Friday, April 28, 2017

Feeding the Fire of Anger and Animosity

On Monday two thirteen year old boys inadvertently set a playground constructed out of wood on fire here in Juneau, Alaska.  The fire took hours to contain and suppress and in the end the playground was burned to the ground and was completely destroyed.

As might be expected, feelings have been running high.  My wife Paula wrote a thoughtful and compassionate blogpost about the fire and the children who accidently set it.

I looked at the photos of the fire in the newspaper and on-line and remembered how St.Dorotheos of Gaza compared anger and animosity to a fire which begins with a small spark and then, if unchecked, quickly gets out of hand and becomes a blazing conflagration.

We live in a time of so much unchecked and bitter anger.  It's all around us.  The wrathful, far from being embarrassed by their angry words and actions, appear, convinced of their own rectitude, to exult in their righteous indignation.

But St. Dorotheos, quoting the desert father Abba Zosimos, writes:
"If at the beginning of a dissention, when there is first smoke and sparks begin to fly, if a man forestalls it by blaming himself and humbling himself before he gets drawn into a quarrel and gets into a temper, until, not remaining tranquil but wrangling and becoming reckless, he acts like a man who is piling wood on a fire which gets hotter and hotter until he has made a great blaze ."

Contributing to that great blaze, feeding the fire of rancor and animosity, whether in our personal and family relationships or in our political and social life that we must avoid, even, or especially, when the stakes are as high as they are.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trampling Down Death-by-Death

In the Western Church today is Thursday of the Octave of Easter, the eight days during which the Church celebrates and ponders the mystery of the Lord's death and resurrection.  In the Christian East, this week is celebrated as Bright Week.

The icon has its origin in the image known as the Harrowing of Hell.

In the Christian East, the imagery of  what came to be the Resurrection icon embodies the Easter Troparian, (the musical 'icon' of the Resurrection sung in a variety of languages and melodies throughout the Byzantine Churches  during the Easter Season.)

Christ is risen from the dead!  Trampling down death-by-death! 
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life! (3x)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three Triduum Icons by a Contemporary Ukrainian Iconographer

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Truly Risen!
During Holy Week I came across the striking work of the Ukrainian iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv, originally from the town of Lviv.  I didn't have time to do much more than look at a few of her remarkable icons, which, despite their highly personal style follow the iconographic canons quite closely.
Their sheer intensity, for lack of a better word, is well suited to the seriousness of the mysteries which they depict.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What She Has Done Will Be Told in Remembrance of Her

On this Tuesday of Holy Week, I've reflecting on how in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, the passion narrative begins with the reading of the account of a woman anointing the Lord's head or feet.  The anointing, with costly perfumed oil, scandalizes the onlookers (including the apostles), because of the expense of the oil and the uninvited intrusion of the woman into the gathering.

I think too of how on the other end of the narrative, other women go to the tomb with perfumed oil to anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb (and these 'myrrhbearing women' discover that Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty.)

Jesus, in Matthew's gospel responds to the angry criticism by saying, "Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done me a good service for me. ...By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial."

But then he goes on to tell them: "Truly I tell, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."  Which leaves me pondering this: perhaps the woman who anoints Jesus' head with oil is proclaiming in an unmistakable way that he is truly the Messiah, the Christos, the Anointed One of God.

Those whose responsibility it would have been to have proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, that is to say, the religious authorities, not only fail to make such a proclamation, but in all of the passion narratives, condemn him as a false Messiah.  By way of contrast, this anonymous woman, not from a position of knowledge or authority, perceives Jesus rightly and like the prophet Samuel, sees beyond appearances and anoints the Son of David with the oil of gladness.

During this week Christians remember how this Messiah would die a shameful and wretched death at the hands of the Romans (which would have confirmed for allies and opponents alike that he was definitely not the Anointed.   One of God!) Yet even in this, her anointing of him in anticipation of his death and burial, is itself a paradoxical proclamation that he is the Messiah who will suffer and empty himself completely out of love.

Perhaps, it is that this woman, because her love for him, was able to see clearly the One who is Love Incarnate and boldly act to anoint him in this way.  I wonder too, if we are only able to recognize the Anointed One who is present among us in so many distressing disguises, when we are able to see them with the eyes of love?

Will the ways in which we anoint Christ in need and in distress with the extravagant and costly oil of compassion, mercy and kindness, be told in remembrance of us, "wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world"?

May it be so.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Grant Lord, Your Protection to All Who Suffer Persecution

 Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering  and so merit a share in his Resurrection.                  Collect for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion 

Serving yesterday at the Palm Sunday liturgies in my parish, I had the opportunity to listen to this prayer and meditate on it, in light of the bomb attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt where worshippers were celebrating, as we were, the liturgy of Palm Sunday.  Amid the carnage and destruction of yet another hateful attack by ISIS against them,  it seems astonishing that the survivors are truly heeding the Lord's "lesson of patient suffering".  But they continue to do so, refusing to retaliate, but submitting to the Cross and choosing "to bear all things" in Christ.

The persecution of the Christian minority in Egypt, (who number approximately 8 million souls and make up about 10% of  Egypt's population of 83 million) is nothing new.  In the summer of 2013, mobs angered by the removal from office of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, burned many Coptic Orthodox churches throughout the country.  In December ISIS bombed the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo.  In the northern Sinai, at least 40 Copts have been murdered in 2017 alone and hundreds of Christians have been forced to abandon their homes and flee to Cairo for safety.

And in 2015 twenty Coptic migrant workers (and a non-Christian Chadian man who chose to die with them) were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya.  They were quickly glorified as martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

As Holy Week begins, I am remembering in meditation and prayer the persecuted, martyr church of Egypt.  May the example of their steadfast and patient witness to our loving and merciful Savior, who "accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty" (Preface for Palm Sunday) strengthen our resolve to reject hatred and violence and change the hearts of their persecutors.