Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Are Antiochians Anti-Semites?

Antiochians are Christians. In fact it was in Antioch where "they were first called Christians". Christians love one another and love all people. They teach and practice that we are to "go into the all world and preach the gospel to every creature." The fact exists, however, that Antiochians are predominately Arabic, being raised, even as Christians, in an Arabic culture. The age-old struggle between the Arabs and the Jews for the area of Palestine has political as well as religious elements. This struggle has influenced many of today's Antiochian Orthodox leaders as they have watched their brother Arabs displaced by the establishment of the Nation of Israel. As individuals and groups make their way to the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese it is important to deal with existing imbalanced ideologies, especially Dispensationalism, that elevate the Nation of Israel to the status of being THE God-ordained center of all of human history. This is simply not the view of the Church, be it Antiochian or any other Orthodox Diocoese. The "Israel" of the biblical prophecies and the recipient of the New Covenant is The Church not the Nation of Israel in Palestine. Accusations of anti-semitism usually comes as a result of failing to differentiate between the Jews as a people and Zionism. One must understand that Arabs are not the only ones who oppose the Nation of Israel. Many Orthodox Jews do as well and are organized in their efforts to bring their own people back to an Orthodox Jewish faith.

I have discovered recently, however, what I deem to be Arab bias against Israel and favoritism toward Arabic Nations by some of our Antiochian Orthodox leaders, but a closer look will reveal the bias to be political in nature and not one of anti-semitism. Orthodox do not "hate" Jews which is the core definition of "anti-semitism."

By the way, Leslie Levine, our sponsor and godfather on the day of our chrismation into the Church, is Jewish. Leslie Levine is a cantor in our Church. Some of his chanting is in Arabic. Does God hear the prayer of the Jew if chanted in Arabic? Hmmm...

"In Christ there is no Greek nor Jew..."

A hard look or sometimes an easy glance may reveal warts on your fellow Antiochian Orthodox believers, but it is not likely one of those warts will be anti-semitism.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sarah's Trip From Ur or Follow Your Husband "Ur" Else

By Cynthia Louise Lewis

There’s nothing more nerve wracking than being submissive to a man who hears God. That’s just the simple truth of it. Forget the security of friends, home, and any sort of root system. When God tells a man it’s time to move into His promises, those camels get packed and off you go! And, quite frankly, you don’t always care that he’s right, that the end circumstances will be better than the present, or worse yet, that it’s “good for you.” When you walk through a dessert, you get blisters. Camels stink. And watering holes are few and far between – even for the prophetic.

In the spring of 2004, events conspired to close down St. Peter’s Charismatic Episcopal Church (ICCEC) in Little Rock, Arkansas. Other issues were, of course, going on in the ICCEC of which my prophetic husband was aware, but quite frankly, I didn’t care. I was still devastated. After all, according to our Priest, Fr. Denny, St. Peter’s was born on my front porch. He and my husband and others who were seeking out the truth of the Historic Faith, would spend hours there searching the scriptures, eating my simple tuna sandwiches, and smoking their cigars. Long after sensible folk had gone to bed, one could hear the laughter of genuine brotherhood break out into the night.

I was beginning to see my own gifts, spiritual and otherwise, finally being used in ways I’d always dreamed. I was asked to take a principle role in planning Diocesan Women’s Retreat of 2004. I’d written a catechism for children, had received a glowing review from our Bishop, and was eager to see it put to use. But even I could tell there were serious cracks in the foundation of our little denomination.

During the course of a lot of prayer and study, My husband, Nathan, and I found ourselves faced with a very simple choice: go forward or go backward. Although we looked into the Roman Church, it became obvious to us that Orthodoxy was where we needed to go. And go we did.

Talk about adjustment. As we entered the Orthodox faith, we also embarked on a move to a new state. I got just an inkling of what Sarah must have felt. It was an all encompassing time of letting go. Good-bye to friends. Good-bye to family (my aging parents, my married daughter & her family which included 2 precious grandbabies, my unmarried daughter). Good-bye to the job that had been such a blessed oasis for me for 12 years. And, good-bye to worshipping my Lord the way I was used to.

Surprisingly enough, the doctrinal issues were more of a confirmation and comfort than a challenge. But nothing could have been so foreign to me than the shapes and forms of Orthodoxy. Although I’ve been a singer as far back as I can remember, nothing had prepared my ears for the unique tonalities of the Antiochian music. My parents had built in me an appreciation of fine art, so the icons looked childish and crude – and yellow! (My least favorite color) Even my prayers had to be exchanged for new ones as I switched from the Anglican book of prayers to more “Lord have mercy’s” than my lips could wrap themselves around. And, probably the most challenging of all, the pattern of Orthodox fasting – a pattern that rests VERY heavily on the shoulders of the woman of the house who has to prepare those meals – was practically my undoing!

I remember about 2 weeks into our first Orthodox Lent, bursting into tears as I told my husband, “I’m so consumed with when to bow, and when to kneel, and all the other new rules, that I haven’t spoken to Jesus in weeks!” And then something happened. We were in the service at which every church member asks the forgiveness of every other church member. As each person – adult, child, teen – came up to me and said, “I forgive you. Will you forgive me?” something shifted. The Church was no longer something I had to please and perform for. The Church was putting its arms around me and welcoming me home. I joined the choir shortly thereafter. Our choir master is very patient with me and little by little I’m learning the music, and yes, it is quite beautiful once you realize it isn’t supposed to sound like the Backstreet Boys. I’ve been able to help with the clean-up of a couple fellowships. Not the same as planning a retreat, but a lot of fun none the less. And the icons! I can’t explain it, other than to say, they aren’t art -- they are something much more.

I don’t know when or even if Sarah ever reached the point where she felt fully at home. I think it’s likely that she did; probably the first time she looked into her son’s eyes. After all, God’s promise to her husband was a promise to her, too.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Early Church Councils

For over 1000 years there was only one Church on the planet. There were no denominations, and no divisions between East and West. All of the bishops, worked in communion with one another to preserve the faith and to assure that the testament of the Apostles was kept pure in fact and practice. Occasionally there would rise an individual or individuals who, acting independently of the unity and unanimous agreement of the church, decided they knew more or had a better understanding of the Apostles teachings. At other times there were matters of such great weight that the Bishops of the church had to seek the will of Holy Spirit together and decide a matter. It was during such times that the church would meet in council. Bishops, Deacons, and laymen would travel miles, taking days, weeks and months to arrive at an agreed upon city. There is no doubt that what was decided upon in these Councils effected the church preserving for all time the faith we have today. What happened in these Councils? Who attended? Why did these men have the authority to decided anything pertaining to the church?

I have had the pleasure the past several months to attend a series of classes on the Early Church Councils. The class is taught by Deacon Michael Hyatt. Deacon Michael is a convert to Orthodoxy. Most notably he is the CEO of the largest and oldest Christian Publisher in North America, Thomas Nelson Publishers. He is a masterful speaker and communicator, down to earth, and full of humor. Deacon Michael has taken what could be a dull historic subject and made it interesting and relevant to the hearer.

Thanks to Joel Smith of The Orthodox Project every one of these classes has been recorded. You can take part in these classes and thanks to a roving microphone you will also hear the questions and discussions of class members. Some of it gets pretty thick! The pod cast is FREE at The Orthodox Project. You can also subscribe so you will be notified by e-mail when a new class is available. Go there now and check it out. While you're there, pick up a copy of The Wisdom of the Saints CD. Your inexpensive purchase will help fund The Orthodox Project.

God Bless you and get ready to be challenged, because
"to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Crossing Yourself

As early as 200 A. D. Tertullian wrote:

"In all undertakings -- when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task -- we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads."

Saint Augustine also mentions the common practice as normative in the life of the church. Even the Reformers in the 16th century maintained the practice as a form of worship. Crossing yourself is a physical expression of worship and a symbol of the person and nature of Jesus Christ. The two fingers and thumb touching one another represent the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The two fingers touching the hand represent the two natures of Christ, fully God, fully Man.

The oldest and Eastern Orthodox form of crossing oneself is to touch the two fingers and thumb to the forehead, then to the breast, then to the right shoulder, then to the left shoulder. One may say, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."