Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Byzantine Gender Reveal


When I see the way my wife comforts our children, I see God as the Mother loving them through her. I may not see this image of God perfectly, but I know it’s there. Also, when I experience intimacy with my wife, I experience God as the Woman loving me. I may not also experience this image perfectly, but I do know it’s there. Some might find it strange that I can see and experience God in my wife, a woman. On the other hand, I think its strange not to, but that is where we are.

Recently, in the news, the pope was portrayed as promoting same sex unions. This doesn’t surprise me  and I’m afraid that he is just being true to what Catholic theologians have been teaching for centuries. Every time the feminine has been separated from the divine, every time God has been portrayed as genderless, and every time our gender has been taught as mere platform for living out our humanity the theological framework for the LGBTQ community was created.

Our sexuality was given to us to reveal God. The union of the genders is the only perfect manifestation of God in creation. To treat our sexual identity as a mere backdrop for how we exist has been a mistake repeated in the theology of the Church. The essence of this mistake is the refusal to see in the Woman the Image of God in an equal way that the Man is the image. We have been taught man YES and NO to the woman. We have been forced fed God as Father and have abandoned El-Shaddai. Usually this forcefulness comes under the guise of Tradition. Even though Sacred Tradition is clear of God being Father there is nothing forbidden in Tradition in seeking to grow in our understanding of the God with breasts.

By eliminating God in our sexual identity, by refusing to see the image of God in our genders we have created the LGBTQ community. We have given them the theology to proceed. If God is not in sex anything is on the table and he can only be in sex if man and woman are together the image of God. Despite the theology that the Church has inherited in this regard there are still ways to correct this thinking. St. JP2 tried to do this in his Theology of the Body. The Saint made it clear that sexuality leads to a revelation of God. He began with what was natural, something we do not need theology for, just looking at the purpose of creation, which is to reveal God.

In the Byzantine Liturgy I think the purpose of creation is most clear. We are never alone with just the New Adam in our Liturgy, there is also the New Eve, both revealing God to us. This is obviously clear in the iconography, but also when we glorify the Theotokos in song. Our Lady may not be the incarnation, but she is nothing less than the perfect mirror of everything that God is as  Woman. Such is obvious by the titles we give her in the Church. However, the purpose of her gender is most revealing every time we consume the Eucharist. It was St. Symeon the New Theologian who emphasized this when he said that when we partake on the Flesh our Lord, in the Eucharist, we at the same time partake of the flesh of the Theotokos. In his teaching we find the most complete union of genders manifesting God to creation.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Byzantine Sexual Revolution

Many years back my wife and I attended a couples retreat. During one of the talks a woman shared that she feels closest to God after she has sex with her husband. After she said this, I thought that she was a real pervert. However, I was the pervert. Like so many other Christians, I was taught that sex was just for making children and as bonus it causes intimacy with your spouse. It had nothing to do with God other than the fact that occasionally God might infuse a soul into the results. Later I would learn that this way of thinking is a complete contradiction to scripture. Unfortunately, it seems like this contradiction is all the Church has to offer.

When God is separated from sex it causes moral problems. The fruit of this is all around us. Concerning the problems Christians often come up short in how to respond. Most often they try to make uncompelling arguments based on the bible or church teaching. They know how to tell people what’s wrong but fail to give a good answer why.  Saying that “God says so” doesn’t work anymore. In fact, those that practice sexual immorality often have a better argument. As long as Christians understand sex as just some regulated human activity, like going to the bathroom or driving an automobile, we will lose the moral argument.

For the most part, the Church has failed in its call to redeem human sexuality. Its no secret that many of the fathers were horrified of sex. For example, it was St. Jerome who said it was a sin to have sex if you don’t do it for children. Woe to those poor people in his church who were married and could not have kids!!! Some fathers even went further in their disdain for sex and debated if even women had souls. If it were not for Fathers like St. John Chrysostom, I doubt that the Church would even been celebrating marriage as a sacrament. He was in a sense one of the pioneers of a Byzantine sexual revolution. He championed the cause of marriages within the Church. He also understood that Christian marriage was the only way to fulfill God’s plan for sexuality.

The modern Catechism of the Catholic Church has adopted some of Chrysostom’s teachings. Its now taught that sex is ok for unitive purposes and not just to have kids, but the Catechism fails to adopt the vision of the Saint. You won’t find in the Catechism that sex in a Christian marriage is a revelation of God. Nor will you find teachings about the practice of chastity in marriage with the goal of making the sexual act a holy encounter within God. When we hear the word “chastity” it often comes with the understanding of, “no sex”. Chastity is actually the purification of our sexuality. For a celibate that means one thing but for those that are married another. With both kinds of people, the goal is a revelation of God.

When God made us, God created us in the divine image, male and female as the scriptures teach. It’s no accident that the Woman in scripture was created from Man just before the advent of the 7thday.  The language used to describe Adams sleep in the creation of Eve is the same language of ecstasy. The language of sex. It’s also the same language of the glory that is revealed of the 7thday. The day of the covenant. The day of human and divine union. The union of man and woman reveals God in creation.  Sexuality was never something that was to be separated from God. Sexuality achieves its purpose as a revelation of what God is.

We are created in God’s image and likeness. Likeness implies our role in accomplishing God’s purpose. Unfortunately, we don’t even know what we are anymore. Sex being reduced to just reproduction or pleasure has created a society of people who don’t know what they are. In our world you can now change your sexuality and there are many ways to find your sexual pleasure. There is no divine meaning to sex. It seems like the devil has been successful in destroying the image of God in this world. Without our sexuality there is no image of God. Don’t be deceived! Our sexuality is the most sacred part about us. Its no accident that a whole book in the bible ‘Song of Songs’ is about sex. Its time for us to redeem our sexuality! Its time to continue the work of our holy father St. John Chrysostom. To continue the Byzantine sexual revolution.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The False Experiment

              In 1984 Father Thomas Keating invited people from various religions to meditate together. Some call this event “the big experiment”. The results from this “experiment” gave birth to what was called the “The Eight Points of Agreement”. Basically, the points state that since they all shared similar experiences in meditation their religious differences are irrelevant. It sounds pretty good. It even proposed a new way of looking at religious experience, as something called the “ultimate reality". However, just as with any type of experiment, results can be manipulated.  

There are two very important people that Father Thomas Keating left out of his experiment, an atheist and a Satanist. These 2 people would have had the same results in meditation just as any other human being would. In fact, there have been many scientific studies that have demonstrated that religion is not necessary to experience something in meditation. Science, of course, dismisses the phenomena of meditation all to chemical reactions in our head. As for myself, I believe “our chemicals” respond naturally to God’s wisdom hidden in creation (Proverbs8-9).

This wisdom is no stranger to us. You don’t have to be a saint to experience it and the simplest among us need only to look within to find her. There is of course a difference between what is naturally known of God and what is revealed. God is indeed in our midst and at the same time, to know him personally it takes revelation. This truth  obviously was missing from the so called “big experiment”.

Briefly, I would like to address the 8 points and show how they error. After all it is an “experiment”. Like with any experiment it deserves proper scrutiny to determine its value.

1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.

Response: actually,most religions bear witness to a personal reality, be it God or gods. Buddhism is the only exclusion.

2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.

Response: Like a snowman you can make it look any way you want and melt it when it doesn't work out. On the other hand, a personal God or gods have an identity

3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.

Response: So, what happens if you identify your ultimate reality as Yama, the hindu god of death. Personal beings foster personal relationships. There are different levels in which we can relate to other beings and as in every relationship there are rules.

4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.

Response: Faith in a general sense is a response to a religious truth. It is even an act of faith to accept the idea that the faith in point 4 “precedes every belief system”.

5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.

Response: This is all true and you also don’t even need a religion to have “human wholeness”.  Its also a completely subjective point.

6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.

Response: I don’t except the premise of an ultimate reality. Even so, this does prove the point that religion is not necessary. In addition, this point left out peyote and ritualistic drug induced states.

7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.

Response: the 8 points themselves demonstrate that the human condition is a separation from the ultimate reality and that you must follow their rules to have it.  The truth is there is only one reality! We might have an obscured experience of it, but it’s all there.

8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. [2]

Response: Yes. You can also be an atheist or Satanist to experience what anyone can find in a so-called spiritual life. Children, the elderly, the mentally infirm, the sinner, the saint, Ext…. and any human being… have them clear their minds, chant the mantra chicken soup, and they will all find what’s common to human nature, God’s wisdom hidden in the created.

        The Church is not like any other religion. She does not offer just another spirituality among others. The Church is the Ark of Salvation. Manifested in this world for the Sake of our Salvation. It’s not enough to know about God. To be aware of him and yet not be in communion with him or even to be just his friend. He wants true sons and daughters. Anyone can look within and see him. It’s a completely different thing when God gives an identity to what is seen. The Church has his identity and offers this identity to the whole world. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”- John 14:6

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Byzantine Gospel Tract

Several years ago, the Melkite Patriarch expressed the need for us to communicate the gospel in an uncomplicated way. He understood how complex our faith could be and recognized that other religions have an advantage over us in this regard. Over the years, I have thought about what he said and have tried to discover ways that we Byzantines can communicate our faith effectively. The following Gospel tract (trifold) is one of those ways. I took the following three points that we emphasize in our tradition:(incarnation, the victory over death, partaking of the divine nature) and presented them in a simplistic way. The tract is geared toward the unchurched person, so I tried to avoid any inclusive church language. Typically, in our culture people recognize that Christians use the bible as an authoritative source, so I reference the bible in that fashion. I presented the points in the tract so that the person reading can make a decision to accept what Christ has done for them.  However, unlike what is seen in most protestant tracts there is no prayer to accept Jesus as the savior. Saying that kind of prayer might be a good start, but I truly believe that God communicates the fullness of his love only through the Church, so I make the final point about seeking membership in a Catholic Church. This tract I hope can be a good guide for a brief presentation of our faith. You never know who might pick it up and start the journey of faith. Its fully editable if you want to change the content. I am using them for my parish so you might want to change the back if you are going to use them for yours. I know there are better ways to do this but if you can use this feel free to download t pdf  version (here).

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Argument of Ancestral sin vs Original sin

When I first started studying Byzantine theology I was deceived. I believed in a false tradition called Ancestral Sin. The term itself is not false, many fathers use the term. What is false is how some Eastern Christians have used it in the past 50yrs. The term at some point was hijacked by a tradition of apologetics that is based in the Orthodox Church. It’s now used to contrast what is called Original sin, which is said to be an invention of St. Augustine. The argument states: “the Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin”. The problem with this argument is that it’s totally dishonest.

The dishonesty for this argument is found in the assumptions it makes. First, there is the huge assumption that the argument represent all of the Eastern Church. As I said, the argument represents a tradition of apologetics and not the Eastern Church. Next, there is the assumption that the Western Church was the only one to have a doctrine of inherited guilt. It’s true that St. Augustine developed “original guilt” far more systemically than any Church Father in the West. On the other hand, even the noted Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware himself admitted “the notion of an inherited sinfulness can be found, at any rate in a rudimentary form, in more than one Greek writer”. Last of all, there is the assumption that the Western Church had only one way of understanding sin. It might be true that St. Augustine played a major role in the catechesis of the West, but this catechesis was by no means universal. In fact, the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves the notion of inherited guilt total open. In terms of inherited guilt, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following, “the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand(404)”.

This dishonest argument is usually further exaggerated with the following distinctions: “the doctrine of ancestral sin naturally leads to a focus on human death and Divine compassion as the inheritance from Adam, while the doctrine of original sin shifts the center of attention to human guilt and Divine wrath. It is further posited that the approach of the ancient church points to a more therapeutic than juridical approach to pastoral care and counseling”. When I hear Eastern Christians make these distinctions it makes me wonder why they are ignoring so many Greek Fathers. For example, St. Gregory Palamas had this to say about the so called shift to “human guilt and Divine wrath” , which is not the “ancient church”: “Yet God is also a 'jealous God' (Exod. 20:5), a just judge who takes terrible vengeance on those who dishonor Him, who disobey Him and who scorn His commandments, visiting them with eternal chastisement, unquenchable fire, unceasing pain, unconsolable affliction, a cloak of lugubrious darkness, an obscure and grievous region, piteous gnashing of teeth, venomous and sleepless worms - things He prepared for that first evil apostate together with all those deluded by him who became his followers, rejecting their Creator in their actions, words and thoughts”. This quote was taken right of the Philokalia, the most beloved book for the so-called, “therapeutic than juridical approach to pastoral care and counseling”.

The biggest problem I see with people that promote “Ancestral sin vs Original sin” is that they are creating a false dichotomy between the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church. On the subject of sin the fathers of the Church had diverse positions. This diversity is witnessed in the many forms of catechesis that can be found in Church history. Its even possible, as St. John Paul the Great said, to have one tradition of catechesis express the mysteries of our faith better than others. With this in mind, we should take advantage of the different forms of theological expression in the Church. Just like what the Roman church did when it changed its catechesis on sin, which now reflects what is emphasized in the Byzantine churches.  The Roman church’s current catechesis on the effects of sin now fits more organically into their tradition as opposed to the Augustine views of the past. Like the Roman church, we should discover what best helps our own tradition organically develop. Not by seeing how we are not like the other, but by truly learning how to “breathe with both lungs” of the Church.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Consuming the Flesh of the Mother of God

Recently, I was accused of putting too much emphasis on the Mother of God and the activity of the Saints.  My response was that my emphasis is important in understanding our relationship with Jesus Christ. St. Macarius said, “human free will is an essential condition, for without it even God himself does nothing”. It is true that our salvation comes from Christ alone, but he would not be here without our consent. This is important for us to realize because our actions do matter. There are wonderful things that God wishes to do with us, but without our participation we end up grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).

The Greek theologian Panagiotus Trembelas once said, “From the beginning to end, in the work of man’s conversion and sanctification there run side by side two lines: divine grace and human free will. Continually these two lines converge and touch each other, and so together they contribute to our salvation….Yet at no moment and at no point in the development of this work does the one line obliterate and cancel out the other”. In terms of these two lines mentioned there is a whole history of their convergence in the saints of the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament saints, we would not be where we are today. There would be no Church. God set apart certain people and worked with these people in mediating his divine grace into this world. Through them, he was preparing the world for salvation through Jesus Christ.

Just as we can grow in experiencing divine grace, the Old Testament saints could as well. However, their growth was through many purifications and acts of divine condescension, God coming down to our level and bringing us up to his. These purifications and divine condescensions had a purpose and climax. God was creating for himself a most perfect and pure temple in which the fullness of divine grace could enter our world. In other words, God was perfecting our humanity by working with the O.T. saints, returning human nature to its purpose, a purpose that became obscured due to sin. It was through the conception of Theotokos that the purpose and climax of Old Testament sanctity was achieved.

God at any time could have picked anyone to become the Theotokos. However, as St. Macarius said God can do nothing without us. Our choices matter and the Theotokos would not be with us without the response of the saints of the Old Testament. Her conception was the height of what was possible in terms of human perfection. For this reason, the Church rightly honors her as the Immaculate Conception and the Panagia, "the All Holy". As the Russian Theologian Sergei Bulgakov taught, the life of the Theotokos is a series of gifts of grace given to us by the Holy Spirit, beginning with Her conception. She received naturally through her cooperation with God what we all receive now through our participation in the life of the Church.

St. Symeon the New Theologian said that when we partake on the Flesh our Lord, in the Eucharist, we at the same time partake of the flesh of the Theotokos. God took his flesh from the Theotokos. God became what we are through her. He could not have become what we are without us. The fiat of the Theotokos represents a long history of God working with us in order to bring about our salvation. In terms of our salvation, we can now have everything that God is. This is all thanks to the people that have worked with God, which includes both the saints of the Old and New Testaments. Without them we would not be where we are. This is a truth that we need to make our own. God is not done saving the world. There will come a day when God wipes away every tear (Rev. 21:4). This is a day that God is now calling us to work with him to bring about. It’s a mystery, but God truly is trusting each of us with the salvation of the world.