Τρίτη, 22 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Our Need for a Radical Humility

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene (African-American)
I had the privilege to speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Service at Mount Nebo Baptist Church on Sunday, January 20th at 7 pm.  The event was sponsored by the West Point Ministers Association.  For some reason or another, I was unable to print out this manuscript.  I don’t consider myself to be the best at extemporaneous public speaking.  But, I got my points across even if I didn’t get every sentence.

Deacon John and Todd
 … And being found in appearance as a man, He (Jesus) humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore, God also highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.  Philippians 2:8, 9
America will never be great, nor will any resistance work until we learn how to die.  Dr. James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology, said in a conference a few years ago that the church today needs to learn how to die.  That the black church spends way too much time striving to be prosperous and successful in the kingdom of earth rather than dying for the kingdom of heaven.  Fr. Turbo Qualls, an African-American Orthodox priest, made the same point in a St. Moses Conference lecture.  It is easy to get caught up in the trappings of religion and ritual.  But, if we are to achieve oneness with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we need to possess a humility that will allow and cause us to die.  And the scripture teaches us that Jesus did this and was greatly rewarded by the One he humbled Himself to obey.
I believe that our nation’s ongoing problems of class, race, sex, and other issues is that we don’t know how to be humble enough to die.  Not everyone will be shot on a Memphis hotel balcony, run over by a racist in Charlottesville, or be butchered by an Islamic terrorist in Libya.  But, I think we Christians of all branches have a strong bad habit of skipping to the good part of the Gospel message.  In whatever form or style of worship, we all love to get to the part where At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.  We used to play kick-ball in elementary school and we had a playground rule.  If you wanted your turn to kick, you had to spend some time in the outfield.  I loved my mother’s deserts.  But, I had to eat my meat and vegetables before I could have some blackberry cobbler.  Today, we want God to bless our nation, give us breakthroughs and favor.  We cannot have any of that unless, like Jesus, we humble ourselves to be obedient to God to death.

Black or white, conservative or liberal, eastern or western Christian; we don’t want to die in any shape, form, or fashion.  We have to have the last word in an argument face to face and on Facebook.  Our point of view has to come out on top in every discussion.  Keeping up with the Joneses is not enough, we have to beat them at their own game and make up things that they can’t do.  Anyone who doesn’t fully agree with us is not a friend, not simply an enemy, but not even human.  And we pray that in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we will defeat them.  We want to live and win this kingdom of earth and will abuse the name of God to do it.  Apparently, we have forgotten history and faith.  Jesus rebuked Peter’s feeble swordsmanship and rather than calling on legions of armed angels, the Lord continued to the Cross.  When the Jewish zealots resorted to armed struggle to re-establish the kingdom of David, the Romans wiped Judea off the map.  And after 300 years of violently striving to destroy the faith, Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity.  C.S. Lewis said it in a nutshell, “If you aim for heaven, you’ll get the earth thrown in as well.  If you aim for the earth, you’ll get neither.”
Look at what we are doing in this nation that has “In God We Trust” on our currency.  We spend more on military protection than twice that of our closest rival and putting ourselves in a deficit in the process.  Our life expectancy rate has declined over the past three years caused by our increasing number of drug overdoses and suicides.  While the rate of abortions have been in decline, adults under 50 are dying of ODs more often than automobile accidents.  Fear and despair are killing us faster than any illegal immigrant or racist cop.  But rather than become repentant and self-evaluating, we chase after catchy slogans, popular marches, and the latest real and fake news of the politicians we don’t like.  We are refusing to die and yet we are dying anyway.  Our Christian ancestors of all races in the first three centuries went to their deaths with joy honored to leave this earthly kingdom for the heavenly one.  Our “Christian” nation today is dying with needles of careless living, pride, and self-righteousness in our arms.   We are quick to condemn those who commit surface sins.  We have to understand our deeper faults of our nation as the Prophet Isaiah 16:49 revealed about Sodom; “pride, gluttony, and calm complacency.”

imgp3844_edited-1I propose that a radical humility, a humility and obedience to death will help us as individual Christians and perhaps save our nation.  This mind that was also in Christ overcomes the evil one.  Among the early African Desert Fathers, Macarius the Great was walking back to his cave when Satan tried to cut him with a scythe and failed repeatedly.  Tired, the adversary said to the saint, “Everything you do, I do even more.  You fast, I never eat.  You wake up and pray at midnight, I never sleep.  The reason I can’t overcome you is your humility.”  Think of how many times churches were bombed, marchers were beaten, and counter protesters opposed the Movement.  One reason why the enemies failed was that the forces of good were made up of share croppers, house keepers, ordinary adults and young folk who knew how to be humble enough to obey to the death.  One cannot be humble and a slave owner at the same time, that’s why Paul sent the runaway slave back to Philemon to learn that it’s better to have brotherhood than bondage.  One cannot be a racial supremacist and obedient to the God who made us all in His image and likeness at the same time.  That is why white supremacy is failing and black supremacy will never succeed.

This radical humility builds community that breaks barriers.  A legion of African soldiers was sent by the Roman Emperor to slaughter the survivors of a Germanic tribe that was defeated in a battle.  The commander, Maurice, and his troops refused because they saw the Europeans wearing the same cross of Christ they believed in.  They saw each other as brothers.  The emperor slaughtered Maurice and his entire legion instead for disobeying him and being obedient to God.  To this day, there are towns and churches named for St. Maurice and the Theban Legion in France, Germany, and Switzerland with the commander’s statue, though with late European armor, very much dark skinned (icon).  A more recent and less gruesome social death was felt by Clarence Jordan of Georgia.  Jordan was highly educated and skilled in agriculture and New Testament Greek.  His Kionia Farm was a place where blacks and whites learned modern farming practices, gained a greater knowledge of early Christianity, and lived together as brother and sisters.  Needless to say, he was one of the most ostracized white men in the South.  The society Jordan was born in considered him dead.
But let us not forget that the Gospel is good news for our salvation to kingdom of heaven, not a religion to rule the kingdom of earth.  So, we must seek a radical humility to better obey the will of God.  That obedience will mean leaving some things of earth for the sake of gaining the kind of life that leads to eternal life.  Arsenius was a wealthy and powerful Roman senator who wasn’t satisfied with his place of comfort.  Seeking a closer walk with Jesus, he fled to the Egyptian desert and was found getting advice from an older Christian peasant.  Someone recognized and asked him, “You are a well-educated man.  Why are you talking with this peasant?”  The saint replied, “As educated as I am, I don’t know this man’s alphabet.”   Moses the Black, a dark Nubian brother, didn’t make excuses for his sins saying, “I was born this way.”  But, he continued a life of disciplined and earnest prayer and repentance for almost 15 years and became one of the most honored saints in our Church.  Mary of Egypt struggled even longer until she got to the point where a monk-priest who thought he was living holy found her to be even holier.  Every 5th Sunday of Lent, we of all ethnicities and nationalities honor her as an example of repentance and redemption.  These and other saints from all the corners of the earth died to their sins so that they could be alive in Christ.

Thou receivest saints of all ages and from all races,
Without caste, without distinction, the last and the first,
Pure of sin, fruitful in goodness,
Noble souls, kindred to thy Christ-
These Thou callest saints.
— Hymn of Praise for Saint Sylvester

St. Anthony, King, Obama: The Time Is Now (an article from 2013)

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene (African-American)

The confluence of the days is no coincidence.  Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday will be celebrated on January 21st.  This is also the same date of the Second Inauguration of President Barak Obama.  Every American, in particular African-Americans, understand the importance and prophetic like significance of these events.  King was the voice for a better America and helped lead the country out of the satanic state of segregation.  Obama is a symbol of what anyone can achieve if they strive to do their best.  There is no way I could nor would want to dispel these two great men.  But, I do believe it is important for we as Protestant Christians, and especially African-American Christians to also regard Saint Anthony of Egypt.  Today is his feast day.

St. Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great inherited great wealth from his parents and could have lived a life of great splendor.  Yet hearing the Gospel message, he left his worldly possessions behind and took up a life of prayer in the desert.  His devotion to prayer was a great influence on Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who gave the church its first creed and was the first to compile the list of books that became our New Testament.  Another Egyptian, Macarius, to write prayers that are still prayed by Orthodox believers around the world.  Anthony’s defence of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea helped the early church reject the heresy of Arianism.  Yet, rather than bask in the glories of his achievements, Anthony kept returning to his cave.  His followers followed his instructions and buried him in a secret grave so that he would not become the object of veneration.
The importance of Anthony is no less than that of MLK and Mr. Obama.  As we celebrate these to great men, now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds to learn about and celebrate our African-Christian heroes (and the saints of other lands as well).  Had there been no Anthony, the correct doctrines supported by Athanasius, Basil, Nicholas (yes, THAT St. Nicholas), and others may not have been as convincing to Emperor Constantine and the Council.  The rich prayer tradition of Orthodox and Catholic monks and nuns would not have developed in such meaningful ways.  Indeed, where would King have received his Holy Bible from?  What sort of Bible would Mr. Obama take the oath of office on? The “Desert Fathers” of Africa should and must be a part of who we African-American Christians honor during Black History Month as without them, we (and the world) might not be here and not have a true idea of who Jesus Christ is.

Archbishop Iakovos with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the era of Dr. King, we were too busy with fighting for our Civil Rights to learn much about our Christian history.  Now, it is possible that an African-American President who struggled during his first term could win a second.  Nothing is stopping us from reading the books of the early church fathers and talking to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox clergy.  Instead of choking our people on a diet of a modern Christian market, we can introduce them to the solid doctrines, prayers, and practices of our African ancestors.  Even if we choose not to convert to Orthodoxy (and I think some of us should), we should know our history.  We have no excuses not to learn.

Σάββατο, 19 Ιανουαρίου 2019

'Trophy' Documentary on Big-Game Hunting

VOA's Penelope Poulou reports on big-game hunting. An American dentist's killing of Cecil the Lion, a collared 13-year-old lion monitored by the University of Oxford in Zimbabwe, sparked widespread outrage and condemnations of big-game hunting. But Trophy, a new documentary by filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, offers a more complex perspective on trophy hunting, an industry that blurs the lines between big-game hunting and wildlife conservation. TV2Africa.

This documentary about the overlap between trophy hunting and wildlife conservation makes a passionate, if not entirely convincing, argument for the legal hunting of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino) as an alternative to illegal poaching. 
The film gives voice to the commercial case for breeding and hunting, which feels at odds with the emotive way these kills are positioned. Viewers are encouraged to balk at the blunt brutality with which a rhino’s horn (“more expensive than gold or heroin, in weight”) is sawn off, to be moved by the guttural sound of a dying elephant, and to experience indignation when an American hunter poses with a slain buck, holding it up by its horns. The Guardian


Trophy is a startling exploration of the evolving relationship between big-game hunting and wildlife conservation that will leave you debating what is right, what is wrong and what is necessary in order to save the great species of the world from extinction. 

DIRECTED BY Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz 
WEBSITE: http://trophy.film/ 
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/trophythefilm 
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/trophythefilm 
INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/trophythefilm/ 
ON DIGITAL AND ON DEMAND DECEMBER 5, 2017: http://radi.al/Trophy 

THE ORCHARD FILMS WEBSITE: http://www.theorchard.com/filmtv 
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/OrchFilms 
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/OrchFilms 

Παρασκευή, 18 Ιανουαρίου 2019

In Africa for two Great African Saints...

"Abba Pambo once asked St. Anthony what he ought to do? And the old man said to him; Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past but control your tongue and your stomach! (Food for thought)
Saint Anthony the Great being the Patron Saint of our Diocese, we celebrated Divine Liturgy with priests from Nyeri Deanery and students from St.Anthony High School. We had special lunch together as we discussed our new year's resolutions. O holy Saint Anthony the Great intercede for us!
May God bless you all."

"His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah has arrived at St. Anthony (Antonios) the Great Orthodox Parish, Monde- Luweero to join the parishioners in celebrating the feast day of their parish. On this day as well, the Orthodox Church in Uganda celebrates the life of the Late Archbishop Theodoros Nankyama."

Orthodox Church in Uganda (& here)

"With the blessing of His Eminence Innocentios Byakatonda, Metropolitan of Burundi and Rwanda, we have celebrated the Feast of Saint Antony the great in the Parish of Twelve Apostles of Rwamagana in Eastern Province of Rwanda this 17th January 2019."

Tuyisenge Fidele Anastasios (& here)

Feast dey of st Macarios the Egyptian in Kenya (here)
About the Saints in: 

Τρίτη, 15 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Race and the Fall

Racism cannot be addressed in isolation. Racism at its root springs from human divisiveness and our fallen propensity for conflict across difference, any difference. Racism, like each and every ism ever created, is a manufactured, codified system of exclusion across some broken human boundary.
We often give lip service to fighting racism while we hide our bigotry in other places. It is common in the Orthodox Churches, for example, to utter condemnations of racism and ethnopyletic nationalism and then defend and deploy our religious, cultural, and civic nationalisms against all those we wish to exclude while pretending we are defending. This is apparent in places like the Balkans, Syria, and Russia and Ukraine, but American Orthodox are just as exclusive in this regard. It’s fine to speak against border walls running past somebody else’s property in another state, or for Antiochian churches to sponsor Syrian immigrants, but you aren’t a Christian in America until Latino migrants are sitting in your pews and serving at your altar.
We must unravel is the “otherism” at the core of human nature that infects all relations and from which racism springs. If we cut off the head of racism, the beast will grow a head of tribalism, culturalism, classism, civilizationalism, regionalism, fundamentalism, globalism, or some other damned thing to either keep out, kill, marginalize, neutralize, or convert everyone else to its own cause and make them in its own likeness. The inclusive circle we draw will always have someone standing outside of it. There is a hidden something that has poisoned our souls and from which all our relational divisions arise. It caused Adam and Eve to fear, deflect blame, and hide. It first appeared in the human heart the instant of the fall and has been there ever since. To quote Metropolitan John Zizioulas,
There is a pathology built into the very roots of our existence, inherited through our birth, and that is the fear of the other. This is a result of the rejection of the Other par excellence, our Creator, by the first man, Adam. The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. This results in of all otherness. We are not afraid simply of certain others, but even if we accept them, it is on condition that they are somehow like ourselves.
A second Fall narrative is recorded in Genesis 11. God observes that all people spoke “one language and had the same words.” The word “language” and the phrase “the same words” is not a literary redundancy in the Hebrew text; rather “words” is a word with over a hundred renderings in English, including “acts, affairs, answer, business, commandments, conclusion, conditions, conduct, conversations, matters, obligations, order, custom, thoughts.” Essentially, the text says “they spoke one language and had one uniform culture and acted in complete harmony and conformity.”
Yet God also observed, with apparent alarm, that the oneness for which we were created had somehow become perverted, and so God mixed up our languages. The effect was the fracturing and scattering of humanity “across the face of the Earth” and the eventual creation of disparate histories and culture with seemingly little in common. Why would God do this? Was this a false unity, built something superficial like culture, language, or race? As Metropolitan John argues, unity that rejects difference is no unity:
When we fear otherness, we identify difference with division. We divide our lives and human beings according to difference. We organize states, clubs, fraternities and even Churches on the basis of difference. When difference becomes division, communion is nothing but an arrangement for peaceful co-existence. It last as long as mutual interests last and may easily be turned into confrontation and conflict as soon as these interests cease to coincide.
The effort to force unity across difference with the singular purpose of returning the world to one uniform rule and way of life has occupied us ever since the fall. Yet, in Christianity we are called to a deeper communion. St. Paul implores:
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
There is hope for a true unity, just as we sing at Pentecost:
When the most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations; But when he distributed the tongues of fire
He called all to unity.Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!
Since the reversal of the curse of division at Pentecost, Christians have understood that the only thing capable of undoing the evil that embedded itself in Adam and Eve’s hearts is a new kind of kingdom apart from the kind of unity humankind experiences in the world. Nothing human beings do outside God’s Kingdom to solve what is wrong in us will ever reverse the curse of division. No political agenda or social program will save us.
To overcome our fundamental divisiveness, we must ground ourselves again in the New Testament. St. Paul’s letters are a manifesto of unity. And when Jesus sent out his disciples, it was to the whole world and to every nation scattered therein that he sent them. At Pentecost, the meaning of the “salvation of the whole world” was made clear. “The healing of the nations” had come and would eventually include persons ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” which was the reversal of the curse of the fall and the fracturing of humanity at Babel. Or as St. Paul wrote:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

The Veneration of the Precious Chains of St. Peter the Apostle (January 16th)

Note of our blog: American Orthodox Christians, struggling for human rights, have proposed that this feast be considered as a day against slavery, torture and oppression of people.
In January 16th, our Church celebrates the Veneration and the many miracles which came about through the Precious Chains of the Apostle Peter.

Mosaic Icon of St. Peter the Apostle (Icon courtesy of here used with permission)

First, here is the account from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website (here):
"Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great and king of the Jews, grew wroth against the Church of Christ, and slew James, the brother of John the Evangelist. Seeing that this pleased the Jews, he took Peter also into custody and locked him up in prison, intending to keep him there until after the feast of the Passover, so that he could win the favour of the people by presenting him to them as a victim. But the Apostle was saved when he was miraculously set free by an Angel (Acts 12:1-19). The chains wherewith the Apostle was bound received from his most sacred body the grace of sanctification and healing, which is bestowed upon the faithful who draw nigh with faith.

That such sacred treasures work wonders and many healings is witnessed by the divine Scripture, where it speaks concerning Paul, saying that the Christians in Ephesus had such reverence for him, that his handkerchiefs and aprons, taken up with much reverence, healed the sick of their maladies: "So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (Acts 19:12). 
But not only the Apostles' clothing (which certainly touched the bodies of the sick), but even their shadow alone performed healings. On beholding this, people put their sick on stretchers and beds and brought them out into the streets that, when Peter passed by, his shadow "might overshadow some of them"(Acts 5:15). From this the Orthodox Catholic [Catholic meaning "universal", not referring to Roman Catholicism] Church has learned to show reverence and piety not only to the relics of their bodies, but also in the clothing of God's Saints."
Picture of the Chains of St. Peter the Apostle kept in Rome (in San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) Roman Catholic Church) (taken from here)
Here is the account from the Orthodox Church of America website (here):
"The Veneration of the Honorable Chains of the Holy and All-Praised Apostle Peter: In about the year 42, on the orders of Herod Agrippa, the Apostle Peter was thrown into prison for preaching about Christ the Savior. In prison he was held secure by two iron chains. During the night before his trial, an angel of the Lord removed these chains from the Apostle Peter and led him out from the prison (Acts 12:1-11).

Christians who learned of the miracle took the chains and kept them as precious keepsakes. For three centuries the chains were kept in Jerusalem, and those afflicted with illness and approached them with faith received healing. Patriarch Juvenal (July 2) presented the chains to Eudokia, wife of the emperor Theodosius the Younger, and she in turn transferred them from Jerusalem to Constantinople in either the year 437 or 439.

Eudokia sent one chain to Rome to her daughter Eudoxia (the wife of Valentinian), who built a church on the Esquiline hill dedicated to the Apostle Peter and placed the chain in it. There were other chains in Rome, with which the Apostle Peter was shackled before his martyrdom under the emperor Nero. These were also placed in the church.

On January 16, the chains of St Peter are brought out for public veneration."
Finally, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his Neon Eklogion, devotes a lengthy section to discussing the miracles associated with the Precious Chains of St. Peter. I'm not sure if a translation exists (perhaps in the Great Synaxaristes), but if not, perhaps at some point this in-depth discussion of the lives and miracles of the Saints can be translated. (For the Greek version, see the Νέον Εκλόγιον: here

But roughly, St. Nikodemos discusses that the Chains of St. Peter not only worked healings of physical ailments, but those for the soul, too. Once, a wise and pious Christian came to the Pope of Rome [who was Orthodox before the Great Schism] to confess a grave and fatal sin. The Pope showed joy at the man's repentance and confession, and he gave the man a canon of penance to fully deliver him from his sin by the authority of the Foremost (Κορυφαίον) of the Apostles [St. Peter]. So he told the man to put the Holy Chains of the Apostle on his hands, feet and body, and to proceed around the church where the Holy Apostle's Remains were kept seven times. Then, he would enter the center of the church, and hit his head against the door covering the Remains, and if they would open on their own accord, he would be assured of the forgiveness of his sin. The man did all this, and he touched the container of the Apostle's Remains, beseeching his help. 
And--O the speedy sympathy of the Foremost of the Apostles of Christ, Peter!--the seals were breached and the locks and doors opened on their own, and the man was assured of Christ's forgiveness! He returned to his home full of joy. For to him who received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and opens to whoever he wishes, it is paradoxical to see that the gates of that place [the container of the Apostle's Holy Relics] which were locked by the righteous from the unworthy, opened accordingly to him who was purified by repentance. And that Pope continued in the ways of compassion, and sharing this story with other Christians, he would fill them with joy. He became a model in the giving of canons, and gave confessing Christians a way of entreaty, and in this way they received the forgiveness of their sins.***
[***Note: So that this story is not misinterpreted, here is a short quote about the so-called "kanona" or canon of penance: "It is accompanied by our acceptance of whatever penance or kanona that may be possibly assigned by our spiritual father (e.g., fasting, almsgiving, or whatever else he considers suitable). We also must fully comprehend and accept that such penance does not constitute a “sentence” or a “punishment,” but it is a therapeutic and pedagogical element of our spiritual healing and means by which our spirituality is increased." (taken from here) Thus, Christ Himself runs to embrace us again as soon as we turn back to Him in repentance, and the canon is meant only to further help heal the penitent.]
Icon of the Veneration of the Precious Chains of the Apostle Peter (taken from here)
Apolytikion of the Veneration of St. Peter's Chains in the Fourth Tone
Without leaving Rome, thou didst come to us by the precious chains which thou didst wear. O foremost of the Apostles. And worshipping them with faith, we pray: By thine intercessions with God, grant us great mercy.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Now Christ God, the Rock, doth glorify the rock of faith, illustriously, in calling all to celebrate the dread wonders of the most precious chains of Peter, the first and chief of the disciples of Christ our God, Who granteth forgiveness of sins unto all.
(taken from
The Veneration of the Precious Chains of St. Peter the Apostle (here)
St. Peter the Apostle, intercede for us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!