Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Love Supreme: John Coltrane, Saint in the African Orthodox Church

John Coltrane, the late Jazz musician, is a saint in the African Orthodox Church. There is even a church named after John Coltrane in the African Orthodox Church, St. John Coltrane ChurchMany musicians have sense the deep spirituality in his music, including Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, and John Pattituci. Coltrane sought God all of his life, and aimed to glorify Him in his music. I feel the Holy Spirit in John Coltrane's music. - Lance 

Let us sing all songs to God. 
Let us pursue him in the righteous path. 
Yes it is true: 
"See and ye shall find." 

God breathes through us so completely...
So gently we hardly feel it...
Yet it is our everything! 
Thank you God! 

Let us sing all songs to God, 
to Whom all praise is due...
Praise God! 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bulgakov on the Powerlessness of the Incarnate God in the World: Power in powerlessness, Triumph in humiliation

"For the best self-attestation of the Good is its defenselessness in the face of the power of evil. The best attestation of Truth is silence in the face of much-talkative falsehood. The supreme manifestation of Beauty consists in the unadornment by vain adornment. The power of God triumphs by means of itself, not by means of the power of this world. For the world, there is no power of God. The world does not see and does not know the power of God: it laughs at the power of God. But Christians know that the sign of God is powerlessness in the world — the Infant in the manger.

And there is no need to gild the manger, for a gilded manger is no longer Christ’s manger. There is no need for earthly defense, for such defense is superfluous for the Infant Christ. There is no need for earthly magnificence, for it is rejected by the King of Glory, the Infant in the manger. But there is a need for the authentic revelation of the God of Love. There is a need for the image of all-forgiving meekness, praying for His enemies and tormentors. There is a need for the image of the way of the cross to Christ’s Kingdom, to defeat evil by the triumphant self-evidence of good. There is a need for the image of freedom from the world. And powerless, we are powerful. In the kingdom of this world we desire to serve the Kingdom of God; we believe in, call, and await this Kingdom. For we have come to know the sign of the Infant in the manger. Power in powerlessness, Triumph in humiliation. And let our heart be our manger, in which we bear the divine sign, the sign of the cross."

— Sergius Bulgakov, Churchly Joy: Orthodox Devotions For the Church Year. trans. Boris Jakin (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2008), 40.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Presenting Torah to a New Generation

About two years ago, I abandoned reading any lectionary or daily office, and instead, read through sections of the Bible a chapter at a time. Partly I did this to not be tied to anyone office, and partly to immerse myself more in Sacred Scripture. I pray a Psalm, read one chapter from the Older Testament, one from the Newer Testament, and one from the Gospel.

In my reading this week, I began reading Deuteronomy and came to Acts chapter 7 in my New Testament reading. I was struck that both chapters i read featured a rehearsal of the narratives in Torah, one recited by Moses, the other by St. Stephen the proto-martyr. In both cases, Torah is being presented to a new generation of believers.

In the case of Deuteronomy, the traditional view of both Israel and the Church is that it is written by Moses. Contemporary scholars say that it was written by priestly scribes in the time of Josiah the King of Israel. In either case, the Torah (Instruction) is being given to a new generation of believers, just as St. Stephen’s rehearsal of the narrative of Israel provides instruction to new Christians, both Jew and Gentile.

I remember several years ago going to hear a speaker at the St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis. The original presenter was not able to make it, and so one of the priests on staff stepped in, and gave an excellent, off-the-cuff presentation of the entire narrative of Israel, from Adam and Eve to the return of the exiles. In a half hour, she recited the whole history of Israel, without missing a significant historical moment. This was a contemporary presentation of the history of Israel, as embodied in the Tanakh (Older Testament). I pondered how her presentation was a contemporary proclamation of Torah, not unlike what Jewish and Christian Rabbis, Apostles and Priests have provided for centuries, not unlike what Moses provides in Deuteronomy chapters 1 and 2 and St. Stephen provides in Acts chapter 7.

I have taken on the habit of substituting mentally “Torah” or “Instruction” for “Law” when I read English translations of the Holy Scripture.

For Israel, Torah is the embodiment of Wisdom. The prophet Isaiah presents this characteristic of the Messianic Kingdom:

"For the [Instruction] of the Lord shall go forth from Zion..." - Isaiah 2.3

Christians believe that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ, Messiah), and that He is the embodiment of Wisdom. But this does not negate the Torah.

Psalm 2, which in the Church is traditionally read as a Messianic Psalm, announces God’s Messianic Reign, enjoins us to “lay hold of His Instruction…”:

“And now, O kings, understand; Be instructed, all you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear And rejoice in Him with trembling. Lay hold of His instruction, lest the Lord be angry, And you perish from the righteous way…”

- Psalm 2.10-12 St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint

Jesus teaches in His famous sermon on the mount that He has not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah)  or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. “ For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. “ Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

- Matthew 5.17-19 NKJV

I remember several years ago a local Jewish Rabbi telling me his belief that the Jesus and Paul and the early Christian movement presented proto-Rabbinical teaching to the Gentiles. As one who believes that Jesus is indeed the Anointed one of God, I agree with this. The Son of God came to enlighten us. He embodies wisdom, but He also enjoins us to heed the Instruction, the Torah of Sacred Scripture. That is why we must immerse ourselves in the Bible, to partake of the Sacred Wisdom.

When Saint Paul writes the classic passage in his second epistle to Timothy, he is speaking only of the Older Testament as a source of instruction and faith in the Christ:

“But hold fast to the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, And knowing that you have learned from your childhood the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All scripture written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness; So that God’s people may become complete, thoroughly perfected for every good work.”

- 2 Timothy 3.14-17 Lamsa

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Take Hold of the Instruction

Icon of Christ from St. Catherine's Monastery on Sinai
In my recitation of the Agpeya (the Coptic Book of Hours), I came across an intriguing rendering of Psalm 2, which is prayed at Prime. In the KJV, Psalm 2.12 reads “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”  The NRSV has, “kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled.” These passages speak of reverence for the Messiah or the LORD Himself. But the Agpeya’s translation here, which is the same as the Septuagint, is “Take hold of instruction;” this rendering indicates obedience to God’s Torah, to God’s Instruction. This agrees well with the Prophet Isaiah’s Messianic vision “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2.3).” In the Hours, we pray the Psalms, because they are not only God’s prayer book for us, but God’s instruction for us as well.  We cannot abandon Torah or the Older Testament as followers of Christ.  

Why did the nations rage, and the peoples meditate on vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers ga­thered together against the Lord and against His Christ; saying, “Let us break through their bonds, and cast away their yoke from us.”

He who dwells in the heavens shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall mock them. Then He shall speak to them in His anger, and in His wrath He shall trouble them.

“But I have been established king by Him on Zion, His holy mountain, proclaiming the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to Me, `You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and Your authority to the end of the earth. You shall shepherd them with a rod of iron; You shall crush them as a potter's vessel.’ ”

Now, understand, O kings: be instructed, all you who judge the earth, serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in Him with trembling. Take hold of instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and you perish from the way of righteousness, whenever His wrath shall be suddenly kindled. Blessed are all who trust in Him. ALLELUIA.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Bible on How to Treat Immigrants and Aliens

I have been very upset by the President's decision to end DACA. It is cruel and vindictive. I am greatly disappointed with so many of my co-religionist (professed Christians) supporting this specific action by the administration. I went online to look up biblical passages about the alien and immigrant, and I found this excellent compilation from a libertarian Christian web site (of all places). At some point, "Christians" need to decide who they are following and giving their allegiance to. They need to decide if the are going to choose the word of God, the Torah, the Teaching, or a Xenophopic, nativist fringe form of conservatism. The word "Christian" in this society has become someone tainted. I almost find myself not wanting to identify as a "Christian," but rather, a follower of "the Ancient Way." We need to return to the Instruction. 

God says you should treat immigrants the same as you treat natives.

Exodus 22:21–24
21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. 22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 23:9
9 “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33–34
33 “ ‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 10:14–22
14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Deuteronomy 24:16–18
16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. 17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

2 Chronicles 6:32–33
32 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 33 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

Isaiah 56:1–8
1 This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. 2 Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” 3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

Jeremiah 7:6–7
6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.

Zechariah 7:9–10
9 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

God requires that the same law be used for natives and immigrants.

Exodus 12:49
49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”

Leviticus 24:22
22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’ ”
God will pass judgment against those who abuse immigrants.

Deuteronomy 27:19
19 “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Psalm 94:1–13, 20-23
1 O Lord, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth. 2 Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. 3 How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant? 4 They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. 5 They crush your people, O Lord; they oppress your inheritance. 6 They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless. 7 They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.” 8 Take heed, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? 9 Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? 10 Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches man lack knowledge? 11 The Lord knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile. 12 Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law; 13 you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked…
20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— one that brings on misery by its decrees? 21 They band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22 But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. 23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

Jeremiah 22:3–5
3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”

Ezekiel 22:7
7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.

Ezekiel 22:29–31
29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. 30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Malachi 3:5
5 “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

Admonitions to be charitable with immigrants:

Deuteronomy 24:19–22
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 26:8–14
8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. 12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me.

Job 31:32
32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler—

We should treat immigrants as we would treat Christ.

Matthew 25:34–46
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


The scripture passages are taken from the New International Version. This particular compilation of scripture passage was taken from a post on the Libertarian Christian Institute, What the Bible says about immigrants

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Middle Class Christians

THIS IS WHY I DEMUR FROM CALLING MYSELF "CHRISTIAN," AND PREFER TO IDENTIFY WITH THE "ANCIENT WAY."- In regard to Packer's comments below, one can probably add "white" to "middle class.- Lance
"It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians- I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians- go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing human need all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side...Christians, alas, they are many- whose ambition in life seems to be building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves."

- J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pg. 63

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let it Be: The Spiritual Power of Music

Today, I went to the funeral of a co-worker, who passed away from cancer. Like me, he was a musician, and played in a band. He was also a devout Christian. On his Caring Bridge web site, almost every entry by him or his wife quoted both a Beatles song, and a scripture verse. In his sermon today at the funeral, the pastor did an excellent job of weaving  Beatles song lyrics and Bible passages in his eulogy. He mentioned the songs Let it Be and In My Life in particular

Like my friend, my spiritual journey has also incorporated the music I listen to as well as my faith in Christ and Scripture. I find great spiritual resources in the music of the Beatles, Bob Marley, and Carlos Santana in particular, but others as well. I have found much joy and emotional healing, in times of sorrow or pain, listening to albums like Beatles’ Rubber Soul, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Bob Marley’s Exodus, Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin’s Love, Devotion, and Surrender, Pete Townshend’s Who Came First, John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, or other wonderful music I’ve listened to in my life. The Spirit reveals itself in much art and music. Often, I find more authentic spiritual inspiration in music, “non-religious” or “secular” music, as some Christians term it, than in conventional religious sources.

I remember one time, a few years ago, my apartment needed to be cleaned badly, and I was in a very depressed and lethargic state. I put on Rubber Soul, and by the time the needle of the record player returned to it's place, my apartment was spic and span, fit for the cover of Good House Keeping.

My co-worker’s last Caring Bridge post quoted Let it Be. This is one of my all-time favorite Paul McCartney and Beatles songs. Although Paul McCartney wrote it initially about his late mother Mary, and not about the Holy Virgin, I, like a lot people, associate the song with the Our Lady and her care for us (McCartney has apparently conceded this over the years, when I saw him in his 1993 Off the Ground Tour, the large screen displayed icons of the Virgin Mary while he performed the song). When the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the Mother of God, she responds by saying “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Paul McCartney’s beautiful lyrics in the song say, “And when the broken-hearted people, living in the world agree, there will be an answer, ‘Let it Be.’” To say “Let it Be,” is to surrender to the will of God, as the Virgin Mary did. It is to find peace and detachment in the present moment, even when we are suffering, recognizing that life is not always easy or fair. In the New Testament, we are told we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” which are the saints who have gone on before us, including the Virgin Mary.

The pastor today in his sermon for my co-worker, stated that he “suffered greatly for 18 months, but he never once complained.” That is because my friend found his peace in God, he turned his will and his situation over to the will of God. Like Mary, he said to God, “Let it Be.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Naming the sin and demon of white supremacy

White supremacy is a sin, in fact, America's original sin. The country was built on, and it's initial wealth created through, the land theft and genocide of one race, and the chattel enslavement of another. It is white supremacy that allows the murderer of Philando Castile [and many like him] to go scott-free, even though the whole world saw his murder on video.

The Bible teaches us to confess our sins; not just sin in general, but specific sins; if I commit adultery, I confess adultery; if I commit theft, I confess theft.

This country has to come to terms with it's history of white supremacy and racism. There is no healing for us, Black, White, Indigenous, or Asian, unless we name our national sin and confess it.

It's a dodge to simply subsume white supremacy under "hate" or "bigotry" or "sin" (even though it is sourced in all those things) without naming it specifically. If we can't name it, we can't repent and be healed.

In order to exorcise a demon, you must name the demon; the demon manifesting at this moment is White Supremacy.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Honoring the Christian Faith of Haile Selassie on the 125th Anniversary of His Birth

Blessed Earthstrong to the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God, Defender of the faith. Today, 23 July, 2017, is the 125th Birthday of His Imperial Majesty. On our blog, we honor H.I.M. as "Defender of the Faith." The Emperor had a deep and abiding love for our Lord Eyesus Kristos, and for the Holy Scriptures. His Imperial Majesty demonstrates his Christian faith by 1) His Daily Practice 2) His deep and abiding faith 3) His love of Eyesus Kristos, our Lord and God, and desire to evangelize others 4) His devotion to the Holy Bible and it's message.

1) His Imperial Majesty did not just pay formal lip-service to the Christian Faith. He was a devout practicioner, who was very disciplined in his daily prayers and practices. On our sidebar (on the upper right side panel of our blog), we post the following tribute from an Anglo-Catholic priest:

"The late Emperor spent many hours daily in traditional Prayer Books of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. He would have been saturated with the Apostolic teaching and spirit. Bishop Paulos Mar Gregorios spent enough time at the great Emperor's court to observe these habits and wrote about them. I was surprised at the devotion of His Imperial Majesty, and I hope to achieve similar heights of spiritual life...."

2) The Emperor speaks of how his deep and abiding faith has sustained him:
"There are many instances in my life where the belief in The Almighty and the Christian Faith have sustained me, times of troubles and difficulties. No matter what may befall a human being he can always succeed in overcoming it in time if he has the strength of faith and praise to God, for inevitably He comes to the assistance of those that believe in him and those that through their work live an exemplary life."

3) His Imperial Majesty was devoted to our Lord Eyesus Kristos, and believed in evangelizing other of the Good News of Kristos:

“I know I am saved , not by anything that is of character or work of the human heart, but by the blood of Jesus alone.” (African Challenge Magazine, Nov 1960) His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie the 1st, the Last King of Kings of Ethiopia.

“The love shown by our God to mankind should constrain all of us who are followers and disciples of Christ, to do all in our power to see to it that the message of salvation is carried to those of our fellows for whom Christ our Savior was sacrificed but who have not had the benefit of hearing the good news.”

4) Finally, His Imperial Majesty was devoted to the Holy Bible and it's message:

"From early childhood I was taught to appreciate the Bible and my love for it increases with the passage of time. All through my troubles I have found it a cause of infinite comfort.

 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11.28)' who can resist an invitation so full of compassion?

 I have the highest respect for the Bible as a whole...We find that in all the periods of the Old Testament, in the time of Patriarchs, Kings, and Prophets, great miracles were done. On the other hand, the time in which Our Lord HIM-self gave the command to go to all the world and to preach is also of high value. Then, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,- the four gospels in which the sayings of our Lord are recorded- are pillars for all men on the earth. Therefore the Bible should not be cut into portions.

Because of this personal experience in the goodness of the Bible, I was resolved that all my countrymen should also share its great blessing and that by reading the Bible they should find truth for themselves. Therefore, I caused a new translation to be made from our ancient language into the language which the old and the young understood and spoke.

Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumbling before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realise that the Bible is his refuge, and the rallying point for all humanity. In it man will find the solution of his present difficulties and guidance for his future action, and unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great Message, he cannot hope for salvation. For my part I glory in the Bible."

Sources: Decision Magazine, Africa; the famous "Bible Speech" in H.I.M.'s address on literacy to the United Nations; and his interview with Dr. Oswald Hoffman, December 25, 1968, on the Lutheran Hour

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cubicle Wall of Saints

On my cubicle at work, saints and some of my spiritual heroes- Clockwise, starting at the top/middle: Armenian Martyrs; Our LORD Jesus Christ (Ethiopian Icon); His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, panel of Haile Selassie, Abune Yesehaq, & Bob Marley; St. Sharbel (Maronite); Dr. George Lamsa, Translator of the Peshitta Scriptures; Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., and Spiritual writer and director of the Shantivanam Asrham in India.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Jesus and the Older Testament, the Word of God

Jesus and Torah, the Word of God

Jesus tells his co-religionists in John chapter 5: “Examine the scriptures; in them you trust that you have eternal life; and even they testify concerning me. Yet you will not come to me, that you might have life everlasting.” - John 5.39,40.

Jesus tells them that belief in the Sacred Scriptures proceeds faith in Him (See  “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” - Romans 10.17.

Jesus hits on this theme several times in the Gospels:

In the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31), Jesus concludes by saying, “Abraham said to him, If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe even if a man should rise from the dead.” - Luke 16.31.

In his debate with his co-religionists in John chapter 5, Jesus says:

“For if you had believed in Moses, you would also have believed in me; for Moses wrote concerning me. If you do not believe his writings, how then can you believe my words?” - John 5.46,47.

It is important for Christians to not take these passages above as condemnation of the Jews, as often very tragically has been done. Rather, Jesus’s words are an admonition for all to believe the Word of God. Saint Paul tells Timothy, in the classic text on the inspiration of the Scriptures:

“knowing that you have learned from your childhood the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All scripture written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness; So that God’s people may become complete, thoroughly perfected for every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3.15-17.

Remember, in the passage above, Paul is only referring to the Older Testament. The Older Testament was THE Bible for the first Christians.

Jesus makes parallel statements about the eternal nature of the Word of God, both in the Older Testament and in His teaching.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Do not suppose that I have come to weaken the law or the prophets; I have not come to weaken, but to fulfil. For truly I say to you, Until heaven and earth pass away, not even one yoth [Yoth is the smallest letter in Aramaic and Hebrew.] or a dash shall pass away from the law until all of it is fulfilled.” - Matthew 5.17,18.
But Jesus also makes the same claim for His own teaching: "Even heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away." - Matthew 24.35.

The disciple of Christ must be dedicated to studying the whole Scripture, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." - 2 Timothy 2.15 KJV.  Again, the passage just quoted refers to the Older Testament.

Finally, the one who studies the Word of God must not only read and study it, but do it.

“While he was on the way, a man came running and fell on his knees and asked him, saying, O good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit life eternal? Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? There is no one who is good except the one God. You know the commandments? Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not murder, Do not bear false witness, Do not oppress, Honor your father and mother....” - Mark 10.17-19.

We should not assume that Jesus is merely being rhetorical or ironic here; He is in fact telling the young man that these are the requirements for everlasting life. He will of course, go on tell the young man that he must sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, in order to be perfect; but we must not kid ourselves that obedience to the commandments is optional. Jesus warns us "It is not everyone who merely says to me, My Lord, my Lord, who will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven." - Matthew 7.21; (see also Psalm 62.12; Matthew 16.27; John 5.29; Romans 2.6-11; James 2.14-26; Revelation 20.12 & 21.14) .

Jesus admonished His disciples to obey the Word, both written (the Scriptures) and Living (Himself). He is the Word made flesh:

"So the Word became flesh and blood, and lived for awhile among us, abounding in blessing and truth, and we saw the honor God had given Him, such as an only son receives from his father." - John 1.14 Goodspeed.  

Unless otherwise indicated, the Bible passages above are from the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta Scriptures.

The Three Prime Languages of the Sacred Scriptures

"There was also an inscription which was written over him, in Greek and Roman and Hebrew, [Aramaic, the language of the Jews.] THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." - Luke 23.38.

The picture above features three of my favorite Bible versions/editions, the Orthodox Study Bible, the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta (my daily reading Bible as of late), and the Confraternity version New Testament (the 1941 modern revision of the Rheims N.T., translated from the Latin).

They represent three main languages the ancient Scriptures were dispersed in: Aramaic (represented by my Lamsa Bible), Greek (represented by my Orthodox Study Bible), and Latin (represented by my Confraternity Bible). The Eastern Churches- the Assyrian Church of the East, the Syrian and Indian Orthodox Churches, the Chaldean and Maronite Catholic Churches, all have the Peshitta (Aramaic for true, and straight) as their traditional Bible text. The Greek-speaking Churches have the Byzantine or Traditional Greek text for the New Testament, and the Septuagint Greek text for the Older Testament. The Western Catholic Church’s traditional text is the Latin Vulgate, as translated by Saint Jerome.

My Preference

I think it is very significant that Mar Eshoo Mashikkah (Our LORD  Jesus Christ), had posted in writing by Pilate on His cross, “King of the Jews” in these three languages. For He is the Living Word of God, He is the Torah and the Scriptures embodied.

Lately my daily reading Bible has been Lamsa’s translation of the Peshitta. Aramaic is the the language of Our LORD. The Churches of the East received the Scriptures primarily through the Aramaic translation, the Peshitta:

"With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."
Mar Eshai Shimun
by Grace, Catholicos Patriarch of the East
April 5, 1957

Bede Griffiths, the great mystic, theologian, and abbot, and one of my spiritual heroes, has this to say on the primacy of the Aramaic for the Gospels:"the first Gospels themselves are translations into Greek from the original Aramaic, interpreting the original message in the light of a new situation, yet always remaining faithful to the original mystery." - Return to the Centre, page 73.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Other Eastern Churches- from the Christian Century

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians outside of St. George Cathedral in Addis Ababa. Photo © David Stanley via Creative Commons license.

This article, at least as of this writing, is not behind a pay wall. The Oriental Orthodox Churches are Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syrian, and Malankara (Syrian Orthodox in India).

Read the whole Christian Century article here: The Other Eastern Churches

"Chalcedon was widely rejected in those ancient Eastern churches that had the best claim to direct continuity from the apostolic age...Although the Orientals still reject Chalcedon, differences between the various communions have faded dramatically over time. In their liturgical and devotional life, these churches still have an immense amount in common with the Orthodox. Even on key theological issues, tensions have diminished enormously. Over the past century, productive conversations between Chalce­donian and Oriental communions have shown how slight were the actual differences between the two sides and how misleading were the stereotypes each side once had of the other...Much of the ancient disagreement was technical, semantic, and symbolic."

Friday, June 16, 2017

Remember the Suffering Christians of the Near East, and Study Their Ancient Heritage

My reading on my day off today. Christians in the Near East are part of communities that go all the way back to the Apostolic age. They include the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Church of the East. Their Scriptures and liturgies are the most ancient in the world. I am studying both the Western Syrian Church tradition, represented by the Syrian Orthodox and Catholic Maronite Churches, and the Eastern Syrian Church tradition, represented by the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church.

Today, Christians in Iraq and Syria are suffering true persecution, and are even in danger of having their communities wiped out. The Christians being persecuted include Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians as well. The Coptic Christians in Egypt, who are also Oriental Orthodox Christians, are experiencing acute persecution at this time as well.

This week, ICE rounded up and arrested Assyrian Christians in Michigan for deportation. This deplorable act by an administration that promised to protect these communities.

This is a heritage that needs to be preserved and celebrated, and should be studied by all Christians. I get really angry when certain American evangelicals treat these Christians as though they were not Christians. These Christians are our elder brothers and sisters and faith. We should study and see that we conform to their tradition, theology and liturgy.. We owe it to them to pray for them and to advocate for them, and we owe it to ourselves to familiarize ourselves with this most ancient, authentic, Semitic tradition of Christianity.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My Three Spiritual Heroes

A friend of mine from church recently said of me that I am one who studies "ancient orders." This seeking of the Ancient Way is has led me to follow these three of my spiritual heroes.
 From left to right:

1) Bede Griffiths, an Oxford-educated Benedictine Monk who led the Shantivanam Christian Ashram in India, incorporating the Rule of St. Benedict, the Syrian Rite, and Hindu modes of prayer and symbolism. Bede was a great teacher, and a leader in of ecumenical dialog, especially between Christianity and Hinduism. He has inspired me to recognize the Eternal Word and the Kingdom of God within us, and to cultivate a spirit of prayer and meditation. The symbol underneath his picture is the Cross from Shantivanam, which is the cross with the OM symbol on it.

2) His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, of the House of Solomon, Emperor of Ethiopia and Defender of the Faith. He preached Jesus Christ, promoted the Bible, and was devout in his own practice of the Ethiopian Orthodox Hours of Prayer and Scripture reading. He has inspired me to value the throne of David, and devout prayer and scripture reading. I was led to study His Imperial Majesty's teachings from my interest in the Rastafarian Movement and the music of Bob Marley. The symbol underneath his picture is the Lion of Judah.

3) George M. Lamsa, Assyrian immigrant to the United States, and translator of the complete Bible from Aramaic into English. His translation is my daily reading Bible and has inspired me to value the Aramaic and Semitic origins of Christianity.
The symbol underneath his picture is the Aramaic symbol of the Holy Trinity, which is often featured on editions of his Bible translation.

I value the writings and teaching of these three saints and prophets, for they have inspired me to seek Allaha and to a greater devotion to Mar Eshoo Mashikkah (Our LORD Jesus Christ).

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Brother John Martin Sahajananda's Fully Human, Fully Divine- The Vedic Vision and the Vision of Christ

Brother John Martin Sahajananda, a Benedictine Calmodolese Monk, disciple of Bede Griffiths, and one of the spiritual directors at the ShantivanamChristian Ashram in India, has written a very engaging short book with a long title, Fully Human, Fully Divine: Integral Dynamic Monotheism(A Meeting Place Between the Vedic Vision and the Vision of Christ).

The book was published in 2014. I have been a very avid reader of Brother Martin's books. I first discovered his writing when I saw and purchased his book, You are the Light:Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus, and then his next book, Hindu Christ: Jesus' Message through Eastern Eyes.

In all of Brother Marin's books, he seeks to find where Christianity and Hinduism meet. He is one of the leading exponents of Christian-Hindu dialogue. His father was a Hindu, and his mother was a Christian. He became a Catholic monk, and joined the Shantivanam Ashram and was discipled by Bede Griffiths, the great Catholic spiritual teacher and writer.

Over the three books I have read (Brother Martin has a couple of others), he has been developing his notion of non-dualistic truth in the Gospels and teachings of Jesus. In his book, Hindu Christ, he examines three aspects of Jesus' experience of God:

1) Dualistic: ("the Father is greater than I")
2) Qualified Non-Dualism ("I am in the Father and the Father is in Me")
3) Non-Dualism ("I and the Father are One").

We too, can relate to God in all three ways, and there is an ebb and flow between our dualistic and non-dualistic experiences of God.

In this book, Fully Human, Fully Divine, he explores the meeting place of the Vedic Vision and the Vision of Christ. He gives us an overview of the Upanishad's and Bhagavad Gita, and the Gospel, and provides a brief theological history of Hindu theologians and saints who had dualistic, qualified non-dualistic, and non-dualistic theologies. There are also several other hybrid and paradoxical views too, represented in Hindu Theology.

Brother Martin asserts that Hinduism is monotheistic, that even with all the millions of deities in popular religion, there is only One Reality without a second. Different deities are avatars or archetypes of the One God, who is the Ground of Being.

Brother Martin places Hindusim in the "Wisdom" tradition of world religions, along with Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism. He places Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, in the group of "Prophetic Monotheistic Religions."

Brother Marin explores the relationship of both types of religious traditions, and notes that the Wisdom tradition emphasizes our Spiritual ascent and oneness with Reality, and that the Prophetic religious traditions, our responsibility not only to love God but to love our neighbor and to work for social transformation.

Brother Martin explains that Integrated Dynamic Monotheism blends the truth of these two broad faith traditions, so that we understand ourselves as one with God but also one with our neighbor, who are our brothers and sisters. There is a harmony between prayer and contemplation, and social action.

Brother Marin explains how the different paths of Yoga- Jnana Yoga (Wisdom, associated with Meditation and study of Scriptures), and Bhakti Yoga (devotion to the Deity), and Karma Yoga (good deeds and social action, but done in detachment), can be integrated in our spiritual practice so that we may achieve Self-Realization but also help to transform the world.

Brother Martin's books are a breath of fresh air. It is a good thing to read and learn from a person who has a deep spiritual practice of their own, and has engaged in respectful dialogue with other faith traditions. I am not interested in polemics as much as the pursuit of God.

I had a professor in undergrad who was a Jungian analyst, and also, a Unitarian minister. He came up with a formula for this integrated way:"Contemplation + awareness = liberation (spiritual and social). I recommend Brother Martin's books for anyone seeking to know their true Self in God and others.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Trump's Executive Order: At the Pinnacle of the Temple, Selling One's Soul for Wordly Power

I do not celebrate President Trump's executive order allowing churches to endorse candidates. Church leaders, already adept at milking guilt out of people, can now bully people into voting "the right way." What bigger hammer does one have than to threaten people's eternal soul if they don't tow a church's party line? What a potential for spiritual abuse. Church leaders who are gleeful have succumbed to the Devil's temptation at the pinnacle of the temple. Churches are selling their soul to celebrate this new executive order.