Monday, May 31, 2010

We Must Never Forget...

to remember and honor those who have given all to preserve our freedom.  The above photo of a recent military funeral, which I stole from Byzantine, TX, reminds my of my father's funeral, which occurred almost six years ago.  Most of you have read my tribute that I wrote to my father and posted on this blog.  If you never have, please click here to read it.

Please also enjoy the following video, which is a tribute to World War 2 veterans like my father.  The video, featuring the beautiful WW2 standard We'll Meet Again, brought chills to my spine when I watched it.  Enjoy the video, and say a prayer for our fallen heroes.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Movie I'm Really Looking Forward to...

Only one minor problem...this movie deals with Kung Fu, not Karate...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just For Fun - The First Tech Support Guy

One of my responsibilities at my non-church job is to provide technical support for the software program that I manage.  As a tech support guy, then, I found the following video hilarious.  See what you think of it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania

Dear friends,

Siku kuu njema! Blessed feast!

And greetings once again from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have been here for a month now, and am beginning to settle into life and language. I am living at a hostel in Kurasini, the southernmost of this city's three regions. It's an ideal place for language learning-- secure and comfortable, but not many English-speakers. Every morning I have class for four hours, and the afternoon is spent practicing what I've learned that day. Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough, not yet involved in "ministry," but at the end of every day I find myself quite worn out. If you've ever learned language in an immersion environment this may sound familiar: just to function minute-to-minute, the brain is constantly working in overdrive.

Thank God, my comprehension seems to be improving. Every day, the conversation of others sounds a little more like language and a little less like meaningless babble. I'm often able to get the gist of what folks are talking about, if not the particulars. At this point, my emphasis is NOT on "speaking like a native" or producing grammatically sophisticated sentences. My goal for the time being is to learn how to listen to people and identify with them. As this becomes possible, speaking ability will follow. But if I could somehow force my mouth to speak perfectly without first learning to hear others, that would be of no use. Perhaps I'd be able to show off and impress people, but I wouldn't be able to love anybody. So... slowly and slowly.

If you've ever moved to a foreign country (or even a new city) you may remember the phases of culture shock. There are a lot of extremes-- at some moments, the new land seems practically perfect in every way. And then moments later, you might feel like every person in the land has it in for you. It takes time for life to just become life, neither ecstatic nor despondent. So, cultural adjustment has had some very high ups and some very low downs. I thank God for your prayers and encouragement, as the joys of Tanzanian life greatly outweigh the difficulties. I'd like to tell you about some of those joys.

The hostel is on the same compound as my language school and a nursery school as well as the headquarters and seminary of a Protestant denomination. Almost everyone except me is a local Tanzanian, and they're eager to help me with language. One of the guards at the gate has particularly become a friend. He invited me to his home last week, where I visited with his wife, his brother, and his brother's family. My Swahili was taxed to its limits, but it was a real delight to spend time with locals and see what ordinary city life is like.

Very few people in the hilly suburbs of Dar es Salaam own cars, which means that many homes are accessible only by narrow footpaths winding between gardens, fruit trees and buildings. Living quarters are VERY cramped. In fact, many families occupy just a single room. Cooking and washing are done outdoors using charcoal stoves and water spigots. People spend almost all their time out of doors. Children play together in the gardens, and adults relax on sisal mats or play board games under mango trees. Inside a family's tiny quarters, you might pity them for how little they have. But in their real home-- the open air-- you would surely envy them for the paradise they inhabit.

While living in Dar es Salaam I attend St. Paraskevi Cathedral, which is the seat of the Archdiocese of Irinoupolis (my long-term assignment will be farther northwest, in the Archdiocese of Mwanza). The local bishop, Metropolitan Dimitrios, has welcomed me warmly. This Pentecost Sunday we had two ordinations and a tonsuring. Deacon Joseph was ordained to the priesthood to serve congregations of his own Hehe tribe in southwest Tanzania. And Reader Simon Peter was ordained to the diaconate, to serve here at the cathedral as well as at his home in London. With the blessing of my own bishop Metropolitan Jeronymos, His Eminence Dimitrios also tonsured me as a reader. So as befits Pentecost, three continents were represented in the day's events. It was a delight to be part of this, and I'm especially encouraged by the warm cooperation between Tanzania's two Orthodox Christian bishops.

Thank you for your financial support, your encouragement, and especially your holy prayers. It's been a joy to hear from many of you. Knowing that my study and work here are on behalf of so many people back in North America is a real encouragement that helps ease the tougher parts of life, and makes the best times shine brighter still. Please stay in touch!

By your prayers,

James Hargrave

PS This small story may give you a different window into Tanzanian life and culture. Enjoy!

On Thursday afternoon, my friend C invited me to his home. Our second “bus” was a minivan outfitted to climb the steep and narrow dirt roads of Dar es Salaam’s hilly suburbs. C and I sat up front, beside the driver who was eager to chat. He had visited the United States once, and had much to say. I think that his observations about American life may give you a glimpse of what things are like here.

“America has such good roads,” said the driver as we eased up a hill. “In some places, there are seven roads together, all going the same direction. And on the other side, seven roads for the other direction!” He pulled over to let a car going downhill get around him.

“And in America, there are big sidewalks on the side of the road. On both sides of the road, there are big beautiful sidewalks. But nobody is walking on them! Here,” he leaned on the horn, “you see we have many people walking. But they are walking on the road, because there are no sidewalks.

“My favorite thing in America,” the driver continued, “was Wal-Mart. Anything you want, you just walk, and you take it. Everything is there! It is all there for you to take.” We passed a small boy selling oranges from a basin balanced on his head. “I was very surprised, because nobody was watching to catch me if I was stealing. But then my friend he told me, people they are watching. They are watching on their computers, and if I steal they will catch me.”

As she boarded the bus, a woman passed her small child up front to sit on C’s lap. The little girl bounced happily on his knee. The driver continued his observations. “People in America, they don’t trust anybody. I saw a baby, and I said to it, ‘Hi baby! How are you, baby!’ and the mother she was angry. She said to me, ‘Who are you? What are you doing to my child?’ Then she took the baby and went away. I was very surprised. Here in Tanzania, we all take care of everybody’s children. We do not fear each other. In America, people they fear. Oh, they fear very much.”

We reached our stop, passed the baby back to her mother, and said farewell to the driver. We climbed a dirt lane past gardens and houses towards C’s home as the city bus continued on its way, bumping along the narrow and dusty road.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Giving Honor to the Wife (1 Peter 3:8)

 Ward Cleaver, the ideal husband...well, at least on TV...

7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

Having addressed slaves and then wives, St. Peter now turns to husbands, giving a very concise command that carries with it an implicit threat. His use of the word “likewise” implies that like slaves and wives, husbands must also submit to others, even though that submission gets acted out differently (compare St. Paul’s words to husbands and wives in Eph. 5:22-33, which are essentially the same as St. Peter’s). Specifically, husbands’ submission to their wives must be expressed by dwelling with them with understanding and giving them honor.

The phrase that is translated as “with understanding” in the NKJV literally means “according to knowledge.” But to what knowledge does St. Peter refer? “The phrase according to knowledge (Gr. kata gnosin) probably refers to the husband’s knowledge of God, a usage consistent with other New Testament uses of the term knowledge (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:1f; Col. 2:3), and not his knowledge of his wife. That is, the husband’s behavior towards the wife must reflect his knowledge of God and His demands, for a Christian husband should live differently from a pagan one” (86).

Rather than trying to dominate his wife, a Christian husband should give her honor. He should honor her wishes, her needs, and her desires. The wife must get a vote. And this honor should be given as to a “weaker vessel.” This phrase of St. Peter’s is very controversial, as some have assumed that he is preaching the complete superiority of males over females. This is not true, as FF explains: “In what does this weakness consist? Surely not in weakness of mind or of character, though ancient pagan opinion said so. Rather this weakness consists in extra vulnerability, and husbands must respond to this by protecting their wives and caring for them in love.” (86).

One reason why Christian wives are due honor is because they are “heirs together of the grace of life,” that is, of Christ’s salvation. “In the age to come, they will inherit the same Kingdom, and the honor he now gives her recognizes this” (Farley, 86).

Note also that the last phrase in St. Peter’s exhortation to husbands contains a warning: if husbands do not treat their wives as he commands, their prayers will be hindered. A husband cannot mistreat their wives and then expect God to answer his prayers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Incorruptible Beauty (1 Peter 3:1-7)

Icon of The Hospitality of Abraham, with Sarah on the right

1 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.

St. Peter now turns to housewives, laying out their responsibility to their husbands. First and foremost, they are to submit to their husbands’ leadership. FF explains the nature of this submission and contrasts it with the submission of slaves to masters that St. Peter had previously described: “…submission is not unique to the spousal relationship, but is a duty common to all Christians. Wives, however, do not submit in the same way slaves do, for the wives, unlike the slaves, submit to their husbands as to their equals. Indeed, Christian wives ae co-heirs of the same grace of eternal life as their Christian husbands” (83).

FF’s further comments are worth quoting in full: “Theirs is not a cringing servile submission, nor is the submission absolute. Rather, this submission has as its source the wife’s fear of Christ (Gr. phobos; compare its use in 2:17). As said above, Christians are not to fear flesh and blood. Rather, this fear refers to the wife’s reverence for Christ, so that she willingly follows her husband’s lead as a way of serving the Lord. This, of course, sets limits to her submission, for she would never follow her husband if doing so would contradict her faith in Jesus. Unlike the submission of wives in the pagan world (which was absolute), the submission of the Christian wife is the submission of one who belongs first and fundamentally to God.

“This submission is especially important in cases where the husbands are disobedient to the Word. For not all Christian women have Christian husbands, and some pagan husbands object to their wives’ religion. (This is another example of the difference between Christian and pagan submission: in the pagan world, the dutiful wife was expected to abandon her religion if her husband demanded it, whereas the Christian wife would never do such a thing.) Peter recognizes that nagging the husband to convert to the Christian faith is not likely to bear fruit. Indeed, it might even be counterproductive, for the husband could say, “Just look what this new faith produces—wives who no longer obey their own husbands! All was perfectly fine in my marriage until the wife heard of this Jesus!” (83).

Because of this, St. Peter urges wives to submit to their husbands, so that they might be won to Christ, not by words, but by actions, including pure conduct. As FF writes, “It is seeing a life, not hearing an argument, that will do the trick! And this purity is not confined to sexual chastity, but includes purity of heart as well. It is the entire quality of the woman’s life that commends her faith to her spouse” (84). Wives should not let their adornment be merely outward, consisting of fancy hairdos, makeup, jewelry, and fine clothing. It is much more important that wives “clothe” themselves with the “incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Instead of spending great amounts of time, money, and effort on making themselves attractive on the outside, wives (and all people!) should work on making their inward self (“the hidden person of the heart,” in St. Peter’s words) beautiful. (Note that the word “merely” is not in the original Greek, but is supplied by most translators—correctly, in my opinion. St. Peter is not forbidding makeup and jewelry; he is just saying that it is not as important as character. It is our Christian character which is precious in the sight of God.)

On the gentle (or “meek”) and quiet spirit, FF elaborates: “A wife who is inwardly meek (Gr. praus) is one whose impulses are controlled. The virtue of meekness is not weakness and pathetic self-effacement, but controlled strength; Moses was said to be the meekest man of his time (Num. 12:3 LXX), though he withstood the powerful Pharoah. Not wives only, but all Christians are urged to this fruit of the Spirit (e.g. Gal. 5:23). A wife is to have a quiet (Gr. esychios) spirit as well. This quietness is not total silence, but the inner stillness of those who are at peace. Once again, it is a virtue to which all should aspire, monastics especially (compare the English word “hesychast.”) (84).

Of course, cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit is difficult for all people, including wives, so St. Peter gives inspiring examples from the OT, including that of Sarah, who obeyed Abraham, calling him “lord.” This sounds a little appalling to modern-day readers. But keep in mind that the term “lord” (Gk. kyrios) meant many things, including “The Lord” (as in God), “Lord” (as in Master), or just “sir.” It is this third meaning that St. Peter intends. FF explains: “the term lord…in its original context was simply the usual term for husband. Nonetheless, the word did express the subordinate position of the wife, and indicated that Sarah accepted it” (85).

Note finally that if wives (and again, this is true of all people) do good as Sarah did, they will not feel any terror – “whatever kind of husbands they have, God will bless them” (Farley, 85).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Amazing Video About Priests

A brother Orthodox priest sent me the link to the following video.  The video is from Spain, in Spanish (with English subtitles), and obviously specifically about Roman Catholic priests.

But I think you may find it uplifting. 
I sure did.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Power That Changes Lives

Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way Page 13, Introduction to the Second Edition (written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968) Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003

Subject: a power that changes lives

The world now thirsts to see living faith in the person of Jesus Christ; not simply to hear about it, but to live it. So many books tell about Christ; so many preachers speak about Christ; but so few people live and speak WITH Christ.

The Church cannot live on principles of faith to be studied. Faith in Christ is not a theory. It is a power that changes lives. Everyone in Christ should have this power. One must be able to change one's own life and renew it through the power of Christ.

But our faith in Christ will ever remain powerless until we meet him face to face within ourselves. In all patience, long-suffering, and courage, we must bear the shame that will cover us when our souls are stripped naked before God's pure and searching eyes. It is only then that we will emerge with an authentic spiritual experience and renewal for our souls. We will then gain a true knowledge and awareness of the holiness and kindness of Christ.

Every meeting with Christ is a prayer of renewal. Every prayer is an experience of faith. Every experience of faith is eternal life. But that does not mean that the facts of faith, doctrine, or theology can be shaped or changed according to man's inward experience. The facts of faith are as firmly established as is God himself. However, our experience only intensifies their clarity and throws them into sharper relief, for God is truly revealed in his saints. Thus we know God, and always will know him only in proportion to the experience of his saints, those who fear him throughout the ages.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church - The Beginning

Last year, my parish (St. Joseph's in Houston) celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.  To help us commemorate the occasion, my friend and parishioner Doug Burns put together an oustanding video about the parish's history.  He recently trimmed the video down to about 4 minutes to put on the parish website.

Our parish is a wonderful, multi-ethnic, vibrant, and warm community.  If you are ever in the Houston area, please come and visit us.

And if you live in the Houston area (or anywhere in Texas) and you need some outstanding photography or video work for your wedding or special occasion, please contact Doug at his website.  Doug also is part of a folk/bluegrass band, and they would provide wonderful entertainment for a party or special occasion.  (Doug has a beautiful singing voice and plays a mean banjo!)

Here's the video.  There is some footage of me as both a deacon (at the consecration service) and as a priest.  You will also see Bishop BASIL, our pastor Fr. Matthew MacKay, and Deacon Meletios Marx.  The best sight of all, however, happens about 20 seconds into the video, where you will see a young, beardless, future Bishop THOMAS (he was a deacon at the time).  Enjoy the video!

(Thanks to Eddie Brega, our webmaster, for putting this on YouTube. Oh, and one more thing: Does anyone recognize the voice of the narrator? Post a comment with your guess - no fair posting if you already know!).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame (Part Four and Conclusion)

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial today

This is the fourth and final part of an article by Douglas Cramer, which originally appeared in AGAIN magazine.

On Easter Sunday, May 6th (April 23rd according to the Church calendar)—which ominously fell that year on Saint George the Victory-Bearer's Day—Serbs, Greeks and Russians gathered at the Catholic priests’ barracks. Although Russians comprised about 40 percent of the Dachau inmates, only a few managed to attend the service. By that time “repatriation officers” of the special Smersh units had arrived in Dachau by American military planes, and begun the process of erecting new lines of barbed wire for the purpose of isolating Soviet citizens from the rest of the prisoners, which was the first step in preparing them for their eventual forced repatriation.

In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945. Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon wore the make-shift “vestments” over their blue and gray-striped prisoner’s uniforms. Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, and then back again to Greek. The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory. The Gospel—“In the beginning was the Word”—also from memory.

And finally, the Homily of Saint John Chrysostom—also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live. Saint John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well! Eighteen Orthodox priests and one deacon—most of whom were Serbs—participated in this unforgettable service. Like the sick man who had been lowered through the roof of a house and placed in front of the feet of Christ the Savior, the Greek Archimandrite Meletios was carried on a stretcher into the chapel, where he remained prostrate for the duration of the service.

Other prisoners at Dachau included the recently canonized Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, who later became the first administrator of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the US and Canada; and the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dionysios, who after the war was made Metropolitan of Trikkis and Stagnon in Greece.

Fr. Dionysios had been arrested in 1942 for giving asylum to an English officer fleeing the Nazis. He was tortured for not revealing the names of others involved in aiding Allied soldiers and was then imprisoned for eighteen months in Thessalonica before being transferred to Dachau. During his two years at Dachau, he witnessed Nazi atrocities and suffered greatly himself. He recorded many harrowing experiences in his book Ieroi Palmoi. Among these were regular marches to the firing squad, where he would be spared at the last moment, ridiculed, and then returned to the destitution of the prisoners’ block.

After the liberation, Fr. Dionysios helped the Allies to relocate former Dachau inmates and to bring some normalcy to their disrupted lives. Before his death, Metropolitan Dionysios returned to Dachau from Greece and celebrated the first peacetime Orthodox Liturgy there. Writing in 1949, Fr. Dionysios remembered Pascha 1945 in these words:

In the open air, behind the shanty, the Orthodox gather together, Greeks and Serbs. In the center, both priests, the Serb and the Greek. They aren't wearing golden vestments. They don't even have cassocks. No tapers, no service books in their hands. But now they don't need external, material lights to hymn the joy. The souls of all are aflame, swimming in light.

Blessed is our God. My little paper-bound New Testament has come into its glory. We chant “Christ is Risen” many times, and its echo reverberates everywhere and sanctifies this place.

Hitler's Germany, the tragic symbol of the world without Christ, no longer exists. And the hymn of the life of faith was going up from all the souls; the life that proceeds buoyantly toward the Crucified One of the verdant hill of Stein.

On April 29, 1995—the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Dachau—the Russian Orthodox Memorial Chapel of Dachau was consecrated. Dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, the chapel holds an icon depicting angels opening the gates of the concentration camp and Christ Himself leading the prisoners to freedom. The simple wooden block conical architecture of the chapel is representative of the traditional funeral chapels of the Russian North. The sections of the chapel were constructed by experienced craftsmen in the Vladimir region of Russia, and assembled in Dachau by veterans of the Western Group of Russian Forces just before their departure from Germany in 1994. The priests who participated in the 1945 Paschal Liturgy are commemorated at every service held in the chapel, along with all Orthodox Christians who lost their lives “at this place, or at another place of torture.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Katie Wilcoxson Update

As many readers of this blog know, we often have James Hargrave post updates and/or comments on his work in Tanzania. We also want to take this time to update everyone on another missionary who will be working in Tanzania, as well: Katie Wilcoxson. We have had some posts about her on here before, but it has been awhile. She is still raising support to be able to go on her mission to Tanzania, but hopes to be on her way this summer.

Here is an excerpt from a recent newsletter from Katie:
Greetings from Austin, TX

The past few months have been busy while I continue to fundraise, work in the emergency room full time, and finish up the OCMC check list before my departure. Since my Nativity newsletter, I have spoken in Dallas at St. Seraphim’s OCA Cathedral and in New York City at Holy Protection OCA Cathedral. Both trips were special for different reasons. Let me tell you about them.

In December, I spoke at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas, TX. This parish is special to me because my grandparents, aunt, and cousins attend this parish. They all were received into the Church in the last 4 years. So I can now say I am a second generation Orthodox Christian. His Grace Dmitri, Fr. Joseph Fester, and the parish were all very welcoming. I was honored to give the homily that Sunday.

In April, I returned to New York City after an 11 year absence. In 1999, I was blessed to attend St. Vladimir's Seminary Orthodox Institute; that was the first year the Institute was opened to high school seniors. I had just become Orthodox one and a half years earlier, and it was then that I first met Orthodox Christians who were my age. Meeting other teens that were Orthodox changed my life. Prior to New York, I was just following my parents into the Orthodox Church; after New York, I made the decision to truly live as an Orthodox Christian. During the Institute, we visited different churches; one of them was Holy Protection OCA Cathedral. So, this spring, I was returning to the same parish to speak about the new ministry in Tanzania. It was a huge blessing to return to New York.

The following weekend, I had my commissioning at my home parish...

You can read the rest of that newsletter post here.

That commissioning ceremony can be viewed here.

The commissioning homily(preached by her father, Fr. Aidan Wilcoxson of St. John the Forerunner in Cedar Park, TX) can be heard here.

Please remember to keep Katie and all of our Orthodox Missionaries in your prayers as they endeavor to share the message of Christ.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Shepherd and Bishop of Your Souls (1 Peter 2:11-25)

"For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; [Isaiah 53:9]

23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

St. Peter now begins to give specific instructions to specific types of people, beginning with servants (literally “bondservants” or “slaves.” Slaves are to submit to their masters, whether they be good or evil, with fear. This fear is more honor and respect than terror, as FF explains: “(Peter in this epistle always uses the word fear, Gr. phobos, for the fear of God, telling Christians not to fear men; compare 3:14). Such an exhortation is needed because of the slave’s temptation to submit if the master is good and forebearing, but to disobey when the master is crooked and unreasonable in his demand (Gr. skolios, “bent, perverse”),” (80).

What is the application of verse 18 to modern day Christians, almost none of whom are slaves? It could apply to the relationship between a worker and his or her supervisor. Just as slaves in St. Peter’s day were called to submit to their masters, so should we submit to those in authority over us, whether they treat us well or not.

Sometimes this submission will result in us being mistreated. Sometimes we will suffer. But St. Peter urges us to “take it patiently,” not retaliating. This type of behavior is “commendable before God.” And not only that; it is our calling. It is God’s will for us. FF clarifies this passage: “It is the returning good for evil that brings God’s blessing, not suffering itself…it is patient endurance of unjust suffering that brings the divine reward” (80).

In enduring suffering with patience without retaliating, we are following the example of Christ. Again, FF explains this beautifully:

“The word rendered model [“example” in the NKJV] is the Greek upogrammos. It refers to the pattern of letters (Gr. gramma) that a school child copies as a way of learning how to write the alphabet. Christ’s endurance of unjust suffering thus sets the norm for His disciples. We must not protest when our lives come to imitate His, for this is how we fulfill our discipleship and learn from the Master. His path led to suffering and the Cross, and only after this to the Father’s reward. Like one following after and stepping in the steps and footprints left before us, we must follow Him to His destination of suffering. Therefore, we should not despise unjust suffering, for it is honorable. Indeed, it was this very thing that worked out our salvation” (81).

Not only did Christ suffer patiently, without retaliating, he did more: He bore our sins on the tree (i.e., the Cross). FF comments on the Greek word translated as “bore:”

“The word translated here carried is the Greek anaphero. In the Greek of Isaiah 53:12, it translates the Hebrew nasa, “to lift up, bear, carry,” but it is also the usual Greek word to describe lifting up something in sacrifice (compare Ex. 24:5 LXX; Heb. 7:27). The thought is thus that Christ carried away our sins in His own body by offering that body as a sacrifice” (81).

Finally, St. Peter points out that we (i.e., all humanity) have strayed like sheep (in saying this, he is continuing to use imagery from Isaiah 53), but now we have returned to Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop (or “overseer”) of our souls. On this verse, FF writes: “As Bishop or Overseer (Gk. episkopos), He will rule over them and provide for them. However vulnerable the house-slaves feel before their unjust master, Christ is their true Master, and He will ultimately defend them” (82).

And the same is true for us.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fear God, Honor the King (1 Peter 2:13-17)

"Fear God.  Honor the King" -- okay, okay...maybe not THIS king!

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Verse 13 contains an interesting translation problem, saying “submit yourself to every ανθρωπινη κτισει (anthropine ktisei).” Most of the English translations translate ktisei (from ktisis, “creation”) as “institution” or “authority” or something similar. FF, however, translates it literally, resulting in this translation: “Submit for the Lord’s sake to every human creation…” This translation, of course, results in a slightly different meaning, as he explains:

“The word…ktisis…[is] elsewhere used for the creation of the world and all those in it (Rom. 1:20; 8:39). [St. Peter] uses this word to show that even in pagan society, those who demand our submission are still the creation of God, and so if we submit to them for the Lord’s sake, it is a way of submitting to Him. The Christians are tempted to refuse this submission because those who are demanding it are pagan (this is all the more so in the case of the emperor, whose cult demands not only submission, but worship.) Peter writes to tell his readers that proper submission to the authorities is lawful for Christians.” So in his thinking, St. Peter is saying that we should respond to humans, who are all creations of God. This includes humans who govern, even when they themselves are not Christians. So, FF’s interpretation ends up meaning essentially the same thing as those of the translators of the common versions.

St. Peter then gives two reasons why we should submit to those in authority (both rulers of entire nations (“kings”) and those under them (“governors”). The first reason is because they are sent by God; the second is because they are put on earth for a reason: to punish evildoers and reward (or “praise,” as St. Peter says here) those who do good. By submitting to the government, Christians help it to fulfill these God-given rights.

(Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, too. Christians do not have to obey authorities when they forbid Christian worship or when they command us to do immoral or blasphemous things. A biblical example is Acts 4, when, after the Sanhedrin commanded them to no longer teach people about Jesus, St. Peter and St. John said "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20).)

God’s will, as we see in verse 15 is that we do good—both by submitting to authorities in particular and by doing good in general—we may silence the ignorant people who oppose the Gospel of Christ. When we do what is right and lawful, no one will have anything bad to say about us…at least not anything real and substantive.

In the books of the NT, both Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we are free. But this does not mean that we are free to just do anything we want, let alone to sin. It means rather that we are free FROM the power of sin. It means we are free to be the people God wants us to be and to live the type of life God wants us to live. We are free to be changed into His likeness. Like St. Paul, St. Peter warns that we should not use our freedom to engage in sin, but to be servants of God and of government. As FF writes, “Those who protest that it is demeaning to submit to legal authorities usually are not motivated by noble aims, and their desire for freedom is simply a pretext and covering for doing wickedness. Thus, as slaves they should settle it in their minds to honor all, giving to each one the appropriate respect” (78-79).

But of course, we must not give to a ruler the same reverence that we give to God. Note how St. Peter says, “Fear God; honor the king.” Note that “fear” (in the biblical sense of a deep, awe-filled reverence) is much greater than “honor,” and that St. Peter mentions God first and then the king.

Finally note that St. Peter says, "Honor ALL people."  Yes, that means everyone!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sojourners and Pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Okay, I know...wrong type of pilgrims!  Close enough!  Work with me!

11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Now St. Peter begins a new section; previously, he has focused primarily on Christians’ relationship with God and with each other. Now he addresses our relationship with the outside world. He begins this new section with “Beloved,” a term that shows his pastoral love and concern for his audience. He reminds them that they are sojourners and pilgrims; this world is not their real home—they are merely passing through. They do not really belong here, and so they do not fit in. Nor should they try to fit in, at least not by conforming to the base desires of the world.

He urges them first of all to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” As FF writes, “Indulging such appetites may seem to lead to lead to fulfillment and happiness, but it actually leads to death. True life consists in righteousness and in avoiding such practices. The term soul (Gr. psyche) here refers to the entire living person, not to the immaterial spirit as opposed to the body. The thought is that indulging such desires wars against the person’s own good and true life” (76).

In other words, giving into our fleshly lusts, or passions, does damage to our whole person, body, soul and spirit. We should never think that a sin is just a sin of the body, or just a sin of the spirit. The human person is a unified whole, and that which damages one part damages all of us.

In addition to abstaining from indulgence in the passions, we should always behave well toward the Gentiles (meaning here “nonbelievers”, not physical Gentiles; St. Peter addresses his hearers as a new people who are no longer mere Gentiles.”). In this fallen world, when Christians try to do good, sometimes we are accused of doing evil. FF cites a first-century example: “The Christians indeed tend to withdraw from the drunken parties and other social activities characteristic of Gentile life…and they have gained a reputation as antisocial haters of mankind as a result. They are further accused of such atrocities as incest, murder, and cannibalism (from a garbled understanding of Christian talk of ‘eating the Body and drinking the Blood’ and of ‘the Kiss’ [i.e., the Kiss of Peace] exchanged among ‘the brothers and sisters.’)” (77). Today we are not accused of these things, but other insults and accusations are thrown at us instead.

But our good works can go a long way towards silencing such accusations and even toward bringing some to Christ. As FF states, “Works such as almsgiving, feeding and clothing the poor, and taking in society’s castoffs thus have an evangelistic value as well” as being commandments of Christ (77).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame (Part Three)

Survivors of the Dachau concentration camp, 1945

This is the third of four parts of the article Dachau 1945:  The Souls of All are Aflame, written by Douglas Cramer and originally appearing in AGAIN magazine.

Rahr (a Russian survivor of the camp)’s account continues:

Finally all 32,600 prisoners join in the cry as the first American soldiers appear just behind the wire fence of the camp. After a short while electric power is turned off, the gates open and the American G.I.’s make their entrance. As they stare wide-eyed at our lot, half-starved as we are and suffering from typhus and dysentery, they appear more like fifteen-year-old boys than battle-weary soldiers. . . .

An international committee of prisoners is formed to take over the administration of the camp. Food from SS stores is put at the disposal of the camp kitchen. A US military unit also contributes some provision, thereby providing me with my first opportunity to taste American corn. By order of an American officer radio-receivers are confiscated from prominent Nazis in the town of Dachau and distributed to the various national groups of prisoners. The news comes in: Hitler has committed suicide, the Russians have taken Berlin, and German troops have surrendered in the South and in the North. But the fighting still rages in Austria and Czechoslovakia. . . .

Naturally, I was ever cognizant of the fact that these momentous events were unfolding during Holy Week. But how could we mark it, other than through our silent, individual prayers? A fellow-prisoner and chief interpreter of the International Prisoner's Committee, Boris F., paid a visit to my typhus-infested barrack—“Block 27”—to inform me that efforts were underway in conjunction with the Yugoslav and Greek National Prisoner's Committees to arrange an Orthodox service for Easter day, May 6th.

There were Orthodox priests, deacons, and a group of monks from Mount Athos among the prisoners. But there were no vestments, no books whatsoever, no icons, no candles, no prosphoras, no wine. . . . Efforts to acquire all these items from the Russian church in Munich failed, as the Americans just could not locate anyone from that parish in the devastated city. Nevertheless, some of the problems could be solved. The approximately four hundred Catholic priests detained in Dachau had been allowed to remain together in one barrack and recite mass every morning before going to work. They offered us Orthodox the use of their prayer room in “Block 26,” which was just across the road from my own “block.”

The chapel was bare, save for a wooden table and a Czenstochowa icon of the Theotokos hanging on the wall above the table—an icon which had originated in Constantinople and was later brought to Belz in Galicia, where it was subsequently taken from the Orthodox by a Polish king. When the Russian Army drove Napoleon's troops from Czenstochowa, however, the abbot of the Czenstochowa Monastery gave a copy of the icon to czar Alexander I, who placed it in the Kazan Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg where it was venerated until the Bolshevik seizure of power. A creative solution to the problem of the vestments was also found. New linen towels were taken from the hospital of our former SS-guards. When sewn together lengthwise, two towels formed an epitrachilion and when sewn together at the ends they became an orarion. Red crosses, originally intended to be worn by the medical personnel of the SS guards, were put on the towel-vestments

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame (Part Two)

Guards at the gate of Dachau

This is the second of four parts.  This article was written by Douglas Cramer and originally appeared in AGAIN magazine.

Rahr was one of the over 4,000 Russian prisoners at Dachau at the time of the liberation. The liberated prisoners also included over 1,200 Christian clergymen. After the war, Rahr immigrated to the United States, where he taught Russian History at the University of Maryland. He later worked for Radio Free Europe. His account of the events at Dachau in 1945 begins with his arrival at the camp:

April 27th: The last transport of prisoners arrives from Buchenwald. Of the 5,000 originally destined for Dachau, I was among the 1,300 who had survived the trip. Many were shot, some starved to death, while others died of typhus. . . .

April 28th: I and my fellow prisoners can hear the bombardment of Munich taking place some 30 km from our concentration camp. As the sound of artillery approaches ever nearer from the west and the north, orders are given proscribing prisoners from leaving their barracks under any circumstances. SS-soldiers patrol the camp on motorcycles as machine guns are directed at us from the watch-towers, which surround the camp.

April 29th: The booming sound of artillery has been joined by the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. Shells whistle over the camp from all directions. Suddenly white flags appear on the towers—a sign of hope that the SS would surrender rather than shoot all prisoners and fight to the last man. Then, at about 6:00 p.m., a strange sound can be detected emanating from somewhere near the camp gate which swiftly increases in volume. . . .

The sound came from the dawning recognition of freedom. Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz of the US Seventh Army described the greeting from his point of view:

Several hundred yards inside the main gate, we encountered the concentration enclosure, itself. There before us, behind an electrically charged, barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half-mad men, women and children, waving and shouting with happiness—their liberators had come! The noise was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound, was cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Living Stones (1 Peter 2:4-10)

4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,

“The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone,”

8 and

“A stone of stumbling

And a rock of offense.”

They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

St. Peter next urges his readers to continually come to Christ (FF believes he means by coming to Church and receiving the Eucharist, which may well be true) as to a “living stone.” In using this simile for Christ, St. Peter is borrowing from imagery used in Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16. The world rejected this “stone”, in spite of the fact that he is chosen by God and precious. As FF writes, “…the world rejects Christ as a deluded deceiver and cannot understand how a crucified carpenter can be the power of God. In the same way, the world rejects the Christians as deluded and cannot understand how they can live and die for this Man” (73).

Christians, like Christ himself, are “living stones,” and we are being built up into a spiritual house, which is the Church. This passage calls to mind St. Paul’s description of the Church as the “household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Not only are we Christians blessed to be included in the Church, but we are even more privileged to part of a “holy priesthood,” with a responsibility “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” These sacrifices are not merely optional; it is part of our calling to offer them. Regarding the nature of these sacrifices, FF writes, “The sacrifices of other men are the bodies and blood of animals, but the sacrifices of the Christians are spiritual (Gr. pneumatikos), consisting of praise, the doxological thanksgiving and memorial of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ” (74).

St. Peter then shows how the work of Christ, especially his rejection by men and vindication by God, was prophesied in the OT, quoting from Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14 (the second of these verses is chanted each week in Matins, BTW). The “stone” spoken about by these verses, of course is Christ. Notice how St. Peter says that those who “stumble” over Christ, that is, who reject Him, were “appointed” to do so. Is this, as some would claim, evidence that some are predestined to be damned? Does God elect some people to disbelieve in Christ?

Far from it! In FF’s words, “It is not…that God overrides their free will, so that they have no choice but to disobey and reject the Gospel. Rather, it is that in His providence, God decreed that the proud should find their judgment and doom by stumbling over the One who came in humility. Their proud hearts are ready to stumble…, and Christ provides the occasion for their fall. Peter stresses this to show that it all depends on whether one believes or disbelieves (v. 7). The believer’s faith is central to his salvation…--let his hearers cling to their faith!” (74-75).

In contrast to those who have stumbled over Christ, St. Peter’s readers enjoy a privileged position; they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” These are the titles that God gave Israel in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 43:20-21 and Exodus 19:5-6; 23:22, which is not surprising, since the Church is the true Israel. God chose those whom he knew would believe in and follow him, making them his own special people, calling them to be holy, and appointing them as priests to him.

This phrase “royal priesthood” is used by some Christians to support their doctrine of “the priesthood of the believer;” the idea that there is no need for “priests” in the church, since all of us have equal access to God. It is true that we are all priests in the sense that we are all called to take what God gives us and offer it back to him as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We are all called to present a sacrifice of praise, along with offerings of our time, talents, and treasure. In fact, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, we are to present our very selves as living sacrifices to God.

However, there are also people whom God has called and gifted in a special way to lead the people in presenting their offerings to him (just as Christ gave the apostles special gifts). The English word “priest” is merely corruption of the Greek word presbuteros (“presbyter” or “elder”), which is found many places in the Bible. Finally, as Fr. Peter Gillquist points out, if all of us are priests, then there is nothing wrong with referring to some of us as priests!

Note finally that this calling is not merely for the purpose of bestowing privileges on us, but rather to charge us with a responsibility. As with the people of Israel in the OT, so with us: God does not bestow all these wonderful things on us so that we can sit back and be proud of ourselves. Rather, we have a task to do: to “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That is, we are called for a reason: to praise God both in and out of the Divine Liturgy. We must proclaim the goodness of God to those outside the Church, so that they may hear the Good news of Christ and also come out of darkness into God’s marvelous light!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pure Milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:1-3)

1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

St. Peter begins another section with another “therefore.” This “therefore”, like the one in verse 13, refers back to the new birth that we have been given through Jesus Christ. Because of this wonderful gift, St. Peter urges his readers to lay aside or put off the sins which can lead to dissension in the community, including “malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” This “laying aside” may be an allusion to their baptism, in which they laid aside their old clothes before being baptized.

The Greek words rendered “malice,” “deceit,” “hypocrisy,” “envy,” and “evil speaking” mean essentially the same thing as the equivalent English words. The Greek word translated as “evil speaking” is in the plural, so it is literally “evil speaking.” Regarding this, FF says that evil speaking “include acts of slander, criticism, and misrepresentation. It is fatally easy to cloak such sins in high-sounding names and to let them survive in our Christian life. But such things destroy the brotherly love which is the goal of baptism” (72).

Having urged them to put aside these fellowship-killing sins, St. Peter next urges them to replace these ways of thinking with the Word of God. He addresses them as “newborn babes,” which is a reference to the fact that most of them were recent converts. Just as newborn infants cry out for their mothers’ milk, so should new Christians cry out for more spiritual nourishment (and in fact, all of us should, whether we are recent converts or not). The “word” here, again is not necessarily the Scriptures (for the New Testament as we know it did not yet exist), although they are part of it. The word St. Peter refers to is the teaching of the Apostles, which is preserved today in the Church.

The teaching of the Church is the main means by which we grow spiritually. So we must constantly take it in. Just as a newborn infant would parish without milk, so we will dry up and wither spiritually if we do not constantly partake of the Scriptures and other documents of the Church. (Of course, we need prayer and the Sacraments as well, but that is not St. Peter’s focus here; his focus is on the teaching that is so important for brand new believers).

If we do not have a strong desire for the “milk” of the Word, then we have a major problem. We would need to repent of this, because there is a good chance that we have not, as St. Peter says, “tasted that the Lord is gracious” (an allusion to Psalm 34:8).

As FF points out, the “milk” of the Word that we all need is described as “guileless” (Gk. adolos) and “rational” (Gk. logikos). Interestingly, both the NKJV and the NASB, which are usually very literal translations, combine these two Greek words into the single English adjective “pure,” while the less literal NIV translates them literally as “pure, spiritual.” Adolos (“guileless”), in FF’s words, “describes milk that is pure, undiluted, not deceptively watered down, as some milk was.” (In other words, it is whole milk, not skim or 1%!). “The thought is of Christian teaching that is pure, free of secular philosophy, for such syncretistic teaching would deceive the heart” (73).

Regarding logikos (“rational” or “spiritual”), FF says “This Greek word is cognate with logos, which is rendered ‘word, reason, rationality.’ It here describes milk that is nonmaterial, spiritual, that given by the Word (Logos) of God. This is what the believers are to seek after—teaching that is pure, spiritual, coming from the apostolic tradition and free of all worldly mixture” (73).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame (Part One)

The electrified fences that guarded the Dachau concentration camp - photo taken by American soldiers in 1945

During the Second World War, thousands of Christians, including many Orthodox Christians, were sent to the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.  Just over 65 years ago, the camp was liberated by American soldiers.  Soon afterward, on April 29, 1945, the Orthodox former prisoners celebrated the Feast of Pascha.  The inspiring story of this very special Pascha is recounted in an article entitled "Dachau 1945: The Souls of All Are Aflame" by Douglas Cramer.  The article originally appeared in Again magazine.  Over the next week or two, I thought I would share this inspiring story with you.  Please enjoy the first part of the story.

Warning:  being as it is a tale about a Nazi death camp, the story is quite graphic in parts.   It is not suitable for children or people who are easily grossed out!

In 1945, a Paschal Liturgy like no other was performed. Just days after their liberation by the US military on April 29, 1945, hundreds of Orthodox Christian prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp gathered to celebrate the Resurrection service and to give thanks.

The Dachau concentration camp was opened in 1933 in a former gunpowder factory. The first prisoners interred there were political opponents of Adolf Hitler, who had become German chancellor that same year. During the twelve years of the camp's existence, over 200,000 prisoners were brought there. The majority of prisoners at Dachau were Christians, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox clergy and lay people.

Countless prisoners died at Dachau, and hundreds were forced to participate in the cruel medical experiments conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher. When prisoners arrived at the camp they were beaten, insulted, shorn of their hair, and had all their belongings taken from them. The SS guards could kill whenever they thought it was appropriate. Punishments included being hung on hooks for hours, high enough that heels did not touch the ground; being stretched on trestles; being whipped with soaked leather whips; and being placed in solitary confinement for days on end in rooms too small to lie down in.

The abuse of the prisoners reached its end in the spring of 1945. The events of that Holy Week were later recorded by one of the prisoners, Gleb Rahr. Rahr grew up in Latvia and fled with his family to Nazi Germany when the Russians invaded. He was arrested by the Gestapo because of his membership in an organization that opposed both fascism and communism. Originally imprisoned in Buchenwald, he was transported to Dachau near the end of the war.

In fact, Rahr was one of the survivors of the infamous “death trains,” as they were called by the American G.I.’s who discovered them. Thousands of prisoners from different camps had been sent to Dachau in open rail cars. The vast majority of them died horrific deaths from starvation, dehydration, exposure, sickness, and execution.

In a letter to his parents the day after the liberation, G.I. William Cowling wrote, “As we crossed the track and looked back into the cars the most horrible sight I have ever seen met my eyes. The cars were loaded with dead bodies. Most of them were naked and all of them skin and bones. Honest their legs and arms were only a couple of inches around and they had no buttocks at all. Many of the bodies had bullet holes in the back of their heads.”

Marcus Smith, one of the US Army personnel assigned to Dachau, also described the scene in his 1972 book, The Harrowing of Hell.

"Refuse and excrement are spread over the cars and grounds. More of the dead lie near piles of clothing, shoes, and trash. Apparently some had crawled or fallen out of the cars when the doors were opened, and died on the grounds. One of our men counts the boxcars and says that there are thirty-nine. Later I hear that there were fifty, that the train had arrived at the camp during the evening of April 27, by which time all of the passengers were supposed to be dead so that the bodies could be disposed of in the camp crematorium. But this could not be done because there was no more coal to stoke the furnaces. Mutilated bodies of German soldiers are also on the ground, and occasionally we see an inmate scream at the body of his former tormentor and kick it. Retribution!"