Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Only One Life

My mother had a sign hanging in her kitchen as I was growing up. It read:

"Only one life. It will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

Redeem the time. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Request To His Eminence Metropolitan Philip

Your Eminence, Metropolitan Philip,
The last time the nation of Israel attacked
terrorists to stop the indiscriminate firing of thousands of missiles into Israeli territory, you sent out a letter to be read in all of the churches in America. The letter was a strong condemnation of the Israeli government which you referred to as "occupiers." There was not one word of condemnation for the violence and deaths caused by the terrorist group Hezbolla as they fired missiles from Lebanon, your native land, into Israel killing scores of innocent Jews and Arabs, Jewish, Muslim and Christian alike. Your politically and ethnically biased letter was what I called airing of Orthodox Dirty Laundry. I, along with many of your American spiritual children, realize that you are an Arab and have disdain for the nation of Israel. We hope, however, that you will not use the recent actions of the nation of Israel to stop the Hamas missiles which are being fired from the Gaza Strip, as another opportunity to step outside of your calling as our Bishop and lower yourself again to the role of a biased political pundit. We would expect that you would find all parties culpable and hold all actions to account for the cause of peace in the region. I for one would not welcome another such letter to be force fed to your parishioners in the sanctity of God's holy temples across America and would deem it an affront to the cause of Christ and the sanctity of His Holy Liturgy. We honor and respect you for your pastorate and for all that you do for the cause of Christ. Please honor and respect the voices of dissent that rise up from the parishes when Bishops overstep their pastoral bounds.
Please forgive me a sinner.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Good Example

At this season of giving, there is a good example to follow. If your church is anything like Saint Ignatius in Franklin, Tennessee, USA, there are those among your body who have lost their jobs and are in financial need. Saint Ignatius has a tradition of preparing food baskets for those in the community who are in particular need. This season many of our own parishioners have lost their jobs, their income, their livelihood, including one of our own priests who was laid off from his job of 25 years. As Saint Ignatius prepared their baskets they made sure that those among their local body who had such needs were given baskets as well. This is a good example for all Orthodox believers to follow.

"Having been joined to Christ and His Church, these baptized believers begin living as the body of Christ. We find them looking after each other, using their personal resources for the care of each other, continuing together in prayer and in the Eucharist (Acts 2:42-47)." (The Orthodox Study Bible-Thomas Nelson Publishers, Notes page 444)

501c 3- Wolves In Sheep's Clothing

The Orthodox Church should NOT be a 501c 3 entity. Read why in this Article at

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Baptist Covenant/Creed

Do Baptists really believe in Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) or are they selective in whatever will support their doctrines and practices? From a youth I remember the Baptist Covenant being displayed in the form of a large framed poster. This display was usually mounted on the front wall of the sanctuary near the altar. While Baptists claim "no creed but Christ", that the "Bible is all sufficient for faith and practice", denouncing creeds and ignoring the decisions of the Ecumenical Counsels of the Church as well as the writings of the Early Church Fathers, they promote their own version of what is important. The Baptist Covenant was slowly replaced by The Baptist Faith and Message (1963) which was adopted at one of their own councils which they call Conventions. The creed and statements of the Baptist church are still changing as seen by the recent conflict and split of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now both parts are attempting to define what makes them different from each other in the form of new statements or creeds, each claiming to be the true Baptists with the right teaching and methods. It is apropos that their division stemmed from arguments on how to interpret scripture.

If the Bible alone can be interpreted outside of the historical context of the life of the Church of 2000 years, why the need for so much definition and creedalism? Baptists and others throw general accusations toward the Orthodox Church saying that Orthodox value "men's writings as sacred as the scripture". Even the The Gideons International forbid Orthodox Christians from being members of their organization for this stated reason. The irony and dare I say, deceptive hypocrisy of each, is the fact that the Orthodox Church wrote, compiled and preserved the very scripture they defend and distribute and has withstood any redefining of doctrine and truth for 2000 years. The only creed was one that was adopted by the whole undivided church- The Nicene Creed, and this was done to combat a heretical attack by some on the very nature of Christ. The Nicene Creed highlights the very foundations of the Christian faith, unlike the Baptist creed and others which picks and chooses what is seemingly important to them culturally and denominationaly (see the forbidding of alcohol as a beverage). This is not to diminish the good and scriptural statements contained in such creeds, but rather to point out that denominations, while claiming to follow only the Bible, interpret that Bible by their own standards outside the historical life of the Church. To do so has made them foreign matter to the Church that Christ founded and the Apostles established.
The Baptist Covenant
"Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ. We engage therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations. We also engage to maintain family and secret devotion; to religiously educate our children; to seek to salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our department; to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drink as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour. We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour, to secure it without delay. We moreover engage that, when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word. And now unto Him, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, be Power and Glory forever. Amen."
Good stuff but only a slice of the pie, a snap shot of Christianity, a drop in the bucket, compared to the Faith of the Apostles as reflected in the creed that the whole Church adopted in 325 A.D. There is nothing inherently wrong with creeds if they are birthed from the whole Church and not limited by factional or denominational agendas. Paul quotes from an early creed which encapsulates the gospel as creeds are intended to do:

"...I write so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory."
(1 Timothy 3:15,16)

Paul also quotes various creeds of the church in his second letter to Timothy and in his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. "Thus, when the early councils met and issued creeds, they were well within the bounds of biblical precedent." (The Orthodox Study Bible Page 489 Notes)

The Baptist church does practice creedalism and strays from its doctrine of Sola Scriptura in doing so. Being birthed outside the original faith of the Apostles, the Orthodox faith, Baptists and others like them are left to their own devises and attempt to reinvent the wheel. With over 2500 denominations there are plenty of wheels from which to choose.

A New World View

For many years his map has been presented to us as being accurate. From our youth we accepted its dimensions as being accurate. Why not? Most of those around us did as well. There was no question that this map was the accurate map of the world, We knew where the countries were, how they were shaped and their relative distance from each other and from each pole.

Now we are discovering that what we have been told for so long is not as accurate as we thought. Scientists, mathematicians and map makers have devised what is know as "equal area" maps which depict a much more accurate perspective of our planet. Look at the much larger size of Africa and the much smaller dimensions of Alaska. Australia is even larger compared to the USA.

It helps to step back and review our perspective occasionally. Our view may be skewed. Take a look at the early church by reading the Early Church Fathers. See if what they taught and how they worshiped looks anything like what you are calling church. Such an evaluation may change your world view.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On The Use Of Alcoholic Beverages

Some would say the use of alcoholic beverages is forbidden by God. This view has no historic validity either in culture or in the practice of the Church. The most common scripture used to promote this view is

"Wine is reckless, liquor rowdy; unwise is anyone whom it seduces." Proverbs 20:1

Those who might promote the God-mandated-abstinence view for all Christians usually also hold to the tenet that the scriptures are "literally true" and should be taken at face value. The literal reading of this proverb discusses the seductive nature of alcoholic beverages. The face value here is that over-indulgence or alcoholism can occur. The same scripture in the KJV reads,

"Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler,
And whoever is led astray by it is not wise."

The face value here is the same in that being led astray by the over consumption of such is not wise. One can debate the face value of this passage were it not for the fact that the Church, the Apostles and Jesus himself used alcoholic drink as a beverage and for medicinal purposes. Nowhere in scripture, save for some religious exercises of abstinence for a season of fasting, is such forbidden by God.

Jesus himself was the best winemaker who ever lived as proven by the account of the Wedding of Cana. Ignorance of history, culture, the Church and ignoring the face value of the account, leads some to assert that the wine served at the wedding was simply juice and not fermented,
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it.

The faulty and historically inaccurate assertion that the wine Jesus made was not fermented, is ignorance of the culture of the day. Grape juice was not served at wedding feasts. Typically, the best tasting wine was served first and when the celebrants were well on their way to feeling the effects of such, the poorer quality wine was served,

9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

Not only did Jesus make fermented wine for consumption by the
celebrating wedding party, but the scripture says doing so was a sign of His glory:

11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

Can advocates of the God-mandated-abstinence view have it both ways? They say that God forbids the drinking of alcohol then when the scripture shows God in the flesh supplying the forbidden drink they must reinterpret the facts to prove their point. "Oh, the wine that Jesus served was not fermented." Only in this way is their faulty view consistent.
It seems they start with a belief premise then attempt to prove their premise. This is faulty biblical exegesis.

To abstain from alcoholic drink can be a good and honorable thing for purposes of soberness, problems with addiction, or spiritual fasting, but Apostle Paul has very strong words for those who would create a doctrine which commands food and drink regulations that God does not. Paul instructs on the so-called "forbidden consumption" doctrine. He actually calls such doctrines the "doctrines of demons" one

"...commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." 1 Timothy 4:3

Paul also states that a Bishop must

"not be given (addicted) to wine." 1 Timothy 3:3

Notice that Paul does not say a Bishop must not drink wine. He says a Bishop must not be addicted to wine. Wine was part of the culture of the region and of the church. The church came out of Judaism and worship at the temple. Christians were a sect of Judaism. The liturgical structure of the gatherings on the new Lord's Day were patterned after the synagogue. The use of wine was a traditional given. When and where did the new Jewish Christians make the announcement,

"Okay people listen up! I have an announcement! I know we have used wine in our ceremonies at the Temple and in our homes for hundreds of years and I realize the properties of wine and strong drink have been a great help to all of us in time of illness. We of course know that Apostle Timothy has had a little stomach trouble from time to time and that a little wine for his stomach's sake has helped- Tim, good to see you today- but we can no longer use it. From this day forward all alcoholic beverages are forbidden by God. We are asking all Christians to just drink juice. So if you are planning any family get-togethers or celebrations like weddings and such, you may need to make a few adjustments. Of course we have traditionally used wine at gatherings to "cheer people's hearts" but juice can be kind of cheery too, don't you think? Just use your existing wine pots to store your juice. Just don't store it too long or that will defeat the purpose. Simeon, we will pray that you will find another line of business as we realize that your six generation vineyard and wine store is your living, but maybe the juice thing will catch on in the city as well, although the Pharisees and the Sadducees may take a little convincing. We know how they like their fermented wine! And the temple priests...well...don't get me started. But all in all I think it is a good change don't you?"

And from that day forward they all juiced?

Here is the simple teaching of the faith of the Apostles concerning food and drink including the use of alcoholic beverages:

" All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any...all things are lawful for me but not all things edify...therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

The Church Is ISRAEL

Paul said that believers are:
"The children of God" (Romans 8:16).
"The Household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
"The children of Abraham" (Colossians 3:7).
"Abraham's seed" (Galatians 3:29).
"The Children of promise" (Rom. 9:8, Galatians 4:28).
"A peculiar people” (Titus 2:14).
"The elect of God" (Colossians 3:12).
"Heirs of God"(Rom. 8:17).
“Heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
"The temple of God" (1 Cor 3:16).
"The circumcision" (Philippians 3:3).
"The Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
Peter said that believers are:
"A chosen generation" (1 Peter 2:9).
"A royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9).
"A holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).
"A peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9).
James said that believers are:
"Heirs of the kingdom" (James 2:5).
John said that believers are:
"The sons of God" (John 1:12).
"Kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6).
"The new Jerusalem" (Revelation 3:12).
“The Holy city (Revelation 21:2).
The letter to the Hebrews said that believers are:
"The people of God" (Hebrews 4:9).
“Mount Zion” (Hebrews 12:22).
“The city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22).
“The heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Note About Receiving Holy Eucharist

I had the joy of recently visiting Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Mission (WR) in Hot Springs, Arkansas. My good friend, priest and fellow laborer Father John Denny founded the church as a Charismatic Episcopal Church (ICCEC) and eventually led the church into the Orthodox faith. I commend Father John Denny and the mission parish as worthy of your support by way of prayer and especially by way of financial gifts.

Along with spending some very valuable personal discussions with Father John Denny, I also picked up a bulletin with a very clear explanation of the Eucharist, who receives it, who does not and why. It is brief but explains so much:

"The Orthodox understands the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, to be-among other things-the paramount expression of Christian unity. While it is our deepest hope that all Christians will one day fulfill Christ's desire for unity among all who claim His name (John 17:21), the unfortunate reality of our day is that the various communities of Christendom are not unified with the historic Orthodox Catholic faith. Since participation in the Eucharist expresses a unity with all the dogma and practice of the Orthodox Church, non-Orthodox guests do not receive Holy Communion but are permitted to come forward for a blessing as well as a portion of blessed bread. Holy Communion is reserved for those members of the Orthodox Church who have prepared themselves by prayer, fasting, and recent confession. But that need not be the end of the question for our non-Orthodox guests! Have you considered the possibility that you too could become an Orthodox Christian?"

I am sure such exclusivity flies in the face of the western view of relativity, "I'm okay, you're okay", "Every path to God is a right one", "There is no one true church", etc. This mantra, no matter how often chanted, does not negate the fact that there is certain, absolute truth and there is ONE Church where that truth has been maintained for 2000 years.

Thanks Be To God For Life and Fresh Air

Thanks be to God that my family and I are alive. Workers discovered the presence of a substantial amount of Carbon Monoxide leakage in our house. A "deadly" rating is 35. The rating discovered in our house was 1000 plus. Obviously there was a measure of ventilation in the furnace area that did not allow the full potential of leakage to get into our living area or death would have been certain. We have, however, suffered from unexplained physical illnesses and symptoms for months, even up to three years. Thanks be to God that this odorless, invisible gas was discovered and that we will have an opportunity to heal with fresh air. Please pray that there will be no long term effects on our bodies as is sometimes the case with such long term exposure.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So, What's With The Beard and Long Hair?

In the midst of my Journey To Orthodoxy, I find my self being redefined. In a word: I am changing. In another word: It is theosis. Inclinations of the heart are difficult to express in words, but simply put, I have become inclined not to shave nor trim my beard or hair. It is an abandonment of sorts, of the image that I have traditionally presented to the world around me. My thought was that by allowing my facial hair and head hair to grow that the self that I promoted would be hidden to the extent that I would be less likely to depend on it. Ironically, I have found that the long term influence of the western culture has provoked those who have known the clean cut, professional Nathan, to take notice of me-my opposite desire and intent. I have experienced some strong reactions from a few. A recent visit with my extended family in Arkansas was met with honest questions unsolicited advise and some insults. "So why'd you grow the beard?" "If you cut your hair and beard you might be able to get a better job. You look awful. Awful!" A prophet is not welcomed in his own town, especially a former Baptist turned Orthodox. If my entertaining strange doctrines and practices were not enough, now my physical appearance is being altered! I'm sure that my visit provided my family with a welcomed supply of food for the fodder but being in my fourth year of Orthodoxy, I am somewhat accustomed to my family's consternation of my new faith.

I was not accustomed, however, nor did I expect a particular reaction by a parishioner at church. She
has been Orthodox many years and is a leader in the church. I became sorrowfully aware by her actions that tenure of Orthodoxy doesn't guarantee a complete or untainted understanding of the faith and traditions we hold. The parishioner's reaction to me was stunning and degrading. She approached me as I was talking to our godly priest emeritus, who is also bearded, yanked on my beard and made reference to us trying to "look like Santa Claus." Being that this was the first full beard I have ever grown, it was a new feeling for me. I don't ever remember feeling so violated. I was speechless as was the priest. What is one to say to such disrespect? By God's grace one does not say what one might. A man's beard is a sign of God's glory on him just as is a woman hair. The woman's ignorant act was akin to me yanking on her hair. I am able to allow for the fact that this woman is a convert to Orthodoxy and is part of a predominately convert Church, thus there are a few holes in her Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is not western. Orthodoxy does not and should not automatically conform to the culture around it. Only that which needs to conform is conformed. The culture of long hair and beards for men is not one of them. It is canon. It has purpose. It has history. It has reason. It is holy. It is a sign of the glory of God on his people. It is this that the woman yanked on. It is this that others despise when they criticise, make light of or reject as an oddity, the beard or long hair of an Orthodox man. Such a look for Orthodox men has been written about, confirmed and practiced by the church as a whole and is relevant in any culture. It would benefit all Orthodox people and non-orthodox family members of those on their Journey To Orthodoxy, to understand the sanctity of this practice so as to show due respect to this element of what the Church practices. Anyone on a JTO is already wrought with undiscovered paths, disciplines, rejection and difficult soul wrenching. The absence of soul wrenching provoked by insensitive observers would be a welcomed thing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

JTO Reader Update

As we head into the Christmas season 2008 JTO would like to express sincere thanks to all who have passed this way this year. From all across the world, the JTO forum allows us to learn, grow, discuss, repent, and just simply spend time. Our common thread is our desire for truth and He is the way the truth and the life. Thanks for continuing to join me on my Journey To Orthodoxy and for allowing me to join you on yours. I look forward to many days ahead and please take time to use the "comment" feature at the bottom of each article. I want to hear your reflections. Here are the latest stats of our visitors from across the world:

Current Country Totals From 22 Nov 2008 to 12 Dec 2008

United States (US) 296
Canada (CA) 34
United Kingdom (GB) 11
Germany (DE) 5
Israel (IL) 4
Bulgaria (BG) 4
Greece (GR) 4
Australia (AU) 4
Sweden (SE) 3
Spain (ES) 2
South Africa (ZA) 2
Russian Federation (RU) 1
India (IN) 1
Malaysia (MY) 1
Netherlands (NL)1

God Bless All,
Nathan Lee Lewis, JTO