Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rebuilding The Ruins!

Too often it comes as a shock to westerners that historic Christianity is a mystical religion that engages the whole person in action. Most western Christians today know a great deal about having a daily bible study and prayer time, which usually consists of reading though a book or books of the bible, followed by some extemporaneous prayers, which usually leads to general feeling of well-being after wards. For many, going beyond that approaches the two great evils: "superstition" and "works righteousness". If we insert fasting, liturgical prayers, times of silence, kneeling, genufleting, lectio divina, incense, candles, prayer ropes, and prayers of the heart into the disciplines the faith, and we the average western Christian sees another religion; a religion that seems to be overly mystical and too works focused. But, why and how did these things which have been common practices for so long become so foreign? There is a trajectory within western Christianity that has made this loss of these ancient Christian disciplines possible.

It began with the victory of Augustinian Neo-Platonism, in the 5th century. The consequence of this has left today’s Christianity thinking that the goal of a person life is to make it into heaven, rather than to become united to God in body & soul now and after this life. The long term consequence of this is a two story universe, God up stairs, & us downstairs, and our task should we choose to accept it, is to make it upstairs.

This distortion continued in the 10th & 11th century by the additions of St Anselm. By way of his orientation towards legal satisfaction, what we now have is a Christianity that is most of all concerned with how man gets off the hook for sin on light of its insult of God’s honor. Christianity lost its focus on why and how God restores humanity to our original design as Christ’s icon on earth.

Move forward to the 12th & 13th century and we find the influences of St Aquinas. His influence made Christianity something that must be explainable and definable at every point, in other words, scholastic. For many Christians today, there is no higher form of Christianity than intellectual Christianity. This is a faith that lives in the mind.

Move forward again to the protestant reformation of the 16th century, and there the west received the same authority that prior to it belonged to bishops and popes. Every individual became the protector of the faith, with the authority to keep, shed, or redesign the articles of faith as each saw fit according to their understanding of the bible.

Go forward again to the 18th century and find the great awakening; this movement in the Americas and England made Christianity something that must be the result of a personal crisis and catharsis. As a result, one must have had a moment that one can point to when they had their God experience, once having that experience of God no more was needed.

Couple this with the need to feel moral and aligned to God, the social Victorian moralism made its way into Christianity. This moralism shaped the faith into more than just something in the mind and a one time experience. However, the problem here is that there was a focus on a few select sins such as sexual concupiscence, drunkenness, and participation in the things enjoyed by the general culture.

To sum this all up; what we have in the west today is a faith that is dualistic, legal, intellectual, individualistic, based on a one time experience, and sustained by a biased moralism that focuses on avoiding a few specific sins. In short, the trajectory of the western faith has left us with a faith that has almost no relationship to the faith of the early church, and especially its mystical practices of transformation into Christlikeness.

Having exposed these foreign viruses that have attached themselves to the faith, we can see their emptiness, and our need to return to a faith that actually creates real union with God here and now. It is this need that gives the mystical historic spiritual disciplines their place of priority in the Christian’s life. My hope is that the exposure of the above along with the recovery of this ancient practice can help to rebuild authentic Christianity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Prayer Before Reading Scripture

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Journey to Orthodoxy

Before discovering Christian Orthodoxy there was always a rather large problem that I could never expunge from my mind. I could never make peace with the fact that there were a myriad of different theological opinions, interpretations, and conclusions amongst so called orthodox Christians.  I would ask myself, how can we have both Calvinists and Arminians, co-exist and not consider the others heretics? How can all the parties claim to be exegetical, but still fail to agree on things like ecclesiology, sacramentology, eschatology and all the rest? Was it possible for any group to be right about everything? Who gets to decide right from wrong?  Is ultimate truth left to the individual?  Are we each forced to be infallible popes? To sum it up, I was relentlessly troubled by the fact that in Protestantism the final conclusion over the truth is one’s own; could that be what the Lord had in mind? Could that be what Jesus meant when he said I will never leave you to his church?

In order to try to seek peace with myself I tried to find the most ancient expression of Protestantism. I wanted to be part of the true church. It was then that I found early Anglicanism; I began to seriously look into the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and its approach to Christianity, it was the most apostolic expression of the faith to be could be found protestantism. In it I saw a church with a greater fullness, yet without the many additions of Rome; and without the many subtractions of other Protestants. That was what I was looking for.

Things seemed to be fairly peaceful in my Anglican world up to this point; yet as time went by I learned of the many in consitencies within Anglicanism. I knew that it was not perfect, but what could be better? Surely not rome with all of its additions and excesses. It was then that I had a direct run in with Orthodoxy.  That encounter turned my world upside down. I was doing some research for a sermon and I ran into the orthodox teaching on Kairos and Chronos, this was something that was completely foreign to me as a Protestant. I continued to dig, and found more and more Orthodox teaching that had previously been a complete mystery to me as a Protestant. I came face to face with the content of seven ecumenical councils and their canons, single procession of the Holy Spirit, paradosis, essence and energies, theosis, synthesis, and then the answer I was seeking: the concilliar approach to truth and the church.  What I was looking for in Anglicanism, I found in Orthodoxy. There I found the fullness of the Christianity without the additions of Rome, and or the subtractions of the reformers. There I saw a sure way to determine right from wrong; there I found the one concilliar voice of the whole church rather than the ruling voice of any one convincing theologian.  There I found the church the Lord promised us, the true church without a divided mind or practice!

At that point I simply wanted to enter the Orthodox Church. However, it was not that simple. I was still responsible for the spiritual well being of my small flock.  It could not just think of myself at a moment like this. So, I chose to invest the next several years of my ministry teaching my parish as much as I could about the Orthodox faith.  During this time my own understanding and practice of the Orthodox faith grew exponentially, and this has forever changed me.  Many in the congregation that I serve have also fallen in love with Orthodoxy.  In the last several months there has been a rather strong desire to begin our move in the Orthodox direction. 

My first hope to enter into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church, and to bring as many as will come with me. My second hope is to do all that I can to contribute to the formation of an American Orthodoxy.  May the Lord have mercy upon us, guide us, and watch over us as we move towards His church.