Friday, May 30, 2008

It Was All Greek to Me

I saw today that my Greek professor of many years ago, Dr. James Boyce, is retiring this spring from his position of 39 years at Luther Seminary. I have many memories of my struggles to learn a little Greek in his class once upon a time, but what I remember the most about him is how obvious it was that he loved the language and how he loved teaching students to read the New Testament in its original language. He loved New Testament Greek like I love music -and this was evident in every hour of class with him.

I will never forget the "Aha!" moments I had when translating little chunks of the New Testament in his class, as if reading and hearing them for the first time ... or his showing up for class one day with two different colored shoes on (and then laughing at himself for being an "Absent-Minded Professor").

I struggled a bit with Greek, especially during the second semester (thanks in part to a student from Australia named Andrew, who sat next to me in that class. I suspect that Andrew was not a very good Greek student, but he was a VERY funny guy!). In my youthful wisdom, I took Greek "pass/fail" (instead of for a grade), figuring I would probably not excel - but that was OK, I just wanted to pass. And at the end of second semester when it was time to find out whether I'd passed or failed (it was fairly dicey that second semester!), he said to me, "I'm going to pass you. But I want you to promise to work a little on your participles every day. And I want you come and see me if you run into trouble because of them - because you will."

Well, I confess that I did not work on my participles every day as he suggested ... but I haven't gotten into any trouble as a result either.

But Dr. Boyce stands out in my mind as one of the finest teachers I have had in a classroom setting - brilliant, yet so patient and kind. And now these many years later, I'm certain he would not remember me from the hundreds of students he has taught over the years ... but I will remember him.

May God grant him many years.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

From the Garden


A look at a lovely bud from the perennial bed.


I'm thinking these iris should be bloomed out by now - the little ones are done blooming. But It's been so cool here that the bigger iris seem to be taking their time.

I had two blossoms in these iris plants all of last year. This year I can count almost 30 buds - but they're not open yet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sermon from the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Emily has asked that I post a link to Fr. Jonathan's sermon (mentioned in my previous post) in it's entirety. No such link exists, I'm afraid, so with his permission I'm posting it here.

(Note that any typos or editing erros of capitalization, punctuation, etc. can be blamed solely on me - I typed it from a recording of the sermon. I did my best, but there's bound to be a thing or two left hanging or unclear because of my transcribing of another's thoughts and words. Please forgive and overlook these things).

The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman follows the feast in the church of Mid-Pentecost – one of those feasts that’s almost completely forgotten from our church life. We didn’t even have a liturgy or anything here at Holy Trinity but when you look at the service books of the church, it’s midway between the resurrection and the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – it is a very important feast theologically, and it’s all about flowing water. And so we’re not surprised to come to a Gospel reading at this season of the feast of Mid-Pentecost and find that the gospel presents us a story of Jesus thirsty at a well. And a discussion that ensues between him and the woman who is both a heretic from Judaism (she was a Samaritan, member of a breakaway sect) and who is personally a heretic. She has broken the commandments in her personal life, she has drifted away from being under the authority of the Word of God. And Jesus has a conversation with her about the flowing of water and what truly quenches spiritual thirst.
So we sang the Kontakion: The Samaritan Woman came to the well in faith; She saw You, the Water of Wisdom, and drank abundantly. She inherited the Kingdom on High and is ever glorified!

The water of wisdom is an image from the book of Proverbs, actually read at Vespers on the evening of the Feast of Mid-Pentecost, talking about how wisdom has mingled her wine with water. And on this feast in ancient Judaism, the Feast of Tabernacles which is from where the scripture today is read, that water mixed with wine is poured out at the altar. So the hymnographers of the church were fully aware of their Jewish tradition when they said that this woman saw Jesus, the water of wisdom and drank abundantly and in doing so she inherited the kingdom on high, which is the other key image for us as a church, as people who are hearing these words now in Mid-Pentecost.

“The one that you have now is not your husband,” says Jesus to the Samaritan woman. When he had seen clairvoyantly everything that she is and the state of her life, he tells her to go and fetch her husband and she says that she doesn’t have one. And he says, “No, you’ve had five and the one you currently have is not your husband.”

This is an accusation that the Word of God makes at the whole church of course, because adultery – promiscuity - what this woman was doing, the state of her being, is the paradigmatic sin of biblical spirituality. What does that mean the paradigmatic sin? It means that it’s the sin that embodies both in the person’s personal life and also in the life as an image of the whole church, the nature of what goes wrong in our relationship with God. So that’s why we can say, “The one that you have now is not your husband” is not a comment that Jesus made to the woman at the well in the first century, it’s the comment that Jesus Christ the Word of God makes to the church at all times. And it’s the comment that forces us, if we are thinking biblically, to look at ourselves and say, “in what way have I consecrated my life to quench the kinds of thirsts that will make me thirst again?. And in what ways have I consecrated my life to the water that, when you drink it you will not thirst again. It’s as simple as that, in one sense.

In another sense it’s the most complex prophetic sign and wonder that Jesus did. Even our hymn which says about the Samaritan woman, “and she drank freely of the water of wisdom and received the kingdom on high.” This carries us to the very end of the Bible to the book of Revelation. In the last 2 chapters of Revelation it’s all about the New Jerusalem being prepared by God. And in that sense we know that the church only truly becomes the Bride of God in the Kingdom to come. So to be Orthodox – to be a member of the true church – is not to know that you are in the perfect church. To be a member of the true church is to know that you are hopelessly broken until God fulfills the mystery of his church in the Kingdom. That’s important for our thinking in the society of religious diversity that we live in. In Revelation we see this image:” I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

This is imagery that has been with us since holy Week. It’s imagery that helps us as modern American Christians to really think honestly about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian communicant in a human community where not only is there diversity of religion and non religion, but where Christianity itself is so fragmented. How is a gospel like today’s which talks about true, consecrated marriage meant to inform? That this Samaritan woman who both personally and then as church, as a member of this sect, had betrayed her spouse, if you like, the Word of God to whom she was betrothed or ought to have been betrothed and married.

We tend to worry, as Orthodox Christians, because we see the kind of extreme expressions in our community of faithful which get extremely rigorous – judgmental of everybody else – you might say fundamentalist, as though here in the church there is life and everywhere else there is complete and unadulterated darkness – and is a kind of fanaticism. That exists wherever there is covenantal language, not just in Orthodoxy, wherever there is language of exclusive covenant if we don’t hear it carefully, we do become sort of fanatical extremists, if you like. But really, for most Orthodox Christians, that’s not our problem. Our problem is really the opposite problem. We’re common sense people – we’re all grown ups as they like to say, and we look around ourselves and we see people who are not Orthodox who are holier, who pray more, who live the gospel more and even people who are not associated with religion who do the same and we have to understand that all in the context of a church that presents us consecrated, covenanted life with God – with his Word. Now how do we understand all of that? And that’s largely what this Gospel reading, which is here to form the newly baptized in the church from the beginning of Christian worship, that’s what it’s here to help us to do.

The images that the Vespers services for this Mid-Pentecost feast on Wednesday gave us all talk about this flowing of water. Just listen to them and see if you can get some of the spirit. The second reading is from Isaiah at that Vespers and it says, “Lo everyone that is thirsty, come to the water. He that has no money come and buy.” It’s paradox - no matter how poor you are come and buy the water. “Come and buy wine and milk and water without price” to quench your thirst. “Why do you spend your money for that which doesn’t sustain, which is not bread? And why do you work so hard for that which doesn’t satisfy you? Hear me carefully, says the prophet Isaiah, and eat that which is good, let your soul delight.” It’s this image of abundant nourishment. There’s no problem with the fact that he’s telling people with no money to come and buy, that’s not for the prophet a problem.

And then the reading goes on from a different section of Isaiah: “Therefore with joy you shall draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day you shall say, Praise the Lord , call on his name, declare his doings among the people and make mention that his name is exalted.” The Samaritan woman reading ends with the meditation on the fact that she went back and told everybody what he had done and what he knew and what he could see, and Jesus stayed two extra days because so many people came to hear the faith and were converted. In this drawing of the water of the wells of salvation in the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is clearly doing the sign in the context of the Hebrew scriptures, in the context of this prophecy.

And then finally, this is where it informs a little bit how we should think about the struggle of human beings for truth, and for life generally. In all of these Christian forms and non-Christian forms. The word of God, he says, is like rain – for as rain and snow come down from heaven, and don’t go back to heaven without first watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater. You heard in today’s gospel reading, “You are reaping where others have sown.” The word of God has come down, it has permeated the people, things have grown, you are reaping, he says to the disciples who are discussing the situation with him when they find him talking to the woman at the well, where others have sown ("the field is white unto harvest" ..we have all this imagery present). "And so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. It will not come back to me empty." In other words, evaporating and going back up into the clouds, to use modern science. "But it will first accomplish that which I intended it to. My word will soak into the ground wherever it is and prosper according to the purpose for which I sent it." What we’ve been told here is that the Word of God (and we talk about the Holy Spirit this way – it’s everywhere present and fills all things) does not belong to the church or the confines of the church. God’s will, his intention for human beings, is poured out on the whole of creation. Therefore, we as Orthodox communicants, if we see it anywhere and do not recognize it for what it is then we have desecrated the Word of God. It doesn’t help to say, “I’m Orthodox, I don’t need to pay attention to what that person is praying or what their faith is, because if they are praying from this permeated rain, this soaked rain, if they have found the language for God that comes from this biblical revelation, then first of all we should at least recognize what we hear. What is the church for if it’s not here to form us and teach us? What at the heart of this revelation is all about.

So you have that sense of the Spirit being everywhere – that’s why in Baptism the water is poured all over the place – splashed on anything – but we ourselves who are baptized are consecrated to a covenantal relationship with this Word. In other words, we seek to be under its authority – that’s what covenanted means. And that’s of course what is at stake in the parable of the Samaritan woman. She is supposed to be under authority to her husband in a relationship of consecrated union. And he to her. Because in the OT law it was not just the woman as adulterous, but the man as adulterous who are equally condemned. In her situation, she becomes this physical metaphor of the spiritual state (and really the problem of Christian morality is to realize that everything we do is prophetic. All sins are adultery. Every dishonesty. Every selfishness. Every hard-heartedness. It’s all faithlessness to the Word of God. That’s why we can call adultery the paradigmatic sin, because all sin amounts to that kind of faithlessness, that’s why it’s such an important biblical image.)

And however Jesus overturned this ancient curse that Genesis talks about, forcing the woman to look to her husband as master because the world is a fallen place and Jesus overturned that by sacrificing himself for his wife the Church, for his Bride, the church. And however we in modern culture might then struggle in our relationships to find balance and mutual sacrifice and mutual submission, the fact is that prophetically speaking, the image of our covenant with God remains that Old Testament image. The Word of God is the Bridegroom and we, the Church, are meant to be completely under its authority. And that is how a gospel like today’s is meant to reinforce both our consecrated-ness to the Word of God to remind us that our experience of the Gospel is an intimacy – consecrated and closed-off within our hearts. And yet, from that intimacy comes the knowledge that that Word of God in which we seek covenant is poured out on everyone. So our real danger as modern Orthodox Christians is not so much in becoming narrow-minded fanatics – it happens – but it’s much more that we lose that sense of intimacy, of consecrated-ness, of necessarily affirming and rejoicing in every yearning - every thirst - for the Word of God that we see wherever we see it. Not with condescension but with humility – because where we see thirst it always judges us for not thirsting enough. It’s not that you condescend to those ”heretics” or whatever. You see them and you are humbled and crushed and brokenhearted because thirst is thirst – and if you see someone thirsting for the Word of God, whatever the setting is [it judges] you for your lack of thirst. That is how we relate to other Christians if we are relating Biblically and in an Orthodox way. That is how we relate of course to one another in the church because we are all struggling in the church. In this sense, this Gospel is so profound.

In closing, bear in mind this scripture and what is behind Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. She is being called, as our Kontakion says, to embrace the Word of God in a consecrated way. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, and he’s having this discussion with this woman, not just reforming her physical life, but reforming the whole spiritual mystery – and, by the way – saying that he will pour his spirit everywhere that people will worship. Not just in Jerusalem, but anywhere in spirit and in truth. So Jesus proclaims that the nature of what he’s preaching is going to be poured out on everybody.

It goes back to a very difficult text in the book of Numbers. There are so many things in those early ancient books which were already a scandal to the prophets, never mind to the Christians, but it had to do with what you do with an adulterous woman. It’s in Numbers 5 and it’s a ritual that is prescribed. And when Jesus is having this conversation with this adulterous woman about drinking the water that gives eternal life, you have to have this ancient narrative from the book of Numbers in mind to feel the power – and we need to feel the power because on the feast of Pentecost we will be told that the word of God flows out of our bellies like living water. Where does that image come from? It comes from the book of Numbers. Its says that if a man in a jealous rage that his wife has been unfaithful to him brings her to the temple for judgment this is what you do (it reminds me most of all of the Salem witch trials where you have this thing in which you know in reality the ritual couldn’t prove anything – and maybe it’s why it’s never referred to as having been enacted – but as a spiritual symbol). Listen to this rule [from Numbers]: The husband has to bring an offering of grain and the grain is put into the hands of the woman who is accused. And then the priest brings a bowl of what is called “bitter water.” The woman is given this kind of sermon that she has to bear witness to her guilt or her innocence of the accusation of adultery. And then prayers are said and the grain is mixed into this water and the woman is given this water to drink. “The priest shall charge the woman with an oath, and shall say to her, ‘the Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people and make thy thigh to rot and thy belly to swell.” (This is euphemism for her whole reproductive system ) If she has committed adultery, her whole reproductive system will swell and rot – I mean, it’s a ghastly image but it’s this ancient reattribute of act – so different from the account of the woman taken into adultery in the Gospel of John – and yet this is the root of the prophecy of the sign that Jesus does. Water – holy water – that has been made bitter is given to the woman to drink and if she has broken her oath it comes with this curse that all of her life-giving ability will be corrupted. And of course if she’s innocent, then they won’t. Well, when Jesus comes to the Samaritan woman who is an adulteress and says to her, “drink of this water and you will have eternal life,” he’s reenacting the scene of the woman taken into adultery where he forbade the people to stone her. He’s saying that the mercy of God drunk in this way will bring you not just condemnation, but forgiveness of sins – will bring eternal fertility.

And this is what's been told to the Church. The Church, this adulterous community embracing politics and national culture and power and money, and everything else that Christians do and members of our Church do as Church – so faithless, so broken. We stand accused as this woman stands accused in the book of Numbers and we are given water to drink. But it’s not the water of judgment. In Christ it becomes water yes, of judgment, but also of forgiveness.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What He Said

How do we as Orthodox Christians relate to other Christians who are not Orthodox?

This is an important question, I think. At least it has been on my mind much recently as I have spent (way too much) time in the blogosphere, noting just how it is that we Orthodox relate to other Christians who are not Orthodox. Some do it well - others do less well - still others do it poorly.

And because it has been so much on my mind, it was a blessing to me that this topic came up in my priest's sermon yesterday. He addressed it very well - far better than I ever could - and so I will share here some of his comments about this subject - comments which I found so helpful.

(Note that these are simply excerpts from this sermon, obviously not the entire sermon itself. These comments were made in the context of my priest's sermon on the Gospel reading yesterday about the Samaritan woman at the well. I have pulled these comments from that context, but I don't believe that the meaning or intent of the comments is changed or reduced as they stand alone. I would, however note that they were even more powerful in their complete original context. It was a darn good sermon, all the way around.)

... So to be Orthodox – to be a member of the True Church – is not to know that you are in the perfect church. To be a member of the True Church is to know that you are hopelessly broken until God fulfills the mystery of his church in the Kingdom. That’s important for our thinking in the society of religious diversity that we live in. In Revelation we see this image: "I, John, saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

This is imagery that has been with us since holy Week. It's imagery that helps us as modern American Christians to really think honestly about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian communicant in a human community where not only is there diversity of religion and non-religion, but where Christianity itself is so fragmented.

... We tend to worry, as Orthodox Christians, because we see the kind of extreme expressions in our community of faithful which get extremely rigorous – judgmental of everybody else – you might say fundamentalist, as though here in the church there is life and everywhere else there is complete and unadulterated darkness – and is a kind of fanaticism. That exists wherever there is covenantal language, not just in Orthodoxy. Wherever there is language of exclusive covenant, if we don’t hear it carefully, we do become sort of fanatical extremists, if you like. But really for most Orthodox Christians, that's not our problem. Our problem is really the opposite problem. We're common sense people – we’re all grown ups, as they like to say - and we look around ourselves and we see people who are not Orthodox who are holier, who pray more, who live the gospel more and even people who are not associated with religion who do the same and we have to understand that all in the context of a church that presents to us consecrated and covenanted life with God – with his Word.

... The word of God, [Isaiah says in the service of Vespers of Mid-Pentecost], is like rain. For rain and snow come down from heaven and don't go back to heaven without first watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater... The word of God has come down, it has permeated the people, things have grown... "And so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. It will not come back to me empty." In other words, evaporating and going back up into the clouds, to use modern science. "But it will first accomplish that which I intended it to. My word will soak into the ground wherever it is and prosper according to the purpose for which I sent it." ... What we’ve been told here is that the Word of God (and we talk about the Holy Spirit this way – it’s everywhere present and fills all things) does not belong to the Church or the confines of the Church. God's will, his intention for human beings, is poured out on the whole of creation. Therefore, we as Orthodox communicants, if we see it anywhere and do not recognize it for what it is then we have desecrated the Word of God. It doesn’t help to say, “I'm Orthodox, I don’t need to pay attention to what that person is praying or what their faith is, because if they are praying from this permeated rain, this soaked rain, if they have found the language for God that comes from this biblical revelation, then first of all we should at least recognize what we hear.

... The Word of God is the Bridegroom and we, the Church, are meant to be completely under its authority. And that is how a gospel like today's is meant to reinforce both our consecrated-ness to the Word of God to remind us that our experience of the Gospel is an intimacy, consecrated, and closed-off within our hearts. And yet, from that intimacy comes the knowledge that this Word of God in which we seek covenant is poured out on everyone. So our real danger as modern Orthodox Christians is not so much in becoming narrow-minded fanatics – it happens – but it’s much more that we lose that sense of intimacy, of consecrated-ness, of necessarily affirming and rejoicing in every yearning - every thirst - for the Word of God that we see wherever we see it. Not with condescension but with humility – because where we see thirst it always judges us for not thirsting enough. It's not that you condescend to those "heretics" or whatever. You see them and you are humbled and crushed and brokenhearted because thirst is thirst – and if you see someone thirsting for the Word of God, whatever the setting is [it judges] you for your lack of thirst. That is how we relate to other Christians if we are relating Biblically and in an Orthodox way. And that is how we relate, of course, to one another in the church because we are all struggling in the church.


Coming soon (I hope): What does "What He Said" have to do with "What She Said"?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

About What She Said

I have thought about what she said a lot in recent weeks and especially over the past couple of days and after much deliberation have decided to offer only the following few thoughts on it:

I'm not sure it's fair for me - someone outside the confessional LCMS tradition - to offer alot of comments about what is going on there. Dixie is a former LCMS-er - which buys her some commenting rights. I am not (though I am a former Lutheran).

I think the struggle they are facing is an important one - truly a matter of life and death, really. The problems, which are sad and tragic, are much the same in my own predecessor body - only by and large, fewer are struggling with them there - which, of course, is its own problem.

I feel a sort of kinship with these confessional LCMS bloggers - I think I understand their struggle at least to some degree, and and I am hugely sympathetic with their concerns. They are struggling with the same issues (no pun intended) that I struggled with for some time when I was a Lutheran.

I have much respect for these confessional LCMS-ers. Unlike me, the 3 confessional LCMS bloggers I read the most are pastors. This puts the struggle on a whole different level from my own of a couple of years ago. There is much more at stake for them in their struggle than there was for me in mine.

Lastly, I think it is wrong for any of us who are Orthodox (even ordained ones!) to stand and cast stones at these confessional Lutherans as if genuine and even similar problems do not exist in our own church, too...as if we Orthodox have some corner on the market of God's grace and mercy. (I will offer the thoughts of someone much wiser than myself on this topic in my next post...)

Lord, have mercy - on all of us.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What She Said

(click the post title)

Want to know what's on my mind? You can usually find out by checking out From Wittenberg to Athens and All Stops in Between.

If there is one blogger in all of cyberspace that I ever wanted to meet in person, it's Dixie. Hers was probably the first convert blog I ever stumbled upon and I think she was the first commenter on this forum. But from the first post of hers I read, I was amazed at how much we have in common. Then when I read her post today, I was fairly creeped out because on my drive in to work today, I was trying to mentally organize these very topics into a single reasonable post.

I'm going to continue to work on a couple of additional reflections on these matters - though perhaps there isn't any reason to.

She's said a mouthful (of what's on my own mind).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Weed That In Earth is Dying

OK - I know most who frequent this blog will not understand the title of this post, but the one or two who do get it might think it's fairly witty. And it is. Fairly.

But this is just to say that our neighbor told us last weekend that he had heard on the radio that a person can kill dandelions in their yard by shooting vinegar on them. We're a practical sort of family of suburbanites, and let's face it - vinegar is alot cheaper than Round-Up (better for the environment, too!), so DearHusband thought he'd give it a try.

This afternoon he armed himself with the special squirtgun-for-lawn-care-products - full of ammunition - and waged vinegar war on the dandelions on one half of the yard.

This evening the dandelions he got are all quite wilted and dying.

Unfortunately, so is the grass around them.

Collateral damage, I guess.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts on the Liturgy

"This is one reason I thank God for the liturgy. The liturgy does not target any age or cultural subgroup. It does not even target this century. (It does not imagine, as we moderns and postmoderns are tempted to do, that this is the best of all possible ages, the most significant era of history.) Instead, the liturgy draws us into worship that transcends our time and place... It has been prayed meaningfully by bakers, housewives, tailors, teachers, philosophers, priests, monks, kings, and slaves. As such, it has not been shaped to meet a particular group's needs. It seeks only to enable people — people in general — to see God."

Mark Galli, from his recent book, Beyond Bells and Smells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.

HT to Matt (Disclaimer: the political views expressed on his blog are not necessarily the views held by this blogger).

A Month Behind

That's what the weather-folks are saying. Seems with our cold and rainy and snowy spring, we are about a month behind in the growing season of where we normally are by this time. Works out well, I guess - I'm about a month behind in getting out in to the yard, too!

This past Saturday was the first decent weekend day to get out there and do a little work, cleaning out the perennial bed, removing a couple of very old mock-orange bushes which didn't make it through our long winter, replacing them with some more colorful weigelia, calling upon my old pal Gern to cough up some of her perennials to add to the little garden, pulling some weeds, putting up the trellises, and planting my little flower boxes for the deck.

Sadly, for each thing I got done this weekend, two things didn't get done. We still have to get the little garden plot out back tilled so I can get my tomatoes in the ground early this week. We bought an earlier variety this year - since we are already a month behind and everything. I'm hoping to actually get some ripe tomatoes before the snow flies again this fall.

Here's a shot of a couple of tiny iris I uncovered when I removed the leaves from the perennial bed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Body Language of Worship

I saw this article quite some time ago and have been meaning to post it here.

I am always amazed at the connection between how what we do with our bodies at worship helps to focus and form us ...

Standing, Lying, and Prostrating Before the Lord

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Among the several ways of confessing what we believe about Jesus, not least important, I think, is our posture when we pray to Him. To be sure, we can pray to our Lord in any of several postures, and it may be the case that each of them expresses some distinct aspect of our faith.

Standing before Christ, for instance, intimates a readiness to do His will. That, we recall, was the posture of John the Baptist (John 3:29). Again, sitting in the presence of Christ suggests a humble submission of ourselves to His tutelage. Such was the case with Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39). Again, prayer on bended knee is a very special posture of love and supplication to Christ. Peter (Acts 9:40) and Paul (20:36) preferred to pray that way, and we know that Stephan died on his knees in the presence of Christ (7:60).

Even lying down on our beds, moreover, may express the confident faith that our Lord makes us dwell in peace and safety (Psalms 4:8). Indeed, that was the position in which the waking daughter of Jairus first encountered Him (Mark 5:41).

Among the bodily postures expressive of our faith in Christ, however, the most solemn is that of prostration, or adoration (proskynesis). This is especially obvious n the Gospel of Matthew, which rather habitually pictures various people encountering Jesus in that posture. Indeed, in Matthew prostration is a supreme expression of the Christological faith.

We may note, for starts, that Matthew both begins and ends his account of Jesus' life by describing believers as prostrate before Him in faith. Thus, near the beginning of Matthew, the Magi from the East came "to adore Him"--proskynevsai avto (2:2). Nor were these distant Gentiles frustrated in their quest. "And when they had come into the house," wrote Matthew, "they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and adored Him"--prosekynesan avto (2:11).

At the other end of that same gospel, just before the Eleven are sent out to make disciples of the Gentiles, Matthew says of them, "When they saw Him, they adored"-- prosekynesan (28:17). In Matthew's story the whole life of Jesus is framed in adoration.

For Matthew this prostration before the Lord Jesus is a ritual confession of His divinity. This interpretation is very clear if we compare several scenes in Matthew with their parallels in Mark. Thus, when the leper met Jesus in Matthew, he "adored Him" (prosekynei avto-8:2), a detail not found in Mark (1:30). In Mark's account of Jairus meeting Jesus, he says that "when he saw Him, he fell at His feet" (5:22), whereas Matthew says that he "came and adored Him" (prosekynei avto--9:18).

It is the same for the disciples after the stilling of the storm. Mark writes, "they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled" (6:51). In Matthew, however, we read, "then those who were in the boat came and adored Him (prosekynesan avto), saying, 'Truly You are the Son of God'"(14:33).

We distinguish the same feature in two accounts of women approaching Jesus. According to Matthew, the wife of Zebedee (who does not appear in Mark's Gospel) "came to Him with her sons, adoring (proskynousa) and asking something from Him" (20:20). In the case of the Canaanite woman, Mark says, "she came and fell at His feet" (7:25), whereas in Matthew we read, "she came and adored Him" (prosekynei avto--15:25).

In Matthew this verb proskyneo describes a properly Christian act of adoration. To see that this is so, it is instructive to examine an instance where Mark uses the verb but Matthew does not. It is the case of the Gadarene demoniac, of whom Mark says, "When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and adored Him" (5:6). Matthew (8:28) omits the word in this case. Reserving this verb for specifically Christian acts of worship, Matthew declines to use it of a man possessed by demons.

Matthew's use of this verb, in short, illustrates the Christology of the (apparently Syrian) church for which he writes. Matthew describes all these various characters in his gospel as falling down in adoration before Jesus, because he recognized in them the content and structure of the Church's faith in the full divinity of God's Son.


Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

June 24, 2007

Monday, May 12, 2008

Vinyl Replacement Project

Several years ago, in a fit of despondency that we no longer had a functioning turntable on which to play all of the LPs I had collected in high school and college, I sold almost all of my old vinyl for a buck an album at a garage sale.

It was an ecclectic collection of lots of different music which I loved for various reasons but hadn't been able to listen to in years. Folk, Big Band, Rock, Classical, Jazz, Choral - lots of fun stuff.

This has made things easy for our sons on all gift-giving occasions in the last couple of years. They simply ask, "OK, which one do you want next?" and I spend a day or two deciding which of my old music I miss the most and then give them a title. They get it for me on CD.

Mother's Day this year? Manhattan Transfer.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have it Your Way



I forget now just where I saw this way back last February - but I saved the link and thought I'd save it for just such a dry spell.

It's a giggle, for those who didn't see it then ...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"A" Good Visit


I had a fine visit to my former fellowship today. I don't visit very often, and I admit that when I woke up this morning, I thought that it might just be easier - in a lot of ways - to go to my own church where I belong.

But in thinking about it this past week and again this morning, I knew that today is the last Sunday of the Easter Season in the western church - and I remembered well (and always loved) how all of the Sundays of Easter felt much like Easter Day at this parish. So I reconsidered postponing my visit, at least for the opportunity to sing some good western Easter hymnody, which I do miss a bit. (I even managed to slip into my favorite spot in the nave!) And of course there were some wonderful Easter hymns to sing, with trumpets and timpani and other instruments, too. While I didn't get to sing my very favorite Easter hymn, "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," I did get to sing a close runner-up, "Christ is Arisen."

Among it's many blessings, Church of the Resurrection has a small committee of two who have an eye for that which is beautiful and significant, and they use their gifts and artful eyes to decorate the church in expressive and meaningful ways which serve to enhance worship there. When I entered the sanctuary this morning, my eyes were immediately drawn to the cross on the front wall. This being the 7th Sunday of Easter there, the church was decorated for Ascension (last Thursday for them) - and there was a sweeping sheer gold cloth above and in front of the cross, drawing my eyes upward in the direction that Christ ascended. Yet this is not what I first noticed about this configuration of cloth and cross - I noticed first that the sweeping gold cloth, combined with the silver crossbeam of the cross made an enormous and perfect "A" on the wall - for "Alleluia!" I thought. How clever! Further, as I looked at it for a few minutes before service started, I thought it significant that without the bar of the cross, there would be no A for Alleluia, that it is the cross which forms the church's Easter song. How cool. (I spoke with one of these talented decorating women briefly during the service and she mentioned that she hadn't really thought of it from that angle when she did the decorating. Yet I hold that such meaningful work, when done with love for the church, will inspire some to see other holy visions).

Whenever I visit Resurrection, I am reminded of my own recent journey to the Orthodox faith and the unique role that this particular parish played in that journey - it was not insignificant. This confessional little Lutheran parish did not drive me to Orthodoxy, they helped to lead me to it - and for this I will always be grateful to them.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Smitten

Being a person who loves both food and beauty, I am excited to have discovered a foodie site that is both beautiful and practical, The Smitten Kitchen.

If you haven't seen this site before, go ahead. Click on the link.

If you have seen this site before, what on earth are you doing here? (wink, wink!)

"Do Not Be Unbelieving"

"Easy for Him to say," I thought as I looked at the lessons for this weekend.

Tomorrow is Thomas Sunday. Though I am planning a visit to my former fellowship tomorrow morning, it occurs to me that I could probably have picked a better day to be away from my own parish. (Thank God for the blessing of recorded sermons!)

Unlike Thomas, I've never had any trouble believing in the resurrection of Christ in all its supernatural truth. That Jesus Christ the Son of God was crucified and rose from the dead in order that we might be saved is a truth which has been drummed into my head and being for as long as I can remember. It's a given.

Too incredible? Too good to be true? Maybe - but I believe it...even without touching the hands and side of the Savior. For me, it seems, that's the easy part.

My own doubts are not about the resurrection at all, but they lie in those petty distractions in the Church which are so easy for me to forget about while I am at worship - but which are so hard for me to ignore when I am not. I speak not only of the distractions in my own church body - of which there are many - but also of the distractions which seem to be part and parcel of the reality of church life for all Christians. While the exact nature of these distractions varies from one denomination to another, all such distractions serve to divert our attention away from the truth of the resurrection.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," our Savior said.

Perhaps especially blessed are those who have seen - everything - and yet continue to believe.

And maybe the most blessed of all are those who have seen and heard everything and not only continue to believe, but who, in spite of it all, are able in all they think and say and do to boldly proclaim, "My Lord and my God!"

I hope someday to be so blessed.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Eleven


Happy birthday to YoungerSon!

I remember this day eleven years ago very well.

I must be getting old, because it seems like only yesterday.