Sunday, December 2, 2012

God vs. Evil in the Wisdom of Solomon

The Wisdom of Solomon is rather unique in its explicit poetry about God "teaming up" with all of Creation, warring against the adverse powers of the fallen order.

Here are some excerpts:

"The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor,
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;

He will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and wear impartial justice as a helmet;

He will take holiness as an invincible shield,
and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
and creation will join with him to fight against the madmen..."

"For creation, serving thee who hast made it,
exerts itself to punish the unrighteous,
and in kindness relaxes on behalf of those who trust in thee.

Therefore at that time also, changed into all forms,
it served thy all-nourishing bounty,
according to the desire of those who had need..."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Heresies of Christ, simplified

 File:Great Lizard-cuckoo (Coccyzus merlini), cropped.jpg
Today celebrates the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the councils which defended what Orthodox Christians hold to be the true Gospel of Christ and his Apostles.

Some people today don't like talking about the Seven Ecumenical Councils, because they condemned certain beliefs as heresies and used a lot of complex philosophical language.

So, I decided to break down why it's important to use the philosophy of the day to resist those who push a destructive belief as if it were the true Christian belief, and condemn the reality of Christ as if it were an error.

If we get down to it, all of the major Christological heresies are really "Docetism": The notion that God did not become man in the Incarnation. The Docetae comes from the word "to seem" in Greek, and can be applied to any belief which swaps out an aspect of the Incarnation with a pretense of some sort.

People typically pushed Docetism because it made Christianity conform more easily to their ingrained neoplatonic worldviews: That god was an impassible, immovable singularity, or that the material world was incompatible with the transcendent, simple god:


God became man: The Christian Faith.

Docetic Heresies: 

God became man: Arianism, Marcionism (in a sense).

God became man: Unorthodox Adoptionism, Nestorianism, some Iconoclasm.

God became man: 'Classical' Docetism (Christ was really a disembodied spirit), Apollinarianism, Monophysitism, Julianism/Aphthartodocetism, Monothelitism, some Iconoclasm.


Each heresy denied one aspect of God becoming man. Some believed Christ was not Divine, and thus God did not become man through His Word. Others, that God could not become anything, because he was changeless, and thus he could only be "joined" to a man, or to humanity, but could not really become human. The last and most tenacious group believed that God became something that could be considered abstractly human, or in the same category as humans, but that he didn't really humble himself to become a real human being, exactly like you or I.

While certain sectarian churches are focused on the "culture wars", defending traditions only a few decades or centuries old, it's important that we, in turn, defend our own sacred pearl, our little nugget of cultural data which conquered Rome, destroyed Death, and gave us power to be Sons of God. Of which it was said:
"This is the Faith which sustains the universe!" -Declaration of the Seventh Ecumenical Council


Thursday, August 9, 2012


"Grand phenomena do not strike us the less when we have discovered something of their wonderful mechanism."

-St. Basil the Great, Homilies on the Hexameron

Friday, July 13, 2012

Medieval Christianity and Aliens.

Perhaps no question has so tenaciously gripped theologically-inclined 21st Centurites as that of aliens and evangelism. If we were to encounter a race of beings similar enough to us to be recognized as "sentient", would they have a place in the economy of salvation? Do only homo sapiens qualify as Men, as People?

A resolution lies in a Medieval Ukrainian manuscript illustration:
This 14th Century illustration from Kiev depicts the glorified Christ teaching (or otherwise interacting with) four creatures clad in what appears to be the common cloth and leather armor of the Eastern Roman and Slavic Empires, brandishing spears and shields. One on the right is holding a kite shield, most often utilized by cavalry; perhaps he's the leader of the troop. Their expressions are simutaneously ferocious, and recipient to instruction.

These four beast-men are Kynokephaloi; the Dog-Headed People. Originally conjured up as the result of a mistranslation, the legend of the Dog-Headed people spread across the medieval Roman, Frankish and Slavic world. Most prominent among the Kynokephaloi was St. Christopher, dubbed "Christopher Cynocephalus" in his dog-headed form.

If the dog-headed people were considered people, and could even achieve sainthood, it would seem that our pedantic question has found its answer. Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be glad!

And the moon Europa, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Messianic Samaritans article in FaithTIME Magazine.

Israel’s newest Christian community seeks to put a new face on an old faith. But amid persecution and alienation, will it become one more casualty of the Holy Land?


Screens of a dozen Amazon Kindles reflect ominously off the backs of metal folding chairs, arranged in neat rows. Along with a few beeswax candles in clay pots, their dull glow provides the only illumination in the entire tent.

The south wall of the tent is opened suddenly, and quickly closed. A lone figure approaches, weaving through the aisles with practiced ease, before ascending a stone platform at the center of the tent. The surrounding worship band members prepare their equipment and wait in silence.

The Kindles go dark.

With a smooth flutter of his shawl, the priest (called a Kohen), raises his hands toward the north end of the tent. A great curtain is drawn open, revealing a stunning view of the Holy Rock of Mount Gerizim.

We hear the priestly intonation: “Shalom! Let’s set our nephesh on fire for the Lord!”, which prompts the dozen Kindles to re-ignite as worshippers sing along to a modern interpretation of Psalm 24.

“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place...”

The Messianic Samaritan service has begun.

Worship Yurt currently utilized by Messianic Samaritans.

“We were looking for an authentic tradition,” said the congregation’s Kohen, the Reverend Skyler Bar-Yeshaq. Kohen Skyler and I were struggling to remove the last of several massive tent-stakes used to hold up his people’s Worship Yurt.

“I mean, my wife and I came out of the Evangelical world, and just felt like we needed some more ancient, pure roots, you know? A Jesus movement without all the pagan stuff that Constantine and the Romans put into Christianity.”

Skyler, 31, and wife, Gomer, 28, sold Skyler’s family’s construction business and left everything in Kirkland, Washington in order to move to a small village community outside of the West Bank in central Israel. They are the world’s first congregation of Messianic Samaritans, also known as “Samaritans for Jesus”.

“Gomer and I tried Messianic Judaism,”—he grimaced—”but after doing a lot of research on the internet, we found out that the Jews adopted Greek and Zoroastrian ideas in ancient times, too. Stuff like souls, the devil, gehenna, even pagan wisdom goddesses!”

We headed back to Kohen Skyler’s mud-brick tenement in the main village, and were warmly greeted by his lovely wife, Gomer, and their two sons, Moloch and Nimrod. After brewing two cups of harmal bush tea and plugging his Macbook into a solar charging system, Skyler continued to recount his faith journey:

“That’s when I learned about the Samaritans. They were like Jews, but without all the later pagan developments. I knew that if I started a Samaritan congregation for Christ, God’s people would come and my ministry would really take off.”

Samaritans are an ancient Hebrew culture whose members claim to be the true Israelites. They believe in worshipping on Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem, and only accept the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. An estimated 745 Samaritans remain today.

Mount Gerizim, c.a. 1900 A.D.

Kohen Skyler and the Messianic Samaritans, who already number in the tens, believe that Jesus Christ was the “Taheb” prophesied of and expected by the ancient Samaritan people. Of the New Testament, they only accept the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. They also accept all verses from the traditional Old Testament which refer to mountains.

“I started reading the ‘Religious Beliefs’ section on the Samaritans Wikipedia page, and it was like I could totally feel God moving in me,” Skyler went on. “After doing more research, I learned that Jesus never preached in Jerusalem at all! In the original text of the Gospels, the word for ‘Jerusalem’ is really ‘Ger-u-za-heem--- Mount Gerizim!”

Not everyone is excited about the budding faith, however; area Jews and Samaritans are outraged.

“They walk around with those stupid computer tablets and always complain about the outdoor toilets,” jeered a Samaritan butcher named Ephraim. “They think they’re Samaritans or something. They put up a tent on the Holy Mountain! How bad can America be that one would want to be a Samaritan? We live in a dirt village in the middle of nowhere.”

A local Jewish rabbi, Aaron Haimovitch, was also incensed against Skyler’s movement.

“Let me guess, he gave you the Mount Gerizim/Jerusalem schtick,” he spat. ”I may not be a Greek scholar, but Jerusalem is Jerusalem!”

Rabbi Aaron paused to refill his pipe before resuming:

“Oh, please, go ask him about the little idols his large friend makes. Go. Go ask him, go now, go ask him about the little idols.”

Local Samaritan butcher, Ephraim Ben-Natrun.

In the wind-swept rustic streets outside Kohen Skyler’s tenement, we had a frank discussion with Skyler and his friend and fellow worship leader, Rick Melchizedek, regarding the negative responses the villagers displayed toward the Samaritans for Jesus.

“It’s, like, really hard, because the other villagers won’t let any of us borrow their Wi-Fi. They look at us like we’re crazy and walk away,” Skyler moaned, gnashing his teeth and beating his breast in a traditional Samaritan lamentation ritual.

Rick was also candid about his dedication to the faith. “Back home, I did chainsaw sculptures of cougars and wolves to sell to tourists,” he explained. “Skyler introduced me to an ancient Hebrew art form, called Teraphim, and I figured that I’d put my sculpting skills to good use making them.”

Teraphim are little statues of winged bulls or lions with human heads,” Skyler interjected. “They’re an ancient biblical tradition from the Book of Genesis that even modern Samaritans don’t practice.”

Skyler gestured to the two sphinx-like statues beside the entrance to his home. “The Teraphim are protector beings who guard your doorway for you. Everyone in the congregation has a pair.”

“They aren’t idols!” Rick exclaimed upon hearing the accusations of Rabbi Aaron. “They’re just little spirit creatures you incarnate as statues and sacrifice rabbits to, so they’ll fight off the bad little spirit creatures.”

Teraphim artisan bookends.

The Judeo-Samaritan crackdown on Mount Gerizim’s forty-three Messianic Samaritans won’t deter them, however. Pastor Rick and Kohen Skyler already have plans for a permanent worship center on Mount Gerizim.

“It’s going to be the most ancient kind of temple used by the peoples of the Bible,” Skyler opined warmly. “It’s called a Ziggurat, and there are two of them mentioned in the Book of Genesis! I can’t wait to finally worship Christ in the true ancient way.”

“ will also make the animal sacrifices a whole lot less messy,” he added.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Against a Dis-incarnate "afterlife".

 File:Scheme of things1475.gif

"And we do not ever want to imagine the dead as dis-incarnate souls. Some of the great teachers of Christianity do that, even Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos, he does that.

 I must honestly say I do not agree with him when he does that. The dead are simply completely and totally dead. And then when you are alive, you are completely and totally alive. And I believe that when Christ rose from the dead in His glorified body, He gave the glorified body to all those in the tombs immediately, that they enter into eternal life with Him.

That is why when we glorify the saints we glorify them as completely and totally alive. When they appear to people they do not appear as dis-incarnate souls, they appear as people in their glorified bodies, with their risen bodies. They are clothed with the raised body of Jesus Christ. The relic of their psychic body might still be in the tombs, and they are in the tombs until the last day when all the tombs will be empty and there will be no more cemeteries and no more death anymore at all.

 But the dead in Christ are already entering into that splendid glory of the Age to come. That is how we relate to them and venerate them within the Orthodox Church."

-Fr. Thomas Hopko, podcast: "The Descent Of Jesus Into Hades".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sola Patrum.

"Behold your God, encoded in Philip Schaff's multi-volume series on the ante and post-nicene fathers." 

(Courtesy of poster Cavaradossi)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Fire rises in me."

The fire rises in me,
and lights up my heart.
Like the sun!
Like the golden disk!
Opening, expanding, radiant —
— a flame!

I say again:
I don't know
what to say!

I'd fall silent
— If only I could —
but this marvel
makes my heart leap,
it leaves me open-mouthed
like a fool,

urging me
to summon words
from my silence.
-St. Symeon the New Theologian

Monday, April 16, 2012

Near-Eastern Cosmology and Christ.

Christ is Risen!

Now for something a little different:
The oldest known near-eastern cosmological model is that of the Sumerians, known primarily through Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian sources. While the cosmology varies slightly between these cultures, the basic structure remains the same. Some knowledge of this cosmology is necessary for properly understanding the creation stories and mythological framework of the Phoenicians, Hebrews and, to a lesser extent, the ancient Greeks.

The barriers between the various objects in the diagram above were not viewed as stable: Estuaries, for example, were seen to mix the waters of Apzu and Nammu; rain was seen as the opening of the firmament to permit the waters of Nammu to run through; there were several ports into Ki, by which one might access Kigal, the underworld, or the Apzu, directly.

Powerful deities personified these cosmic and terrestrial elements and, sometimes, regulated the stability of the cosmos, but not without frequent failure and travail. The gods were unpredictable, quasipotent, and under the influences of fate, human action, and each other.

Only YHWH, God of the Hebrews, came to be viewed as maintaining these elements without potent opposition, and without subservience to various external powers:

In Babylonian mythology, the god Marduk had to fight Nammu in the form of a serpent (Tiamat) in order to settle the firmament and saltwater sea[1]; the God of the Hebrews merely willed it to be so (Genesis 1, Job 41, Job 37:18).

In Akkadian and Sumerian mythology, the god Enki contended with a great beast (Kur) who, when finally slain, became the lower regions of the earth[2][4]. The God of the Hebrews simply prepared it (Job 26, Genesis 1).

Several deities and men sought to rescue persons from the underworld (Inanna and Dumuzi[3], Gilgamesh[4]) but none returned unscathed or un-bound; the God of the Hebrews sent forth His Word, and the underworld gave up all its dead (Matthew 27:52, 1 Corinthians 15:55), and instead of being scathed or bound, He was glorified by it (John 13:31, 1 Philippians 8-9).

And so the God of the Hebrews triumphs over all the gods of the nations, who rage in vain.

"Who is a great god like Elohim? Thou art the God doing wonders!"

1. Enuma Elish. Trans. L. W. King, (1902). "The Seven Tablets of Creation".
2. Samuel Noah Kramer, (1952). "From the Tablets of Sumer", 196-198. 
3. "Inanna's descent to the nether world". Oxford Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.
4. "GilgameŇ°, Enkidu and the nether world". Oxford Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.