Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

There She Blows! – Well, this is going to suck.

Including what began on Ash Wednesday, we are now the third day into Lent. What began with a certain gravitas, ecclesiastical pomp and circumstance is finally beginning to set in. Preparing for the inevitable is something few of us are good at precisely because of the uncertainty of the nature of the inevitable. We come to church Ash Wednesday with a lot of ideas about what we want to give up, how we’re going to improve only to find a mere seventy-two hours later that maybe we bit off a little more than we could chew. While the story of Jonah specifically has a lot of relevance to Easter Triduum – something I hope to explore later during Holy Week – it may be relevant to look at this particular narrative at the start of the season that we may find a little bit of hope before we go down too deeply and subvert our Lenten intentions.

Jonah’s story exemplifies the inversions seen within as it is really the closest thing to a comedy found in the Bible. Commanded by God to go eastward to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it, Jonah eventually decides to take a detour in the opposite direction because, really, being a prophet is messy enough of a job-description and being a prophet to the people who are your peoples’ de facto enemies is doubly so. Heading westward, Jonah finds himself on a ship when suddenly a storm picks up and lots are drawn and the prophet wins a trip to Davey Jones’ Locker. Well, crap. Fortunately for our prophet, Jonah is miraculously saved by being swallowed by a large whale-like fish in whose belly he spends three days and three nights and remains there considering his poor life choices.

Twenty-four hours really isn’t a terribly long time to start to notice changes in behavior, much less the flaws of our original Lenten intentions. It’s easy to wake up one morning and decide we’re going to pray more, not have coffee or tea, watch television or spend less time on the internet. Then day two kicks in. We know we have to do something because we committed ourselves to it, so we continue on as we did the day before, but perhaps a little more reluctantly; our fingers are itching to play that game on our smart phones, a new season of whatever show just started but we promised ourselves not to watch television after a certain hour, we had a crappy day at work and want just one more drink to ease our woes but can’t. Come day three, we really start to notice where we may have been overzealous and find ourselves accidentally doing the things we promised not to do or doing less, or less-intentionally, the things we promised we’d do.

The beauty of the mythic cycles we experience in the liturgical calendar is one of paradox: we know what to expect, just not how we’re going to experience them when the time comes. We become characters in a liturgical cycle where it’s easy to either be heroes or the brunt of a cosmic joke but oftentimes find ourselves playing both roles.

In another whale of a tale, we have another hero, Ahab, whose tremendous overconfidence, or hubris, leads him to defy common sense and believe that, like a god, he can enact his will and remain immune to the forces of nature. He considers Moby Dick the embodiment of evil in the world, and he pursues the White Whale monomaniacally because he believes it his inescapable fate to destroy this evil. I suspect many of ourselves start our Lent in a similar way, trying to deliver ourselves from every evil and put aside the “sins of the flesh”, only to discover our fatal flaw in being unable to escape and in the end and unable to save ourselves. We’re so self-convinced of our own superiority, that even if we end up finding that one thing that is preventing ourselves from our own self-ordained perfection, we end up going down to the depths not truly understanding the lessons that one thing was teaching us all along. We become aggressors as much as victims of our own ideological pursuits.

If we’re lucky, we end up like Jonah. We realize we’re poor schmucks who, even if we fail at first are granted the opportunity and grace to get a second chance. We get put in time out for a bit, are given a chance to see things a little differently even if it’s to our chagrin then move forward. There’s no telling what the outcome is even if we know the story by heart because what we’re experiencing in this liturgical drama is as deeply personal as it is communal and mythic. So, let us consider for a moment what the Spirit is saying to us as we’re in our rocky vessels during the fickle ebb and flow of Lent and remember that we’re not perfect, but in recognizing our own character flaws we may become bit by bit a little more perfected in our love and trust in ourselves and in our other ship-mates.


Keeping Covenants

Another weekend has come and gone. Lest one think I was slacking in my commitment to write, the simple fact is, is that I wasn’t near any reliable internet where I could make my posts. That said, today I will be posting my reflections from Saturday and Sunday, as well as today’s reflection later on this evening.


“My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?”

– Psalm 42:2

One of the interesting aspects of Lent is the preference for readings that many Christians today might find at least a little uncomfortable. We see many references to the legal codes such as Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and other texts which seem to make one wonder about how much God is really a god of love and not some sort of tyrant who’s worshipers suffer some form of religious Stockholm Syndrome.

In today’s first reading, God speaks to the Israelites first about how much E loves Eir chosen people and, seemingly in the next breath, discusses how E will destroy those who displease Em as well as gives instructions of religious intolerance that would likely offend the most devout warmonger:

“If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.”

– Deuteronomy 7:17-26

Not exactly an uplifting lesson. On one hand we are assured that God will be with Eir people though things may not exactly seem entirely optimistic, and then instructs Eir people to destroy the religious objects and essentially dehumanize their neighbors and their social order, yet in some ways this can be viewed apart from its very real social and historical context and be applied as a meaningful commentary and warning of the real dangers of idolatry and temptation of literal and spiritual materialism.

As many of my friends know, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for sacred art. Whether it come in the form of Byzantine iconography, ex votos, or statues; sacred art is a way in which we engage with the Divine – it speaks to our needs and wants as well as providing a window into the soul. One of the oldest debates within the three monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam almost always seems to come back to the problem of idolatry. Within Judaism and Islam, this resulted in the creation of aniconic sacred art employing diverse forms of calligraphy and geometry. Christianity from a very early stage contested with this problem as well.

In Christian circles, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by a literal interpretation of the second of the Ten Commandments, which forbids the making and worshiping of “graven images.” This is clearly a misinterpretation of the Decalogue because if one continues to read through the Book of Exodus one would encounter the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle: a visible icon of the invisible God. In 730, Emperor Leo II the Isurian banned the use of icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints as well as commanding the destruction these images. The Iconoclastic Controversy was fueled by the refusal of many Christian residents outside the Byzantine Empire, including many Christians living in the Islamic Caliphate, to accept the emperor’s theological arguments. St. John of Damascus was one of the most prominent of these. Ironically, Christians living under Muslim rule at this time had more freedom to write in defense of icons than did those living in the Byzantine Empire. St. John of Damascus’s teaching centered around his clarification and distinction of the terms worship and veneration, teaching that we worship God, depicted in the icon, and simply venerate the icon itself as an image of the Prototype. In his defense of icons he wrote, “I do not worship creation over the creator.”

The point made by Saint John of Damascus is important here. It’s revealed that the objects themselves are not the problem per se but rather the temptation toward coveting things that are not of use to the Israelites and could tempt them away from God’s providence and love. How often do we set up ‘false gods’ in our lives? When do things such as work overtake our lives and prevent us from engaging meaningfully with our neighbor and God? Similarly, how many times have we wasted more effort than we should have arguing about one issue or another on social media? When these things divide, we have set up idols or patterns of behavior that distract us from love for one another and the devotion we owe to the Divine in whatever form we perceive it.

Our second lesson strikes this even deeper home:

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned. When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Make every effort to send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way, and see that they lack nothing. And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with all of you.”

– Titus 3:1-15

In his letter to Titus, Paul instructs us to pay heed to that which is most important and that is aiding one another and society toward greater harmony in service of the Divine. When speaking of being subject to rulers and authorities, Paul here was most definitely referring to rightly-led civil leaders; obeying these powers is indeed important, but the key here is that in a society, the yoke must go both ways – we should be obedient, but also the powers should be obedient to the eternal law which is love of one’s neighbor.

While meditating on this passage, the presently famous song by Hozier, Take Me to Church, came on my play list. The song itself definitely speaks to a number of the problems of living in a society which becomes oppressive – specifically speaking to the plight of LGBTQ persons and their equal person-hood. Two particular verses struck me to the core, as I was preparing to go on a further discourse of Epiphanes’ sermon On Righteousness which speaks to our paradoxal state:

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

On one hand, we are to obey authority, but in living out the Lenten Mysteries, there are no masters or kings: patriarch and priest, king and president, generals and lawmakers – everyone – is leveled down. We are all sinners. We have all missed the mark. There is a beauty about this, though in a round about way. While the song itself was likely referring to the ‘sin’ of being homosexual, I would be hard pressed as a human being to view someone lesser for who they love – especially being queer myself. We shouldn’t be quick to judge one another for what we perceive of as their state of sin, but rather work together toward a greater and more loving dialogue with one another, and that dialogue can only happen when we are completely and totally naked with our hearts and minds and, in cleansing our perception, come a step closer to beholding God in our fellow beings.

In 813CE, Emperor Leo V (reigned 813–820) instituted a second period of iconoclasm which seemed to be somewhat less severe than the first period of iconoclasm and having fewer martyrdoms and public destruction of icons. Leo was succeeded by Michael II, who was succeeded by his son, Theophilus. Theophilus died, leaving his wife, Theodora the Iconodule, regent for his minor heir, Michael III. Like Irene 50 years before her, Theodora mobilized the iconodules and proclaimed the restoration of icons in 843. Since that time the first Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church is celebrated as the feast of the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

We return in our Gospel reading to a similar scene which we saw on Friday. Jesus is in Galilee and approaches Philip telling him, “Follow me”, at which point Philip turns around remarking to Nathanael, telling him that he found the person who was spoken of in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, to which Nathanael sarcastically remarks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

– John 1:43-51

To contextualize Nathanael’s snarky comment to Philip, the Gospel of Luke describes Nazareth as ‘a city of Galilee’ and the home of Mary. Following the birth and early epiphany events of chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus ‘returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth’ where Jesus grows up. Interestingly, Nazareth is not mentioned in pre-Christian texts and appears in many different Greek forms in the New Testament. There is no consensus regarding the origin of the name. One conjecture holds that “Nazareth” is derived from one of the Hebrew words for ‘branch’, namely ne·ṣer, נֵ֫צֶר, and alludes to the prophetic, messianic words in Book of Isaiah 11:1, ‘from (Jesse’s) roots a Branch (netzer) will bear fruit.’ One view suggests this toponym might be an example of a tribal name used by resettling groups on their return from exile. Both of these possible etymologies seem somewhat appropriate to the Lenten season.

As during Advent we journey with Mary and Joseph through the wilds of the desert into Egypt, we find Jesus coming out of a place associated with exile and into his public ministry. One of the striking things about this chapter is how often the words ‘seek’ and ‘find’ are repeated over and over again in a variety of forms. How often do we find ourselves lost, unable to find an answer to what we’re looking for and, how often when we find that answer we immediately reject it because it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions? Nathanael’s remarks to Philip are exactly that. During this season, stripped of our notions of self-may we slowly embark on that process of coming to see things plainly as they stand right before our own eyes and seek to follow that image and come before the presence of the living God.


Part Two: SUNDAY

“All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies”

– Psalm 25:9

While we may consider Lent to be something that ultimately we go at alone for contemplation, one of the things that scripture constantly assures us of is that we are not at all alone. Our first reading today alludes to that in talking about the importance of God’s covenant with us. At the most basic, a covenant is an agreement typically denoting some formal process of exchange. In the Bible, the word most commonly used in the Hebrew Scriptures is ‘Berith’ (ברית), referring to a legal disposition or pledge which may or may not have the character of agreement; this particular term may be familiar to us from the word ‘bris’ which is preserved amongst observant Jews as a ritual practice of setting apart in comemmoration of Genesis 17:10-14.

In the Greek, the word most commonly used for covenant is ‘diatheke’ (διαθηκη). In the Septuagint διαθηκη is regularly used as the translation of the covenant of God (berith), rather than the apparently more available word συνθηκη. In this there is already an expression of the fact that the covenant of God does not have the character of a contract between two parties, but curiously that of a one-sided grant.

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,”As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

– Genesis 9:8-17

The Covenant laid out in this chapter carries no stipulations, and it has the character of a one-party guarantee. It does of course require the faith of man, but is in its fulfillment in no respect dependent on the faith, an it is validly in force for all coming generations, believing and unbelieving (cf. Gen. 9:9). And in the making of the covenant with Abraham, too, in Gen. 15, the fulfillment of the law is in symbolical form made to depend wholly upon the divine deed – it’s entirely a gift. As a reminder, God places in the heavens the symbol of the rainbow in the clouds.

To those of us who are familiar with Western Esotericism and the Kabbalah, below the ethical triad of Chesed (Mercy), Geburah (Strength) and Tipareth (Beauty) there is depicted in some instances a rainbow that is referred to as the Veil of Paroketh, alluding to the Covenant made between God and humanity. It is this veil which separates our egos from our true and beautiful spiritual natures. Rainbows, as we know, are optical phenomenon caused by reflections, refraction, and disperson of light in water droplets which result in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky – they are optical illusions and cannot be physically approached.

In a similar way, the separation between God and humanity can ultimately be said to be illusory. Throughout Genesis we have multiple instances of humanity separating itself from God because we become to self-centered instead of listening to God’s gentle calls. When we stray too far, we are forced to face the consequences of our actions which take us away from God who is paradoxically always there to remind us of our own innate goodness. In setting up the rainbow, we have a reminder of the manifold mercies God has for us, if only we take a moment to reflect on them.

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”

– 1 Peter 3:18-22

In the epistle, Peter addresses the various churches in Asia Minor recalling the covenant with Noah and offering a glimpse of a greater mystery. While many various movements practiced forms of ritual purity that could be comparable to baptism, Peter here makes a marked separation between the physical act of cleanliness and introduces the concept of moral purity, which if we are attentive, leads us through the veil of the illusions we’ve created of ourselves and reminds us again of God’s mercy and beauty. Eight is an interesting number in Christian thought and doubly so in Gnostic thought referring to the Ogdoad.

The earliest Gnostic systems included a theory of seven heavens and a supercelestial region called the Ogdoad. Astronomical theories had introduced the concept of seven planetary spheres with an eighth above them, the sphere of the fixed stars. In this sphere we have our primordial origins. Through contemplating on these mysteries, we are subsequently purified and able to ascend back to our origins and put to rest in Christ our lower natures that prevent us from seeing who we really are.

Our gospel reading today is rather interesting. Again we find ourselves on the river Jordan, but unlike John’s Gospel accounts, things seem a little bit off, if a little rushed even:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

– Mark 1:9-15

As in the previous gospels, we’re called toward repentance but this time it is Jesus making that call instead of his cousin. When the scene begins, Jesus is baptized and the heavens open up with the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove. For those who were present, I would imagine it would be an astounding scene – which it is meant to be. In the Greek New Testament, the word used when referring to the clouds opening up is not a gentle one, so we can rest aside the beautiful Renaissance paintings of billowing clouds. The word used is “schizomenous” – a violent tearing, and one that appears later again when Christ’s earthly mission is complete and the veil in the Temple is rent in part.

The root of this word may be familiar to some people as found in modern psychology, ‘skhízō’ – the same one as found in our word ‘schizophrenia’. Schizophrenia, as we know, is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity. Naturally, schizophrenia is a very serious disorder and people with it need to be treated with common human dignity, but for the purposes of this let us consider our own bewildered states: our own false beliefs, expressions, confused thinking, and delusions when it comes to our own personal spiritual lives.

In the Gospel, the Epiphany of Jesus seems to have had a major impact, otherwise it wouldn’t have found its way into each of the synoptic gospels. Along with the transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, the Baptism of Jesus is one of the major milestones in the gospel experience. In Mark’s gospel, though, instead of Jesus staying around and preaching he immediately goes into the desert and faces the temptations of the Adversary before coming back and preaching.

The order of events is rather stunning, and the proclamations in Mark’s gospel mirror the account we read earlier in Genesis. God reveals Emself to Humanity and initiates a covenant. The preaching of Jesus, in this account, can in many ways be said to be the start of a new covenant – the Greek for what we in English call the New Testament, Hē Kainḕ Diathḗkē, can be translated as “The New Covenant” which calls us, like the dove which descended upon Christ, to listen to what the Spirit is saying to God’s people and follow Christ together in our own personal journey.


The Voice Crying in the Desert

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Today ends the last day of the Epiphany Season, commonly called Shrove Tuesday ,or, as familiar to most in North America Mardi Gras. A moveable commemoration is determined by Easter. The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrive, meaning “to absolve”. While many in the United States and elsewhere are enjoying the final night of the Carnival or Mardi Gras season, tonight is the night where we hear the call of John the Baptist saying, ““I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!” Tonight we are called toward repentance.

It may seem strange to some, so close after the joyous celebration of the Epiphany season, to be called into repentance. It wasn’t two months ago that we witnessed the full presence of the Lord amongst us: the honoring of the Lord by the Three Magi, His baptism in the river Jordan by his cousin; Christ selecting Philip to join amongst the apostles, the beginning of his Galilean ministry and the subsequent selection of the other apostles, the casting out of the unclean spirit by the possessed man in the synagogue, and many other miraculous events.

During this time, we are drawn into the narrative of Jesus, an accomplished and evangelical preacher and miracle worker. We follow him as he selects his disciples and starts his earthly ministry. We walk with him, sharing in the wonder and awe of this charismatic who touches us to the core.

This past Sunday, we beheld him in full glory, climbing the mountainside with John, James and Peter to pray and meditate. After what would have been at least half a day’s trek. While climbing up this steep and dangerous mountainside, far removed from civilization as they know it, possibly praying along the way or talking about their ministry, Jesus stands before them glowing with a supernatural whiteness – at his side the great patriarch Moses and Elijah at his side. These sons of thunder and Peter struck down in awe before Jesus suddenly appears again as himself, the poor preacher from Nazareth. And now, the light grows dim, just a flash before our eyes before we are invited into the desert once again.

The period of Lent which starts tomorrow is a period of repentance. Now, for many this conjures images of self-denial, fasting, or at the very minimum just giving up some kind of enjoyment or vice. The Greek term often used for repentance in the Greek gospels is metanoia. Metanoia, far from covering one’s self in sack cloth simply means, ‘to change one’s mind’. After the holiday season and throughout Epiphany we’re focused on the external appearances of things and external activities. In the reading for today, John calls us to make straight the way of the Lord into our hearts and minds. Yet, how do we do this and what does it mean?

On an external level, moderate fasting can be healthy, yet when taken to extremes it puts us out of touch with our own bodily needs – the body in which the Spirit comes to sit. Anyone who’s been involved in heavy academic pursuits, long and irregular work schedules, or athletics knows how hard it can be to balance things – especially their spiritual life when things are too busy and one hasn’t eaten properly. It can also be a symptom of what some have termed spiritual pride – a self-righteous sense of being more holy than one’s neighbor well illustrated by the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke’s Gospel. If one is going to fast, how will it turn one’s focus on the path you’re making straight for the Lord to enter?

Another traditional practice is alms giving. Since the time of the apostles and to the present day charity is a great practice whether it be giving one’s time in volunteering or money to the church or organizations. Yet, if one feels compelled to give – especially in this tough economic climate where money and time are concerns- and can’t, that doesn’t help them set clear their path but can actually make a person feel worthless and like they’re not able to participate alongside their sisters and brothers.

While abstinence, fasting, prayer, repentance and service are all traditional Lenten practices, I would like to suggest something perhaps less traditional that is still in the spirit of the Season. Do something more and fine tune what you’re doing.

From birth until death each of us carries within themselves something to offer the world. For some, this is a propensity for music. If that’s the case, take this time to fine tune your talents, offer each practice session to God and your community. If it’s athletics, maybe work out a little bit harder or perhaps invite a friend who’s interested for improving their game or whatever physical activity they do. If it’s finances, maybe dedicate time to learning how to best use your money to benefit someone other than yourself and maybe teach others to do the same. If you’re a deeply spiritual person, maybe re-examine what’s working and what’s not in your practice, streamline it or find a new way to express your devotion and support others spiritually. There are many other examples that with a little bit of thought can be put into practice.

It is important, though, to also add a spiritual dimension to your activities. If you can, take some time for daily prayer and attend services with your own or other spiritual communities. Pay attention to what the Spirit is saying whether at work, in personal reading, or at church and see how you can make it apply to your life in this period and see if can be carried through the rest of the year. And, most importantly, be good to yourselves – don’t make comparisons between what you’ve chosen to do or not with that of other people, instead, rest in the knowledge of the transforming power of the Divine Beloved.


Assumption of Mary

Today we commemorate the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated in the Orthodox and Eastern Church as the solemnity of the Dormition. Throughout the history of Christianity, Mary has been an inseparable part of Christian and Gnostic devotion. In my own tradition, she is revered in many diverse ways – come viewing her as a manifestation of the Holy Sophia, others taking a more conventional devotional angle to her as the bearer of Christ or Theotokos.


As we enter the Sophanic half of the year, the year of subtle turning inward and nuturing the divine within and furthering our own spiritual dialogue with the Divine Beloved. This self-emptying of the ego or kénōsis may seem strange to many people, but it is precisely at the moment that we empty ourselves, we are able to be filled up with divinity in the same ways as Mary came to bear the Christ within herself saying,”Yes!” to the angel Gabriel and bringing forth God into the world.

Even in a culture so full of longing for spiritual fulfillment, it’s often-times difficult for us to say, “Yes” to the Divine as we know it. To open ourselves up is also to make ourselves extraordinarily vulnerable. Imagine if you will the reaction of Saint Joseph when Mary anounced her experience with the Angel Gabriel:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:18-21

It would have been very easy for Joseph as the bridegroom of Mary to simply walk away increduliously at the suggestion that his bride to be was with child. Instead, Joseph as well made that emptying of the self to the will of the Divine and today is well remembered as the devoted foster-fother of Jesus and husband of Mary.

Mary’s own devotion to her son and to the emerging Christian community is most evident in her standing beside him even unto his death on the cross where she became not just the mother of Jesus, but also the entire Christian community along with John the Apostle who became her devoted son even standing beside her as she lay peacefully, falling asleep in the Lord before being raised up heavenly three days later, according to pious tradition mirroring the three days of repose before the resurrection of her son.


Interestingly, as a modern Gnostic, I recently became aware of a tradition in action Greece that takes place around the octave of this curious solemnity. Near the 15th of August in the Greek village of Markopoulo on the island Cephaloniaat the Church of the Panagia, one can see snakes slither towards a particular church, the island has many churches but the snakes only go to this church, on the actual day, the 15th they slither on the icon of the Virgin Mary as the church becomes filled with people. In spite of the priest, clergy and people holding the service the snakes show no sign of fear.

According to pious legend, as the island was under the assault of pirates, the nuns at this particular church begged to the Virgin Mary to be saved from what presumably evil fate would befall them at which she turned them all into serpents. Conversely, one thing I may suggest, is that this tradition may also be reflective of an earlier tradition pre-dating the formation of what would become orthodoxy:

“This fellow Epiphanes, whose writings I have at hand, was a son of Carpocrates and his mother was named Alexandria. On his father’s side he was an Alexandrine, on his mother’s a Cephallenian. He lived in all only seventeen years, and at Same in Cephallonia was honoured as a god. There a temple of vast blocks of stone was erected and dedicated to him, with altars, sacred precincts, and a museon, The Cephallenians gather at the temple every new moon and celebrate with sacrifices the day when Epiphanes became a god as his birthday; they pour libations to him, feast in his honour, and sing his praises. He was educated by his father in the general education and in Platonism, and he was instructed in the knowledge of the Monad, which is the root-origin of the Carpocratians’ heresy.” Clement, Stromata.

“And thus, if ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden actions are committed among them, I can no longer find ground for believing them to be such. And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing. We are saved, indeed, by means of faith and love; but all other things, while in their nature indifferent, are reckoned by the opinion of men–some good and some evil, there being nothing really evil by nature.” Iranaeus. Ad. Haer.

The cult of the snake as a familiar spirit would have been very common in ancient Greece as in Rome, interestingly, there also appears to have been some continuation of this in other Gnostic sects, most notably the Ophites and Nassene gnostic communities. While we know very little from the Carpocration literature beyond the Mar Saba letter and Clement’s Stromata, it is known that the Carpocrations were a dominant force on this very island in the Second Century of the Common Era and it may be possible that even to this day some element of their presence may remain on the island.

The Way of the Heart and the Way of the Cup

Handed down from master to disciple in an unbroken chain of succession, the prayer of the heart as a spiritual discipline was fixed in writing by the eleventh century Byzantine, hesychast monk Symeon the New Theologian who taught that humanity could and should directly experience theoria, or direct contemplation of the experience of Godhead. In the Orthodox tradition, the preparation for vision of God takes place in two stages: purification, and illumination of the mental faculties. Without this it is impossible for man’s selfish love to be transformed into selfless love and unceasing prayer, as praised by the Apostle Paul who exhorts us in Thessalonians to, “Pray without ceasing.”

Though never achieving much currency in the West, the way of the heart as an esoteric discipline would become a central principal in the writings of the French philosopher, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin who, in his Theosophic Correspondences shares with us, “The inward or centre is the principle of everything; so long as this centre is not open, the greatest external wonders may seduce without advancing us; and, if I may venture to say so, it is our inward which ought to be the true thermometer, the true touchstone, of what passes without. If our heart is in God, if it is really become divine, by love, faith, and ardent prayer, no illusion can surprise us.” In Saint-Martin’s teachings, through similar meditation on God, one may undergo a spiritual process of reintegration with the Divine.

The way of the heart, in both hesychast and esoteric doctrines, is ultimately a form of theurgy. For Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus, the goal is henosis, or unity with God; in the Orthodox East, it is theosis, or the absorption into a divine way of life. I would posit, similarly, that in the esoteric doctrine of the West and the principals of the teachings of Saint-Martin, the achievement of reintegration is a form of spiritual and evangelical salvation of the soul at home with the universal Mind which, after its descent into the innermost core of being, must spread outward in all directions in a like manner as Christ, having experienced at a pivotal point in time descended into Hades and, upon ascent, drew them likewise out of the depths and later, again, spread outward in the form of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost imbuing the Apostles with the same knowledge of doing the same.

Although penitential in tonality, the way of the heart does not contradict Iamblichean principals of theurgy, but indeed does “[enlarge] very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the gods… and accustoms [our] eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods.” (De Mysteriis 5.26.18-40) Similarly, Saint Martin writes: “I think they would do better to call it the sentiment of the presence of intermediate agents doing the will of God. I believe we always perceive this reaction of the Virtues whenever we seek the Verb, not outside of us, but within, looking with intelligence at the temple in which He dwells.” My personal preference for keeping Saint-Martin’s usage of the ‘Verb’ adequately presents the activity of the divine as opposed to the rather abstract and now poorly understood Word, or Logos.

It occurred to me recently that this process is a form of eternal liturgy resulting in the fractio of our limited selves into the chalice representing the fullness of both our hearts and minds. Joining together these two species into one sacrament and consuming it, we experience joy of heaven on earth and partake of the ecstatic ‘Verb’ or action of Godhead. Far from the melancholy, the way of the heart teaches us to live in accordance with our intellect in the very real here and now instead of trying to escape to some indeterminate eschatological future. This bliss and this ecstasy, open to all, brings us not only contemplatively closer to Godhead, but is a challenge and affirmation of our own divinity and active co-participation in the Creation of a redeemed Humanity.

Sacred Heart doves Chalice

An End to the Crisis of God

Jesus is gone.

Forty four days ago we all conspired to shed his blood and put him to death. Some of us conspired through betrayal, some through denial, and others through inaction, false witness, and a myriad of other ways. We denied his humanity, we desecrated his divinity, we tied him up, led him in chains, affixed him to a beam of wood, nailed him to the cross, pierced his side and turned our backs even as he cried to the heavens and released his soul unto death.

Forty days ago he returned from death and nobody who saw him recognized his face even though he had only been in the tomb for three days. Not even his closest companions recognized him. He came back and found us all drunk and stupefied, forgetful of everything he shared with us for the years that we followed him around pretending to learn eagerly at his feet and seeing our distress, stayed with us for another forty days to assuage our grief, to instruct us of the mysteries which lie beyond and then, like the putting out of a candle, his light was absorbed into heaven and once again, Jesus was gone.We were left without him.

But he left a promise.


Thursday of Mysteries

“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!”
– Troparion (Plagal Fourth Tone) of Holy Thursday



“Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve may again come to completion with their god.”
– Gospel of Judas


“It is not permitted to hold love, as they are called, in the, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God.”
– Canon XXVIII, Council of Laodicea


“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats.”
-Exodus 12:5

john the beloved


“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”



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