Category Archives: To Ponder

An Icon of Pentecost

MosesLawThe slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness,
Proclaimed the law written by God;
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye,
He sees the One Who Is, and is initiated
Into knowledge of the Spirit, as he gives praise with songs inspired.
– Irmos from Pentecost
     Pentecost is the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks in ancient Hebrew tradition. Celebrated fifty days after Passover – Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth day – it is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. Moses, after leading the people out of bondage to Egypt, gives the Torah. The Passover and Exodus prefigure Christ’s Pascha, the new Passover. Christ has lead us out of bondage to death. He has passed over from death to life. On the fiftieth day after His glorious resurrection we hold festival. Instead of the giving of the Torah – the teaching or instruction – we are given, as Christ Himself says in the book of John, the “Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26
     The descent of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered in the upper room is the beginning of the Church. We are in the Church because of Pentecost. I will not reprint here the telling from Acts, but do urge you to read it and meditate upon it. Plum the depths of Luke’s account and you will find reward. Instead let us today ponder the icon of Pentecost in an effort to enter into the feast with more attentiveness and clarity.
     In my parish, this icon hangs on the back wall of the nave above the doors to the narthex.
10423599_10204332681821268_750473156_n
I would like to focus on two aspects of it. The first is the Theotokos at the center. The second is that she is flanked by Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles.
     Tzanfournaris_Emmanuel_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Theotokos at the center reveals a typological aspect of her life. She is many things to us, but here we see her as a type of icon of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit she brought Christ into the world: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

     So too the Church in and by the Holy Spirit brings Christ into the world, in both a mystical and carnal sense. The Gospel of Christ is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Prayer for the world is accomplished in the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine – offered upon the altar on behalf of all and for all – at the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit) becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The second element I wish to draw attention to is the Apostles and more specifically Peter and Paul. Obviously Paul was not with the disciples and the women at the Descent of the Holy Spirit. By placing Paul among those in the upper room the icon reveals the mystical reality of the church.  Paul is an Apostle. The Apostle to the Gentiles. Nearly half of the books comprising the New Testament are attributed to him. Here in Peter and Paul we see another image of the Church. Peter and the twelve represent the Israelites – Paul the Gentiles. Here is the Church – the fullness of humanity gathered in the Holy Spirit.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”         Romans 8:26-27

Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,

Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,

Treasury of blessings and giver of life,

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity,

And save our souls, O Good One.

941772_573850169313337_1681559262_n

Advertisements

The Lord’s Prayer part two: Heavenly, Holy

imageToday let us ponder the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father

We call upon God as Father. He is the source of all. The Son is begotten of the Father and the Sprit proceeds from the Father. Through the Incarnation of the Son we call upon God as Father. Not only Father as Creator, but as the Father of the Christ, the Son of Man. This is all done in the Holy Spirit:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:14-16

God is not some distant disinterested creator nor an angry capricious deity. He is Father and we call him so. This familial address is given by Christ as a comfort to us – as a testament to the love of the Father for us.

Who art in the heavens

A note on translation: The Greek word οὐρανοῖς often translated “heaven” is in fact heavens. It is plural. That this is important shall be seen soon.

961089f929c7f591c54e28cc132f20a3

God is everywhere right? Why do we give him a place – the heavens? The heavens are not what we popularly think of with fluffy clouds etc. In Scriptural language, the heavens are everywhere present and above all. By locating God the Father “in the heavens” we are not limiting or quantifying Him. We are acknowledging that He is “Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (Ephesians 4:5) the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

Now we see the importance of the heavens as plural. The heavens are not a singular place, but above all and through all and in all.

Hallowed be thy name

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;” -W. Shakespeare

First let us focus on the Name. In our time a name is a title or designation. It is a utilitarian function. In Holy Scripture a name has meaning. A name describes or even points to the essence of that which is named. I stumbled across this quote:

“According to Hebrew notions, a name is inseparable from the person to whom it belongs, i.e. it is something of his essence. Therefore, in the case of the God, it is specially sacred” (Souter).

There are many examples of this idea in the Old Testament. Let us point out three.

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:19-20

Here we see first-man naming the animals and in doing so not finding a helper fit for him. In naming he was understanding them.

1210312231moses-icon-2501357774927945Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15

In telling Moses his name God was revealing something of who He is. God IS. He is the existing one. Existing in and of Himself. IAM WHO I AM or I am what I am or I will be what I will be.

“…and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.'” 1st Samuel 1:20

Seeing as Prophet Samuel is my namesake and patron I had to put this in. The name Samuel means either “name of God” (שם האלוהים Shm Alohim) or “God has heard” (שמע אלוהים Shma Alohim).

From these three passages in the Old Testament we can see that a name is more than a designation. A name is connected to character and essence. A name says something about the person.

When we Hallow God’s name we are proclaiming all that He is – as revealed to us – sacred. Hallowed be thy name is almost like saying “everything about you, that we can know through revelation, we hold sacred.”  Let us end with the words of Peter quoting Leviticus:

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1Peter 1:15-16

The Lord’s Prayer: Introduction

image

If you have read any of my posts you will notice a theme: meditation on the Holy Scripture. Personal and Liturgical prayer also play a big role in my writing. The following series of meditations will combine all of these themes.

Let us ruminate on the Lord’s Prayer. Let us ponder together the depth of mystical insight contained within the simple prayer that begins with “Our Father…”

First we shall observe the scriptural context of the prayer as it occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter six:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

First note the interior character of prayer. Christ is bidding us to pray quietly inside our room with doors shut. For commentary on this we need look no further that St. Gregory Palamas:

“The room of the soul is the body; our doors are the five bodily senses. The soul enters its room when the mind does not wander here and there, roaming among the things and affairs of the world, but stays within, in our heart. Our senses become closed and remain closed when we do not let them be passionately attached to external sensory things and in this way our mind remains free from every worldly attachment, and by secret mental prayer unites with God its Father.
God who sees all secret things sees mental prayer and rewards it openly with great gifts. For that prayer is true and perfect which fills the soul with divine grace and spiritual gifts.”

(St. Gregory Palamas, 14th c., How All Christians Must Pray Without Ceasing)

201111_EmilyDino-wedding-04-orthodox-prayer-rope

Can we also understand Christ’s word as applying to the prayer of the Ekklesia or Assembly? When we gather as Church are we not going into the Holy place – the place set apart from the world? There is certainly a corporate aspect to the Lord’s Prayer. It begins “Our Father.” The “our” is First person plural. We gather together as the Body of Christ and Pray to the Father.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6)

The second thought for our meditation is this: remember that the Lord’s Prayer is simple and clear. We need not be excessive in our words, but we must pray. I’ve often struggled with the concept of praying “for” things. I would think: “why should I pray for things when the Father knows what I need before I ask?” Christ seems to be addressing this here by reminding us that prayer is a communication with God. Let it not be empty “hollering” at the Father, but a quiet simple “turning” to Him. A reminder to us of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. In Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit He is our Heavenly Father.

 

 

Oh Lord and Master of my life…

imageO Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk;

Here, we call upon God, our Father, giving Him His due praise. He is our Master, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We are humbling ourselves while we admit that we are sinners, that we do indeed possess, carry with us, and ‘own’ even, these spirits.

We are slothful, for we do not truly love God. As Saint John of Kronstadt said, ‘I have not preserved a love for God.’ Nor do we call out to Him in prayer enough. We are lazy. We miss the services. Often, we simply forget God, as is a habit of ours living in this world.

We are in a state of despair, of despondency. We have neglected the wick. It burns low. The oil runs out. The flame dwindles and we feel a sense of helplessness. Perhaps it’s a sense that we are alone. We have arrived here through pride. We thought that we knew everything, that we didn’t need help. And we fall, in failure.

We long for a power of this world, that we may conquer and climb the ladder of success. Perhaps it is achieved by material possession, or status among the elite. We succumb to the desires we are told we want, that we think we need.

We gossip.  We engage in belittling one another. We hurt ourselves and our neighbors with our loose tongues. We listen to radio and other media that does nothing but provoke the passions. We watch feebleness on TV or in the cinema. We passively take it all in.

Sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk – these represent the antithesis of Christlikeness:

Christ did not go to the cross grudgingly; he did not fall asleep in the garden.

Christ did not pity himself or lose hope in God, even as he hung dying.

Christ did not call down legions of angels to save him from his gruesome execution.

 Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth” (Acts 8:32).

Christ did not plead his case. He did not curse his captors. Instead he blessed them and forgave them.

Let us reject the spirit of sloth, despair,
lust of power and idle talk. Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:14).

…Walking with God

forest“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” – Genesis 5:24

For years the image of “walking with God” has stuck in my head. To walk with God is such a lovely turn of phrase. It reminds me of the refrain from the old hymn ‘In the Garden,’ by C Austin Miles

“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.”

I often think of Enoch walking with God as a euphemism for being taken up to heaven. A closer reading though reveals that he walked with God and then he was no more or disappeared because God took him. In fact Genesis 5:22 states that after the birth of Methu’sela, Enoch walked with God for 300 years. Enoch walking with God on earth seems to be connected with life everlasting.

Let us look at two more instances in Genesis of “walking with God.”

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).  Continuing on in Genesis 6, God says: “For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing, of all flesh…” (vs.17-19). In this narrative, walking with God is connected to a covenant with God and preservation of life.

As I dug deeper into this image of “walking with God” found in both narratives, I happened upon this footnote:

Instead of simply saying that Enoch lived, the text observes that he “walked with God.” The rare expression “walked with” is used in 1 Sam 25:15 to describe how David’s men maintained a cordial and cooperative relationship with Nabal’s men as they worked and lived side by side in the fields. In Gen 5:22 the phrase suggests that Enoch and God “got along.” This may imply that Enoch lived in close fellowship with God, leading a life of devotion and piety.

This sounds a lot like our old hymn, doesn’t it?

The last example given in Genesis of someone who walked with God is Abraham. Here we see what might be termed the second pre-Mosaic covenant. Chapter 17 begins “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous’” (17:1-2).  Again we see the connection between walking with God and covenant, but the context and language are slightly different. The Hebrew word translated as “walk” means to walk back and forth; to walk about; to live out one’s life and another reading of “before me” is “in my presence.”  Here God is speaking. Here we have a command. We shall see this imagery used again in the Mosaic Covenant.

In the 26th Chapter Leviticus God speaks to Moses on Sinai saying: “If you walk in my statutes and are sure to obey my commandments, I will give you your rains in their time so that the land will give its yield… (26:12).  I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:3-4, 12).

Here we see again this image of walking with God connected to covenant, obedience to God and blessings.

In the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants we have commands from God or a “top down” approach: God speaking to us – giving us commands. Psalms in contrast could be understood as a “bottom up” type of scripture: us talking to God. If Torah is God’s teaching – God’s way – the psalms are our response to God, or even dialogue with Him. As one might expect they are full of this walking with God imagery. Psalm 86 gives us a fine example, especially suited to today’s meditation:

Teach me thy way, O Lord,
that I may walk in thy truth;
unite my heart to fear thy name.

 I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify thy name for ever.

 For great is thy steadfast love toward me;
thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol (Vs.11-13). [emphasis added]

Let us analyze this verse. The psalmist asks to be taught to walk in God’s truth. Then, he gives thanks promising to glorify God forever. Here again God is revealer and teacher of His way. The images of thanksgiving, eternal praise and salvation illustrated so beautifully by the psalmist evoke the Liturgical worship of the Christian church. We offer the Eucharist (from the Greek word for Thanksgiving), we glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all of our prayers ending this glorification with “now and ever and to the ages of ages.” In v. 13, God’s steadfast love has delivered his soul (or life depending on the translation) from Sheol (Hades, death). This is an amazingly clear prefiguring of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Mat. 5:17-20

The Incarnation is both a descent of God and ascent of man (our “top down bottom up” image). Christ is the man who perfectly obeys the law- who walks with God – who is God!

Walk with God brothers and sisters.

Dedicated to my Grandma. May her Memory be Eternal

Icons of Theophany in Genesis

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving¹ over the face of the waters.

– Genesis 1:1-2

[H]e sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.

– Genesis 8:9-11

www-St-Takla-org__Noahs-Ark-Coptic-icon-01

 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him;  and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

– Matthew 3:16-17

image

¹The Hebrew verb has been translated “hovering” or “moving” (as a bird over her young, see Deut 32:11). The Syriac cognate term means “to brood over; to incubate.”  Excerpt from footnote found here: https://bible.org/netbible/

In the footnote for Genesis 1:2 we see that the author uses the word for moving or hovering to image the movement of the Holy Spirit or the Breath of God. This is the first critical image of our meditation. The second is the root of the name Adam. “The noun ‘Adam’ is…the masculine form of the word adamah which means “ground” or “earth”. It is related to the words: adom (red), admoni (ruddy), and dam (blood).” Wikipedia

Key words and images: water, Spirit/breath/wind, dove, hovering bird, Adam, earth, Baptism, Chrismation

We see in Genesis several icons prefiguring the Baptism of our Lord. The primordial waters on the face of the earth and the cleansing flood water. The Spirit of God moving as a bird over the waters and the dove flying out to look for the dry earth as the waters recede. In both the genesis and flood narratives we see the waters recede and dry land emerge (Gen. 1:9-10 and 8:9).

At the Baptism of Christ we see the same images – the waters and the dove. My favorite image or perhaps favorite connection is that of Christ as the New Adam imaged in Genesis by the earth. Adam, the man — made of earth and vivified by the Holy Spirit. Christ the New Adam emerges from the waters like the dray lands in Genesis and the Spirit like the form of the dove alighting upon Him of whom the Father says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Brothers and sisters, let us remember Christ’s words to his disciples, the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Mat. 28:19-10

We are baptized into Christ we have put on Christ! We are sealed with the Holy Spirit! And as ones adopted unto sonship we call upon The Father as Our Father!

The Humility of Christ: Two Icons

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. -Luke 2:7

The definition of humility in Wikipedia opens with this line:     “Humility (adjectival form: humble) is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering one self in relation to others…”

Let us ponder the humility of God the Son, who became flesh of the Virgin. As He was born in a cave and laid in a manger, His incarnation is an act of lowering. One of the hymns of Nativity illustrates this beautifully:

imageToday, He who holds the whole creation in His hand
is born of a virgin.
He whose essence none can touch
is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man.
God who in the beginning fashioned the heavens
lies in a manger.
He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness
is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Theophany!

What a lovely icon this hymn is! But this is just the beginning of His lowering. Christ not only descends from on high to become a man, but completes His life in total humility – the humility of the Cross. The hymn from Holy Week, which corresponds to our Nativity hymn reads:

imageToday, He who hung the earth upon the waters
Is hung upon the tree.
The King of angels
Is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in a cloud
Is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan
Is slapped in the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church
Is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection!

The Blameless One is hung upon the cross as one deserving of blame. This is the completion of His lowering: total humility even unto death, an undeserved death.

To return to our Wikipedia definition, it continues with a converse perspective on humility: “…having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.”

Let us have a clear perspective of ourselves brothers and sisters. May we be humble in all things, like the Lord, remembering that in His humiliation He was exalted. The Cross is a symbol of triumph now and this is why we also celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: “for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:11