Friday, September 21, 2007

The Mystery of God

The first time I heard “Praises” in Tone 2, one of many mellifluous, age-old Christian chants, it felt as if my soul was a restless sea and Christ had calmed the waters through its melody and meditative words. Arrogantly thinking that maybe I could improve on this simplistic style of music, I began searching the internet for more chants. My searches kept landing me on Eastern Orthodox websites, the ancient paradigm of Christianity known in part for its icons, incense, intense regimen of prayer and fasting, and emphasis on union with the mystical and ineffable God as the means to salvation.

I had only vaguely heard of Eastern Orthodoxy before this search for chants, but I immediately identified with its all-encompassing lifestyle of Christian spirituality. Several times throughout each day, prayers and Psalms are offered up in remembrance of Christ’s hours on the cross and of the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. Each day of the week carries its own biblical and spiritual theme, and twelve times throughout each year, a major feast, commemorating the things God has done on the earth, is celebrated. For me, this saturation in the things of God is important, as well as the framework of discipleship, accountability and support which are inherent in the fabric of Orthodoxy. So, I gladly joined their ranks to experience it all first hand.

Converting from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy is challenging because I am being stretched not just by the Bible, but by a Church Tradition complementary to the Bible which has been passed down through the generations. I am being formed by a different understanding of the faith which states God’s grace is more than just His favor, but is His divine energy vivifying and permeating my being for good works, and it is through His Life, His Energy, His Grace that I am saved. I think ultimately, it is the emphasis on the mystery of God, and the going beyond reason and intellect to connect with Him that sustained my interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is now more than ever a faith walk as I march ever forward in the divine light of God’s eternal life in Christ.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Outer Fringe

Nothing in all of creation makes me blush in wonder and awe like the magnitude, glory and majesty of the heavens. I think about how much power is in just one star - more power than my mind can possibly conceive. Multiply that by the trillions upon trillions more that are out there. Then realize that God himself has far more power than all of these combined.

I think about the brightness and splendor that our star produces even though it is 93 million miles away. I need shades to drive to subdue the power of its brightness. No one can can even look directly at the sun it is so bright. I then watch a show called "The Universe" and learn that the active center of a quasar galaxy is a trillion times brighter than our sun. A trillion times brighter!!! How can we possibly imagine something so bright? It is beyond my comprehension. God Himself, however, the Creator of this majestic wonder, outshines them all!

When I want to ponder the greatness and power of God, I leaf through a book my wife gave me for my birthday called "Powers of Ten". It is a visual journey from the inside of an atom to the edge of the galaxy. You can also take this journey online at Molecular Expressions.

To top it all off, one of my favorite Bible verses reminds me that no matter what I see in all of creation, no matter how great it is, it is simply the outer fringe of His works - ponder these galactic thoughts and read this passage from Job. Hopefully, you too will blush with wonder and awe.
And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power? (Job 26:14 - NIV)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Word of God

I just recently listened to the Our Life In Christ broadcast in which they went on an evangelical radio station to talk about sola Scriptura. Wow, what a courageous act! It made me investigate further some of the other materials they have on their website, particularly the program notes from April 17, 2005. In those notes they quote CRI (Christian Research Institute) as saying:

The fact that apostles sometimes referred to "traditions" they gave orally as authoritative in no way diminishes the Protestant argument for sola Scriptura. First, it is not necessary to claim that these oral teachings were inspired or infallible, only that they were authoritative. The believers were asked to "maintain" them (1 Cor. 11:2) and "stand fast in them" (2 Thess. 2:15). But oral teachings of the apostles were not called "inspired" or "unbreakable" or the equivalent, unless they were recorded as Scripture.

The response of Bill and Steve was quite good, but I couldn't help but think of an additional scripture that I thought would be perfect for this. As a matter of fact, I am surprised the folks at CRI are not aware of this verse:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe (I Thess 2:13 - NKJV).
Would this oral teaching Paul is speaking of not be more than just authoritative? Is it not the Word of God? Is the Word of God ever less than something that has an eternal quality? Does it not always come from the grace and power of the Holy Spirit? Does it not accomplish that which God has sent it forth to do, whether written or spoken? It would seem as if there is a blind devotion to the written text, as if the written Word is somehow more powerful.

Let's not forget, Jesus didn't write down a single word of His teachings either. Are those invalid because they weren't written down until some 40-50 years later? What about the words Jesus spoke that are not written in the Bible, are they not the Word of God? These are just some of the thoughts that came to mind when I read this surprisingly provincial statement made by CRI. I don't claim by any stretch of the imagination to have their credentials, but it doesn't take a genius to observe that the entire Christian faith was delivered orally, first from Christ and then from His apostles. Even though it was not written down, I am certain they were declaring and delivering the Word of God.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I have had to wrangle it out with some folks who view Orthodox iconography as idol worship. It seemed like none of the typical apologetics worked with my crowd, so I tried a different approach. Whether it has had any affect or not remains to be seen, but here is what I have been saying:

"Isn't it true that advertisers and those who study the effects of repeated exposure to various images, whether through billboards, magazines or other media, conclude that there is a direct correlation to what people see and how it affects their behavior? There are a myriad of articles which reveal that those who are constantly exposed to violent images tend to show signs of aggresive behavior. So, if negative images affect you negatively, wouldn't positive images affect you positively? Since the icons are holy images reflecting the life of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit in those who follow Him, constant and reverent exposure to these images should likewise produce holiness and spirituality in their viewers."

Of course, the issue of kissing an icon also is bothersome and where the line between the "proper use" of images and idolatry intersect. It is as if kissing something suddenly makes it an idol. As my priest says, "If kissing something makes it an idol, then we shouldn't kiss our children or our spouses either."

I may talk more on this later as this is a subject on which much can be said.

I'm Back - Just Finished School!

It has been a few weeks since my last post, and to all of you who faithfully read my blog, I apologize it has been so long. I was only a few weeks from finishing my unfinished Bachelor's degree. Now that it is done, I should be posting more often. Thank you to all who read this blog for hanging in there with me. Now that I have finished my degree, I should really sound smart now!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Plunge

My Protestant Christian background has taught me many great things: Saturate your mind with God’s Word, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, renew your mind, walk in the Spirit, depend on God’s grace, set your mind on things above, walk by faith and not by sight, and the list goes on and on.

When I explored and read about Orthodoxy, I discovered they live out these axioms to the fullest.

Take for instance, “Saturate your mind with God’s Word.” We know that Jesus was God’s Word, and that this Word was made flesh. The Scriptures are a testimony of this “Word” that has existed from all eternity. He is the Great “I Am”. He is both God and man, and the Light of the world which “enlightens every man”. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

The pattern of Eastern Orthodox worship is based on the Temple and on the book of Revelation so that you, by faith, are dwelling in the heavenly temple, in the heavenly kingdom just as Abraham dwelt by faith in the promised land.

They saturate their life and worship with faith in the kingdom as affecting us in the physical world even now. All things flow from an internal conviction that they are worshipping with the angels and Saints; that the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ – even as Jesus said they are.

Now, more than ever, I am convinced the Eastern Orthodox Church is the embodiment of the fullness of the faith. As a result, I have gone from seeker to catechumen as of January of this year, and from catechumen to Orthodox Christian as of last weekend. There were no sparks or fireworks, but there was joy, deep joy and profound peace, that I have found home.

Because of this, God has heightened my sensibilities to my shortcomings and sins, and I feel ever more grateful of His mercy, love and grace to sustain me by His power to live a life pleasing to Him.

Lord have mercy (40x).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Thoughts On Living By Faith

Hebrews is one of my favorite books. It has almost as much imagery as the book of Revelation. It says in Hebrews 11:1-2 -

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of
what we do not see.
2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
And, if you continue reading you come to this passage in verses 8-10:

8 By faith Abraham,when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations,whose architect and builder is God.
Compare that with the way the Orthodox view reality - quoting from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom out of a book called "Courage to Pray" he says (and I would recommend pondering his sentences as they are packed with a lot of theology):

The dimension of the church which makes it essentially different from the world is the eschatological dimension. It already belongs to the age to come. That is why the Spirit of God is present in the church's life...the kingdom is already present in which all will be is because the church knows things not only in their present sadness but in their final fulfillment that it can give thanks from this sad and often bestial world for all things. She gives thanks for their ultimate fulfillment, not for their present state which would be unforgivable by the world and by God. We should be able to turn to the Lord from our own experience and say, 'Lord you are just in all your doings, you are right'. And the church can only do this because of her vision of the end. She sees not only the world darkened by sin but the world transfigured, in which the resurrection and eternal life are already present. And that is why the church makes no distinction between the living and the dead. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. For Him, all men are alive, and so they are for the church.

Now, I said all of that to show that, like the quote in Hebrews, the church takes a perspective of faith in regards to God's reality, just as Abraham did - quoting Romans 4:16-17 -

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
These verses amplify the same perspective as the historic church - calling things that are not as though they were, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see - God's kingdom already present on the earth by faith.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mary Brings Christ To Us All

I wanted to bring you in on an email conversation I had with someone at the Protestant church I used to attend. As with all those who have never had any significant exposure to the Orthodox Church, the question of Mary always comes up. I had emailed my friend a snapshot view of what the typical Orthodox Christian believes about Mary - here is the response followed by my response to him - enjoy!

I wanted to continue our conversation about the Orthodox Church. This has been great interaction for me. Thanks for sending the info about the church's position on Mary. I'd love to talk face to face about it but for now, let me say this. I could live with most of their position but when they say:

"She becomes the New Eve as Christ is the New Adam, lifting by her obedience the curse that the first Eve brought upon the human race by her disobedience."


"...the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was cleansed of all sin at the Annunciation after she had agreed to accept God's offer. It was at that point that the Holy Spirit came upon her to make her fit to receive the Word in her womb. At that moment she became "blessed" and "full of grace." "

I tend to think that to be heresy. I know that is a strong response and like I said, I'd love to hear more of what you think.

No one but Christ can be attributed with the work of lifting the curse of sin and no one but Christ has lived a moment on earth without sin. Thoughts?

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!

I never in my life ever thought I would be defending Marian theology, but, like you, these interactions have been great for me as well, as they help me clarify my own thoughts.

I guess the questions I must ask are these: Does Mary's obedience or disobedience mean anything at all? Was she just an insignificant slave girl whom Gabriel found going door-to-door until he found someone who would say "Yes" to his proposition? Or, was she fashioned, formed and knit together for this very purpose, and then placed into a family that would train her in the righteous ways of the Lord? Considering the amount of detail in the Law regarding the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the offerings, the cleansings, etc., it would seem God would take great care in preparing and purifying the one in whom He would dwell. But even after all of that preparation, Mary still had a will - she could decide yes or no when confronted by the angel Gabriel. Yes, it was Christ who reversed the curse of sin, but was it not also the work of Christ who prepared Mary for the holy moment which opened the door for God to enter into our world? Nonetheless, it still was Mary's choice that brought us life, just as it was Eve's choice that brought us death.

I can certainly understand not wanting to take any glory from Christ or diminish the work only He could do, but as both the Old and New Testament demonstrate, God's work is accomplished through people. No Christian would argue that the Bible is God's work, nonetheless, He used people to write it. In the same way, Mary is used to lift the curse by being a humble servant of God and offering her body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him, giving birth to the Life, and making the Way available to us all. An interesting side note - in all of the Orthodox pictures (icons) of Mary, Christ is also always in the picture with her - they are never separated.

I am going to venture a guess here. When Billy Graham dies, I would guess that many memorials in his honor will be placed in churches all across the world. Why? Because he has lead millions to Christ, because we are to give honor to whom honor is due, and because it will be our way of saying, "Thank you for giving to the Lord." In the same way, Mary has been honored in the Orthodox church as the one who has brought Christ not just to millions, but to us all.

Regarding Mary being cleansed of all sin, I know that for me as a Christian, there have been many truly life-changing moments. God's great grace has purged many things that will simply never be a part of my life again - He has cleansed them from me thoroughly. And as I continue to grow, he will prune and cut as He knows how until the day "I am presented before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24).

Now, in preparing a vessel of honor that He Himself would dwell in and enter the world through, is it such a stretch to imagine that His great grace so changed Mary that she commited no sin after "the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her" (Luke 1:35)? I think it can be reasonably inferred that this power was not only to conceive Christ inside of her, but also to form Him, protect Him, deliver Him, raise Him and for all of those other things mother's do for their children. Would not such direct, intimate and continuous interaction with the power of the Most High and the purging fire of the Holy Spirit have an effect on your entire being? You are correct to say it is a heresy that she was without sin, but to say that God so graced her that she then committed no sin is not heresy, as John says, "he writes these things so that you will not sin" (1 John 2:1). She offered her body as a slave of righteousness - there could have been no other act more righteous than to bring the Savior into the world!

For me, it helps to imagine how the culture of that time would have reacted to such events; what their perceptions would be. Also, what are the implications of their thoughts and reactions of these holy events. Then, look and see how history actually played out.

What do you think?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Reality of Faith

I recently read a quote that said a Christian is someone who lives in a three-dimensional world while everyone else lives in only two. When I thought about that quote, I thought it might be better said that we live in a four-dimensional world while everyone else lives in only three. After all, we pray to our Lord Who lives in a timeless dimension, we participate in a worship that transcends time and space in the Divine Liturgy, and we consider all of our actions in light of the final reality of our judgement. I'm sure it looks irrational to the "three-dimensional" world, but this other reality is ultimately everyone's reality. Like Abraham, we live by faith in the promised land, in the city built without hands - the heavenly city.

Another way of looking at it would be to imagine a world in which everyone was blind. If someone who was sighted came along and explained things to you from a sighted perspective or performed actions that seemed ridiculous or irrelevant to the way a blind person behaves and acts, we might consider such a person irrational. A way of explaining living by faith in an unseen reality could be something like this: As a blind person walks along a path, he will bump into a rock, a sighted person will walk around a rock, but a person of faith will cast the rock into the sea as our Lord has said.

We have many examples of what living by faith looks like in both the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints to know that this other world is in fact a reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Witness of the Cross

I admit, I am sometimes a "shy-crosser". Being the only Orthodox Christian in my family, I try and secretly cross myself after praying over my food, or even after a big group prayer over a family potlock. Making the sign of the cross on myself just seems so awkward in these family get-togethers, especially since everyone knows I didn't grow up that way. So far, I haven't been caught, or at least no one has said anything about it, but I have thought about what I might say if they ask me about this ritual - here is how I anticipate the conversation might go:

Them: "Why do you cross yourself, that seems so ritualistic."
Me: "Why do you close your eyes or bow your head? Isn't that ritualistic too?"
Them: "No, that helps me to concentrate and show reverence to God."
Me: "I believe I am showing reverence as well by remembering the Cross in my prayers. After all, it is because of the Cross that I am able to come to God in the first place."
Them: "You are right! We want to become Orthodox Christians too!"

I'm not sure that last line is exactly how it would go, but I am always hopeful. There might be many, many more lines of conversation before we got to that last one, but utimately the goal is to shine the Light of Christ, and one way of doing that is by glorying in the Cross (Galatians 6:14). I pray for boldness to always be His witness.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I recently read a book called "Technopoly", by Neil Postman, which is about how technology is not only controlling our lives, but taking over completely - a term the author calls Technopoly. In other words, we get our queues and take our orders from the technology we have created. Below is a quote from the book which is quite astounding:

In Technopoly, all experts are invested with the charisma of priestliness. Some of our priest-experts are called psychiatrists, some psychologists, some sociologists, some statisticians. The god they serve does not speak of righteousness or goodness or mercy or grace. Their god speaks of efficiency, precision, objectivity. And that is why such concepts as sin and evil disappear in Technopoly. They come from a moral universe that is irrelevant to the theology of expertise. And so the priests of Technopoly call sin "social deviance," which is a statistical concept, and they call evil "psychopathology," which is a medical concept. Sin and evil disappear because they cannot be measured and objectified, and therefore cannot be dealt with by experts.

He has many other great things to say, but this particular quote I think had the most impact on me.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Somewhere way back in my teen years as I was hearing about "churchy" things, I found a tract in a phone booth that said "Call this number for the answer...", so, I called it. It began with the overly dramatic and quite pretentious, "Hello, friend...", but I continued to listen to see what "the answer" was.

It told me I needed to be saved! What the heck did that mean?

At the time my parents were sending me to Lutheran catechism lessons and I had never heard this phrase before. As a matter of fact, the whole catechism was confusing since our pastor spoke without making much sense most of the time. Even my parents said they couldn't understand his sermons, so here I was stuck in these classes trying to glean a kernel of truth from this man.

He gave me a ride home one night from class, so I asked him, "What do I need to do to be saved?" He gave me one of the scariest answers I had ever heard from his mouth. He said, "I think you are saved by listening to me." I thought, "Man, I am doomed to hell, because I don't understand a single thing he says!"

Years later, I was attending a charismatic church, but he had stopped by our house to see my parents for a pastoral visitation. My mom told him I was going to a charismatic church now, and you could see in his face that he was scrambling for something nice to say, so he blurted out, "Well, we all have our different ways of believing."

Perhaps my experience with him is what drew me to a church that spoke in tongues.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Digging Deep

I have often asked myself after we have prayed, “Lord, have mercy” forty times in a row how God perceives this seemingly vain repetition. Then I realize, whether we pray it forty times in a row or once a day for forty days, that in God’s eyes, it is always in the ever present now. Our church prayers as well as the private prayers of an Orthodox Christian repeat this phrase often during prayer times. In fact, there are many prayers that are repeated day in and day out. An outsider may certainly assume it is dull, mindless repetition with no life in it at all. As with everything, it is a matter of the heart. Certainly God is not affected whether I pray it from my heart or not, as God is Who He is, the same, yesterday, today and forever. I am the one who is affected. I am the one who is changed and molded. Like the repetitious act of digging a deep hole in hopes of finding a buried treasure, so too, by the heart-felt sincerity of repeating the same prayer day after day, in church and at home, I am plunging deeper and deeper into the unlimited eternal wellspring of God’s divine Life. I am changed because, through the Church’s gift of life-giving prayers, I am digging out of the darkness and ever toward the uncreated light of God’s Presence.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Big, Small - It's All Relative

A local pizza parlor was offering free drinks with your pizza order on Sunday, so we stopped by after church for some pizza. I told the teenager, who looked like he was actually happy to be there, that I wanted a large Coke. He had to sadly tell me that only the small drinks are free. Since his fun-loving attitude was infecting my own mood, I said, "OK, then I'll have three small drinks in a large glass!" He grabbed a large glass, filled up a small glass three times and emptied it into the large glass, and handed it to me saying, "Here you go, sir - three free small drinks." Gotta love those creative teenagers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Act of Divine Love

Incense still hangs in the air as candle flames flicker in a moment of profound reverence as the priest approaches the altar offering prayers while holding the Body and Blood of Christ. The worship service, known as the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, has been leading up to this eternal act of love – Christ being offered on the altar, and we, standing in the 21st century, are connected to this continuing act of God’s great love and forgiveness for all. We can do nothing but stand in awe. We can offer nothing except that which God has given us through Christ, so we offer up the Lord’s Prayer. Much has been said about this beautiful prayer, and I don’t believe I can add anything to the centuries of great quotes regarding it, but praying it in this context, in the context of intensely focused worship, I am changed. I identify deeply with what is happening at the altar. I can see clearly the place Christ has in this world and the next. I see heaven and earth meet and kiss at this table of divine love as the life-blood of the eternal God who created all things shares His life with me. The Lord’s prayer goes up in unison in anticipation of connecting to Christ’s Body and identifying God as our Father as Jesus also did. He is in heaven, and we on earth as we pray to have His will permeate this world as it does His world. The Bread of Life is set before us as we pray for our daily bread, and this Bread is offered on the altar as a slain Lamb, the crucified body of God Himself offered for our forgiveness. So too we pray that we forgive others in this divine light of dramatic revelation. As Christ destroyed the power of the evil one through His shed blood, we ask for deliverance from our temptations as well knowing He has already defeated our enemy. This is His kingdom, this is His glory and this is His power stunningly displayed and received in faith, at His altar, where heaven and earth meet and kiss in an act of divine love.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Struggle

I am certain I am not the first Christian in history to be confronted with a daunting challenge from God. The Bible is full of such characters, such as Noah being asked to build an ark in the middle of dry land, and Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son Isaac, or Moses challenging Pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves. I don’t even come close to these spiritual giants, but my challenge is nevertheless a formidable one. I feel the Lord has compelled me to become an Orthodox Christian. For some, this would not be that big of a deal. For me, it is the most challenging thing I could do in my walk with God. My greatest experiences with God have been in contemporary, mainstream, evangelical Protestant churches whose worship is free-flowing and who are part of the culturally Christian norm. My wife and I were married in such a church and have been training our children in that context. Now, what I feel is in obedience to God’s leading, I have radically changed the rules for all who know me. I am more than likely perceived as going off the deep end. I feel the pains of those biblical characters who by faith moved forward despite the reactions of those around them. I can say that what was once a fairly comfortable and contented walk with God has been ruffled by my decision to become Orthodox. I am being stretched by a different style of worship. I am being challenged by a different understanding of the faith. I am being tested in my relationship with my wife and children and with all of my friends as I move ahead in what I feel is the right thing to do. Yes, it is now more than ever a faith walk as I relearn nearly everything I thought I already knew. I am looking forward to how it all will pan out in the years ahead as I march ever forward in the divine light of God’s eternal life in Christ.