Archive for January, 2009

Water World

January 17, 2009

The Earth is truly a water world. Two thirds of the Earth is covered by the oceans. Long ago, when I was young, someone told me that the human body was mostly made of water. Doing some research, I discovered that a baby has the most water at around 78%. Reaching adulthood, the percentage drops to about 60 percent. It also depends on how much fat you have. Apparently, the more fat you have, the less water you have. Even so, at 60%, we are  a world of water.

Do you know what the name “Moses” means? In Hebrew, it means “drawn from water.” You might think that this has to do with the fact that the infant Moses was drawn from the water of the Nile. Actually, the name was very common in that day and it had more to do with the fact that infants are drawn from a water world in their mother’s womb.

It is into this water world that the Lord Jesus entered when he went into the Jordan to be baptized. He said that his reason was to “fulfill all righteousness.”  In past times, I thought that Jesus wanted to make sure that all the “i’s” were dotted and all the “t’s” crossed. But Orthodoxy taught me that the fulfilling of all righteousness is more than fulfilling the law. The Lord entered the water, the most abundant and elemental substance in the world in order to bring healing to all of the waters of the world. The “fulfilling of all righteousness” means the healing of the entire cosmos which, according to St. Paul was subject to corruption because of our sinfulness.

Does water need to be healed. Well, if you remember the words of St. Paul, the fall of man brought corruption to the physical world so that all of creation is subject to death.  Still, we might ask if water can be healed? After all, its just water, a chemical combination of hydrogen and oxygen.  Archbishop Seraphim of the OCA recently spoke about Theophany and the healing of water. Let me quote some excerpts from his sermon.

“In Japan, there was a scientist who decided he was going to study the character of water at the point of freezing, and watch the crystallisation of water, and its characteristics. He did this by studying different kinds of water. He studied tap water, lake water, water that is polluted, water that is around pleasant circumstances, water that is around rock music, water that is around Mozart, water that has people saying to it: “I love you”, water that has people saying to it: “I hate you”. He studied the nature of the crystals under all these circumstances, and he found that the crystallization of the water was very different according to the circumstances. Under positive circumstances, the crystals are very clear and normal. When water is under generally good circumstances, things are regular. When water is around Mozart, or words of love, encouragement, hope, peace, and so forth, the crystals are particularly nice-looking. When the water is polluted, you can hardly recognize a crystal at all – it’s all completely distorted. The same thing happens around negative emotions like hate, anger, and certain kinds of rock music (because certain kinds of rock music are characterized exactly by anger, and even hatred). Then there was a study done in Russia by Russian scientists because they decided to take this farther. They repeated the studies of the Japanese scientists, and then they added on their own more elaborate studies of the characteristics of water. Then they showed what holy water looks like, water that has been blessed in the Orthodox Church. This water is, apparently, really extraordinary – extraordinarily beautiful. They did further studies, and they discovered that water that is in this good condition heals water that is in bad condition. One small part of blessed water or healthy water will heal corrupted water at least sixty, if not six hundred times as much. That much! That is the strength of the influence of this holy water, this blessed water, this healthy water on corrupted water.”

Yes, water can be healed.

In Theophany, we have a blessing of the waters. We remember how the Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan, and  today we ask the Holy Spirit to descend upon our water and make it holy. We do the same for the waters of our baptism so that being a world of water ourselves, we enter into the pure water of the original creation.  I invite you to get jug of it, take it home, and drink a little every day so that the water world in you, twisted, polluted and distorted by anger and sin can, with prayer and faith and hope,  remembering the One who sanctified all the waters of the Earth, we will be healed and made whole again.

My Mother’s Voice

January 10, 2009

I would give most anything to hear my mother’s voice again. She died some years ago, but I can still hear her speak in my mind. There’s something about a mother’s voice that touches deep into the heart of a child. Nothing soothes more than a mother’s voice, and nothing can bring such terror. I could measure my situation by the tone and the volume of her voice. If the tone was right, it could make my heart leap for joy. If the tone was wrong, I got that burning sensation in my stomach.

Our Mother spoke and the babe leaped for joy in Elisabeth’s womb.That is the power of grace present in our Mother’s voice. So, our Mother speaks and we should listen. (Luke 1)

“All generations will call me blessed.” The Greek word for blessed is “makarion” (many saints were named Makarios). The word is sometimes translated as “happy”, but somehow that just doesn’t seem adequate. In classical Greek, the word “makar” was associated with the gods who lived beyond death and fate.The gods were the hoi Makarioi, the blessed ones. For Christianity, to be blessed is more than an emotional feeling or financial well-being. Blessedness is a sharing in the life of God, and that goes far beyond mere happiness. When we call her blessed, we affirm that our Mother has within herself the life of God.

“His mercy is to those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Since our Mother is “the champion Leader”, her children can also be named “markarios” because we can also share in the life of God. But listen carefully to her words because she links fear to gaining this mercy. This fear is not a sense of dread but of reverence. When I begin to see the beauty of holiness, I know that mercy is at the heart of that holiness, and it is a mercy that never ends.

“He scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Sometimes, we question God’s mercy because we believe that our sin is too great to be forgiven. The demons and my thoughts gather in a battle array to convince me that my situation is hopeless. Despair becomes my spiritual food. It takes the strength of God’s arm to scatter these enemies, so that I can see that mercy is always greater than my sin.

“He filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent away empty.” Our Mother shows us that if we lack Christ, we possess nothing. Her Son will speak of this when he says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst…” If I am rich, then I have no need of what Christ has to give. Yet, if I know my hunger, God will fill me with good things. The Jewish race fed on the Law and the teachings of the Prophets, and that was a rich banquet. This feeding should have made them hungry instead of satisfied. When Christ came, they had no need of him and rejected him, and so they went away empty. Our Mother wants us to know our hunger. Mother’s are always worried about what her children are eating.

“He helped his servant Israel.” God made promises to our Mother, but would God follow through and bring them to pass? Our Mother trusted God and submitted her life to his will. In the same way, God had made promises to our fathers and to Abraham. Now, in her, the promises were finding fulfillment. The Blessed Theophylact wrote: “Now He did help His servant Israel in the physical sense; for many of them, myriads, believed, and the promise of God to Abraham was fulfilled [Gen. 2218]…And in a spiritual sense, all who see God are Israel, for thus being interpreted does the name declare. The Lord helped those who see God, leading them up to their heavenly inheritance.” Our Mother trusted God and Christ was conceived in her, and the promise was fulfilled. She invites her children to trust God so that Christ can be conceived in us as well. If we trust God (faith), we become partakers in his divine nature (II Peter 1).

I hear my Mother’s voice. My heart leaps for joy when her words enter my ears. Happy and blessed are those who believe. Jesus said, “Have you not read the verse that says ‘you are gods?” If we hear and understand the voice of our Mother, then are the hoi Makarioi- the Blessed.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mad Herod

January 10, 2009

Amid all of the sugary sweetness of the Christmas season, the Orthodox Faith hits you in the face with a pie of sadness. Where do we place the terror and madness of the slaughter of male babies of Bethlehem in our Christmas shopping, decorations, and parties? Though this story is read as a part of the Nativity story, there is still a basic disconnect in many minds with this morbid detail.Christmas is about love, peace on earth, shepherds, wise men, and goodwill towards men and women. These themes overshadow any tragedy. Add good old Santa Claus to the mix and the story disappears altogether.

The problem may rest in the fact that the beginning of the story is separated from its end.Nativity is separated from the crucifixion. The Orthodox Church never loses sight of this fact. Our theology says that the reason why Christ is born is to trample down death by his own death. The Incarnation, Nativity, occurs to destroy the power of death. So, it isn’t any surprise to us that at the very beginning, death tries its best to snuff out its most powerful enemy, the Son of God. Death raises up King Herod, and in his madness and lust for power, he sends out his soldiers to kill the Innocents. It isn’t 4 or 5 babies that he has killed, but 14,000. Such is the power and madness of death.

Yet, death cannot reach the Infant Jesus. Life says a defiant “no” to death. Joseph, though an old man, is warned in a dream and flees with his family to Egypt. You can’t help but notice the parallels and symbolism between this story and the Old Testament. Pharaoh threatened to kill the innocents of Israel, but instead the children of Egypt die. Israel leaves Egypt and makes it to the Promised Land. Now Herod the King threatens the children of Bethlehem, and the new Israel flees to Egypt. To the Jews, the two places that embodied evil were Babylon and Egypt. Now the Christ child had been embraced by Babylon in the Magi, and he goes to Egypt to sanctify it. God is wondrous in his ways.

The first martyrs for Christ were the infant boys of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. Yet, in another amazing parallel, the child who flees to Egypt to escape Herod will one day stand before another Herod, and by his martyrdom, he will bring life to the world and to all those who follow him, especially to all the holy innocents of history. Over the last 2,000 years, there have been many innocents of many age levels who have died unjustly. He gives life to all of them, beginning with the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. Even to this very day, he takes the holy innocent children to himself.

There is another parallel – Mad Herod sends out his soldiers and tries to kill me. Death seeks to claim me. Mad Herod tries to kill the innocents in me. He can be Satan or sometimes the world, but most often Mad Herod is just me. St. Paul called the Mad Herod in me “the flesh”, or my “carnal mind”, or “the old man.” Once, when the Christ Child was first born in me, I thought I heard the Angles sing when I entered the waters of Baptism. Purity and life was given to me as a free gift. Then Mad Herod rose up to slay me. He sought to kill my mind with entertainments and my soul with carnal pleasures, passions and sins. He sought  to kill my prayer life with a spirit of boredom. Seeking excitement and diversion,  my bible became a doorstop and my prayer book a glass coaster. Mad Herod even sought to make my Church and its liturgies seem more like a chore, so I placed it on my list as one among my other “interests.”

Why do I give Mad Herod the authority? The answer is simple: no one will rule in my heart but me. It feels good sitting on the throne of my heart and I am loath to give it up. I have heard that this Child will become King, and I know that a King demands everything.  Look, I can give a little reverence or worship, I can give a little of my wealth, but I will not give everything. No, the Child must reside on the periphery of my life, or the Child must die!

The good news is (but its bad news for Mad Herod) that the Child will not die, not matter what I do. He was born in me with a promise and with tidings of great joy that he would be my savior.Try as I might, He will not die.  He may flee for a while, even to Egypt where I cannot find him, but he will return and when he does, he will be stronger.  He will keep his promise to me which he made to me at my baptism. He will be King of Kings and He is a jealous king who will have no rivals. I remember an old T-shirt that had this written on the front: “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow..”  Then on the back it read, “Count on it.” Word!

I should remember that Herod died a horrible death, eaten by worms. Someday, this fleshly body and my fleshly mind will also be food for worms. I would imagine that the first horror that King Herod faced as he left this world was the faces of the 14000 Holy Innocents. Not only would he realize the horror of his sin, he would also see that they were with the Child that he could not kill. Foolish Death. Where is your sting?

The Child will be King, not me. It’s inevitable. Death cannot kill life. So, if I had any sense, I would seek to kill the Mad Herod and let the innocents in me live. Or I can be worm food. Christ is born! Glorify Him! It’s a no-brainer, really!