Friday, August 31, 2012

The Mystery of Christ-Based on the book The Mystery of Christ by Father John Behr

The term “spirituality” has no equivalent in Greek. Just because you can invent a term does not mean there is a Greek equivalent to it. That is the same as saying conclusions without the arguments lead to an ambiguous answer. So things like the incarnation, resurrection etc have reached ambiguous conclusions in our modern society simply because people begin the argument with the conclusion. You have to first start with the person of Christ. You do not start with abstract concepts like the incarnation. With that in mind we can talk about prayer, fasting, use of icons, the relationship with faith and reason etc. Those aspects are all related to the person Christ. So to reach a conclusion about abstract theories in the Church, we must first get to know the person of Christ even before we begin to talk about the incarnation or the Trinity.

Studying theology is equivalent to studying yourself and looking at your own history. “We only ever understand backwards but we must live forwards”. We only understand backwards when we look back and think of what God has done in our lives. But we live in the forward. This is how our modern life is, in that we think of the backwards of life. When St. Paul said that we do not live by sight, rather by faith, this is what it means to say; that we only understand backwards but we must live in the forwards. We have to trust in the grace of God working in us. The truth of where I am now is not revealed or made clear; it will be revealed later on. So when we die, how will we be remembered? The truth of where we are now is hidden for the sense of the real truth will be revealed living in the forward. Our salvation then is still being worked out walking by faith and not by sight. With that being said, we can come to a conclusion that speaking about the incarnation can lead to great confusions within the church. If the early church fathers had to have councils over these issues what makes us today any different? If we cannot get to know the person of Christ then our faith is incomplete.  

Our faith does not depend on the empty tomb or seeing Him because the disciples both saw and spoke to Christ and they did not understand Him or the reason for the empty tomb. On the road to Emmaus the disciples saw him and did not know him. They were worried about the events that had just occurred three days prior. The women reported the empty tomb to the disciples but they did not believe them. How then did the disciples know him? By breaking of bread and opening the scriptures. The following scripture passage demonstrates this:

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened.  So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”

And He said to them, “What things?”

So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,  saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

Luke 24:13-35

Why is that important? Because this is how we remember and know Christ today. By opening Scripture and breaking bread. When we are in church the scriptures are being opened. The opening of scripture is the matrix and breaking of bread is the nourishment of our life. This is important because there is no historical difference between us and the apostles. If they did not know Christ by seeing him, that makes no difference to us living 2000 years after the event. The same way they encountered Him is the same way we encounter Him in the liturgical life of the church. Going to church is not comprised of being a good Christian and reading your one chapter every night because you have to check off your list to God. Anyone can go to church and put on a good show. However, it is encountering the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus that makes it important to understanding the mystery of Christ.   

One crucial aspect from the passage found in St. Luke’s gospel is that Jesus tells them that Moses told them about the death and coming of the Christ. For the first 4 centuries Pasha was celebrated as one single event. We do this also on Paschal Sunday (resurrection Sunday) but we take it for granted all the time. “Christ is risen from death, trampling death by death”. It was not that Christ died because he was human. That is one fact all humans cannot escape; that we will all die one day. But because he was God and could escape his own death by death. As the hymn says, “he conquered death by death”. For example, a pure white light goes through a prism and it reflects many lights. But we have to remember how it is held together; by His death conquering death. This is why we still call it Paschal Sunday. Christ shows us how it is to be God in the way he dies as a human being. This is all made possible by his death conquering death. He voluntarily went to his death because death had no claim on Him. We start by knowing his passion in order to come to know the mystery of Christ. He is stronger than death. By his death he destroys death. Why is this important for us? 

The one thing we are guaranteed is death. We are all going to die. In knowing that we are going to die, one question we must ask is how are we going to die? According to St. Maximus the Confessor, Christ changed the use of death, meaning that we can use death in life. How does one become a Christian? Through Baptism. What is Baptism? Death in Christ voluntarily. We live not according to the passions of this world, but rather, we use our life in service of God and to live for others. Christ changed the use of death so that we can enter into life. We can use our death to be born into a life which we never had before. The starting point is the passion of the church which means death and resurrection which is understood by the opening of scripture and the breaking of bread. This enables us to look at the one who died on the cross and have the last public image on him dying on the cross. This is why the cross is a major symbol in Christianity. Jesus is our Lord and savior. In our death the identity of ours will be revealed. “We only ever understand backwards but we must live forwards”. One thing I can be absolutely sure of is death and second is if my heart is attached to things of this world, then death will be painful because we are then separated from what we love. This is why we cry at funerals and are pained by death. We cannot take anything with us into the afterlife so we naturally mourn for people who die. Society has taught us this concept of morning at death and in doing so we have turned death into something that is bad. But if we learn to detach ourselves and we learn not to live for our ego and passions and we detach ourselves then during our physical death we can turn to God and say “into thy hand I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46) because we are going to the one we loved through our death. Here is how St. Ignatius described his experience on his way to his martyrdom:

“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. The pains of birth are upon me. Suffer me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Do not give to the world one who desires to belong to God, nor deceive him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being [anthrdpos (man)]. Suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God”. (St. Ignatius Letter to Romans 6).

The climax then arrives at the cross when Christ said it is finished. What is finished? We got the beginning with man (Genesis) and Pilate says to the people referring to Christ “behold the man”. The beginning was the man (creation) the finishing is man which is Christ on the cross. That work is continued through our own death through baptism and the service and we become “real” human beings in Christ. Everything recounted in Genesis was spoken into being but for God’s own (humanity) work it was created in the image and likeness of God. If we refer to Genesis everything was spoken into creation while humans are a project and made in the image and likeness of God. The only work in Genesis is the man. Man was the beginning and the ending was man (Christ on the cross). Through this understanding and decrement we can come to understand the mystery of Christ the passion and resurrection narrative. If we come to die for Christ then death will become our new and restored life in Him.                   

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Background Picture

The background picture is of Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, his memory be eternal. I choose this picture because the story behind it really stuck to me when I heard it. So he used to take the bus everyday to pretty much anywhere he went. Why? Because he said it would not be fair for him to have a car and drive around if everyone in his flock did not own a car themselves. So he took the bus instead, like any other lay person. A very powerful individual and his memory be eternal.


Hello everyone and welcome to the blog page Agape! The intention of the blog God willing, with every entry, will be to show us how one can live out their theology in Christ and in doing so how to live it out in Agape which is the Greek word for unconditional love. The two hardest things in life is to live in constant love and to do so representing Christ in the secular world. I hope that through these entries we will all learn from each other and benefit from one another. Enjoy the first.

Glory to God for all things. Agape. :)

Agape-Living your Theology


Someone once told me that the greatest form of education is not based on FYI but rather how to live out what we learn. So in learning through FYI, how can humans live out their own education or in this case, theology? Now when I say theology I am not referring to the study of God but instead how can our relationship with Christ be a living form of “theology” to others. We all struggle with this type of life if we are trying to live it out. Our secular world demands that we forget God and focus on the present. Technology has come to dominate society, and in doing so has turned our culture into a fast food type of life where everything can be accessed with a click of a button. This can be a great challenge to Christians all over the world if we live the fast food life. People have developed approaches to combat this problem. The two most prominent ways I have come to know, is either completely abandoning the technology or simply embracing it in all walks of life. But having started to examine and understand theology on an intellectual level I have come to realize that it is not about abandoning it or embracing it but instead it is about looking at the beauty that God, having created it, had a purpose for such an invention. Everything in creation has its beauty in nature, but because of our corrupt nature it becomes defiled. Drinking, talking to girls, gossiping, etc. all developed out of our corrupt nature. Now I am not saying these things are good by means of the imagination but rather we took the good attributes and made them bad. How do we overcome this?   

We have to embrace each other through all the gifts that Christ has given us. One way we can do this is through Agape, one of the Greek words for love. All that we do, we must do in love of others and more importantly, for the love of God. Albert Einstein famously once said “a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. The selfishness of humanity has become a great travesty of the 21st century. We have to begin to shake of the norms of society and start training the mind to embrace what God has planted in us through His Holy Spirit. We must respect our surroundings and find the beauty in all that surrounds us. Instead of looking at people and talking down to them let us look and be thankful and look up to heaven. Living agape (unconditional love), is the hardest thing one can try to live out but that is only because our minds are not focused to live out this lifestyle. When we commit sin for the first time we are afraid because our nature is not used to it. Adam and Eve hid from God when they realized what they had done was wrong. We do the same with God. Living agape can be achieved if we keep working on it through our daily interactions with other humans. Your next question might be then is how do I live agape if I have never experienced it? Well this comes through living out ones theology.

Living your theology does not mean going to school and learning about God and the history of the church etc. Living your theology means partaking in the liturgical life of the church. The assembly of the church and the unity of the community in coming together to celebrate liturgy is one form of living out your theology. The organism of the church is constituted in the people of the community. When one member is disjointed then the unity of the church starts to become disunity. Prayer life then begins to increase in the heart of the believer increasing ones lived theology. This is how the organism of the liturgical life operates within the heart of the believer and through the liturgical life one then can become to understand who God is and what his purpose is in one’s life. Things within the community like bible study or youth group gatherings will not become FYI sessions but rather a lived experience within the heart of the believer. But if we continue to rely on modern concepts of worship and we begin to lose the tradition of the church then the fire will begin to diminish gradually from within.

Think further at the whole idea of liturgy that has been revealed to us. There are strange things within this tradition of the liturgy such as “God is great”. Does God need to be told such a thing? The obvious answer is of course not. Another way He has revealed himself to us is through friendship and how he is the bridegroom and we are the bride. We are baptized in Christ. What is important in these relationships? Affection and love; the same attributes we show to each other. Our prayers are an affection of love to our creator. There is knowledge of God that can be had outside of the church. The church being the bride of Christ, show us the fuller knowledge of God and with this respect we start to grow an intimate knowledge of Him. We are all called to have this deeper intimate relationship with Him personally. This is not for saint’s monks or clergy but for everyone and this is the greatest aspect for the relationship with God. We are all called to be saints according to the Apostle in the first chapter of Romans.

Why way of conclusion God does not need us to say “you are great”. God loves us and he wants us to love him back. This is liturgy. God loves us and he wants us to love him back and this is shown in the services with what we do. This is the expression of our faith. The definition of liturgy has been spoken of as the work of the people. Liturgy in the ancient world was considered as public work. In doing so the early church realizes that the liturgical life was community. Let’s not forget our roots within the tradition of the church. Agape can be lived out through the ultimate form of worship; the liturgy.

Therefore the Eucharist is not only the "most important” of all the offices, it is also source and goal of the entire liturgical life of the Church. Any liturgical theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure is basically defective.

Father Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, pg.24.