Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Texas theme park for visitors with special needs

The carousel has chariots for wheelchairs. Braille games decorate side panels on the jungle gym. And table-high sandboxes allow just about any kid to build a castle.

Morgan's Wonderland aims to offer everything a special-needs guest might enjoy at a theme park — while appealing to non-disabled visitors too.

"If it wasn't for searching Google," founder Gordon Hartman said, "it would've taken me a lot longer to put this together."

The result is both inventive and heartwarming: a 25-acre, $34 million park catering every detail to people with physical or mental disabilities, down to jungle gyms wide enough to fit two wheelchairs side-by-side, a "Sensory Village" that's an indoor mall of touch-and-hear activities, and daily attendance limits so the park never gets too loud or lines too long.

Read more here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

We Must Never Forget...

This was written by Fr. James last year for Memorial Day. It is reposted at his request:

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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania

Dear friends,

Kristo amefufuka! Christ is risen!

Greetings from Bukoba in northwest Tanzania, where I have spent the past week visiting with fellow missionaries and Archdiocesan leadership. Bukoba is the headquarters of Kagera Region, a brilliant green area with hills, mountains, and rocky cliffs cascading down into Lake Victoria. As I sit here listening to songbirds, I am only a ten-minute walk from the lakeside. Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the sinking of the MV Bukoba, a passenger ship that went down nearby to the loss of more than eight hundred lives. It's a time of mourning and remembrance for the town.

Things are going well. On the Sunday of the Paralytic I joined Archdiocesan leadership to survey a community called Ibale, far up in the hills of Muleba District just south of here. Ibale looks essentially like a bare hillside with a church, a clergy home, and a view of ridges and valleys dotted with homesteads and banana plantations. It is central to a number of other communities, and so we have chosen it as the site for this year's youth seminar.

Every year the seminar is conducted in a different region of the Archdiocese of Mwanza, and every year we are joined by volunteers from the Finnish Orthodox Mission and from OCMC in North America, who assist in conducting the Christian education program. This year we hope to host up to two hundred students... yes, on a bare hillside. God willing, by the end of July there will be tents to house the students, staff and Team Members; kitchen and dining facilities; and temporary structures for classrooms. Already many details have come together since my initial visit in January, and it's exciting to see how much can be developed from apparently sparse resources. You can read more about this in the Spring 2011 OCMC Magazine, which should be available soon at http://www.ocmc.org .

On Friday 20th May, I was invited to join Missionary Michael Pagedas on a visit to another rural community- this one called Rubale, about a two-hour drive from town and site of Saint Sosthenes Secondary School. Although the school is only in its third year, already its students have made a big splash in National Examinations. I was impressed by the faculty and by the facilities- which are high-quality by local standards, but still face similar setbacks as other schools here... crowded dormitories, not enough desks for all the students, and equipment shortages.

All secondary, post-secondary and graduate education in Tanzania uses English-language curriculum, so success in school depends heavily on ability to do academic work in English. Imagine if all North American high schools, colleges and universities conducted classes exclusively in Tagalog (after English-only education through seventh grade) and you'll begin to get a sense of how great a challenge this is! So, at Archbishop JERONYMOS' request, the headmaster of St Sosthenes and I are assessing the possibility for me to facilitate the school's English-language education. I am excited about the possibility.

These are only a few of many exciting things going on in our Archdiocese, but I'll mention only one more right now: Maria is coming! OCMC Missionary Maria Roeber hopes to arrive in Tanzania in early June, to begin learning local culture and Kiswahili language. She is a maternity nurse from Georgetown University Hospital and plans to be stationed at Holy Resurrection Hospital here in Bukoba. Complications with birth are among the very biggest health issues locally, so once she has learned the language and culture well, Maria's professional abilities and calling will be of tremendous value. I've known Maria since 2008, and am eager to welcome her to Tanzania.

I miss you guys, and I miss my Florida! It recently hit me that Florida springtime has passed me by and I never saw a single azalea, camellia, phlox, dogwood or magnolia blossom. Lakeside Tanzania has probably the most perfect climate imaginable (Southern California is extreme by comparison), and it'd be hard for me to find anything to complain about here. But that doesn't mean I'm not just a little bit homesick...

Thank you for sending me here. Thank you for your financial support, for your friendship, for your correspondence and encouragement, and especially for your holy prayers. God is keeping and sustaining me because of you.

Amefufuka kweli! Truly he is risen!

By your prayers in Christ,

James Hargrave

PS You can see this and previous updates at http://jhargrave.ocmc.org

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just for Fun: Your First Day In Heaven

Well, as you may have read, the world was supposed to end today.  As of 8 PM, it still hasn't (unless I'm mistaken).  I'm sure it will at some point in the next 4 hours...

In honor of the fact that heaven is about to gain some new residents later today, I thought I would post videos of a couple of different versions of my favorite song for a gospel quartet, a song called "Your First Day in Heaven,"  Yes, the theology is totally off, but nevertheless the song is just plain fun (and fun to sing, too!).  The first version is by the Gaither Vocal Band and friends, and was made last year.  The second version is from 1966 and is by the legendary gospel quartet The Imperials.  Compare the two versions and see what you think.

Incidentally, one man sings in both versions. Can you guess which one?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny? (from NYT)

Taken from this source.

The economic differences among the country’s various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among states and even larger than those among racial groups.

The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent.

On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists. In each case, 20 percent or fewer of followers made at least $75,000. Remarkably, the share of Baptist households making $40,000 or less is roughly the same as the share of Reform Jews making $100,000 or more. Overall, Protestants, who together are the country’s largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics. That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations.

Many factors are behind the discrepancies among religions, but one stands out. The relationship between education and income is so strong that you can almost draw a line through the points on this graph. Social science rarely produces results this clean.

What about the modest outliers — like Unitarians, Buddhists and Orthodox Christians, all of whom are less affluent than they are educated (and are below the imaginary line)? One possible explanation is that some religions are more likely to produce, or to attract, people who voluntarily choose lower-paying jobs, like teaching.

Another potential explanation is discrimination. Scott Keeter of Pew notes that researchers have used more sophisticated versions of this sort of analysis to look for patterns of marketplace discrimination. And a few of the religions that make less than their education would suggest have largely nonwhite followings, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Pew also created a category of traditionally black Protestant congregations, and it was somewhat poorer than could be explained by education levels. These patterns don’t prove discrimination, but they raise questions.

Some of the income differences probably stem from culture. Some faiths place great importance on formal education. But the differences are also self-reinforcing. People who make more money can send their children to better schools, exacerbating the many advantages they have over poorer children. Round and round, the cycle goes. It won’t solve itself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Role of Tertullian and Irenaeus in the Christological and Ecclesiological Development of the Early Church - Part 3

This is the final installment of this series. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

St. Irenaeus rightly claimed that one could know that the Church (as opposed to the Gnostics that he faced) could be relied upon to provide this proper interpretation, according to apostolic tradition, resulting in apostolic faith, because the Church possessed an unbroken line of bishops – Apostolic Succession. To interpret the scriptures outside of this framework was unthinkable. The apostolic sees, guided by the Holy Spirit, could be relied upon to preserve the apostolic witness. This ensures that the message preached in his day (150 years after the crucifixion), or even in modern times, is still interpreted according to the original tradition, producing the identical faith of the Apostles. Gnostics, or anyone else who does not exist within the organization of the Church, are not competent to interpret.

The Church is still viewed as the pillar and support of the truth. Outside of the Church, one does not have the Holy Spirit and cannot receive Christ. Proper interpretation of the apostolic writings can only be gained in the context of the Church, which has maintained an unbroken line of hierarchs, from the Apostles to the present, preserving and maintaining the apostolic traditions, both oral and written, allowing for Christians to practice the true faith. This understanding can be directly traced to Church Fathers, such as St. Irenaeus, who put these ideas down on paper in the later part of the second century. His influence led to a proper understanding of the Church that provided stability and comfort, being the place where sacraments are received.

These two men provided important leadership and development of theology that led to a further understanding of the proper nature of the Godhead, especially Christology, and the true nature and role of the Church. These areas of study define the true nature of Christ and the Church, explaining how Christians can know what is right and true. Without their contributions, the theology of Church would be less than it is. God truly used them to help guide the Church into a proper understanding of what is right. The Church is strengthened because of their work.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Role of Tertullian and Irenaeus in the Christological and Ecclesiological Development of the Early Church - Part 2

This is part 2 of this series. See part 1 here.

Ultimately, the major component of Tertullian’s Christology was his understanding of Christ existing in two natures, or substances. Christ was eternal, alongside the Father, united in essence, but a distinct Person. It was required for Christ to become man, in order to accomplish man’s redemption, deriving his humanity from the Theotokos. He was truly born in the flesh, from the virgin womb of Mary, mingling “God and man in Himself." Tertullian was also the first to tackle the difficulty of how the two substances could be found in the same person. His determination was that since God is immutable, he did not change or transform, but simply clothed himself in humanity. Both substances, humanity and divinity, continue to exist “unaltered and unimpaired” in the Person of Christ. In his own words: “We observe a twofold condition, not confused but conjoined, Jesus, in one Person at once God and man." Finally, Jesus, as the “God-man,” continued to have that “twofold condition,” even after his assumption. It is evident that this interpretation was a precursor of the Orthodox viewpoint of Christ being in two natures, but one person – eternally God, yet man.

Just as Tertullian had a major influence on the Christology of the Church, so also did St. Irenaeus have a major impact on its Ecclesiology. He also conducted his expositions in the midst of fighting heresies. A few years older than Tertullian, St. Irenaeus fought against the Montanist and Valentinian heresies. In his desire to stomp out the Gnostic heresies, he focused on rendering “it impossible for anyone to confound Gnosticism with Christianity” and “to make it impossible for such a monstrous system to survive, or ever to rise again." One important way that he addressed these concerns was by identifying and developing the concept of what the Church really was.

In the writings of St. Irenaeus, it is evident that he sees the Church as existing from the foundation of the world in a mysterious sense, so that Old Testament faithful would necessarily be considered members. The Church was to be understood as “the new Israel; it is Christ’s glorious body, the mother of Christians." He defines the church as being the place wherever the Spirit of God can be found. The two share the same space. He further expands that those “who do not participate in the Spirit neither feed at their mother’s breasts nor drink the bright fountain issuing from Christ’s body." Therefore, the Church is not to be considered as a man-made institution, but is a divine institution founded long before Christ came in the flesh.

Taking the words of St. Paul that the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (NKJV; 1 Timothy 3:15), St. Irenaeus taught that the Church was the repository of all truth, because it was the only place to receive the apostolic writings, the apostolic oral tradition, and the apostolic faith. This threefold description is still relevant to Ecclesiology. The Church possesses the writings of the Apostles, or the New Testament, interpreted through the Church Fathers, or the apostolic tradition, which produces the apostolic faith. That these components are all necessary is evident after reviewing the fractured status of Christianity in the world; various denominations have erupted due to improper interpretations of the scriptures, because the faith and tradition of the apostles has been neglected. It is the Orthodox Church that provides the proper lens (faith and tradition) to correctly interpret the apostolic writings.

To be continued...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Role of Tertullian and Irenaeus in the Christological and Ecclesiological Development of the Early Church - Part 1

In the mid-second century, two important historical figures came into prominence in the Christian world: Tertullian and Irenaeus. The former, after producing enough important theological teaching that he is still referred to as “the father of Western Christianity,” adhered himself to the Montanists (cf. the title of the third volume of the Ante-Nicene Fathers is “Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian”). The latter is recognized as a true Saint in the Orthodox Church. Both left behind many writings that are helpful to modern Christians, and both helped to shape the theology of the Church. Their effects are still evident in the Church’s Christological and Ecclesiological theology. Both of these men were influential in each of the aforementioned theological areas, but Tertullian was especially influential on the Christological development, while St. Irenaeus had a major impact on the Ecclesiological development. They were contemporaries, addressing heresies that threatened the theology of the Church during the formative years, before the Ecumenical Councils settled these questions. It was partly through their influence and devotion that the Councils had sufficient and proper theology to confront the heresies and to overcome them, leading to a proper understanding of the nature of Christ and the Church.

The influence of Tertullian in the Christological controversies of the late second and early third centuries is evident by the inclusion of his treatise, On the Flesh of Christ, in the aforementioned volume of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. In that text, Tertullian confronted the heresy that Christ had not come in the flesh, as advocated by heretics such as Marcion, Apelles, Basiledes, and Valentinus (footnote in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 3). In contrast to the heretical notion that the spiritual nature of Christ was the only way that He was manifested, Tertullian maintained that Christ did indeed come in the flesh, and that was of paramount importance. He further stated that “the nature of the two substances displayed Him as man and God, - in one respect born, in the other unborn…the divine and the human – is distinctly asserted with equal truth…[the] power of the Spirit proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested to the flesh of man."

In fact, God is presented in the work of Tertullian as eternally existing, and revealing Himself via creation and redemption. These realities are ultimately fulfilled in the incarnation, which was the ultimate aim of God’s purpose. The working out of this redemptive plan led to the distinction between Father, Son, and Spirit. This was one of the earliest expositions of the distinctive members of the Trinity. As such, it introduced the concept of “persons” as existing within the Godhead. Tertullian went so far as to recognize that “…the Word or Son is a ‘Person’… ‘a second in addition to the Father.’ In the third place, however, there is the Spirit, the ‘representative’…[who] issues from the Father by way of the Son…He, too, is a ‘Person.'" Tertullian was even the first to use the word “Trinity” in reference to the Godhead.

He went on to claim that though three persons, the members of the Trinity were from a single source, hence one God. There was no division between the three persons. They were, in fact, of one substance. Tertullian’s strength in this area lies in his understanding that the three persons of the Godhead existed in Trinitarian form, and yet were of one ultimate substance. This terminology would ultimately be adopted by the whole Church as Orthodox theology. He believed and taught that Father and Son “share the same divine nature or essence, and in fact, since the Godhead is indivisible, are one identical being. On the other hand, [as Persons the Father, Son, and Spirit are] admirably suited to express the otherness, or independent subsistence, of the Three”

To be continued...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beware Lest You Fall (2 Peter 3:17-18)

The Martyrdom of Peter by Lionello Spada (early 17th c.)

17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

One final time, St. Peter warns his beloved flock that they already know that he has told them and that they should beware, lest they fall (for all of us, no matter how strong we think we are, are capable of falling and “being led away with the error of the wicked.”

St. Peter also commands his readers to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the Christian life, there is no standing still; either we are growing closer to God, or we are growing father from Him. That is why we must work so hard to grow.

I will give FF the final words: “Peter ends his epistle (and his life) on this note of praise, giving glory to Jesus Christ. The apostle’s eyes are on this age, but also on the age to come, and his desire is to glorify his Lord both now and in eternity” (138).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Some Things Are Difficult to Understand (3:14-16)

14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Drawing his epistle to a close with his characteristic form of address (“beloved”), St. Peter once again urges his readers to be diligent to live a holy life. The Greek words he uses for “without spot” and “blameless” (aspiloi and amometoi) are direct opposites of spiloi and momoi (“stains” and “blemishes”) that he had used earlier to describe the false teachers. Note that he also urges them to be in peace, and to be patient (v.15). Patience like that of our Lord leads to salvation.

St. Peter then does something unusual for a biblical writer: he appeals to the message of another biblical writer. Peter knew Paul well, and he had both heard his teaching and read at least some of his epistles. Though some then and now have tried to say that the two apostles had a different gospel, or that they were somehow opposed to each other all their lives, this is not true. As St. Peter affirms here, his message is in essence the same of that of St. Paul, even though they may word the message a little differently at times.

St. Peter makes three statements about St. Paul’s writings. First, he says that St. Paul wrote them “according to the wisdom given to him.” In other words, St. Paul’s epistles were no ordinary epistles. They are a product of wisdom given to him from above.

Second, St. Peter affirms that St. Paul’s epistles contain “some things hard to understand.” How true this is! When we are tempted to get frustrated about our inability to understand some of the things St. Paul wrote, let us take comfort in the fact that even St. Peter, who spent three years with our Lord and received teaching from him after the resurrection, also struggled to understand some of what St. Paul wrote. St. Peter goes on to say that the difficulty of St. Paul’s writing has led to “untaught and unstable” people, i.e., the false teachers he had condemned earlier, to twist them. Listen to what FF has to say about this:

“…these false teachers twist St. Paul’s teaching even as they twist the Old Testament Scriptures. In what way they twist Paul’s writings, we do not know. Perhaps they misuse his words ‘All things are lawful for me’…to support their immoral behavior. Perhaps they misuse his saying about being raised up with Christ…to support their view that the resurrection is already past, and that a physical resurrection oat the Second Coming is not to be expected. Certainly they are adept at twisting his words” (137).

The third thing St. Paul says is that people twist St. Paul's writings. FF elaborates: “The word rendered twist is the Greek strebloo, used for wrenching in torture. The false teachers and Gnostics deal with any authoritative writings as they will, reading their own improbable myths into them, in utter disregard of the apostolic interpretations. Such interpretations lead only to their own destruction” (137).

Finally, note that St. Peter’s use of the phrase “the rest of the Scriptures.” FF denies that St. Peter is asserting that Paul’s epistles are part of the Scriptures, but only that St. Paul’s epistles are being twisted in the same way that the OT Scriptures are. I disagree. If that were what St. Peter was saying, why didn’t he just say people twist “the Scriptures”? Why say “the rest of the Scriptures”? To me, this is clear evidence that St. Peter (at the very least) placed St. Paul’s writings on the same level as the OT writings. To be sure, the Church as a whole would not declare them to be so until much later. But for Peter, St. Paul’s writings are just as authoritative as the OT scriptures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Heavens and a New Earth (2 Peter 3:11-13)

11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Again, St. Peter stresses his main point: given that the world as we know it will one day come to an end, and given that we will all one day have our works judged, we must reject sensual temptations, be they from false teachers or from elsewhere, and live in “holy conduct” and “godliness” (the Greek words here are in the plural, implying that we should be involved in many and repeated holy acts; that is we should live a life characterized by such acts.)

Interestingly, St. Peter in verse 12 says that we should not only be looking for the day of the Lord, but also “hastening” it. He makes it sound like we Christians can actually cause Christ to come back sooner. How is this possible? FF explains: “In what sense to the Christians hurry the Second Coming? Here we face an insoluble mystery, for the plans of the eternal God are not open to the puny wisdoms of men. But it does seem as if God in some measure sovereignly hears our prayers, when we pray in the Our Father, “Thy Kingdom come,” and the holiness undergirding those prayers is not forgotten by God who sees the beginning from the end” (136).

The Day of the Lord is something, that “according to God’s promise,” Christians can look forward to. For on that day, we will be given the privilege of living in “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (compare Rev. 21). FF notes that “the word rendered dwell is the Greek katoikeo, used for people dwelling and settling down at home in the land. In this world, righteousness is a stranger, but in the age to come, it will find its true home” (136).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:8-10)

"The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night"

8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

Returning to the scoffers’ question “Where is the promise of his coming?”, St. Peter urges his readers to not forget one very important thing ( the Greek phrase he uses literally says “Do not let this truth escape you.”). Alluding to Psalm 89/90:4 (“A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night”), St. Peter tells his audience that God’s timing is very different from ours. He is not saying that 1000 years of human time is exactly equal to one day of God’s time, as some evangelical teachers have claimed. “1000 years” is a round number that symbolizes “a very long time.” As FF writes, “[God] has an intensity we do not (being able to do in one day the work of a thousand years), and a perspective we do not (so that a thousand years’ passing does not wear out His purposes any more than does that of one day). Thus our human impatience is a poor measure with which to judge god’s designs” (134).

The scoffers of St. Peter’s day claimed that since it had been thirty years since Christ left the earth, and he had still not returned, therefore he would never return. Today, many people say the same thing. But the Lord’s failure to come back on our time schedule does not mean that he is “slack concerning his promise” to come back. Rather, he is delaying his return out of compassion for us; he is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (Note how St. Peter here is echoing the Lord’s own thoughts in John 3:16-17). He delays to give people time to come to repentance. So the scoffers should actually be thankful that Christ delays his return. As FF states, “Rather than using the time elapsing before the Coming as an argument to blaspheme, the mockers ought to be using it to repent!” (134).

Our reaction to the Lord’s delaying his return should not be to grow slack and lazy (see the Parable of the Ten Virgins in St. Matthew’s Gospel). Rather, we should be ready at all times. For even if the Lord does not come back to earth in our lifetime, one thing is sure: we will all be going back to him, and sooner than we think! And when Christ does return, he will do so like a thief in the night; that is, unexpectedly and with no warning. Certainly, there will be (in our Lord’s words) “signs of the times,” but the exact time of his coming is unknown and will catch many off guard. Don’t let it be you!

When the Lord comes back, the heavens and the earth will pass away in fire. Not only that, but all our works will be judged through fire. In FF’s words, “All of our works will become manifest, and all our secrets known. Let all repent now for His sudden return will allow no time for repentance then” (135).

Monday, May 9, 2011

In The Last Days (2 Peter 3:1-7)

1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

Having spent a good deal of time warning his readers about false teachers, St. Peter now turns to a new topic. As is his custom, he opens this new section of his epistle by again addressing his audience as “beloved.” He then mentions that this is the second epistle that he has written them. Note again in passing that if someone other than St. Peter were composing this letter, the author is lying. This is one reason why (in my opinion, at least) we can accept Petrine authorship of the epistle. Again, too, he mentions that he is writing to “stir up” their minds by reminding them of important truths that they have already learned. There are some things so important that we simply cannot hear them enough!

The specific teachings that he wants them to be reminded of are the words spoken by the prophets of the OT, and the teachings of St. Peter and the other apostles. Note that although the NKJV simply says “the apostles,” the Greek text actually says “your apostles.” Why would St. Peter use this unusual wording? FF explains: “Peter here speaks of the apostles as ‘your apostles,’ referring to the particular apostles who reached his hearers, for different apostles reached different groups. The thought here is that the apostles can be trusted because they are your apostles (unlike the false teachers, who have no claim on your loyalty). Both the prophets (in the Scriptures) and the apostles (passing on Christ’s words) gave the same exhortation to godly living, and so it can be trusted—let them abide by it!” (132).

St. Peter then gets to his main point—that “scoffers” will come in the “last days.” Before we look closely at the scoffers and their message, let’s first talk about the phrase “last days.” The “last days,” in the minds of the NT writers, are not limited to today’s popular notion of the last days. In other words, the last days do not refer only to the time immediately prior to Christ’s second coming to earth. The last days actually began on the Day of Pentecost, and have continued since then to the present. They will, of course, continue on until Christ’s return. Some today argue that 2000 years plus is a long time for there to be “last days,” but God’s timing is very different than ours, as St. Peter will go on to argue.

The “scoffers” that St. Peter mentions are most likely a different group of people than the false teachers about whom he warned in the previous chapter. Whereas the false teachers were actively trying to promote a faith (albeit a warped, twisted one), the scoffers are skeptics, questioning the faith…or at least one very important tenet of it—the second coming. As FF writes, “In their view, nothing has ever changed in history since the beginning of the world—and so it never will. The world continues in unbroken stability and will never end. The thought is in keeping with paganism, which assumes the eternity of the cosmos” (132). [Sounds a little like Carl Sagan!!]

But like the false teachers of chapter two, the scoffers are “walking according to their own lusts;” that is, their main goal in life is to please their carnal appetites. And their message is simple: “Where is the promise of His coming?” In other words, they are in essence saying, “You Christians teach that Jesus will return. Now it’s been more than 30 years since he died. Where is he? If he hasn’t come back in 30 years, he’s not coming back at all!” As one reason for denying that Christ would come back, the scoffers appeal to the supposed eternality and unchangeableness of the creation.

But, as St. Peter points out, the creation is neither eternal nor unchangeable. God created the heavens and the earth, as Genesis 1:1 famously says. It is “by his word” that they came into existence at all. Creation had a definite beginning. And then God destroyed most of the world with the flood; this destruction flies in the face of any ideas of the unchangeability of the creation. Note how St. Peter repeatedly refers to water. Regarding this, FF says “St. Peter stresses this to show that water can only cause the destruction of the world through the intervention of God. Water in itself is not harmful to the world, for it is the agent of is creation. Rather, God intervened to disrupt the stability of the world after it was created, judging with a flood all those who lived on it. Thus, the scoffers cannot maintain that all continues as it has since the beginning of the world or that the world is subject only to natural causes” (133).

And it is not just that the creation has a definite beginning, nor that it has been destroyed and renewed in the past. It will once again be destroyed, or better, transformed, through judgment and fire. Therefore, the creation as we know it is far from eternal and unchanging. It has a definite beginning and an end, and it was undergone many changes (and will continue to do so).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Better Not to Have Known the Way of Righteousness (2 Peter 2:18-22)

"A dog returns to its own..."  Well, read further!

18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

St. Peter continues his excoriation of the false teachers who were infecting the first century Church. He begins by mentioning that they “speak (this is again the Gk. phtheggomai, literally “expound in a loud way”) great swelling words of emptiness.” And they use these words to lure people who have escaped from pagan lives of sexual immorality right back into their old way of life. FF describes their actions in this way: “Using sex as the bait, they take in those who are scarcely fleeing from those who live in deception. That is, they seduce the vulnerable recent converts, ones who are still in the process of breaking with their immoral pagan past” (130).

The false teachers spent their time promising others “liberty” from sin, but they themselves were “slaves of corruption.” Again, FF elaborates well: “The false teachers have succumbed to sin and so are in no position to grant victory over it to others. The sensuality they practice with their disciples reveals their own helplessness” (130).

For quite some time, St. Peter has been warning his readers to give no heed to the many false teachers trying to lead them astray. In doing so, he has focused primarily on the corruptness of the teachers themselves. But now he gives another important reason not to follow them: because judgment will be more harsh for those who do. He first says that if a person escapes from the world’s corruption through faith in Christ, but then goes right back into their prior lifestyle, they are actually worse than they were before. For, as he says, “ it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.” The Greek word translated “delivered” is paradidomai, which is cognate with the word paradosis, “tradition.”

FF elaborates on this idea: “Joining the false teachers may seem...like a bold new move, an entry into exciting deeper truths. But in reality it is just a tragic return to the old ways of sin from which they only too recently emerged. No great fulfillment awaits them, but only the degradation of vomit and mire.” He adds “The judgment awaiting them as apostates will be worse than if they were merely pagans” (130). (This idea is not unique to St. Peter; it also appears frequently in the Epistle to the Hebrews).

Finally, St. Peter compares those who return to their immoral, pagan lifestyle to dogs returning to their vomit (a quote from Proverbs 26:11), and a sows to the mire (which, according to FF, comes from a story called “The Story of Ahikar”, which was popular in the first century. People who leave a pagan lifestyle and then return to it are acting less than human; they are imitating dumb animals.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Following the Way of Balaam (2 Peter 2:12-17)

Balaam and the Donkey, by Rembrandt (1626)

12 But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

Although these false teachers saw themselves as better than angels, the reality is that they are barely even men, for St. Peter refers to them as “natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed.” Continuing this strong condemnation, St. Peter says that they will “utterly perish in their own corruption and will receive the wages of unrighteousness.”

Not only do the false teachers teach heresy, but they also love to “carouse in the daytime.” One way that you can tell if someone is a false teacher is by looking at his or her life. Almost without fail, heretical self-proclaimed teachers of truth also live very impure lives (think, for example of the early Mormons, who lived in bigamy, or of David Koresh and his followers).

The problem that the false teachers presented St. Peter and the early Christians with was their participation in Orthodox, apostolic Christian worship and other gatherings. In so doing, they produced “stains and blemishes” in the Body of Christ. Christian worship was supposed to be a pure and holy sacrifice of praise to God, but the false teachers were spoiling it with their unrighteous teaching and lives.

St. Peter goes on to describe the false teachers as “having eyes full of adultery” and not being able to cease from sin. To make matters worse, they even entice others to sin. Using an athletic metaphor, the apostle says that the teachers have hearts that are “trained in covetous practices” (i.e., greed). FF elaborates: “Just as training in the gymnasium makes one strong (the word rendered trained is the Gr. gymnazo, from which the English word ‘gymnasium’ is derived), so these men are strong in getting what they want, cooly efficient experts in acquisition” (128). Even worse, because of their false teaching and their impure lives, they are “accursed children.”

Finally, using an OT allusion (from one of my favorite OT stories, no less!), St. Peter compares the false teachers to Balaam son of Beor. Interestingly, the Greek text actually says “son of Bosor,” not “son of Beor,” as the Hebrew OT text says and the NKJV corrects. FF believes that this is not a mistake on St. Peter’s part, but rather a play on words, as he explains: “...in Hebrew, the word for ‘flesh’ is the word basar. Peter is saying that Balaam was a son of the flesh, not of the Spirit, a false prophet, not a true one” (128).

Balaam, if you remember, was a mercenary prophet whom God used in spite of his folly. And God used a donkey to teach him a lesson. God gave the donkey the ability to speak in a man’s voice and to bring Balaam to humility. As usual, FF brings out an interesting point that gets lost in translation: “The word used to describe the donkey’s sound (translated expound) [or “speaking” in the NKJV] is the Greek phtheggomai, used for loud proclamations; the related word apophtheggomai is used for the utterances of holy men and prophets. The thought here is that Balaam was so irrational in his lust for money that even his own donkey was more of a prophet than he was. In their greed, the false teachers are every bit as deranged as he” (128).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

God Did Not Spare the Angels (2 Peter 2:4-11)

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— 9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.

St. Peter had just stated that false teachers will be judged, even destroyed. Now he undergirds the truth of this assertion by demonstrating how God has worked with the unrighteous in the past. He gives three specific examples.

First, he speaks of “the angels who sinned.” FF thinks this refers to the “Sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. However, the phrase “Sons of God” in that passage may not refer to angels. Another possible interpretation of “the angels who sinned” is the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God.

The second example of the destruction of the wicked that St. Peter gives is the destruction of the world during the Great Flood. Note that Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness,” indicating that he didn’t just build an ark to save himself, his family and some animals. He also tried to get those around him to repent (but was, sadly, unsuccessful). In the original Greek text, Noah is called literally “the eighth”…i.e., the eighth person of eight to be saved from the Flood. Why this unusual reference? FF suggests this: “Peter not only means there were seven others with him in the ark. He probably also alludes to eight as the number of perfection, saying thereby that Noah was blameless in his time (Gen. 6:9)” (125).

St. Peter’s third example of judgment of the unrighteous is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God destroyed for the great immorality of their inhabitants. Note St. Peter’s passing remark that Lot was delivered not just because of his own righteousness but also because he was so distressed about the wickedness of his fellow townsmen. Note also how St. Peter tells us that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction is “an example to those who afterward would live ungodly.” Those who live selfish, immoral lives, ignoring God, will face similar destruction (although the Orthodox Church understands hell much differently than other Christian traditions. Hell is not a literal place where a literal fire burns the wicked into literal ashes, but rather the torment of being in the glorious presence of God without wanting to be. “Our God is a consuming fire.”

Noah and Lot are examples to us, for both of them lived in times of extreme sexual immorality; in spite of this, they maintained righteousness and love of God. We too live in a time in which (according to the world) “anything goes”, and so we face much the same temptations that Noah and Lot did. Like them, we must do our best to be righteous and blameless before God. For as St. Peter says, “the Lord knows how to deliver the ungodly from temptations.” God will help us to not sin if we will but cry out to him in our time of need.

Note carefully verse 10, in which St. Peter says that strict judgment will fall not only upon those who live lives of sexual immorality (which is no great surprise), but also on those who “despise authority” (which might come as a bit of surprise to some of us!). FF thinks that the word translated “authority” (kyriotes, literally "authorities") applies specifically to the angels. In other words, false teachers and others who despise angelic authorities will be judged. But the apostle could also be speaking about authority or authorities in general.

FF’s interpretation seems quite likely given that St. Peter again mentions the angels in verse 11. He explains: “The false teachers, though men, do not hesitate to slander the angels, but the angels, though greater than men, do not slander them before God, nor bring any reviling condemnation…” (127).

But one might wonder, “What exactly does it mean to despise or speak evil of an angel?” FF explains:

“How do false teachers blaspheme the angels? Probably not by actually cursing them, just as they do not deny their Master by actually saying “I deny Jesus.” In speaking both of their denial and their blaspheming, Peter is giving his interpretation of the significance of their actions. In the first case, Peter says their heretical self-aggrandizing means they are in effect denying Jesus as their true Master. In the case of them reviling the angels, I suggest that Peter is also giving his interpretation of their actions. What they are actually doing, possibly, is asserting that they are superior to the angels, with an intimate knowledge of God’s mysteries superior to theirs, and that even the high celestial orders are inferior to them. That, St. Peter says, is blasphemy against the angels. It is in this sense that the later Gnostic heretic Menander blasphemed, for he claimed a magical power strong enough to overcome the angels (reported by St. Irenaeus in his Against Heresies, 1,23,5)” (127).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Many Will Follow Their Destructive Ways (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Pastor John Hagee.  Why is his picture in an Orthodox blog? 
What is his connection to today's post?  Read on and see...

1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

St. Peter had spent most of the first chapter discussing the need for growth in godliness. Now he warns his readers about something (rather someone!) that poses a great threat to growth in holiness: false teachers. Just as in the Old Covenant period there were many false prophets, so now under the New Covenant there are false teachers and prophets. And in our day and age, the situation has only become worse. False teachers are dangerous, because they bring in their heresies secretly. In teaching heresy, false teachers deny the Lord, even though they never say they are (and seldom even think they are).

St. Peter warns his audience that “many will follow their destructive ways.” This is because false teaching always packages itself in a very appealing way. It appeals to the basic instincts of people. It usually claims to make things easier for people, downplaying or even totally denying the tough aspects of being a Christian. Most people want to “have their cake and eat it, too.” That is, they want the benefits of being a Christian but are not willing to make the sacrifices that Christ calls us to. False teachers have perfected the art of capitalizing on this desire that so many people have. Many do so out of covetousness, for as P. T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And as the old English proverb (first written down by a writer named Thomas Tusser) says, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

But, as St. Peter assures his readers, these false teachers will be judged severely for their deeds.

FF provides some interesting historical background to this passage, asking “Who were these false teachers?” It is impossible to speak with certainty. They seem to have been Christian teachers who were now mixing wordly theosophical ideas into their Christian teaching to form a syncretistic Gnostic brand of Christiantiy. With these new ideas, they drew disciples to themselves, functioning as gurus in a cult of personality. Their lifestyles were characterized by sensuality and sexual immorality…” (Fr. James’ note: some things never change, do they?)

FF continues: It is apparent that they denied the Second coming and twisted both the Old Testament Scriptures and the letters of Paul in support of their new ideas and their licentious lifestyle…It is possible they considered their authority as superior to that of the angels, asserting that the angelic hierarchies were inferior to them. They were still calling themselves Christian teachers and mixing with the rank and file believers at the gatherings of the Church, using those gatherings to collect more disciples of their own” (122-23).

How does this apply to us? It is very important that we know who the false teachers of our day are, and that we pay them no heed. Before we buy into anything that any speaker or teacher says about anything related to the Christian faith, we must carefully examine their teaching against the Tradition of the Church. Always consult your priest and/or spiritual father for help in these types of situations.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania (Actually, Kenya - this time)

Dear friends,

Kristo amefufuka! Christ is risen!

I did not expect to find the Risen Christ here in Kenya. I expected to be home in Tanzania for Holy Week and Pascha. But today I write you from Nairobi, Kenya.

Two weeks ago, I was called to Nairobi to assist OCMC Missionary Katie Wilcoxson as she sought diagnosis and treatment at Nairobi Hospital for some ongoing issues. You may have read Michael Pagedas' recent update about this. While in Kenya, I also took the opportunity for some doctors' visits of my own. On Holy Wednesday, Katie was released to the United States for further evaluation and treatment. After accompanying her to the airport on Holy Thursday, I went down to the bus station to get a ticket back to Mwanza. There were none to be had.

Exactly one year ago last week, I was unexpectedly delayed in England on my way to Tanzania. This year, I was unexpectedly delayed in Kenya. Should I expect to be delayed somewhere next year?

I did arrive in Tanzania on 23rd April 2010-- one year ago yesterday. This means that today, the Sunday of the Resurrection, marks the beginning of my second year of missionary service. God willing, I will return to Mwanza on today's overnight bus (the ticket's in my wallet!).

The year has been full of surprises, and none so many as during the past month. Great Lent has been tough. We have had to say goodbye-for-now to two missionary colleagues, Charita Stavrou and Katie Wilcoxson. Both are currently in the United States seeking evaluation and treatment for unrelated medical issues. The team is incomplete without them, and I look forward to welcoming them both back to Tanzania when each is ready to return.

Next month we look forward to welcoming OCMC Missionary Maria Roeber, a maternity nurse who has been preparing for service for some time now. She hopes to serve at Holy Resurrection Hospital in Bukoba along with Katie Wilcoxson, Michael Pagedas and Felice Stewart.

It has been very good to be here in Nairobi for Holy Week and Pascha. I am staying with lifelong friends and have been attending services at the magnificent Ss Cosmas & Damian Cathedral not far from their house. Archbishop Makarios of Kenya has welcomed me kindly, and I have gotten to know some of the seminarians as well as members of the Cathedral. It was an unexpected Pascha, but filled with joy.

This means that I will have been in Tanzania two full years before first experiencing Holy Week and the Resurrection in my adopted home. I am looking forward to the experience.

May your lives be filled with the life of the Risen Lord in every circumstance, expected or unexpected.

Kweli amefufuka! Truly he is risen!

James Hargrave

Sunday, May 1, 2011

We Have the Prophetic Word Confirmed (1 Peter 1:19-21)

Icon of Christ with Adam and the Prophets of the Old Testament

19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

In the Incarnation, teaching ministry, Transfiguration, suffering, death, burial, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the “prophetic word” (that is, the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures) are confirmed.  And not only that, but the prophecies continue to be filled through the ministry of the Apostles.   This confirmation of the truth of the prophecies of Scripture makes it all the more important that Christians “heed” them; that is, we should know them, read them, study them and let them build our faith.
For the Scriptures are like light that cuts through darkness, in that they bring God’s truth into our lives.  Obedience to their teaching cleanses us and drives the darkness out of us.  As the Psalmist writes, “Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105).  For now, the Scriptures are our main source of hope, but eventually the “morning star” (literally, “light bearer”) will “rise in our hearts.”  This is a reference to Jesus and his second coming.  When our Lord returns, there will be no more need for Scriptures.  But for now, we must have them to keep us on the narrow way that leads to salvation. 
But as we know all too well, there are many self-appointed “teachers” who twist the Scriptures for their own purposes.  This was true in St. Peter’s day as well as today.  For this reason, St. Peter warns his readers that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.”  As FF writes, “The nonapostolic interpretations of these [false] teachers are to be soundly rejected, for these men are untaught and unstable, devoid of the Spirit...The Scriptures must be interpreted by men in whom is the Spirit, the apostles and their successors (which interpretations are preserved now in the Tradition of the Church)” (121).
True prophecy is not something that people dream up on their own (like, for example, the “prophecies” of people like Jean Dixon).  As St. Peter tells us, prophecy never came by the will of man (think of how many of the OT prophets were unwilling prophets!).  Instead, it came by holy men of God (not just any men) who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  Again, FF has some good words to say: “The prophecies (such as those declaring the glory of the Lord and His future Coming) were given entirely by the Spirit, and cannot be interpreted by those devoid of the Spirit—such as the false teachers” (121).