Who Am I?

Whip It

Posted: October 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Movie Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Whip It

Whip_itI took my youngest daughter to see Whip It this past week. We live in the Austin area and have even been to some of the Texas Rollergirls flat track roller derby games. (Their games are held at the skating rink where my daughter has had her birthday parties for years and where we regularly go skating.) The movie involves the banked track league in Austin rather than the flat track one, but we’re aware of them as well. My daughter loves to skate and has enjoyed the games we’ve gone to see, so she was looking forward to the movie.

All in all, Whip It is a fun movie to watch. (The title refers to a particular roller derby move.) At its core, the movie is a coming of age film with the classic elements. Parents haunted by their own lost dreams. A daughter searching for her identity and disillusioned by the mill of beauty pageants that are the focus of her mother’s attempts to relive a period of her life through her daughters. The early scene in which Ellen Page’s character, Bliss Cavendar, mounts the beauty pageant platform with hair streaked bright blue is a priceless one.

Bliss happens upon a roller derby demonstration event flyer and, as much in a fit of teen rebellion as anything else, decides to attend. In the course of the night, she is invited to the tryouts (after lying about her age) and step by step proceeds to stumble into an athletic talent for which she develops a true passion. The heart of the film follows her development of that talent, almost Karate Kid style and the inevitable tension with her parents when they discover her activities. As the father of teens and young adults, I experienced many a wry moment as the central conflict was resolved over the course of the film.

There is a secondary romantic thread that, at least for me, didn’t add a great deal to the central story. I would have rather that time had been spent developing Bliss’ growing relationship with her roller derby team instead. With that said, if my daughter absorbed even a little of the message that charming and sweet are not necessarily the same as trustworthy when it comes to guys, then I would say it had some redeeming value.

I understand that they didn’t have the budget to actually film most of the movie here in Austin, so I wasn’t expecting much place recognition. However, they were able to get enough location shots to weave an Austin feel into the movie. Since I’ve lived here my entire adult life, I really appreciated that part of the film.

I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, but the final scene with Bliss’ father in his yard with his neighbor was an utterly priceless one. It cracked me up. It’s just one example of the way the parents’ hopes and dreams are worked into this movie as well.

For the Life of the World 5

Posted: October 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 5

Today I’ll blog through sections 7-8 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. But first, the link to Deacon Michale Hyatt’s  podcast if you haven’t already listened to it.

Bread and wine: to understand their initial and eternal meaning in the Eucharist we must forget for a time the endless controversies which little by little transformed them into “elements” of an almost abstract theological speculation.

O f course, in my SBC tradition, they aren’t actually bread and wine, but instead crackers and grape juice. And they have been reduced to an almost empty “symbol” with no intrinsic significance or meaning. Still, even in places that have not so reduced the Eucharist, the bread and the wine have become more abstract. I appreciate the emphasis. Let’s forget all that as we move into this section.

As we proceed further in the eucharistic liturgy, the time has come now to offer to God the totality of all our lives, of ourselves, of the world in which we live. This is the first meaning of our bringing to the altar the elements of our food. For we already know that food is life, that it is the very principle of life and that the whole world has been created as food for man. We also know that to offer this food, this world, this life to God is the initial “eucharistic” function of man, his very fulfillment as man. We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of live, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God. We know that real life is “eucharist,” a movement of love and adoration toward God, the movement in which alone the meaning and the value of all that exists can be revealed and fulfilled. We know that we have lost this eucharistic life, and finally we know that in Christ, the new Adam, the perfect man, this eucharistic life was restored to man. For He Himself was the perfect Eucharist; He offered Himself in total obedience, love and thanksgiving to God. God was His very life. And He gave this perfect and eucharistic life to us. In Him God became our life.

This marks the point in the Divine Liturgy often called the great entrance, in which the gifts are brought out and processed through the people. It’s my understanding that in the ancient Church, the gifts were actually gathered from the people during the procession. We have moved into the Liturgy of the Faithful. Deacon Michael also notes an important point, I think. The gifts we bring are bread and wine, not wheat and grapes. That is, we do not simply return to God the raw food he has given us. Rather, through our efforts, we transform it into something more than it was and then offer it back. As I heard him say that, I was reminded of the parable of the talents and how the good and faithful servants multiplied what the master had entrusted to their care. Even here, at the core of our worship, we see some of that same dynamic at work.

Yes, to be sure, it is a sacrifice: but sacrifice is the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being, because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial: it puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life.

A love that costs you nothing, that requires no sacrifice, can hardly be called love at all. Amen.

He (Christ) has performed once and for all this Eucharist and nothing has been left unoffered. In him was Life — and this Life of all of us, He gave to God. The church is all those who have been accepted into the eucharistic life of Christ. … It is His Eucharist, and He is the Eucharist. As the prayer of offering says — “it is He who offers and it is He who is offered.” The liturgy has led us into the all-embracing Eucharist of Christ, and has revealed to us that the only Eucharist, the only offering of the world is Christ. We come again and again with our lives to offer; we bring and “sacrifice” — that is, give to God — what He has given us; and each time we come to the End of all sacrifices, of all offerings, of all eucharist, because each time it is revealed to us that Christ has offered all that exists, and that He and all that exists has been offered in His offering of Himself. We are included in the Eucharist of Christ and Christ is our Eucharist.

That is powerful. Read it several times and meditate on it. Remember one meaning of “Eucharist” — a giving of thanks — as you do. The procession is bearing the bread and wine to the altar. At this point in the liturgy, the faithful remember.

“May the Lord God remember in his Kingdom …” Remembrance is an act of love. God remembers us and His remembrance, His love is the foundation of the world. In Christ, we remember. We become again beings open to love, and we remember. The Church in its separation from “this world,” on its journey to heaven, remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole of creation, takes it in love to God. The Eucharist is the sacrament of cosmic remembrance: it is indeed a restoration of love as the very life of the world.

The Orthodox certainly remember, but they do not mean by that an empty, symbolic memorial to an event long past. No, this remembrance of love, this participation in Christ, restores life to the cosmos. I think I prefer their way of remembering.

The bread and wine are now on the altar, covered, hidden as our “life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). There lies, hidden in God, the totality of life, which Christ has brought back to God. And the celebrant says: “Let us love one another that in one accord we may confess …” There follows the kiss of peace, one of the fundamental acts of Christian liturgy.

It occurs to me that those who have never experienced any sort of Christian liturgy at all may not even be aware of the existence of the kiss of peace or its meaning. While often minimized today, it has always been a key part of Christian worship until recent times. The kiss is, of course, referenced in Scripture, but it strikes me as I read this section that I’ve never really heard any “non-liturgical” Protestant relate it to Christian worship in any way. That’s odd, actually, but I suppose it makes sense when you have excluded it from your worship.

The Church, if it is to be the Church, must be the revelation of that divine Love which God “poured out into our hearts.” Without this love nothing is “valid” in the Church because nothing is possible. The content of Christ’s Eucharist is Love, and only through love can we enter into it and be made its partakers. Of this love we are not capable. This love we have lost. This love Christ has given us and this gift is the Church. The Church constitutes itself through love and on love, and in this world it is to “witness” to Love, to re-present it, to make Love present. Love alone creates and transforms: it is, therefore, the very “principle” of the sacrament.

The discussion of the love of Christ that constitutes the Church reminds me of a Molly Sabourin podcast. It was the first time I had ever heard of Forgiveness Vespers, as practiced in the Orthodox Church at the onset of Lent each year. If the kiss of peace is the regular affirmation of love, Forgiveness Vespers provides the annual opportunity to clear away any lingering impediments to love as those in the Church ask for and offer forgiveness of everyone else, even those they do not know very well. I can think of little that I have heard within any path of spirituality in my highly varied journey that has ever struck me as so simply … beautiful. The first time I heard that podcast, it brought tears to my eyes. If we do not have love, we have nothing.

For the Life of the World 4

Posted: October 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 4

In this week’s podcast, Deacon Michael Hyatt covers sections 5-8 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. This chapter walks through the whole of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, so there is a lot in it. First, the link to the next podcast in this series.

The next step in the liturgy is the entrance, sometimes called the little entrance, in which the celebrant comes to the altar.  This involves a procession with the Gospels. Father Schmemann notes that though the act has been given many symbolical explanations, it is not itself a symbol.

It is the very movement of the Church as passage from the old into the new, from “this world” into the “world to come” and, as such, it is the essential movement of the liturgical “journey.” In “this world” there is no altar and the temple has been destroyed. For the only altar is Christ Himself, His humanity which He has assumed and deified and made the temple of God, the altar of His presence. And Christ ascended into heaven. The altar thus is the sign that in Christ we have been given access to heaven, that the Church is the “passage” to heaven, the entrance into the heavenly sanctuary, and that only by “entering,” by ascending to heaven does the Church fulfill herself, become what she is. And so the entrance at the Eucharist, this approach of the celebrant — and in him, of the whole Church — to the altar is not a symbol. It is the crucial and decisive act in which the true dimensions of the sacrament are revealed and established. It is not “grace” that comes down; it is the Church that enters into “grace,” and grace means the new being, the Kingdom, the world to come.

There is something to the way N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, describes the Eucharist as a point where past, present, and future come together transcendentally in Christ. As we participate together, we are not remembering the past, living in the present, or looking toward the future Kingdom. It is, as the above passage says, a place and a time when we enter into the world to come.

I’ve been familiar, in Western liturgy, with the division between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As we will see, there is not the same sharp distinction between Word and Eucharist in the East. The entire Divine Liturgy is the Eucharistic liturgy and it is instead divided into the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful. It’s an interesting division because it means that the parts we have retained in the so-called “non-liturgical” churches (the reading of Scripture and the homily or sermon — though we often omit the formal reading of Scripture these days) were the parts that were, in significant measure, directed toward the education and teaching of those who were interested, but not yet Christian. In the ancient Church the catechumens left after the Liturgy of the Catechumens was complete. Though those who are not among the Orthodox faithful no longer physically leave, the Divine Liturgy remains marked by that distinction. I think there is much to ponder here. Has the majority of the Protestant tradition virtually abandoned that part of the liturgy intended to sustain the faithful?

As the celebrant enters, the Church sings the Trisagion, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal one, have mercy on us!” It’s the song of the angels before the throne of God.

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this on, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this one word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. “Holy” is the word, the song, the “reaction” of the Church as it enters into heaven, as it stands before the heavenly glory of God.

Father Stephen Freeman has an excellent post on The Knowledge of God which fits in excellently at this point and says better what it means to know God than anything I could write. I recommend you take a moment to read it. Holy. It’s a word that has little actual meaning as anything but a name for God.

Next the celebrant turns and faces the people for the first time in this journey. The Church has ascended.

And the priest whose liturgy, whose unique function and obedience in the Church is to re-present, to make present the priesthood of Christ Himself, says to the people: “Peace be with you.” In Christ man returns to God and in Christ God comes to man. As the new Adam, as the perfect man He leads us to God; as God incarnate He reveals the Father to us and reconciles us with God. He is our peace — the reconciliation with God, divine forgiveness, communion. And the peace that the priest announces and bestows upon us is the peace Christ established between God and His world and into which we, the Church, have entered.

It is not a gesture or a symbol. The celebrant proclaims peace and the gathered Church receives the peace of Christ — “which passes all understanding.” Father Schmemman next makes the point I alluded to above.

Western Christians are so accustomed to distinguish the Word from the sacrament that it may be difficult for them to understand that in the Orthodox perspective the liturgy of the Word is as sacramental as the sacrament is “evangelical.” The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word. And unless the false dichotomy between Word and sacrament is overcome, the true meaning of both Word and sacrament, and especially the true meaning of Christian “sacramentalism” cannot be grasped in all their wonderful implications. The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Spirit.

I wonder if those who have been conditioned to hear and read “Word of God” essentially as referring to the Holy Scriptures in every usage will catch the nuance above. Think about what the phrase “Word of God” means in Scripture itself and then re-read the above. You might find yourself reading it in a different light.

This is why the reading and the preaching of the Gospel in the Orthodox Church is a liturgical act, an integral and essential part of the sacrament. It is heard as the Word of God, and it is received in the Spirit — that is, in the Church, which is the life of the Word and its “growth” in the world.

As I did last week, I’ll continue with the next two sections that were covered in Deacon Michael’s podcast tomorrow.

On the Incarnation of the Word 41 – The Logos Refutes the Pagan Greeks

Posted: October 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 41 – The Logos Refutes the Pagan Greeks

In this section, Athanasius turns from refuting the arguments against the Incarnation by the Jews to those offered by the pagan Greeks. He is specifically attacking the schools of Plato, whether influenced by Philo or not. Platonism had issues with embodied spirituality. Within that perspective, the material was something to be escaped. Plato envisioned the spiritual, disembodied Happy Philosophers. Obviously, the Incarnation is a problem within that perspective. I find Athanasius’ approach intriguing.

But if they confess that there is a Word of God, and He ruler of the universe, and that in Him the Father has produced the creation, and that by His Providence the whole receives light and life and being, and that He reigns over all, so that from the works of His providence He is known, and through Him the Father,—consider, I pray you, whether they be not unwittingly raising the jest against themselves. The philosophers of the Greeks say that the universe is a great body; and rightly so. For we see it and its parts as objects of our senses. If, then, the Word of God is in the Universe, which is a body, and has united Himself with the whole and with all its parts, what is there surprising or absurd if we say that He has united Himself with man also. For if it were absurd for Him to have been in a body at all, it would be absurd for Him to be united with the whole either, and to be giving light and movement to all things by His providence. For the whole also is a body. But if it beseems Him to unite Himself with the universe, and to be made known in the whole, it must beseem Him also to appear in a human body, and that by Him it should be illumined and work. For mankind is part of the whole as well as the rest. And if it be unseemly for a part to have been adopted as His instrument to teach men of His Godhead, it must be most absurd that He should be made known even by the whole universe.

In other words, if the Logos is united with and sustains the whole universe, it can hardly be called unreasonable for the Logos to be united to a specific human body.

I’ll also note that this is a good example of Athanasius finding something true within their beliefs that he could build upon. At their best, Christians have always done exactly that, rather than dismissing all that a people believe or have experienced of reality. There are few places we go where people have not received at least glimpses and shadows of the truth. If we do not believe that, we do not believe that God is who we proclaim him to be. And we do not believe that the cosmos changed when Jesus came out of that tomb.

Or so it seems to me.

On the Incarnation of the Word 40 – No More Kings, Prophets, or Visions

Posted: October 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 40 – No More Kings, Prophets, or Visions

In today’s section of Athanasius’ treatise, he continues to make his point that the time has passed for the Messiah. There cannot yet be a future one. I recommend meditating on the entire section (as I always do), but wanted to highlight this statement.

If then there is now among the Jews king or prophet or vision, they do well to deny the Christ that is come.

But there isn’t. And there hasn’t been. And it does not appear that there will be.

If I weren’t posting on Athanasius’ treatise, I would say little about Judaism beyond noting how many attributes Christian worship shared with Jewish synagogue worship, how clearly Christianity extends and is built upon Judaism. As I was growing up I remember Jewish families who were friends of our family. My cousin married into a Jewish family. And I did not join Christianity unaware of our collective poor history of treatment of the Jews, especially in the West and in Russia. I think that in the ways we have wronged them, we have lost the right to say much of anything at all. Until we can prove by our actions over the course of generations that we, as Christians, love them and perhaps earn some small measure of forgiveness, we have no real room to speak at all. There are no excuses for the things we have done in the past. None.

But Athanasius lived at a different time under different circumstances. And he certainly speaks. And, since this lies pretty much at the core of Christianity, I do agree with him. If I did not, I would not be Christian. But read his words. I find I have nothing to add.

On the Incarnation of the Word 39 – There Cannot Be Another

Posted: October 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 39 – There Cannot Be Another

I had to read this section of On The Incarnation several times before I really grasped his point. Basically he is refuting the Jews who say the Messiah or the Christ or the Anointed is yet to come. There are two key sentences.

But on this one point, above all, they shall be all the more refuted, not at our hands, but at those of the most wise Daniel, who marks both the actual date, and the divine sojourn of the Saviour, saying: “Seventy weeks are cut short upon thy people, and upon the holy city, for a full end to be made of sin, and for sins to be sealed up, and to blot out iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint a Holy of Holies; and thou shalt know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Christ the Prince”.

In other words, Daniel predicts the time and that time was the time of Christ. Moreover, there are other particulars.

Perhaps with regard to the other (prophecies) they may be able even to find excuses and to put off what is written to a future time. But what can they say to this, or can they face it at all? Where not only is the Christ referred to, but He that is to be anointed is declared to be not man simply, but Holy of Holies; and Jerusalem is to stand till His coming, and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel.

Jerusalem was to stand until the coming of the Anointed. But Jerusalem fell and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. So that can no longer happen.

I’m struck most, though, by Athanasius’ point that Jesus was not anointed as a man only, but also declared the Holy of Holies, that is the place where God dwelt among his people. Of course, that’s what Christians have always proclaimed, but I never thought of it in precisely those terms before.

For the Life of the World 3

Posted: October 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 3

First, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast, At the Intersection of East and West, which goes along with today’s post.

Today’s post covers sections 3 and 4 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. After looking at the centrality of joy, we look at the journey of the liturgy of the Eucharist.

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word “dimension” because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies “come alive” when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.

I’ve always perceived reality as a journey, so the language of movement, of journey, feels more true to me than not. He describes this journey beginning when Christians leave their homes and beds.

The purpose of this “coming together” is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it “better” — more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.

Jesus calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. And if he is the beginning and end of anything, he is the beginning and end of all things. We aren’t coming together to “be fed” (a strange expression I’ve heard in an SBC context regarding listening to a sermon — I don’t know how common or widespread it is) or to be “discipled” or “trained”, though all of that and more may happen. It is not the central purpose.

We always want to make Christianity “understandable” and “acceptable” to this mythical “modern” man on the street. And we forget that the Christ of whom we speak is “not of this world,” and that after His resurrection He was not recognized even by his own disciples.

My background has been pluralistic enough that the idea that there’s anything we could do to make Christianity “understandable” or “acceptable” to the casual observer has always struck me as bizarre. I understand Father Schmemann’s insistence that Christianity is the end of all religion, but as you approach it, you will consider it a religion. And it’s fairly strange even by the standards of any world religion, much less by those who insist on a secular nature to reality. Christianity seems strange to people because it is strange. Life and joy and love may draw you into it, but there’s nothing that feels normal about Christianity to anyone who is not Christian.

I like his point that the resurrected Jesus is unrecognizable even to those who have known him for years and loved him save when he desires to be known. Go back and read the Resurrection narratives and feel how strange they truly are. They are unlike anything else in cult or history. Father Schmemann takes it further.

There was no physical imperative to recognize Him. He was, in other words, no longer a “part” of this world, of its reality, and to recognize Him, to enter into the joy of His presence, to be with Him, meant a conversion to another reality. The Lord’s glorification does not have the compelling, objective evidence of His humiliation and cross. His glorification is known only through the mysterious death in the baptismal font, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is known only in the fullness of the Church, as she gathers to meet the Lord and to share in His risen life. The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended.

Of course, by heaven, we do not refer to some other reality. We are not leaving this world for some other. One need only read the end of Revelation to put that common misconception to the lie. Heaven is never farther than a breath away and at the same time greater the largest sea. It is veiled from us today through the mercy of God. We often think of ascension as rising upwards, but the more common usage in the ancient world would have been for a king or an emperor to ascend to his throne, to take power. And “clouds” in Jewish imagery represent the presence of God.

We gather so that as the ecclesia we can become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

To leave, to come … This is the beginning, the starting point of the sacrament, the condition of its transforming power and reality.

This is the doxology that opens the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

From the beginning the destination has been announced: the journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going — and not symbolically, but really.

Amen. We agree. We should be careful not to voice our agreement unless we really intend to make the journey. If a worship service of any sort is not a journey, why are we bothering to meet at all? Amen is one of the most important words in the world.

It is Christ’s gift to us, for only in Him can we say Amen to God, or rather He himself is our Amen to God and the Church is an Amen to Christ. Upon this Amen the fate of the human race is decided. It reveals that the movement toward God has begun.

We are left here at the beginning. We’ll proceed farther on the journey next week. But the artist in me appreciates Father Schmemann’s note that beauty is never “necessary”, “functional”, or “useful”. But it is human. And if we did not love beauty or if we worshiped a God who did not love beauty, we would be other and less than human.

For the Life of the World 2

Posted: October 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 2

In this week’s podcast, Deacon Michael Hyatt got through the first four sections of the second chapter of For the Life of the World entitled The Eucharist. I’ve read the entire chapter, but since I am listening and studying along with the podcast, I’m going to proceed at the same pace here. First, here is the link to this week’s podcast of At the Intersection of East and West.

The opening of this chapter is no less provocative and evocative than the beginning of the first chapter.

In this world Christ was rejected. He was the perfect expression of life as God intended it. The fragmentary life of the world was gathered into His life; He was the heart beat of the world and the world killed Him. But in that murder the world itself died. … But when Christ, the true life of the world, was rejected, it was the beginning of the end.

Wow. There’s our story. From the beginning Cain has killed Abel, but when we turned our murderous eye toward the one who was our life, we died. Of course, that’s only one layer, and it’s one that just occurred to me as I typed the above excerpt. Every time I read it, I see another layer. I also like how he places the beginning of the end at the Cross. We are not going to enter into the “beginning” of the end times at some future date. We live within them now and have for two thousand years.

Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. … Not that this world cannot be improved — one of our goals is certainly to work for peace, justice, freedom. But while it can be improved, it can never become the place God intended it to be.

That world died, once and for all, on the Cross. We put it to death. “Natural life” has been brought to an end.

And yet, from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth. It rendered impossible all joy we usually think of as possible. But within this impossibility, at the very bottom of this darkness, it announced and conveyed a new all-embracing joy, and with this joy it transformed the End into a Beginning. Without the proclamation of this joy Christianity is incomprehensible. It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world, and it lost the world when it lost that joy, and ceased to be a credible witness to it. Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.

I quoted all of the above because it struck me at least as deeply as it did Deacon Michael. I was formed within a culture that intuitively understands Nietzsche, and his critique strikes right to the heart of the dissolution of modern Christianity. I found the joy of Christ, but it was hidden away, masked from view. By and large Christians have little joy, even when the lack is masked by plastic smiles. Postmoderns are the masters of the mask, yet we are rarely fooled by them.

And we must recover the meaning of this great joy. We must if possible partake of it, before we discuss anything else — programs and missions, projects and techniques.

Amen and amen. I see lots of noise about technique, about programs, about ways of doing Christian stuff. Most of it means less than nothing.

Joy, however, is not something one can define or analyze. One enters into joy. “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21). And we have no other means of entering into that joy, no way of understanding it, except through the one action which from the beginning has been for the Church both the source and fulfillment of joy, the very sacrament of joy, the Eucharist.

Where did you think he was going in a chapter named after the Thanksgiving? This begins a look at that which I appreciate so much, the Christian life as a process. We enter into joy. We grow in grace. It’s not about some one-time event. It is a life that can become the story of our life.

Father Schmemann points out that distinctions between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches and christians is largely an exercise in missing the point. It’s not a category of “cultic” practices. It’s not a “sacred” (as opposed to “profane”) aspect of life. As he discussed in the first chapter, such distinctions make no sense from a Christian perspective.

But this is not the original meaning of the Greek word leitourgia. It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals — a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or “ministry” of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. … Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia … The eucharistic liturgy, therefore, must not be approached and understood in “liturgical” or “cultic” terms alone. Just as Christianity can — and must — be considered the end of religion, so the Christian liturgy in general, and the Eucharist in particular, are indeed the end of cult, of the “sacred” religious act isolated from, and opposed to, the “profane” life of the community.

That speaks deeply to me. I’m not sure I can put it into words that someone who has no experience of “cultic” activities completely outside the bounds of Christianity can understand. But I look at most expressions of Christianity and I see simply different versions of the same dualism. The above rejects that perspective. Utterly and unequivocally.

At this stage we shall say only this: the Eucharist is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord. And to enter into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it “becomes what it is.”

The Church becomes what it is by entering into the joy of the Lord through the Eucharist. The idea of something or someone becoming ever more what it is fits into my perspective like a glove. Isn’t that what we do most of our lives? Who among us feels complete or finished?

Well, I’m only through section two of this chapter, so I believe I’ll split it into two posts and continue tomorrow.

On the Incarnation of the Word 38 – Eyes of the Blind Opened

Posted: October 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 38 – Eyes of the Blind Opened

In this section, Athanasius takes an interesting look at Jesus’ miracles as fulfillment of prophecy.

Behold, our God recompenseth judgment; He shall come and save us. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be plain.

Though Namaan the leper was cleansed and the dead were raised, the particular combination of miracles had never happened before. And, nobody had heard of a man blind from birth receiving sight. Athanasius quotes from John.

Since the world began it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.

On the Incarnation of the Word 37 – All Creation Ransomed

Posted: October 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 37 – All Creation Ransomed

Athanasius examines more prophecies fulfilled in Christ, but I want to reflect on his closing sentence today.

He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all, even though the Jews believe it not.

Salvation has come to all, though not all choose to receive it. Note the emphasis (straight out of Romans and Colossians) on the ransom of all creation. Note also that the ransom was not paid to God (or to the devil, for that matter). Christ was our substitute in death, freeing us from death. It’s one sentence with a world of theology within it.