Category Archives: Biblical Exegesis

Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


The Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:

Seraphim

…I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.”

This vision, perceived by the holy prophet Isaiah, give us a wonderfully vivid description of the throne of God and how those who are before this throne act. The Seraphim, one of the classes of Angels, cover their faces at the sight of the glory of God, humbling themselves before the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. In their modesty they also cover their bodies, knowing that no one, not even they, are worthy to stand in the sight of God. But even so, they also hover before God, eager to be in that presence and to study the might and wisdom of Him. They continually glorify God, calling out to each other and any who will hear that God is holy, God is set apart from every created thing, God is over and above wholly different from anything that has, does, and will exist.

How often do we today act like this? How often do we show the reverence and respect to the Almighty? Instead we speak casually about God, we refer to God incarnate as “JC” or as merely a “friend” whom we have a relationship with. We speak about what God has done for us, how he has helped us, what we hope he will do for us. This is a backwards way of thinking! We should instead be thinking about what we can do for Him, we should talk about His glory, and every sentence we utter about Him should be worshipful. Let us take a cue from the Angels and ceaslessly sing of His glory!


Return to me…with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offereings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridgroom quit his room, and the brider her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, and say “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say amon the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

With that, one of the daily readings for today as specified by the Chruch calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her faithful to begin preparing for Great Lent. This is a 40 day period of purification and prepation for the faithful as we eagerly await Pascha–the celebration of Christ’s ressurection from the dead, the single most important moment in all of Christianity and without which the entire religion would not exist.

This 40 day period is also the strictest when it comes the Church’s proscribed fasting rule.  Officially from the morning of the firstday of Great Lent, a Monday, until evening three days later on Wednesday, no food is eaten. After that for the remaining time we do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, oil, or anything with those ingredients in them or are animal byproducts, with the exception being Saturdays and Sundays when wine and oil are permitted.

This more than the just “I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent” mentality that seems so pervasive. This is mortifying our bodies in an effort to overcome our own passionate will and to recognize that we rely on our God to provide for us and ensure our continued existence.

The Church Fathers have recognized for two millenium the value of hunger when fighting against the passions.  The Desert Father Abba Evagnus has said:

Lust is extinguished by hunger.

The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

The passions are exiterminated by sorrow and suffereing, either voluntary or sent by Providence.

And these are just two of many examples.

Great Lent begins on March 2nd according to the New Calendar this year. For all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, both here and worldwide, I humbly pray to God that this Lenten season will be edifying and profitable to you all. Let us struggle together to carry the weight of a self-inflicted cross, to fight against our passionate wills, and reflect upon what it is that our Great and Glorious King and God has done for us: He has set us from the snares of everlasting death and has corrected the Ancient Error so that we might have the means and the opportunity to recapture the Divine Image and Likeness and live in love in His presence.

To my Roman Catholic cousins who begin their Lenten period today, I pray that you will humble your hearts before God during this period, that you might treat it as not ‘Ordinary Time,’ but as extra-ordinary, other-worldly, sanctified time. Treat it as such, change your life to conform to this holy period and I am sure that it will be beneficial  to your souls as well.

Lastly, for the Protestants who do not follow a liturgical Church calendar, I pray that you might find your way back to this ancient observance and set it apart as a time of repentance and anticipation as well.

We are preparing for the second and more glorious Advent of Christ our God, greater than even Christmas. The only event that will ever be more important than this one to Christians will the third one! May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


You -think- you’re holy…

Icon of the Publican and the Pharisee

Oh God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector.

These are the words which the Pharisee prayed to God in the temple. Jesus told this to his disciples in the parable about the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax-collector, which can be found in Luke 18:10-14

This past Sunday the (New Calendar) Orthodox Chruch celebrated the day reserved for this teaching from our God and this entire week is fast free, even from the normal Wednesday and Friday fasting. While most see this as being because we are about enter the Lenten period and the 40 day “Great Fast,” I heard another, more edifying explanation; we do not fast this week as a reminder that we should not think highly of ourselves just because we perform spiritual duties. Attempting to further justify himself before God, the Pharisee continues his prayer:

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.

It’s easy as an Orthodox Christian to get a  high opinion of yourself. For instance, I can think about my life and see that I too fast twice a week, I attended Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and I’m a chanter. I can look around me and easily see others who don’t do as much as me. But I cannot allow the idea that just because I do more means I’m more righteous stay in my head.

The tax-collector, a man who takes money from others, lies about fees, steals from those he’s collecting from; this man stood of at a distance, away from the crowd and those who might hear him. He beat his chest with compunction and lowered his eyes, not thinking himself worthy to raise his eyes to heaven and he prayed a simple prayer:

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

A simple prayer,  but because of the compunction, because of the repentance, Christ tells his disciples that it was the Publican who left the temple justified before God that day, while the Pharisee left unforgiven.

So this week we do not fast. Partially to give us time to prepare ourselves for Lent, but also to remind us that fasting and other spiritual acts will not gain our God’s favour. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 50 (51):

For if you desired sacrifice, I would have given it: you will not take pleasure in whole burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart God will not despise.

I pray that God will bless you all, and continually give us all opportunities to humble ourselves before Him and others.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


The things that come from within are what defile.

In my opinion the entire Orthodox doctrine of warfare against the passions finds an excellent jusification in the words of Christ Himself when he was speaking to the Pharisees. In Mark 7:14-15  we can read:

He [Jesus] summoned the crowed again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Now, in context here Christ is speaking against the Pharisees’ strict legalistic and external practices, and in the verses above He is referencing the idea of unclean foods. He is telling the Pharisees that external sources, such as food as they believed, are not what make a person unclean in the eyes of God. Rather, it is what comes from within the person; how they act, what they say, what they prioritize, their feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions.

This is why the Orthodox Christian is called to a life of struggle and deprivation. We are called to struggle in this lifetime and deprive our passions the excesses they desire so that we can purify ourselves for the life to come. In Russian the word for a spiritual struggle as such is ‘podvig,’ in Greek it is ‘askesis.’

Metropolitan Anthony of the ROCOR put it thus:

Christianity is an ascetic religion, Christianity is a teaching about the gradual extirpation of the passions, about the means and conditions of the gradual acquisition of virtues; these conditions are internal, consisting of podvig, and given from without, consisting of our dogmatic beliefs and grace-giving sacraments which have only one purpose: to heal human sinfulness and lead us to perfection.

So, let’s strive to throw off our passions, to heal our souls, to take up our cross and struggle for Christ. Let us fight for what we want instead of naively thinking that the prize will just be handed to us.  Let us stop blaming outside sources for our failings and recognize that before we can live for our Almighty King in the manner which He requests, we must die to ourselves.


Whiny Christians

There’s something that bothers me about the typical American Christian (I specify ‘American’ only because I’m not familiar with Christians in other countries), something that bothers me as well as a large number of non-Christians/atheists: they tend to be pretty whiny. Any mention of anything which goes against “conservative Christian values,” even if it’s not attacking Christianity directly, gets their hackles up and we hear cries of “Persecution!”

Well, I hate to tell you, if you are a Christian then ‘persecution*’ is part and parcel of your lot in life. We aren’t Christians so that our lives will be easier, so that we can feel good about ourselves, so that we can feel secure. We’re Christians because we recognize that there is a a divine Being who exists and has made everything, One God in three Persons who alone is worthy of worship merely because of His awesomeness.

A large majority of the population though does not believe in our God. They think that we Christians are irrational, immature, ignorant, and deluded and they will treat us bad because of that. But that’s okay! The whole point of this post comes from today’s Epistle reading, Hebrews 10:32-39:

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. Therefore, do no throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what He has promised. “For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay. But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.” We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.

Paul is writing here to a community of Christians that were in danger of apostasy due to growing weary of the demands of a Christian life. They were growing weary of trying to live holy lives; growing weary of enduring persecutions, ridicule, and abuse; growing weary from the constant onslaught of society against them. But Paul quotes another scripture, saying that if we ‘draw back,’ away from our faith, then God will find no pleasure in us.

We aren’t to whine and complain when things don’t go our way. We’re not supposed to put up such a big fuss when our ‘Christian values’ are being threatened by society: society should have absolute no sway over us. The meaning of ‘holy’ is “set apart.” As Christians we are called to be set apart from the rest of the world. Let them do their own thing! And let us do ours.

Stop whining. Endure the sufferings and afflictions that are set before you. Ours is a better and lasting possession than the things of this world.

We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.

(*) This word is used way way way way way too much and in so many incorrect ways by most. Being actively hunted down and killed? That’s persecution. A movie making fun of your religion? That’s not. The state/country forceably closing churches and throwing the clergy and laity into gulag? That’s persecution.