Category Archives: To Ponder

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

God-bearers

st_ignatius_antioch_2

None of these things is hid from you, if ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and the end of life. For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them. No man [truly] making a profession of faith sinneth; nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

– Ignatius to the Ephesians 14

Many are the commentaries on faith and works. This will not be one. Let us instead ponder the connection drawn between faith and love in both 1st John and Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians.

In his letter Ignatius unifies faith and love in Christ. Faith is the beginning of life love is the end – the purpose. Ignatius ends the chapter exhorting the reader to continue in the of the “power of faith”. We find something like this in 2Tim 3:5 where the author warns against those who hold the form of religion but deny the power of it. This power of faith is manifest in love. Faith leads us to love. John writes “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God… God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.” This is the heart of Christian life – to abide in God and God in us.

Brothers and sisters let us emulate St. Ignatius and be bearers of God.

 

To Ponder: ἐντός (entos)

image“ For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” – Mat. 18:20

“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Luke 17:20-21 from the RSV

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:21 from KJV

Why the different translation? The Greek word in question here is ἐντός (entos). It can mean “in the midst of you” or “within you”. Or perhaps it means both? Perhaps Christ is referring to both the Church and our bodies – our bodies being the temples of God (1Corinthians).

Since someone has always said it better, I will quote Bishop Alexander’s lecture on the Corpus Dionysius given October 3rd, 2001 at Marquette University.

“The Liber Graduum, whose author is confronted by certain ascetics living away “off on the Mountain” and disdaining the liturgy and sacraments, offers [a] coördination between, as he puts it, the “three churches”: the heavenly church, the earthly church of sacraments and clergy, and the “little church” of the heart. It is the middle term, he insists, the earthly church, which enables the Christian “to find himself in the Church of the heart and [thence] in the Church on high”….
Ephrem Syrus’ Hymns on Paradise, offer a striking set of parallels between: (1) the Paradise Mountain; (2) Sinai; (3) the Jerusalem Temple; (4) the Christian Church; and (5) the human being. On the peak of the Paradise Mountain enthroned on the Tree of Life, on the summit of Sinai, within the holy of holies of the Temple, on the altar of the Church, and in the innermost chambers of the human spirit we find Christ. Ephrem also, on at least one occasion, refers to Christ’s presence as the Shekinta, i.e., he deploys the same word (in its Syriac form) as the Shekinah of the Rabbis, who in their turn use it to mean the radiant manifestation of God, the divine Glory abiding in Israel. For Ephrem … this radiance and splendor of God in Christ abides in the Church and in the Christian. It is the secret within the complementary sanctuaries of the Church and the heart.”
– DIONYSIUS AREOPAGITA: A CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM? Fr. Alexander Golitzin

Let us mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the Thrice Holy Hymn. Holy Holy Holy Lord of Sabaoth.

– שְׁמוּאֶל

To Ponder: We not only see God, but now we can KNOW Him.

image‘Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him … He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself … When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”’ –  Luke 24:13-16,25-27,30-32

Note the Liturgical character of this narrative. First the Scriptures are expounded then the breaking of the bread – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is our high priest.

‘Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people … And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abi′hu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and ate and drank.’ – Exodus 24:7a,8-10a,11b

We not only see God, but now we can KNOW Him. We know him in the Eucharist – in the breaking of the bread.

To Ponder:

imagepon·der
ˈpändər/
verb
1. think about (something) carefully
synonyms: think about, contemplate, consider, reflect on, mull over, meditate on, muse on, ruminate on, chew over,

As some of you know we have a recurring format called To Ponder. The idea behind To Ponder is to present a verse of Scripture and or Sacred writing and ruminate on it in light of other verses or quotes. Our goal is to inspire, to provide food for thought. And what better food is there then the Word present beneath and within Holy Scripture. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Origen of Alexandria was once told by a Jewish rabbi that each verse of Scripture is a locked door and beneath each door is a key. That key belongs to another door. Origen replied “The key of David is in the hands of the Divine Word, which became flesh, and now the Scriptures which had been closed until His Coming are opened by that key.”

This photograph will be the cover for each To Ponder. Please let us know what you think.