The Bible as Story. . . and The Church as Story

Something that I have been noticing as I read through Scripture is its nature. It seems to me that the Bible is not, as some seem to think, an arbitrary list of dos and don’ts. The Bible is a story.

A lot of times, when someone says that something is a story, that it must in fact then be JUST a story, not holding any power or authority. This is simply not the case. Stories embody life. They hold many facets to them and are so delicately broad and beautiful that to dissect their meanings could take years. Thus is the nature of Scripture. It is the most powerful story ever told. It is the story of God triune, creator and sustainer of life who made our world and all things invisible and visible. Who made man in his very image. It is the story of man who chose to do wrong by defying the only command that God gave to him, “do not eat the fruit” and his subsequent fall into the knowledge of evil. It is God’s story of repeatedly reaching into our realm, first through the Old Covenant Law, which was a precursor to the most perfect Fulfillment of the Law, God himself made flesh in the womb of the Virgin.

The story of God in our world, humble, righteous, holy, who showed us the utmost sacrifice, his death on the cross. His subsequent descent into hell where he preaches/ed to the souls in chains and of his resurrection known to the Angels and to even Adam and Eve themselves before they even fell. That glorious resurrection intersects our lives in every way. It calls us to repent, take up our cross and follow him. It beckons us to come and die that we may know life; life that is in communion with God Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is also the story of the glory to come, when death will be no more, as with sin. When God will have judged all and all will be made new. It is a story of love. I think that the reason why St. Paul said that the greatest thing that will endure is love is because the story of God in our world is love.

But the story doesn’t just end there. It continues in the Church. The beautiful bride of Christ. The spotless body, made holy by his blood. The most wonderful mystery on earth.

Through this continued story we know of his Mother who, having died, was given the glorious resurrection of her Son. We know of the Holy Martyrs who died for Jesus and are before the throne of God pleading for us, their spiritual children. We see saints striving to run the race so as to win the prize, the prize of partaking in the divine nature. We see the dead preserved, angels protecting, the demons being defeated, the lame walking, the blind seeing, and the humble being exalted to be kings along with the King of Kings.

This is the story to which we are all called, to which God begs of us: You are my beloved. Come and partake. Come, eat and drink, for you were once lost, but now you are found!!!

We are indeed partakers of the divine.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, unto the Ages of Ages. Amen.

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Fishing with Jesus- The Evangelical Call to the Orthodox Church

I recently found this article on Orthodoxytoday.org and thought compelling and powerful. I hope that we all can head its call.

Fishing with Jesus

John Kapsalis

In Matthew 4:18-20 we read, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (NIV).

The mission of Jesus to preach, teach and heal which began in Galilee some 2,000 years ago is now the responsibility and the mission of the Church. As Orthodox Christians we often emphasize, and correctly so, that worship is at the heart of the Church. But worship without witness or martyria is dead. Our liturgical life, to be pleasing to God, must bring rebirth. We must become saturated in and nourished by Christ to the extent that we too, like those eager fishermen become compelled to go out into the world and expectantly proclaim the gospel, teach the world about Jesus, and participate in life-giving healing. Fr. Alexander Schmemann once remarked, “Every Christian is called to be a missionary. Every Christian is sent. When we say ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ the term ‘apostolic’ means not only the continuity of the ministry, as so many people seem to think, but also the apostolicity, i.e. the missionary nature of the Church and of each of her members … . One cannot be saved without giving oneself to this mission. Everyone is a missionary.”

Ragtag Evangelism

When we read about Christ’s commission to the Twelve, we tend to see them as the greatest generation of the Church, that small group who went on to lay the foundation of the Church by spreading His message of transformation and the good news of God’s Kingdom. Yet these twelve men were nothing more than an insignificant, obscure ragtag group. They were everyday people, like you and I; disciples who had been called to bring the Kingdom of God to an alien and hostile world. They too had families and businesses, but they immediately left everything behind, including livelihood and home, and followed Jesus. They risked everything on Christ and became Kingdom workers instead. God calls each of us to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken and comfort all who mourn. When Christ calls we must obey, because his kingdom demands unqualified obedience. Those early disciples of Jesus were ordinary fishermen who went on and performed extraordinary evangelism because they obeyed and followed Jesus. Whenever they relied on him, their catch was always overwhelming. Are we not called to do the same? I know we all feel inadequate, embarrassed and afraid. But so did those first fishermen. And despite their failings God still used them to do amazing work. We should never overestimate our own abilities nor underestimate our role in God’s mission. Besides, God works best with those who are weak.

It is through our weakness that we die to our own self-importance and self-reliance. We can do nothing apart from Christ. Our love for God and for those He created must drive us to bring everyone to experience the glory of knowing Him. We need to pray for the day when we can say with one voice, ‘woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.’ Unfortunately, right now we cannot say with Christ that ‘this is a time for testimony’ because we are too busy playing it safe. It isn’t enough for us to just be keepers of the aquarium; we need to be fishers of men and women. How many times have we risked preaching the gospel in unpleasant and dangerous situations? Not many, if I look at my own experience. But have you ever noticed how so many of the miracles that we read about in the Book of Acts are connected to the preaching of the gospel? This is probably why we no longer see miracles today. Spreading the gospel no longer inconveniences us. We have stopped proclaiming the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the great miracle that this is for us. And so I think our lives don’t feel Christian anymore because we have forgotten that the Christian life is a miracle!

Blessed are those who weep

You know, one of the saddest failures of our Church is our inability to cry over all those in the world who do not know Christ. There is a chasm between what we say we believe and the corresponding passion in our lives for this very truth. The Orthodox Church has the right doctrine and the true faith, but I’m afraid we lack the thunder, the fear, the love and the joy that should be reflected in our lives. Perhaps this is why the awesome love of God no longer shines in our lives. Maybe this is why the radical good news of the gospel message has all but shriveled up in our hearts. I don’t think we care to throw our nets out anymore.

But when we read about the ‘poor in spirit’ in the Sermon on the Mount, this is whom Christ was talking about, the ones who understand the tragedy of a world alienated from God and who want to do something about it. It is about those who have made it their purpose to tell everyone about Jesus Christ and who accept to bear the burden that God bears: that is, the burden for the salvation of the world. But we can’t do this on our own. We need to pray to God to make us love him (Deuteronomy 30:6). We have to fight everyday to live our lives in the presence of God, in worshipful sacrifice and self-denial otherwise it becomes so easy for us to slip into becoming like the people of the third soil—“where the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NASB). So what can we do? I think that trying to remember the lives of all those great disciples throughout the centuries, people like the apostle Paul, can help us break out from our insecurity and comfort zone.

The apostle Paul had led an incredibly stressful life. He endured awful physical pain through beatings and lashings. He went hungry and sleepless, constantly on the move and constantly in danger. Then there was the daily pressure of concern for the churches. And in all of it Paul saw this deep pain as momentary. Why? Because all Paul saw were people who did not know Christ. And it was this anxious urgency that compelled him to keep moving, to keep preaching and to keep fishing for the lives of men and women. Paul loved God and he loved all those created in the image of God. We on the other hand, I’m afraid, no longer shed any tears for those who are lost in the world. This is why the words of St. John Chrysostom ring fearfully true: “nothing is more frigid than a Christian who does not seek to save others … . How can such a person be a Christian? Do not say; it is impossible for me to influence others. If you are a Christian, it is impossible for this not to happen.”

If we want to live like true disciples of Jesus, then we need to be reminded of Paul’s words to the ancient church at Corinth: “as God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, ‘at just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right’ time is now. Today is the day of salvation. We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us … . We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us imposters. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual gifts to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10 NLT). Can we change our priorities and desires, both personally and in our families, to display just a little of this kind of Christian living–this kind of Christian mission?

Christ’s teaching is hard and demanding, but let us stop loving the gifts of God and instead start falling in love with God. Let’s move away from seeing Jesus Christ only as a blessing machine, there to give us what we want. He is el saddai, the Lord, who calls us to submit to Him and to do our part in carrying His mission to the world. Let each of us–bishops and plumbers, business people and housewives– make it the priority of our lives to join with Jesus Christ to bring light to the darkness and the good news of life in God’s kingdom.

Jesus was crushed on the cross for our sins. The starting place for our Christian lives will be when we too are crushed and brought down to our knees in fear and trembling, because of the fiery holiness of God, just like Moses did. And the starting place for the Church’s mission is when we once again weep for a world that is lost apart from God. Only when we begin our mission here, will we become holy–holy before God so that our holiness becomes contagious to all the nations.

Copyright © 2001-2008. John Kapsalis. For more articles visit http://www.orthodoxytoday.org.

Prayers of the Saints

Today I would like to touch upon prayer and the role of the saints and angels in prayer.

Often, coming from a Protestant background I was confronted by verses such as the following that seemed to “prove” that we should only pray to God.

Now, however, I can see clearly that this is not what is being said here. When approaching a passage of scripture it is important to not get caught up with particulars and see it as a puzzle to be put together. Instead the context of the passage along with the views of the Fathers of the Church need to be taken into effect.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

It seems pretty clear to me now that when the verse references that Christ is the one mediator between God and man that St. Paul is not referring to the method to which prayers should be ascribed, but to the way that  the second person of the Holy Trinity comes to bring us to union, or theosis, with God.

The passage is speaking specifically of the blessed incarnation where Jesus who was truly and fully God, became truly and fully Man, taking on flesh to bring us back into communion with God. When viewed this way, it is much more powerful, taking on life that sustains us in faith, instead of being ammunition to be used to chastise those in “heresy”. (This is referred to as patristic theology I believe).

The rest of the Protestant argument against against praying for the intercession of the saints really falls under two categories. First there is the theological misunderstanding that praying to the saints invokes a heretical pantheistic structure where the saints are taken to be gods. This is not the case. The Orthodox Church has always condemned this view as heretical. The prayers to the saints are merely the same as if I were to ask my friend here on earth to pray to God for me. In Orthodoxy there is no chasm or canyon separating here and eternity, and anyone who claims to have evidenced some kind of act of grace in their life, as nearly all protestants do, can attest to the fact that God is indeed involved in our realm. This leads me to the other part of the argument that I feel needs to be dispelled which is simply a modern metaphysical one.

It is simply hard for us, modern and enlightened as we are, to understand that those who are dead are not dead but are indeed living (in Christ through his resurrection) and are able to not only hear us, but pray for us to God and even perhaps intervene by God’s direction in our lives. It is important to remember that we are not called biblically to a “relationship with God” simply by ourselves, but to a “relationship with God” within the context of the Church which is his body. So really, the issue of praying to the saints for intercession is not only one of metaphysics, but one of communion. If we are one body, why should the hand say to the feet I don’t need you. Why should the brain tell the foot to move left and instead it decides to more right.

To all of the saints in heaven, dearly departed yet alive with us in Christ. We ask that you would pray to God for us, asking for us to be united in faith, hope, and love for one another; that we would learn to be charitable with our neighbor and to pray for our enemies, just as you did and still do.  Pray that we may be one just as God is one, Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, acting as one body as Christ directed us, and the Spirit compells us to do. Amen

God, grant that we may have peace, loving one another, just as you have loved us. Teach us to be humble, learning your ways not ours. Allow us the strength and patience to love our enemies, and indeed to even see none as enemies but as children of God. Teach us to be charitable and kind to all, for they truly may indeed be angels among us unaware. Now Lord, we pray that your will be done, and that all men may be saved. Amen