Living a Balanced Orthodox Life

dragonThis is a great video by Fr. John Moses. He presents how to live a balanced life between Hyperdoxy and Amorphodoxy (which is the extreme opposite of a Hyperdox). I liked how he refers to slaying the dragon in your own heart. Gave me a lot to think about spiritually this morning. The world, our marriages, our families, our jobs can all be our monasteries. Great food for thought; give this a watch. And arise everyday to slay the dragon!

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO!

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On Humility

I found this over at Orthodox Christian Life and it is utterly delightful, deeply convicting, and hopefully uplifting! Read and share! May St. John’s words bless you and guide; may his prayers intercede for you!

On Humility

By St. John of Kronstadt

When you are slandered, and therefore grow disturbed and sick at heart, it shows that pride is in you, and that it must be wounded and driven out by outward dishonour. Therefore do not be irritated by derision, and do not bear malice against those who hate you and slander you, but love them as your physicians, whom God has sent you to instruct you and to teach you humility, and pray to God for them. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.”[131] Say to yourself, “It is not me that they slander, but my evil passions; not me that they strike, but that viper which nestles in my heart, and smarts when anybody speaks ill of it. I will comfort myself with the thought that, perhaps, these good people will drive it from my heart by their caustic words, and my heart will then cease to ache. “Therefore, thank God for outward dishonour: those who endure dishonour here will not be subjected to it in the next world.” She hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”[132] “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us: for Thou also hast wrought all our works for us.”[133]

We must by every means humble our hearts and subdue our proud intellect, lest we should be like the contemporaries of the prophets, who looked on them only as sweet-voiced singers, and nothing more; they did not wish to fulfil their commands, they even despised, persecuted, beat, and killed them; lest we should be like those, by whom “no prophet is accepted in his own country.”[167] However insignificant and unimportant the man may be, honour in him the image of God, especially when he speaks with love, and, above all, when he speaks of and does the works of love.

When anyone blames the imperfections and faults of your works, humbly acknowledge the justice of such censure, and say: “Yes, it is true, I am sinful, most sinful, I do not do my work with due care and willingness. Pray for me brother” — (saying thus to him who blames you) — “that the Lord may teach and help me, by His grace, to fulfil the duties of my calling and the work of serving others with due care and willingness.” Should anyone find fault with your abilities, say: “I do not give myself such and not other abilities, they are the gift of God; therefore to find fault with my abilities is the same as to find fault with the Creator, Who gave them.” When your own relations blame you and expose your weaknesses in the hearing of others, say to them: “I am truly such as you describe me; but it is no advantage to you that I am really such, nor that you should defame me and mock at me: to mock at the infirmity or weakness of your brother is foolish and inhuman; it is better to hide such an infirmity, because my infirmity is your infirmity, my shame is your shame; for I am your member, and you, too, are not without infirmity; let us, therefore, pray that the Lord may heal our infirmities, for all of us are infected with the leprosy of iniquity.” “Charity,” it is said, “endureth all things,”[1420] and does not put weaknesses to shame.

When your heart inclines to evil, and the evil one begins to undermine your heart, so that it is completely removed from the rock of faith, then say to yourself inwardly: “I know of my spiritual poverty, my own nothingness without faith. I am so weak, that it is only by Christ’s name that I live and obtain peace, that I rejoice and my heart expands, whilst without Him I am spiritually dead, I am troubled, and my heart is oppressed; without the Lord’s Cross I should have been long since the victim of the most cruel distress and despair. Only Christ keeps me alive: and the Cross is my peace and my consolation.”

Consider yourself worse and more infirm than all others in spiritual respects, and despise, hate yourself for your sins, — this is pious and right — and be indulgent to others, respect and love them in spite of their sins, for God’s sake, Who commanded us to respect and love all men, and also because they are created after His image — although they bear the wounds of sin, and because they are members of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual poverty consists in esteeming oneself as though not existing, and God alone as existing; in honouring His words above everything in the world, and in not sparing anything to fulfil them, even one’s own life; in considering God’s Will in everything, both for ourselves and others, entirely renouncing our own will. The man who is poor in spirit desires and says with his whole heart: “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” It is as though he himself disappears; everywhere and in everything he wishes to see God — in himself and in others. “Let everything be Thine, not mine. “He wishes to contemplate God’s holiness in himself and in all — His kingdom, also His Will; also to see Him alone entirely filling the human heart, as it should be, because He alone is All-merciful and All-perfect, All-creating; whilst the enemy — the Devil and his instruments, and those who oppose God — are thieves in the kingdom of God, and adversaries of God. To him who is poor in spirit the whole world is as nothing. Everywhere he sees God alone giving life to everything, and ruling everything; for him there is no place without God, no moment without God; everywhere and at every minute he is with God, and as though with Him alone. He who is poor in spirit does not dare and does not think of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, to discover God’s mysteries, to philosophise on the highest; he believes in the single word of the Lord, the Life-giver, knowing that every word of His is truth, spirit, and eternal life; and in the words of His Church, ever instructed in all truth by the Holy Spirit, he believes as a child believes his father or mother, not requiring proofs, but perfectly relying upon them. He who is poor in spirit considers himself the very last and the most sinful of all, reckons himself worthy of being trampled under foot by everyone.

If you truly wish to be humble, then long to be in every way offended and persecuted, as a hungry man longs for food; for by the justice of God you are worthy of this.

If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.

What is a pure heart? It is meek, humble, guileless, simple, trusting, true, unsuspicious, gentle, good, not covetous, not envious, not adulterous.

All you who draw near to serve God in prayer, learn to be like Him, meek, humble, and true of heart; do not let there be any deceitfulness or duplicity nor coldness in your soul.

If, during service, your brother does anything irregularly, or somewhat negligently, do not become irritated, either inwardly or outwardly with him, but be generously indulgent to his fault, remembering that during your life you yourself commit many, many faults, that you yourself are a man with all infirmities, that God is long-suffering and most merciful, and that he forgives you and all of us our iniquities an innumerable multitude of times. Remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” These words should always remind us that we ourselves at all times are great trespassers, great sinners before God, and that, remembering this, we should be humble in the depths of our hearts, and not be very severe to the faults of our brethren, weak like ourselves; that as we do not judge ourselves severely, we must not judge others severely, for our brethren are — our members, like ourselves. Irritability of temper proceeds from want of self-knowledge, from pride, and also from the fact that we do not consider the great corruption of our nature, and know but little the meek and humble Jesus.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple human souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them.

But at the same time, the Lord said: “Be harmless as doves;” that is, simple and guileless. Borrow from the serpent his wisdom only, but let your heart remain simple, pure, and uncorrupt. Be meek and humble as I am; do not give yourself up to wrath and irritability, for “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God;”[303] keep yourself pure from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit.

When a man is about to pray, he must humble his proud heart, must cast away earthly vanity from it, and must bring into it living and undoubting faith.

Why does the Lord allow people to be poor? For the same reason, amongst others, that He does not make you righteous all at once according to your wish. God might have made all men well off, even rich; but then a great forgetfulness of God would have arisen, and pride, envy, and so forth, would have increased. And you would have thought too highly of yourself had the Lord made you soon righteous. But as sin humbles you, showing you your great infirmity, impurity, and constant need of God and His grace, so likewise the poor man is humbled by poverty and his need of other people. If the poor were to be enriched, many of them would forget God and their benefactors, would ruin their souls in the luxury of this world. So destructive are riches, and so do they blind the spiritual vision! They make the heart gross and ungrateful!

Be as kind, meek, humble, and simple as possible in your intercourse with all, considering yourself not hypocritically inferior to all in respect to your spiritual condition; that is, more sinful and weaker than all. Say to yourself, “Of all sinners I am the first.” From pride proceeds self-sufficiency, coldness, and insincerity in our behaviour to our inferiors, or to those from whom we do not expect to obtain any advantage.

Our self-love and pride manifest themselves especially in impatience and irritability when some of us cannot bear the slightest unpleasantness intentionally, or even unintentionally, caused us by others; or obstacles lawfully or unlawfully, intentionally or unintentionally, opposed to us by men, or caused by the objects surrounding us. Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honour and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us; whilst, alas! we ourselves are very slow to faith and to every good work — slow to please the one Master of all. Christian! you must absolutely be humble, meek, and long-suffering, remembering that you are clay, dust, nothingness; that you are impure; that everything good that you have is from God; that your life, your breath and everything you possess are God’s gifts; that for your sins of disobedience and intemperance you ought now to redeem your future blessedness in Paradise by the long-suffering which is indispensable in this world of imperfections and innumerable transgressions of the fallen men living together with us, and forming the numerous members of the one sin-sullied human race.” Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”[453] He who is impatient and irritable does not know himself and the human race, and is unworthy of the name of Christian. In saying this, I pronounce judgment against myself, for I am the first of those who are afflicted with impatience and irritability.

Receive everyone who comes to you, especially with a spiritual purpose, with a kind and cheerful aspect, although he or she may be a beggar, and humble yourself inwardly before everybody, counting yourself lower than he or she, for you are placed by Christ Himself to be the servant of all, and all are His members, although like you they bear the wounds of sin.

In order that men should esteem and love each other, should not be proud, should not be arrogant to each other, the most wise Lord has given to different men different natural and beneficial advantages, so that they may have need of each other. In this manner each one of us must involuntarily acknowledge this or that infirmity and humble himself before God and men.

Do not be despondent and do not fall into despair when you feel within your soul the deadly breath and ferment of malice and evil, impatience and blasphemy, or any weakness from impure thoughts; but fight against them unremittingly and endure valiantly, calling with all your heart upon the Lord Jesus — the Conqueror of hell. Humble yourself deeply, deeply, acknowledging yourself from the depths of your soul as the first of sinners, unworthy of human fellowship, and the Lord, seeing your humility and your struggle, will help you. Call also to your help the speedy Mediatrix, the Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, saying: ” Heal, most pure Lady, the many painful wounds of my soul, and strike the enemies constantly fighting against me.”[481]

Through masterful, or rather through mercenary pride and incomprehensible wickedness, we often do not deign to speak to those whom we feed and support, often behaving inimically to them, instead of rather humbling ourselves before them as their servants, in accordance with the words of the Lord. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,”[490] so as to redouble our recompense of the Lord by sincerely and unfeignedly serving Him in the person of the least of His brethren. O, meek and humble-hearted Creator, Giver of Life, Redeemer, our Nourisher, and Preserver — Lord Jesus! teach us love, meekness, and humility through Thy Holy Spirit, and strengthen us in those virtues which are most pleasing to Thee, so that Thy rich gifts may not make our hearts proud, so that we may not deem that it is we ourselves who feed, provide, and support anyone. Thou art the universal Nourisher. Thou feedest, providest, supportest, and preservest all; under the wings of Thy mercy, bounty, and loving kindness all are provided for and are given rest — not under ours, for we ourselves have need of being covered with the shadow of Thy wings at every moment of our life. Our eyes are fixed upon Thee, our God, as “the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us.”[491] Amen.

If Christ is in you through the frequent communion of the Holy Sacrament, then be yourself wholly like unto Christ: meek, humble, long-suffering, full of love, without attachment to earthly things, meditating upon heavenly ones, obedient, reasonable. Have His spirit unfailingly within you. Do not be proud, impatient, partial to earthly things, avaricious, and covetous.

It is unpleasant for a proud man when it is required of him to be humble to others; for an envious man when it is required of him to wish his enemies well…

“Every valley” and dale “shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[560] The valley and dale are humble hearts. The mountain and hill shall be brought low — that is, proud men who think highly of themselves, and despise the lowly and humble. So it is: the Lord unceasingly acts through the spirit of righteousness and mercy in the hearts of men, humbling the proud by various worldly circumstances — by maladies, losses, humiliations from other people, and exalting the humble.

Strive by every means constantly to rejoice the Heavenly Father by your life; that is, by your meekness, humility, gentleness, obedience, abstinence, right judgment, love of peace, patience, mercy, sincere friendship with worthy people, kindness to everybody, cordial hospitality, universal benevolence, accuracy in business, simplicity of heart and character, and by the purity of all your thoughts. Teach and strengthen us, O God, to live in accordance with Thy Will, for Thou art our Father, and we are Thy children, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

But, in accordance with Christian love, you must be indulgent in every possible way to the faults of your neighbour, you must cure him of his wickedness, of his spiritual infirmity (for every coldness, every passion is an infirmity) by love, kindness, meekness, humility, as you yourself would wish to receive from others, when you suffer from a similar infirmity. For who is not subject to infirmity? Whom does the most evil enemy spare? Lord! destroy all the snares of the enemy in us.

Should thoughts of self-praise, of self-satisfaction, occur to you, say: “I myself am nothing; all that is good in me is accomplished by the grace of God.” “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”[675] “Without Me ye can do nothing.”[676] Should the thought of despising any of your neighbours, or of your family occur to you, say: “The entire man is the beautiful work of God’s hands; everything in him is very well ordered.” For “it was very good.”[677]

To love God with all your heart means — to love with all your soul meekness, humility, purity and chastity, wisdom, truth, mercy, obedience, for the sake of God, and never to act contrarily to these virtues; that is, not to become proud, irritated, angry against anyone; not to commit adultery even in the heart; not to violate chastity, either by look, thought, or gesture; to avoid every inconsiderate, needless word and deed; to shun every iniquity; to hate avarice and covetousness; to flee from self-will and disobedience.

The Nativity of Christ. — He has come upon earth, He Who in the beginning created us from earth and breathed His Divine breath into us; He has come Who ” giveth to all life, and breath, and all things”[996]; He has come, He Who by a single word called all things visible and invisible from non-existence into existence, Who by a word called into being birds, fishes, quadrupeds, insects, and all creatures, existing under His almighty providence and care; He has come, He Whom the innumerable hosts of Angels continually serve with fear and joy. And in what humility has He come! He is born of a poor Virgin, in a cave, wrapped in poor swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Riches, honours, glory of this world! fall down, fall down in humility, tearful devotion, and deep gratitude before the Saviour of men, and share your riches with the poor and needy. Do not pride yourselves on your visionary, fleeting distinctions, for true distinction can only be found in virtue… learn here, before the manger, your vanity. Thus, let us all humble ourselves; let us all fall down in the dust before the boundless humility and exhaustion of the Sovereign of all, of God, Who has come to heal our infirmities, to save us from pride, vanity, corruption, and every sinful impurity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s purpose for us is to drive away from our hearts falsehood (flattery), pride, and diabolical malice, and to implant in the place of these His truth, love, meekness, and humility.

When anyone, out of kindness, praises you to others, and they transmit these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due to you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who thus spoke of you, and pray to God for him, that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.

If you meet with inattention or even disdain from strangers, do not be hurt or take offence at it, but say to yourself: “I am worthy of this. Glory to Thee, my Lord, that Thou hast granted unto me, an unworthy one, to receive dishonour from men like unto myself!” On your part always show love to all, especially to your relations, sincerely, zealously, heartily, loudly; not coldly and languidly, hypocritically, reluctantly, as if in a whisper.

A deep feeling of spiritual poverty, a lamentation at the existence of evil, a thirst after salvation, are to be found in every straightforward and humble soul.

If you wish to be humble, consider yourself worthy of all malice and hatred on the part of others, and of every calumny. Do not grow irritated, and do not nourish malice against those who bear malice against you, slander you, or falsely blame you. Say: “Holy Father, Thy will be done! “Remember the words of the Lord: ” The servant is not greater than his Lord; if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”[1396] If the world hated Him, the Most-righteous, the Most-merciful, then why should it be wonderful if other people hate you, a sinful and evil man?

Prayer is the constant feeling of our own spiritual poverty and infirmity, the contemplation in ourselves, in others, and in nature of the works of the great wisdom, mercy, and almighty power of God; prayer is — a continually grateful frame of mind.

Footnotes
[131] St. Matthew v. 44.
[132] Isaiah xl. 2.
[133] Isaiah xxvi. 12.
[167] St. Luke iv. 24.
[303] James i. 20.
[453] Galatians vi. 2.
[481] Canon to the Guardian Angel.
[490] St. Matthew xx. 26.
[491] Psalm cxxiii. 2.
[560] St. Luke iii. 5, 6.
[676] St. John xv. 5.
[677] Genesis i. 31.
[996] Acts xvii. 25.
[1396] St. John xiii. 16; xv. 18.
[1420] 1 Corinthians xiii. 7.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.

55 Maxims for Christian Living

55 Maxims for Christian Livingfr.thomas_hopko
by Fr. Thomas Hopko

1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheefull.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology

gneI was with my wife this morning attending to some matters when I came across my friend’s, Father Dale Brown, Facebook status in regards to his reading “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” by N.T. Wright. His status caught me attention: 

The problem with N.T. Wright’s new book is that he throws out about 1000 different minute things that make you wish that you had a whole book on that bit as well and he spends only a paragraph or two on it. Like how Genesis 1 could have been understood in the ANE world as the construction of a ‘temple.’ How the Temple in Jerusalem was seen as the beginning of that restoration, for in Jewish theology the Temple was a microcosm of all Creation. Consequently, in Christ the Temple, his body, resurrection and those constituted by us through baptism is the realization of the renewed Creation which was lost in the garden but restored when Christ was resurrected in the Garden tomb.”

This caught my attention for many reasons. I’m a fan of N.T. Wright. I’m a theology nerd. I’m Eastern Orthodox. This view held by Wright in regards to Genesis 1 is in fact a deeply Orthodox belief as well! Hence my browsing the status and its comments. While going through the comments someone recommend John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate“. The book looks amazing, and is already on my wish list. I may in fact get a used copy tonight! We’ll see, but I digress. 

I found a blog online with some thoughts directly from the book that I wish to share here today. Many Orthodox theologians would be or are critical of the historical methods of interpretation, but in regards to Genesis I think it is both a serious mistake to disregard the cultural context as well as contradictory to the Fathers, who wouldn’t take issue with it. This isn’t to say that reading in through the lens of Christ is wrong either. It certainly isn’t! In fact, I think both understandings bring Genesis to a brighter, fuller picture. What Father Dale says above hints at that as well. This historical reading of Genesis doesn’t neglect a theological reading of Genesis by any means, so far as I can tell with what I have read in the book and heard from Kurt Willems in his review of Walton’s book

What stands out to me about Walton’s right on reading is that it gets to the heart of what Father Alexander Schmemann writes about in “For the Life of the World“. Father Alexander, as well as the Orthodox, believe that man was created primarily as priest. I believe in Walton’s reading of Genesis 1 in regards to “Cosmic Temple” that it blends perfectly with the Orthodox understanding of man as priest. The Orthodox would agree with the cosmic temple notions, but that also solidifies our position, as well as Fr. Alex’s, that man’s true fall was “living non-eucharistic lives in a non-eucharistic world”. Meaning if God created the cosmos to be His temple then He created man primarily as priests. And as a priest, he is to take that which God has created and offer it back to God in thanksgiving to God.

I believe the themes run beautifully together here! And it carries through the entire Scripture and is embedded even in St. Paul and the New Testament’s theology, especially their soteriology. I can’t speak to all the book being in agreement with the Orthodox faith having not read it all, but what I have read and heard so far there is a lot of agreement! 

So without further comment enjoy the short excepts from Walton’s book. Hope it makes ya think! 

 

Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

By John H. Walton
Professor of Old Testament
Wheaton College
March 2010

 

The Bible was written for everyone, but specifically to Israel. As a result we have to read all biblical texts, including (and maybe especially) Genesis 1 in its cultural context—as a text that is likely to have a lot more in common with ancient literature than with modern science. This does not result in claims of borrowing or suggestions that Genesis should also be read as “mythology” (however defined), but that ancient perspectives on the world and its origins need to be understood.

Ancient Cosmology is Function-oriented

In the ancient world and in the Bible, something existed not when it had physical properties, but when it had been separated from other things, given a name and a role within an ordered system. This is a functional ontology rather than a material ontology. In this view, when something does not exist, it is lacking role, not lacking matter. Consequently, to create something (cause it to exist) means to give it a function, not material properties.

“Create” (Hebrew Bara’ ) Concerns Functions

The Hebrew word translated “create” should be understood within a functional ontology—i.e., it means to assign a role or function. This is evident through a word study of the usage of the biblical term itself where the direct object of the verb is always a functional entity not a material object. Theologians of the past have concluded that since materials were never mentioned that it must mean manufacture of objects out of nothing. Alternatively, and preferably, it does not mention materials because it does not refer to manufacturing. Bara’ deals with functional origins, not material origins.

Beginning State in Genesis 1 is Non-functional

In Genesis 1:2 the “before” picture, as throughout the ancient Near East, is portrayed in non-functional, non-productive terms (tohu and bohu) in which matter already exists. If this were an account of material origins, it would start with no matter. As an account of functional origins, it starts with no functions.

Days 1-3 in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

In the ancient world, light was not an object, and day 1 does not recount the manufacture of an object. Verses 4-5 do not make sense unless we understand “light” as referring to “a period of light.” If that is what it means in vv. 4-5, then it logically must mean the same in v.3. Thus on day 1 God created a period of light to alternate with a period of darkness, i.e., God created time—a function. On day two, God created weather (described in accordance with their cosmic geography) and on day three he created fecundity/fertility/agriculture. These three functions are referred to again in Gen. 8:22 and are the principle functions that figure in ancient Near Eastern cosmological texts.

Days 4-6 in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Days 4-6 involve installing the functionaries that will operate within the spheres of the three functions described in days 1-3. The description continues to be functional (notice on day 4: signs, festivals, days and years—all functional in relation to people). This incidentally solves the age old problem regarding how “light” can be created on day 1 and the sun not until day four. The contradiction only exists if this is an account of material origins. In a functional perspective, time is much more significant than the sun; the former is a function, the latter simply a functionary. Everything is designated “good” indicating that it functions properly in the system (notice later, it is NOT good for man to be alone: functional). The description of people is also in functional terms from the image of God through the blessing. And God created (bara’ ) them MALE AND FEMALE—functional categories.

Divine Rest is in a Temple

In the ancient world, as soon as “rest” is mentioned everyone would have known exactly what sort of text this was: gods rest in temples and temples are built so that gods can rest in them. Rest is not a term of disengagement but a term of engagement, i.e., everything is in place now so the deity can take up his place at the helm in the control room of the cosmos and begin operations. Rest throughout the Bible indicates that everything is stable and secure and life and the cosmos may proceed as they were intended.

The Cosmos Is a Temple

In the ancient world and in the Bible, the cosmos was understood to be a gigantic temple (Isa. 66:1), and temples were designed to be a micro-cosmos (see description of the Garden of Eden and the Temple vision of Ezekiel; there is symbolism in the tabernacle/temple furniture and décor). Genesis 1 is portraying cosmic origins in terms that would be recognized as a temple building account.

The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

If cosmic origins are described here in functional terms and follow the pattern of temple building texts, then the point is made that the cosmic temple is here being made functional. When a temple was built, it became functional not when all of the physical work had been done (building, furniture, priests’ garments) but in an inauguration ceremony that in a variety of texts throughout the ancient world lasted seven days. During those seven days, the functions of the temple were identified, the functionaries installed, the priests commissioned and most importantly that which represented the deity was brought into the center of the sacred space where he took up his rest. Then the temple was functional—it existed. If this is the paradigm in Genesis 1, then the seven days can easily be understood as regular days and the account can be understood as an inauguration of the cosmic temple that initiates the functions by which it operates.

The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins

If the seven days refer to the seven days of cosmic temple inauguration, days that concern origins of functions not material, then the seven days and Genesis 1 as a whole have nothing to contribute to the discussion of the age of the earth. This is not to say that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not the story of material origins.

“Functional Cosmic Temple” Offers Face Value Exegesis

The hermeneutical commitment to read the text at face value elevates this interpretation since it makes an attempt to understand the text as the author and audience would have understood it. It does not reduce the text to a symbolic, figurative, theological or literary reading, as is often done in the attempt to correlate the text to modern science. Concordism applies scientific meanings to words and phrases in the text that are modern—that the ancient readers would never have had. Day-age seeks to make room for an old earth. Both of these approaches struggle because they are still trying to get Genesis to operate as an account of material origins for an audience that has a material ontology and cannot think in any other way.

Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough

The Framework Hypothesis recognizes a literary structuring that is evident in the text, and the theory here proposed does not deny it. But the theory here goes much further than the framework hypothesis to suggest that our understanding need not be limited to simply a literary structuring. The functions of days 1-3 correlate to the functionaries of days 4-6. Someone who has embraced the Framework Hypothesis would have no problem going the next step and embracing this functional perspective. Many YEC and OEC proponents have built their theories assuming that Genesis 1 is an account of material origins.

The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature

The principle factor that differentiates a biblical view of origins from modern scientific view of origins is that the biblical view is characterized by a pervasive teleology: God is the one responsible for creation in every respect. He has a purpose and a goal as he creates with intentionality. The mechanisms that he used to bring the cosmos into material existence are of little consequence as long as they are seen as the tools in his hands. The teleology is evident in and supported by the functional orientation.

God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer Are Less Different Than We Have Thought

Modern Christianity, trying to survive in a material and naturalistic world, has often adopted a practical deism. When origins are seen only in material terms, creation is a job that is carried out and completed in the distant past and consequently, describing God as Creator becomes only a historical statement characterized by almost total discontinuity with the present. At the other end of the spectrum, process theology runs the risk of getting bogged down in a philosophical and theological morass by positing such a high level of continuity that there is no beginning or end to the narrative of the cosmos. The view presented here sees enough discontinuity that there was a beginning and will be an end, but retains a much stronger sense of continuity through the understanding that as God initially set up the functional cosmos, he is still at the helm and is actively engaged in maintaining order against the threat of disorder (whether the disorder is cosmic, environmental, or human).

Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose

Since the proposed model is thoroughly teleological, God’s involvement is absolute and pervasive since his role as Creator is ongoing. Consequently every aspect of creation is the result of intelligent design whether it is irreducibly complex or not, and whether it can be explained in terms of a recognizable process of cause and effect or not. Natural selection could never be viewed as entirely natural, and random mutation is not random. ID protagonists may be able to identify areas where the inadequacies of the reigning paradigm are more clear than others and offer illustrations where no current explanations suffice, but these examples should merely be seen as existing on a spectrum. Perhaps such observations may help identify continuing weaknesses in the reigning Neo-Darwinian paradigm but Intelligent Design protagonists do not at present have an alternative description of material origins to offer.

Scientific Explanations of Origins Can Be Viewed in Light of Purpose, and If So, Are Unobjectionable

If the proposed theory is on target, Genesis 1 does not offer a descriptive model for material origins. In the absence of such a model, Christians would be free to believe whatever descriptive model for origins makes the most sense. The major limitation is that any view eventually has to give God full control of the mechanisms if it claims to be biblical. A biblical view of God’s role as Creator in the world does not require a mutually exclusive dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural” though the reigning paradigms are built on that dichotomy. In the ancient world (in a functional ontology), the dichotomy was static vs. dynamic. Some aspects of the cosmos were viewed as static and others dynamic, and deity was active (determinatively so) in that which was dynamic. Consequently, it does not matter that there may be perfectly acceptable and definable empirical descriptions and explanations for observed phenomena and aspects of origins. Such would not exclude divine activity because without the natural/supernatural dichotomy, divine activity is not ruled out by empirical explanation. We can affirm with the Psalmist that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb” without denying the premises of embryology. Likewise, those aspects of evolutionary mechanisms that hold up under scrutiny could be theoretically adopted as God’s mechanisms.

What scientific ideas or conclusions is the believer who wants to take the Genesis account seriously obliged to reject? Is there science that is unacceptable in biblical/theological terms? Or is it only the metaphysical implications of some scientists? Is it the Genesis account that serious scientists are compelled to reject? Or only the implications of some traditional interpretations? I propose that it is our misguided interpretations that have brought about a conflict that does not in fact exist.

Resulting Theology in this View of Genesis 1 Is Stronger Not Weaker

The resulting theology, beyond what has been mentioned above, allows a more focused dialogue with our contemporary world. The theology behind a teleological, functionally-oriented cosmological ontology argues precisely the point that must be argued. Evolutionary mechanisms are not the problem; metaphysical naturalism is.

Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose

While it is true that science cannot help but have metaphysical underpinnings, we can teach empirical science without presuming to dictate metaphysical conclusions. Public education should be free to teach empirical methods without comment on teleology or dysteleology. If Intelligent Design offers legitimate critique of some aspects of the reigning empirical paradigm, it ought to be taken into account at that level. But it should not be used to introduce teleological metaphysics into the science classroom any more than evolutionary theory should be used to introduce dysteleological metaphysics or metaphysical naturalism. Neither is acceptable or necessary in the science classroom focused on empirical methods. But somewhere students should be taught about metaphysical systems and the alternatives that are out there, and how a variety of metaphysical systems could integrate with science. This is not an issue of faith, or of a particular religion, or of biblical teaching; it is simply an issue of a well-rounded education.

Conclusion

Public education should be interested in teaching evolution with all of its warts and problems, and science should be committed to refining and even overhauling or overthrowing any reigning paradigms that are showing weaknesses. This is the nature of scientific inquiry. Having said that, whatever aspects of evolution that continue to provide the best explanation for what we observe should not be objectionable for Christians. Being believers in the Bible does not require us to reject the findings of biological evolution, though neither does it give us reason to promote biological evolution. Biological evolution is not the enemy of the Bible and theology: it is superfluous to the Bible and theology.

 

The Icon Corner: A Guide to Setting Up Your Own

myiconsA few days ago I shared with you “The Beautiful Place: How to Make Your Own Icons“, and I hope it was a delight for those who sought to make their own in an affordable way. Today I want to share this video of how to proceed with setting up your own icon corner, or Beautiful Place. There aren’t any set rules per se, but there are some ways to arrange certain icons that should be followed. This is not meant to be a strict, legalistic, “you-gotta-do-it-this-way” kind of video! Please don’t take it that way! I made this video a few months ago for a friend interested in how to set up his own icon corner. I recommend some books to check out on iconography and walk through how I have set up our own icon corner.

A fewthings I’m convicted about in regards to having a home altar/icon corner/Beautiful Place:

  1. It should be done so that the icons are the main focus of a room or the first thing guests see in your home. It is done so that our lives revolve around God and prayer.
  2. It should be done as beautifully as possible. You’ll notice in my video how symmetrical my icons are. I have O.C.D. so I’m very particular about certain things like that, but one should seek to arrange the icons in a beautiful manner and not have them all disorganized. The altar is to be a place of order not chaos, so to focus in prayer. You can get creative too. You’ll see in my picture in the blog here that I have arragned the economy of salvation inself into my Beautiful Place. Down the middle I have a icon of the Nativity, then the Crucifixion, then the Resurrection, and finally the Ascension (As an aside, the video will not show this since it is older). I liked the beautiful theological symbolism of this, so I went with it. Be creative!
  3. I’m horrible at this, but the home altar should not be ignored. I’m forgetful of prayer and lazy, so I repent of that, but I make an effort not to neglect my altar. This also means we shouldn’t walk on by the icons without crossing ourselves. We should be aware of the icon corner and of the Saints, Theotokos, and Christ who are with us daily. Stop and cross yourself in front of the icons. They are holy. This space is holy. Treat it as such.

Outside of that I hope this video here will help you in setting up your own Beautiful Place. May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Messiah, bless you and keep you.

Shalom.

The Beautiful Place: How to Make Your Own Icons

iconsIf you are Orthodox and poor, or perhaps not even Orthodox, but someone appreciative of icons, then this video post is for you. If you aren’t familiar with icons I recommend reading my short blog on why Orthodox Christians use them. Nonetheless, the Orthodox family has what we call “The Beautiful Place” in their home. This can be a corner or a wall facing east towards Jerusalem, but it is to be the main focus point of the home once someone enters it. I have come to see the Beautiful Place as the family’s own altar. Of course it is not the same type of altar as in the sanctuary at a parish that the priest uses, but the Orthodox family is the domestic Church. Thus the Beautiful Place is in many ways the husband’s/father’s altar where he is to guide his family spiritual and to present their prayers before God.

Over at the Orthodox Christian Information Center, they have some great advice on icon corners:

The first thing that should be done when an Orthodox Christian family moves into a new apartment or house is to determine which eastern wall or corner can be turned into the icon corner. This should not be a non-conspicuous place where the icons will be hidden from people’s eyes, rather it should be a very prominent spot which all can see. The icon corner should have icons of Christ and the Theotokos as well as icons of the saints for whom the family has particular devotion. Many times an Orthodox family chooses a particular saint to whom they wish to dedicate their family church, and place it under his or her protection. The icons in the icon corner of a family church dedicated to a saint will, of course, have an icon of the saint together with those of Christ and the Theotokos.

The icon corner will either have a small table or a shelf upon which may be placed prayer books, a hand censer, a bottle of holy water, a blessing-cross, the candles that the husband and wife held at their wedding, holy oil, palm branches and sometimes other religious objects. In front of the icons an oil lamp should perpetually burn. Some families burn wax votive candles before the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.”

I hope that this video will guide you on how to make your own icons in a very affordable way. I know that icons are very expensive and cost a lot of money, but there are ways to make icons for private use (NOTE: these are not for sale or re-sale; icons are often made by artists and that is how they make money. I don’t encourage selling them)! This is an easy, affordable way to make a home altar for your family to worship and prayer together.

The link to the video can be found here. Facebook states that anyone with or without Facebook should be able to view the video. Please comment and let me know if you have trouble with it.

Blessings.

Cosmic Sky Dad

godI had a friend tell me this week that he just can’t wrap his mind around the idea of a “Cosmic Sky Dad” and what not. He said, “It’s hard for me to grasp a Big Cosmic Sky Dad..even if He is a loving Cosmic Sky Dad that one day created everything so that it would worship or be in union with Him or Her just seems really bizarre.”

I did explain to my good friend, who is a very dear friend with sincere intentions and honest questions, that that is a deeply Secular view of God and in all honesty a caricature of God and of the Christian understanding of God. Often we all approach the subject of theology proper (the doctrine of God) with clouded lens. Myself included. We have horribly informed presuppositions about God do we not? Scripture, Tradition, and the Church has never nor would they ever speak of God as being some sort of Cosmic Sky Dad.

I don’t know of any religious faith, outside of Secularism, nor my own especial, that would say this of God.

It’s like the story a friend told me of a 7 year old girl asking her atheist father about God, to which he responds, “Some people believe there’s an invisible person in the sky that knows everything and sometimes grants wishes if they ask him.” Of course this particular 7 year old was full of wisdom and skeptical because no one really believes that.

That is not at all what any serious Christian believes, nor any serious theist, would believe of God. That is more what Secularism believes in this country. Secularism would very easily believe in said Cosmic Sky Dad, but I digress.

My friend continued the dialogue this morning after reading my responses. He asked, “If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?” He went on, “Theology, to me seems to be answers to questions about a religion, a sort of fence or moat around a castle.”

I believe my friend posted a great question! One that made me think! How do we talk about God? What do we mean when we talk about Him? Who is He? What is He?

How would you answer that question. This is my response, but I have of course edited it out to be a little more detailed for the purpose of the blog, but it is the best I could do:

Theology is the study of God. That is what the Greek root words mean. Theology, in general, but Christianity especially, just doesn’t answer a question about a religion. A religion is a set of beliefs about metaphysics, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, so on and forth. I get the feeling you may be seeing it as most Americans are, not saying you are, just a suspicion, that you are having a Secular view of it that states “religion deals with the big man in the sky per the study of theology” but this is flawed especially in regards to the deeply incarnational theology of Christianity in general, but Orthodoxy especially.

If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God? (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?”

For anyone asking along with my friend this is where some deep engagement with Orthodoxy in the form of study and participation would deeply do one well. According to what I have come across in my short time of being Orthodox, the Church Fathers speak of God as person [Disclaimer: not to be confused with theistic personalism]. Not person how we are person, but person in His existence. Of course He is the Supreme Being. He is what He is. On our icons of Christ you will see Hebrew letters or sometimes Greek, one on the left, top of his head, and on the right. that mean, “I am” essentially. David Hart writes:

To speak of ‘God’ properly … is to speak of the one infinite ground of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is neither some particular thing posed over against the created universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a being, at least not in the way that a tree, a clock, or a god is; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are. He is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. He may be said to be ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of finite things, but also may be called ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity underlying all things.”

He is!

That is God in Christianity. He is Reality itself. That which is Real. the Numinous, the Mystery.

Just this morning I discovered some blogs by a priest friend that he had just written. They are reviewing David Hart’s (Orthodox philosopher) book “The Experience of God“. In it Hart says, “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek, but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10). What follows is an excerpt from Fr. Al’s writing, but he is quoting Hart’s book here as well:

God is ‘the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things’ (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by ‘being’ we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by ‘being’ we wish to signify God as ‘the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation’ (p. 30).

The true and living God must therefore be clearly distinguished from the various gods with whom humanity has always dealt throughout history. The gods, if any exist, do not transcend nature; they belong to nature. ‘They exist in space and time,’ explains Hart, ‘each of them is a distinct being rather than “being itself,” and it is they who are dependent upon the universe for their existence rather than the reverse. Of such gods there may be an endless diversity, while of God there can be only one. Or, better, God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one’ (p. 31).”

So I hope that is at least a beginners look at personhood, the Person of God, theology proper. It really isn’t even a beginner’s look, but a humble attempt to sincerely answer my friend’s questions. I’m not a theologian, pastor, nor a priest. I highly recommend one take my blog at face value and look further at better, brighter sources. Christianity created the concept of personhood. God is person! Again, this is where 3 things need to occur if you’re reading this and you have the same questions and concerns my friend does:

  1. Engagement with Orthodox theology per study and reading with a teacher if possible,
  2. Engagment with Orthodox worship per participation,
  3. Engagement with an Orthodox priest for I am not qualified to answer many of these questions and can only do so limited by my own ignorance. I’d wish better for you than my wimpy little answers and regurgitation of others smartness.

I’d really like to help anyone with these questions the best I can though, so I hope this does. I’d recommend also checking out Father Stephen’s blog on this matter of speaking about God.

I hope to further this notion of theology proper in another blog as sort of a review of Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God,” which I just finished reading. In the book, Dr. Gorman makes the case that Philippians 2:6-11 is St. Paul’s master story and a revolutionary theology proper. In these verses we can see a grand story and an even grander theology proper. I will not elaborate on that any further, but merely leave you with these Scriptures as an answer to my friend’s question and something for you to ponder until another day. If you have questions about who God is and what He is please read these and contemplate upon them. This is Dr. Gorman’s translation of Phil. 2:6-11:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May God bless us all in our journey to find Him and know Him. May we be guided always by the Light of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the His truth and love.

Blessings.