John Breck: ‘By His Passion He Might Purify the Water’

theophanyToday I was researching the creation care teachings that will likely undergird Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on climate change. I found this epiphany reflection by Orthodox Father John Breck.

The deep wisdom in the Eastern church reminds us of the distinctives that Christians bring to our relationship with God’s creation. We do not recognize the earth as a god in herself. We do not believe that the earth is more holy or more perfect than humans. We do believe that both earth and human communities are “fallen” or “in the far country” (as Meiser Eckhart puts it). Our human call to fidelity with creation is so much more than that of caretaker or steward or even pastor or priest. We are family (creaturely together) striving to find our way home.–Rose

Here’s an excerpt from Breck’s reflection on theophany (when God becomes visible) and water:

“… There is another aspect of Theophany that also needs to be stressed, today perhaps more than ever before. This is a motif that appears very clearly in icons of the feast but goes unmentioned in the Gospels. Its earliest formulation seems to be that of St Ignatius of Antioch, who died as a martyr in Rome between 110 and 117 AD. In his letter to the Ephesians (ch. 18), Ignatius makes a statement notoriously difficult to translate: “Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to the plan (oikonomian) of God from the seed of David [cf. Rom 1:3] and [by] the Holy Spirit; he was born and was baptized so that by the passion (tô pathei) he might purify the water.”

Without going into the difficulties presented by the language of this verse, we can note its basic theme. It is the same as depicted in icons and liturgical hymns of the Theophany feast. Christ descends into the waters of the Jordan not only to submit himself to the hands of John and to lay the foundation for the sacramental act of baptism. He also goes down into the Jordan in order to purify or sanctify those waters, and in so doing he symbolically (really, through this sign-act) sanctifies all of creation.

Theophany celebrates the baptismal renewal of God’s people, members of the Body of Christ. But it also provides the perspective we are to assume with regard to the entire created world. Stated otherwise, it provides the foundation for a genuinely Christian “ecology.”

Elizabeth Theokritoff has written a book entitled, Living in God’s Creation, with the subtitle “The Ecological Vision of Orthodox Christianity.” The author points out that our relation to the created world is less that of “steward” than it is of priest. We are called not only to preserve and care for the created order. Our vocation relative to the world we live in, both natural and human, is to make of it an offering to God, with the ongoing supplication that he bless, restore and make fruitful this planet over which he has granted us dominion. That dominion implies responsibility and respect toward all living things. But it means, too, that we recognize the “fallenness” of creation and its need for restoration, even redemption (Rom 8:18-23). …”–Father John Breck, Sanctify the Waters (Epiphany 2015)

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink: The Ribbon of Repentence

1422 Pocketfold InvitesThere have been three news stories this week focusing on Orthodox Jews. One is a controversial takeover by Orthodox Jews of a school board, another about financial irregularities, and the third about a rabbi who spied on women in the mikveh. (The last story is close to home for me because it’s a synagogue I’ve attended several times for classes.)

Orthodox Rabbi Eliyahu Fink wrote a thoughtful response to these scandals that I find helpful for all who “have fallen short of the glory of God.” All of us need lessons in how to turn our failures and sin into something good for the glory of God.

Here’s an excerpt from Rabbi Fink’s essay A Better Orthodox reaction to the mikveh, East Ramapo scandals:

“One of the greatest gifts of Judaism is teshuvah — literally translated as “return,” and the Jewish word for repentance. Failure is inevitable. We are humans, and humans are flawed creatures who make mistakes. Judaism provides an opportunity to turn our errors into acts of goodness through the process of teshuvah. When we repent, we are actually closer to God than we were before we sinned. It’s as if a ribbon connects us to God. Sin cuts the ribbon into two, disconnecting us from God. True repentance ties the two pieces of ribbon together, reconnecting us. But the process of repairing the ribbon makes the ribbon shorter and reduces the distance between the two ends of the ribbon. Teshuvah reattaches us to God and makes us closer than we were before we sinned.

In any good relationship there will be mistakes that disconnect the two parties. These are opportunities for teshuvah. Whenever a relationship needs to be repaired, if it’s done right, the two parties should be closer after the “return” than they were before the relationship was harmed.

Traditionally, there are three steps to teshuvah: Acknowledgement, regret and reform. These are the three elements necessary to repair any broken relationship or any breach of trust. The Orthodox Jewish community must take these three steps to earn back the trust of Orthodox Jews and the general public.”–Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

Read the whole essay here.

George Kodhr: When ‘God’ Becomes a Word for Will to Power

Remembering the victims of violence, as well as the souls of the perpetrators …

“When the soul is invaded by the thirst for blood, faith gives way to ideology. The religious vocabulary is maintained but the words change their content. The hieratic society that empties the name of God of all content practices a horrible paganism. “God” becomes just a word used to express the will to power and the religious symbol becomes a sign of terror. In this way God can ultimately be transformed first into a concept, and then into an idol. Our faith in God at that point is based on this idolatrous foundation. It is now God who scatters death among our enemies, not us. Holiness gives way to heroism: the warrior is holy, salvation through combat on behalf of God. …

We do not sufficiently realize that murder springs from the heart, that no evil is external, and that violence is simply the forthright expression of the vanity of tribes who cannot recognize God’s face in the other. A Christian people, whose heart has been converted to the Holy Face and which lives the kenosis of the face of God, may in fidelity to the absolute never produce anything spectacular in this world, but simply transmit the words that have been said to it. Carrying the cross of Jesus in obedience to the commandment of love, it will bear witness, in the darkness of history, to the truth of Jesus, the eternal Passover.”–Metropolitan Archbishop George Khodr

Excerpted from Violence and the Gospel by Metropolitan Archbishop George (Khodr), Orthodox Archdiocese of  Byblos and Botris, Church of Antioch. This article was first given at a conference in Lyon of the Association of Christians Against Torture, and appeared in Supplément de la vie Spirituelle, Sept. 1987.

St. John: ‘O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!’

chrysostom22Thank you to Abayea for sending me the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom (“the golden tongue”) that is read aloud in every Orthodox church on the morning of Pascha or Easter. It is a beautiful litany to call forth an Easter people!

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense. If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention. Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.  Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!  He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions”.

It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and met God face to face!
It took earth and encountered heaven!
It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

My friends, drink deeply the unfathomable, profligate grace of God who has called you from the dead.

Interview: Orthodox John Nankivell on Celtic Christianity

RMB at ancient pilgrim path on Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.
RMB at ancient pilgrim path on Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.

There’s an excellent interview over at the online Russian Orthodox magazine Pravoslavie titled Bede’s World: Early Christianity in the British Isles.

It’s Fr. John Nankivell, a Greek Orthodox pastor and author in Britain, giving an indepth look at early Christianity in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England.

This is a part of church history that many know little about–but it had a huge impact on how we “do” church in the Western world.

Below is an excerpt, but check out the whole thing if you like this kind of Celtic Christian history.

The Irish influence in seventh-century Northumbria was profound. The relations between Ireland and Britain go back to the earliest use of the seaways between Ulster and Argyll, between Wexford and southwest Wales, but this influence went both ways and we know that the early British (and this includes the area that is now Wales) were quite significant as missionaries, particularly along the coast of Ireland in the fourth and fifth centuries. We don’t have many details about their actual activity, but we do have names from the dedication of churches. The best-known British missionary is St. Patrick, the deacon’s son snatched by pirates from Britain and sold into slavery in fifth-century Ireland, who later returned as a free man intent on winning his pagan masters for Christ. The evidence of early churches named after certain saints links St. Patrick with Ulster and northeast Ireland. We also know of St. Patrick’s connection with Gaul, and interestingly, near St. Germanus’ relics in Auxerre, France, is an early fresco that the local people like to believe is Bishop Germanus blessing St. Patrick. In fact, there are some textual links between the two.

There were also Christians in the south of Ireland from early times. In 431 the Pope sent Bishop Palladius from Gaul to Ireland to organize an already existing church. Church dedications link this mission with Wicklow and with southwest Wales; it’s from Britain that the southern Irish had received their Christianity and learned their Latin.

Having received their faith from Britain, the Irish church became the most flourishing part of western Christendom in the sixth century. People came to Ireland from all over Europe to pray and study in the numerous monasteries, and Irish missionaries carried the faith across Europe, particularly to the Germanic kingdoms that had come into being after the collapse of Roman rule.

The great missionary movement from Ireland began in the sixth century.

The most famous examples of this are the two saints Columbanus and Columba, both named after the dove and noted for their ascetic life, but both men of authority and deep learning. Columbanus’ mission was to the Franks of Gaul and the Lombards of north Italy; Columba’s to the Picts.

One of the reasons St. Columba left Ireland in 563 and founded his monastery on the tiny island of Iona, off Mull, was to be a missionary to the Picts, whom St. Ninian, working from Whithorn (now southwest Scotland) had first preached to in the fourth century. In fact, Columba was going to an existing Irish kingdom, Dalriata, of which Iona was a part. Next to it was a British kingdom, Strathclyde, and north of that was the Pictish Kingdom, both southern and northern Picts. By the mid-seventh century, the Picts were Christian, and as southern Pictland was part of Northumbria for a time, St. Wilfrid served as bishop for Picts in the north of his diocese.

Columba’s Iona became the centre of a major monastic commonwealth stretching from north Ireland, where daughter monasteries were founded at Derry, Durrow, Tiree in the Hebrides, Pictland and Northumbria. In 616, half a century after its foundation, the Northumbrian Prince Oswald came to live at Iona, and by Wilfrid’s time, there was no need to travel to Ireland, as Oswald had invited the Irish Aidan to Northumbria and it was at Aidan’s monastery at Lindisfarne that Wilfrid was first instructed in monasticism.

Besides the followers of Columba, such as Aidan and Cuthbert in Lindisfarne and Northumbria, there were already south Irish missionaries in Britain, such as St. Fursey in East Anglia, who were independent of Iona.

But, East Anglia was also influenced by clergy from Gaul, Northumbria, and Mercia and of course, the British, who are overlooked in all of the literature.

Read the whole article here.