By Jackie Morfesis
Two events happened recently that speak to a wound in the Orthodox Church and in the hearts of many of the faithful. Simply, we are rightly proud that we are the Church of the Apostles. That we are the church embedded in the glorious history of the early disciples of Christ. However, we are not only the Early Church in history, but we are also the living and breathing Early Church in the very present moment.
And this is the rub. We do not always understand nor embrace this reality and truth. We must stop resting on the laurels of the past and move our faith as in the Jesus Prayer of our holy Orthodox monasteries from our head to our hearts. How many times must we revisit this wound before we, as in scripture, pour it with oil, bind it up with linen, and allow it to heal?
The first reminder of how even in speaking about someone who lived in the Byzantine era and later became an Orthodox monastic, we still stand on the ever shifting and shaky ground of disbelief and secularist concerns. I came across the article: published by the Medieval Institute of Notre Dame University: “Theodore Metochites’s “Lament on Human Life,” A Later Byzantine Perspective on the Anxiety of “Instability” by Nicole Paxton Sullo.
This article addresses the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the life and work of this Byzantine elite. The author looks to the past to specifically “find some solace and insight by exploring the ways in which humanity has previously coped with such feelings of uncertainty.” The irony is again that the article focuses on a Byzantine statesman who later became an Orthodox monastic. Yet, once again, through the lens of this article and in reflection upon the writings of Metochites’ himself (for we all fall short of God’s glory) – we see through the eyes of ever-changing fate, fortune, and good and bad luck. As Orthodox Christians, we do not rely on nor pray for “good fortune” nor “good luck.” We pray for God’s ever-lasting providence and His ever-present love and mercy.
We all suffer for to suffer is not only part of the human condition, but also a condition of our fallen nature. Suffering also serves to draw us nearer to the Lord and strengthen our faith walk. “For the Lord draws near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34.18).
The article aptly addresses the notion of “walls,” especially as unveiled and revealed during the pandemic. There are many walls in society that are erected not from a place of love and mercy, but from a place of inequity and a desire for separation. However, the “walls” that we should be concerned about are the walls around our own hearts that separate us not only from our Lord but from our neighbor. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:36).
We must break the walls around our hearts and the walls that hold our faith safely and securely within the confines of our houses of worship. Not only for me, but across our nation and world, faith followers saw firsthand that our houses of worship “lost their walls.” If we could not physically attend service, we were attending virtually and like the early Christians, the streets became our church and our ministry. We found new ways to serve God and His children.
Scripture abounds with imagery about breaking walls. Most notably, “Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down,” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4). Anyone who has experienced deliverance ministry knows very well how God will not only bring down walls and strongholds around our lives, but how He will then resurrect a wall of protection, a hedge of protection, that we will never again be harmed by the offenses once committed against our souls and bodies.
It is also worth mentioning when the ground shakes beneath our feet and fear and anxiety ensue, we must rely on Matthew 7: “Jesus said everyone who hears His words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. He said: “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:24-26). We do not wait until tragedy strikes to start building a firm foundation beneath our lives. We build the foundation beneath our feet every day in our faith walk with Christ.
The second reminder to me that we need to not only praise the fact that we are the Early Church and rest on the laurels of the past is when an Orthodox man became fiery that someone who was Orthodox would convert to another Christian denomination. Granted, I have no interest in arguing nor dissecting why someone would make this decision. We serve one God and God sent His Son for all of humanity, not only for Orthodox Christians, which should suffice. Though this man’s outrage may have very well been justified to him, what is questionable is that we have passion defending the history of our Church and are quick to mention the disciples of Christ without knowing and claiming our own discipleship to our Lord.
We honor both our faith, the Early Church, and the early disciples, when we stand in full authority that we too are a child of God, disciple of Christ, and ambassador in His kingdom, right here on this earth. Until then, we will, just as displayed in the scholarly article I recently read on the Byzantine statesman, Theodore Metochites, and in the reaction of an Orthodox Christian, keep our faith neatly and safely secured in history, within the confines of the walls of our churches, and in our intellect but not in our heart where it belongs.
If we choose to identify as an Orthodox Christian – then we need to be on fire for God. We need to hunger for His Word. Know His Word. Speak His Word. Serve His children. Be spiritual warriors. Be prayer warriors. Know our gifts and use the gifts that He gave us for His glory, not ours. And move in the world not only pontificating about the Early Church but indeed being the Early Church.
Thank you for this timely reminder, Jackie.
Panagiotis, you are very welcome.
Universal Audience of Ultimate Truth for Salvation
Ultimately all ethics depends on individual consideration, mandated in Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbor as yourself,” also found in Confucius Analects 12:2, Buddhist Udana Vagna 5:1 and Matthew 7:1. Consistency is the hobgoblin of limited minds as God and Truth are incomprehensible (Isaiah 40:25) and dogma and ideology are idolatry which detracts from evidence based realism. This is why the only answer can be a question. All creativity and science is divine (1 Cor 3:5-9). Jesus opposed traditionalist Sadducees and fundamentalist Pharisees but embraced syncretic Samaritans. Jesus was nothing if not anticlerical “Do as they say, not as they do” (Mt 23:1). Isn’t it odd the fundamentalists quote scripture by number as if lawyers? Meek means tranquil, not humble. Meekness is devoid of the passion of just war which divides and obfuscates. (Jer 17:9, Eph 2:3)
Hades (Sheol) was a holding place from which Jesus freed us, not a banishment. “gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn”. (Matthew 3:12 ) There is no purgatory, burning is into oblivion. “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ) Today! Saints intecede! If Jesus told us to be like the children (Matt 18:3) how could he believe them to have Original Sin? Mary CHOSE, by Free Will, to be sinless and surrendered herself to the service of God, as God long awaited. Luther said “Mary is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God” (24:107) and “There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know.” (10:268). God lived in the Temple (Exodus 36:8) so as Mary bore God she replaced the Temple which was destroyed when she rose exactly on Tisha B’Av, the original lent of eating only fish because fish survived Noah’s flood.
God is beyond time and reason, not being limited by the dimensions that govern our world (Isaiah 57:15). God’s perspective on time is far different from man (Psalm 102:12, 24-27). God sees all of eternity’s past and eternity’s future, hence free will and predestination do not contradict. Since He is the Alpha AND the Omega, there can be no historical progression which is satanic anthropolatry. Parable of Talents (Matt 25:14-30) confirms the glory of capitalism over slothful envy of socialism. Parable of Warehouse is about being obsessed with what we have so we stop living. Superachievers aren’t concerned with accumulation but with constant achievement, seeking to ever use their gifts to the fullest (Calvin Institutes 3.7.5). James 2:14-18,26 shows that while faith is the essential prerquisite, you cannot escape the need for works as well. Half the planet worships to the Psalms of David so stop renaming them as your own hymnals. A Republic of Judges was preferred by God over the Reign of Kings. (1 Sam 8:6-18) The clothing and responsibilities of the Cohens (chief priests) resembles the early bishops (overseers) and of rabbis with the pastors (presbyters, elders). Paul’s word for fornication meant prostitution instead. Paul’s word for masturbation meant malady. Paul’s word for sycophant meant slander. Magog meant Mongol. Jesus came to fulfill not repeal the Law (Matt 5:17) as Pharisees were condemned because they syncretized vindictive Roman natural law over Jubilee redemptory Deuteronomy law. Moneychangers were racist about Roman coins. Redemptory confession is from 2 Chron 7:14 and Resurrection from Dan 12:2, Ezek 37:12-17, and Isaiah 26:19. Forgiveness is found in Isaiah 33:24, Isaiah 55:7, Jeremiah 3:22, Numbers 14,15, Leviticus 6,19,2 Samuel 14:14. Jesus used the lunar calendar, so why do you use the calendar of those that slew him and stole his religion.