Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Challenge of Ethnicity in the Church: What St Paul Says

From today's epistle read:

The Reading is from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 11:13-24

BRETHREN, I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to
the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous,
and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of
the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough
offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy,
so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a
wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the
olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not
you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say,
"Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They
were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through
faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the
natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the
severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to
you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.
And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted
in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from
what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a
cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted
back into their own olive tree.

For your consideration:

While I would be the first to admit there is much work to be done in making sure that those who are Orthodox Christians have actually been evangelized and discipline, Paul's words remind me that I have been grafted on to the Church by baptism, even as the Gentiles have been grafted on to Israel.

As I said yesterday, in looking at the Church and prayerfully reflecting on the need for renewal, we should not allow our zeal to blind us to our debt to those who have gone before us in the faith--even if they have gone before us by only a few years.

St Issac the Syrian says somewhere that zeal is simply a lack of compassion for our neighbor in his weakness. And is Isaiah the prophet we read that the Messiah will quench the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed.

It is to allow zeal to disguise, even from myself,y own lack of compassion and love of self. Certainly, I should continue work to renew the Church--but gently always seeking ways to extend the circle of renewal to others so that they too can come to know their own gifts. Gifts, I should always remember, that were bestowed on each of us at baptism not only for the glory of God, but for our own glory and happiness. As St Irenaeus reminds us: "The glory of God is man fully alive."

How can someone experience this new life if I, in zeal, kill him?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

To Know God

The always thoughtful, and thought provoking, Fr. Stephen at "Glory to God For All Things," has another very good post that is worth reading. I have included some of it below.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

To Know God


I have had some correspondence recently on the subject of knowing God. The knowledge of God, generally spoken of in a very experiential manner, is an absolute foundation in Orthodox theology. Nothing replaces it - no dogmatic formula - no Creed - not even Scripture - though Orthodoxy would see none of these things as separate from the knowledge of God. But the questions I have received are very apt. In a culture that is awash in “experience” what do we Orthodox mean when we speak of such things and what do we mean by such knowledge of God?

There are two Scriptural passages in particular that come to mind when I think of this subject. The first from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); the second, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Obviously I equate “seeing” and “knowing,” as does the Tradition. In both of these verses the knowledge of God (”seeing God”) is tied to purity of heart. We do not see or know God because our hearts are darkened by sin and ignorance. Thus any knowledge of God that we have in this life begins as gift and remains as gift. However, it is a gift that is more fully received as our hearts are purified.

The importance of speaking of knowledge of God in this manner is to prevent two equally devastating errors. One would be to have a knowledge which is based only on the data of revelation, and only known as we know other data (like the multiplication table). As an Orthodox Christian I accept the teaching of the Church precisely because I am not pure of heart and I am not competent in and of myself to judge these things. I trust the saints and hierarchs of the ages, under the Holy Spirit, to have spoken truly of what they know and of what they have received.

The Orthodox “experience” if I can use such a phrase, is the confirmation in the heart of the truth we have received as we grow in grace and in purity of heart. But the truth of the faith must be confirmed in such a living manner or it simply becomes an historical item and the Church would be a collection of antiquarians and not the living temple of God. For my knowledge of God is also my life in God. Life, light, truth, knowledge - all of these have something of a synomymous character.

Read the rest: To Know God

Sameh Khouzam granted stay of deportation!

Sameh Khouzam granted stay of deportation!

I want to thank all of you who responded so quickly and signed our Petition to Save Sameh Khouzam!

Your voices have been heard!

In large part, thanks to your timely signatures and the efforts of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Sameh Khouzam has been granted an indefinite stay of deportation! He can now stay in the United States and no longer has to fear the torture and even possible death that certainly would have awaited him upon arrival in his native Egypt.

I believe that your overwhelming support of Khouzam, a Coptic Christian, calling for him not to be returned to a regime with a history of brutality toward minority religions, helped sway the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania make a just and right decision.

As I wrote to you before, Mr. Khouzam left Egypt in 1998 under intense pressure to change his religion. He was detained by the Egyptian government and forcefully "encouraged" to convert from his Coptic Christianity to Islam. He escaped Egypt and fled to America--fearing for his life. After his departure, the Egyptian government informed United States officials that Mr. Khouzam was wanted for completely unsubstantiated crimes against a Muslim family. The United States intended to deport him.

Read more: