the sudden they’re smart?? Not only that but it’s this overload of information. Fox News and CNN and ABC and BBC….they all have apps, we’re constantly on there wanting to read the newest news. We need information and more information and then newer and the newest…. Why? Can we even handle it? How much time do we spend just sitting in reflection, contemplation?  We’re much smarter than our phones but don’t act like it at times. If they give us information it doesn’t mean they can give us wisdom.

Anyway, click the link above for the full article.

“…It is only in the 17th century that men framed their vision with metal and glass, projecting their mind out into an artificially augmented space. Men always had artificial spaces, painting, sculpture, maps, but the telescope and microscope are self-effacing artifices, they attempt to replace the eye, to convince us that they are not artificial but are more real than the eye. It is not only the physical gesture of looking at the world through a machine that demonstrates the radical change, though this is symbolic enough, but it is the very fact that people would do that and come to the conclusion that what they saw through these machines was truer than how they experienced the world without them. Yet the great revolution is not simply a technical rectification as it is presented by some today, it is not only that technically speaking we used to believe the earth to be a flat disk at the centre of the cosmos, and now we know the earth to be a big ball of water and dirt swirling around a giant nuclear reactor at the centre of our planetary system. The change happens in the very core of what Truth is, it is a change in the priority of knowledge, a change in what is important to us as human beings. That is the change. In a traditional world, all of reality is understood and expressed in an integrated manner. We describe phenomena in the manner we experience it because what is important is not so much the making of big mechanically precise machines that will increase our physical power, but rather the forming of human beings that have wisdom and virtue. The resistance to the heliocentric model was a desire to “save the phenomena”, the desire to express the world as we experience it because this expression must remain connected to how human beings live their lives and interact with God and their fellow men. So by projecting ourselves out through our machines into an physically augmented world, we “fall” into that materiality, we inevitably live in a more material and materialist world. And this is modern history itself.”

All of us paralytics!

jesusforgivesparalyticsuj0H/T: Ora et Labora (here)

A sermon by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), translated by the author of Ora et Labora (why can I not remember his name???) and Natalia Mikhaylova; something to ponder with this Sunday’s gospel of the paralytic approaching.

Today is a feast day for all of us paralytics. Today, brothers and sisters, we to a certain degree are meeting our name-day, our feast day. Who among us can boast that he is strong, courageous, bearing all the misfortunes of this age, fulfilling all of Christ’s commandments? Deliver us, O Lord, if such a person stands in our midst — one cannot imagine a worse righteous or strong man! The Apostle Paul says: Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor 12:10). But the Apostle did not deprive himself of one thing: strong faith and undoubting hope in the Savior. “The power of God is made perfect in weakness!”

How can the world, which does not believe in God and preaches the illusory omnipotence of mankind, understand this?

Paralytic bothers and sisters! Let us rejoice that we at least understand ourselves as we are! The Lord came into the world to save paralytic sinners, and us among them. The strong crucified Jesus Christ, and the Lord allowed them this terrible, mindless power to crucify God. When we become proud and sure of ourselves, then we repeat this terrible crime of the God-killers: the crucifixion of the Savior.

Let us recognize ourselves for who we are in fact. The Apostle James writes: For what is your life? It is a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14). No matter how strongly our pride rebels agains this, let us look dispassionately at the universe: the myriads of planets, the thousands of generations, endlessly following one another, the billions of people who are erased from the memory of their descendants and their neighbors.

I had a friend to whom I owe very much, and my faith in the first place. He died twelve years ago, and I thought that I would never forget him, that I would always remember him, and certainly at the Liturgy. And I suddenly realized with horror that one Liturgy had gone by, and another, and I did not remember him, one of the dearest people to me. And my spiritual paralysis, my ingratitude to a man who did so much for me, became terrible to me. Do we every day remember with the necessary zeal our parents — both alive and departed? Do we every day remember our own salvation — the most important thing for which we live?

Yet something within us tells us unmistakably that man is something more than vapor. Our life, yes, is transient and withering, like the grass under the hot summer sun. Recall in the Psalter: as the flower of the field, so hath he blossomed forth (Ps. 103:15). But the soul – a unique human personality created by God – its story in time and eternity is altogether different. If the soul is united with its Creator and God, then it becomes the most beautiful, the most precious of everything that is on earth. In the memory of God, in God such a soul receives not simply life, but life “more abundantly,” as the Apostle Paul writes. He can not with human words express in any other way the mystery revealed to him of the future age. And the same Apostle writes: Eye hath no seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Cor 2:9).

In the lives of each one of us there will still be moments of weakness and failures, of what we call paralysis. They can last for many years, just as with the paralytic at the Sheep pool, of which the Gospel speaks. This paralytic lay for many years awaiting healing. But he believed that a messenger of God would come and heal him.

Let us not recognize ourselves as strong, because out strength is Christ alone. Let us never recognize ourselves as indestructible and not prone to sin, because we are fallen people. And let us strive not to lose faith in Christ, because the Lord Jesus Christ is eternally powerful and has the power to save us not only from temporal passions and misfortunes. The Lord, “trampling down death by death,” can give eternal life to us, who one day will be in the grave, and will free us from this eternal and final paralysis.

Let us not think highly of ourselves, let us not be surprised by our infirmities, let us not, because of them, fall into despair and despondency. Let us sincerely, with all our strength, strive towards correction, struggling against the evil and sin living within us. Let us firmly believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will help us in this. He loves us, because we are His children. We, who recognize ourselves as paralytics and asking help from our Heavenly Father, will not be left behind, for He gives us His invincible power. Only by this are we strong – just as only by this were the Apostles, Confessors, Venerable Ones, and Martyrs strong.