God, and….

H/T: Fr. Ted’s blog (here)

Though the Lord Jesus clearly taught us that we cannot love “God and….”, many have tried. God and money. God and pleasure. God and self. God and political power. God and selfishness. God and ego. God and self indulgence. God and greed. God and gaud. This of course is not the same as saying we cannot serve God through success, or wealth, or prosperity, or politics. We are to love God first and above all and to pursue His Kingdom and His righteousness. We can use the things God bestows on us for His glory. To put it in another way, “Money is a good servant, but a bad master” (attributed to Francis Bacon in the 17th Century).

Life is full of choices, and the choices we make matter. Americans love prosperity, God and money.

Bishop Nikolai Velimirović in commenting on the words of our Lord from Matthew 6:24, wrote about the impossibility of loving “God and….”

Can two wheels of a wagon move forward and two backward? Can a man look eastwards with one eye and westwards with the other? (Abba Isaiah says: “As on eye cannot look heavenwards and the other earthwards, so the mind cannot combine cares for the things of heaven with those of the earth.”) Or can one foot walk to the right, and the other the left? They cannot. It is therefore also impossible to go to meet God and to remain in the world’s embrace. A man cannot serve God and sin, for he will either hate God and love sin, or vice versa: love God and hate sin. In order to emphasize this truth the more clearly, the Lord repeats it in other words: “or else he will hold to the one and despise the other”. If a man holds to God, he cannot also hold to God’s enemy. And love for this world is hatred for God. God seeks our whole heart, and to this end He offers us all His help and all His gifts. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chronicles 16:9): perfect, whole, pure; emptied of faith in the world, and filled with faith, hope and love for God the living and immortal.

Virtue and Vice

H/T:  (here)

Read full post on link above

“…..When we are formed in the womb, we live the life of plants; when born, that of animals; and when grown up, that of angels or demons. The foundation of the first life is the animated substance; that of the second, the senses; that of the third, the fact that we are prone not only to virtue but also to vice…”

A Church Relationship with Christ

H/T: chadbird.com (here)

Christianity is Not About a Personal Relationship With Jesus

We talk about having personal things. We employ a personal trainer to help us shed pounds and get that coveted beachbody. We open a personal bank account to manage our finances. And, please, keep your hands off our personal property and your eyes out of our personal diary.

Christians, especially Evangelicals, import this language into their faith as well. We talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. Or working on our personal relationship with him. Or desiring that relationship to grow, to deepen, to become more intimate.

Here’s the thing: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. And the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it.

Our life with Christ is communal, not personal or private or individual. When the Scriptures speak of believers, they are part of a community, a fellowship of other believers.

Christianity is about a church relationship with Jesus.

I know this runs contrary to what many modern believers think. And even desire. In an age when we are more isolated than ever, when our worlds often shrink to the size of a phone screen, talk of community sounds like a radical departure from the norm. It is. But the norm of the Christian faith is not isolated believers, little islands of spirituality, but a continent of Christians banded together by the Spirit.

We are baptized into one body, the body of Jesus. Our so-called personal relationship with Jesus is indeed with his person—his body of which all other believers are a part. Fingers don’t have a relationship with Jesus apart from the hand, the hand from the arm, the arm from the shoulder, and so on.

Even when we pray, we pray communally. Indeed, the only prayer Jesus taught us to pray begins, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” No one ever prays alone. We pray in Jesus, through the Spirit, to the Father, in a vast concert with all other believers. Me-and-Jesus prayers are impossible. There are only us-and-Jesus prayers—“us” being that innumerable throng of saints from the foundation of the world until now, whose unheard voices join ours in an ongoing prayer to our Father.

When we read the Bible, we read communally. Think about it. The Bible you read—the book itself—is a communal product. Translated, printed, bound, and sold not by us personally but by others.We read, often unconsciously, with the voices of preachers, teachers, and parents from over the years guiding our knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs. And, ideally, we read the Scriptures with others. In groups, in classes, with an eye to the wisdom of the past and the voices of brothers and sisters studying it with us.

Above all, however, Jesus calls us into a living, active, worshiping community that regularly gathers around his gifts. We are washed into his body on the stream of baptism. We eat the communal meal of his body and blood. We sing together, pray together, confess together, grieve and heal and eventually die together. He gives us pastors. He gives us brothers and sisters in the faith. He gives us children to teach, elders to emulate, and even less-than-likable people to love as those for whom Christ died.

Christianity is not a solo endeavor. Not a private relationship between Jesus and me. As the Lord formed Israel in the Old Testament as his people, forged together into a body by his covenant, so he has formed the church in the New Testament as his people, washed together into a body by baptism.

Thank God it is this way. Heaven forbid that I should have a personal relationship with Jesus. For I know what would happen: I would end up, in my mind, reshaping my personal Jesus into a strikingly familiar image: the image of me.

As it is, Jesus is reshaping us into his image, in the church, surrounded by others, all of whom together, communally, are the one body of Christ.

My new book, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, will be available October, 2017. You can read more about it and pre-order your copy at Amazon. Thank you!

Orthodox Fashion

H/T: Here

The first Orthodox women’s clothing store opened recently in Moscow. It is a part of a small “chain” of stores which also exist in Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The store was named after a story of Pushkin’s and the customers are not only Orthodox, but also women who enjoy a leisurely and comfortable style of dress.

“In Orthodoxy there are no strict canons but there are written rules which are held by all those who go to church. Church dress should be humble, without too much noticeable design. Knees and elbows should be covered, and women should wear headcoverings,” says Jelena Cokolova, one of the founders of the chain of stores „Барышня-Крестьянка“ (named after Puskin’s story “The Lady Peasant”).

Historical Look at Fasting

IMG_5180-0Taken from the 5th century church historian Socrates Scholasticus’ “Church History” Book V,  (here) on what fasting looked like at that time:

“…..The fasts before Easter will be found to be differently observed among different people. Those at Rome fast three successive weeks before Easter, excepting Saturdays and Sundays. Those in Illyrica and all over Greece and Alexandria observe a fast of six weeks, which they term ‘The forty days’ fast.’ Others commencing their fast from the seventh week before Easter, and fasting three five days only, and that at intervals, yet call that time ‘The forty days’ fast.’ It is indeed surprising to me that thus differing in the number of days, they should both give it one common appellation; but some assign one reason for it, and others another, according to their several fancies. One can see also a disagreement about the manner of abstinence from food, as well as about the number of days. Some wholly abstain from things that have life: others feed on fish only of all living creatures: many together with fish, eat fowl also, saying that according to Moses, Genesis 1:20 these were likewise made out of the waters. Some abstain from eggs, and all kinds of fruits: others partake of dry bread only; still others eat not even this: while others having fasted till the ninth hour, afterwards take any sort of food without distinction. And among various nations there are other usages, for which innumerable reasons are assigned. Since however no one can produce a written command as an authority, it is evident that the apostles left each one to his own free will in the matter, to the end that each might perform what is good not by constraint or necessity. Such is the difference in the churches on the subject of fasts….”

40 Ton Mosaic

H/T: Theology and Society here

An enormous Russian mosaic started arriving at the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkans today (May 3, 2017), in what Serbia’s leaders hailed as a sign of “eternal” friendship between the two Slavic Orthodox nations, according to the ABC News website.

The first part of the 40-ton mosaic — personally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin — arrived in 66 sections at the Saint Sava temple in Belgrade, one of the largest Christian Orthodox churches in the world.

One section, featuring the head of Jesus, was put on display for people attending a service. When completed by the end of the year, the mosaic will cover some 13,230 square feet of the inside of the church.

At a ceremony inside the sprawling church today, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the mosaic “will once again show our unity and togetherness with the Russian people and the Russian state.”