Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I have recently become aware of a relatively new species of humanoid that frequents the internet.

If you are a regular user of internet forums, you are aware of the existence of “lurkers”. These are people who frequent particular forums of their choosing to read the postings of others, but who do not register with that forum or post any submissions of their own. Lurkers enjoy reading the discussions that take place on such forums, but often feel that they have nothing significant to contribute to the discussion themselves. Their existence has long been recognized, and the fact is that frequent posters on one forum may indeed become lurkers on another forum out of curiosity. No biggie.

But now a new breed of internet inhabitant has emerged that I think deserves unique recognition. These are former bloggers who, for one reason or another, have ceased to maintain their own blogs, yet who still roam the vast internet “Blogosphere” reading other people’s blogs and often posting comments to those very blogs. Their contributions may often be welcomed by the bloggers; at other times not. But just as the comic Steve Martin once observed that the French seem to have a different word for everything in the English language, I have noticed that denizens of the internet also seem to have a “techno-word” for every aspect and every inhabitant of their world.

Thus I am wondering if anyone has yet invented a word for former bloggers who no longer blog, but who post their comments to other people’s blogs. I am not sufficiently savvy to know such things. Unless or until such a word is invented (Which inevitably will happen, you can be sure of that!), I propose we call such people “Blurkers” as in “Blog-Lurkers”.

We will continue to encourage their comments, as we active bloggers simply live for comments, but at the same time we will ask the Blurkers to reconsider their choice to leave active blogging, and to return to their former efforts to make the Blogosphere more interesting for the rest of us who used to enjoy blurking their blogs.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Zacchaeus Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Whenever we hear the story of Zacchaeus read in church, we know that the start of Great Lent cannot be far away. This is one of the gospel stories that helps prepare us for the Lenten effort, because the story of Zacchaeus is a story of true repentance, born out of a deep desire to know Jesus Christ.

After believing in the Lord, Zacchaeus initiated remarkable changes in his life to show his repentance. He pledged to give away half of his wealth to the poor and, on top of that, to repay all those whom he had defrauded as a tax-collector, giving back four times as much as he had taken. Although it is not specifically stated here, it is safe to assume that Zacchaeus also amended his business practices from that day forward to no longer cheat people. Sometime later when the Church began, it is highly likely that Zacchaeus was among those who sold all their possessions to lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet.

What was the purpose of these things, or their value in terms of his repentance? Obviously Zacchaeus had been a man who simply adored money, and had been willing to do whatever it might take to get it. This is an indication of a deep spiritual illness and of the presence of greed, one of the seven grievous sins and a very effective destroyer of souls. Although outwardly Zacchaeus appeared to be a man of great success, he was in fact a dying man who was daily being led deeper and deeper into the darkness of destruction by the unbridled lusts of his own soul.

On that day however, something changed in him. When Zacchaeus opened the door to invite the Lord Jesus into his home, he also opened to Him the door of his heart, inviting Jesus to enter into the habitation of his soul. While the house of Zacchaeus was no doubt lavishly furnished, the soul of Zacchaeus was all desolate and in ruin, and the Lord could not find a suitable place within to lay His head. Seeing this, Zacchaeus suddenly awoke from the slumber of sin and with great zeal immediately cast away practically all the wealth he had once been so careful to acquire, and promised with the help of God to better his way of life. He rebuked the demon of greed if you will, and drove him out of his soul. Because of this, Jesus could truly say, “This day is salvation come to this house,” for our Savior did not necessarily mean that house of wood and stone, but rather the inner house of the soul of Zacchaeus in which the Lord could now joyously dwell.

I think this story illustrates two very important things for us. First, if we desire the Lord to dwell within us, we must take heed to the condition of those very souls that we are inviting Him to enter. “Come, Lord Jesus; take rest on my couch of unforgiving anger and lay Your Sweet Head upon my filthy pillow of burning lust. All within me is covered with the dust of spiritual sloth, stained with the shame of my gluttonous appetites, and stinks of my thankless envy of others. But if you think I’m bad, wait ‘til I tell you about my sister! Why, just the other day she… Oh, are You leaving so soon?”

When the Lord first comes to us, He surely finds us in our sins, just as He did when He entered the house of Zacchaeus. But His presence in our lives is supposed to shine a light on all that filth and help us see what we need to do to allow the Lord to remain with us.

The second thing this story illustrates is that such change is up to us. It doesn’t come about unless we work hard to bring it.

What if Zacchaeus had sat down with the Lord in his house and simply said, “Thank You Jesus for accepting me just as I am. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven!” It is likely that Jesus would have stood up and left the unrepentant sinner behind. But that isn’t what happened. Zacchaeus understood that to be in fellowship with Jesus, he would have to change his way of life. As we saw, Zacchaeus pledged so much of his wealth in alms and repayments that quite possibly he was left with only about 30% of his original holdings. Talk about repentance! But this is exactly what Zacchaeus took upon himself, and with eagerness.

The point is that repentance, in whatever form it takes, must be meaningful and life-changing. It begins with a sincere desire to have the Lord dwell within us, and is followed by a critical examination of ourselves to determine what needs to change to make that possible. This must be accompanied by the willingness to better ourselves and not just stay stuck in a rut.

We each have things within in our soul that really don’t belong there, that keep us from the kind of enlightenment and communion with God that we could otherwise enjoy. However, how often do we show the energy of Zacchaeus to spring into action over this, or his zeal to attack our sins at their very roots? Far too often we lay in the deep slumber of sin, and while we lament what we see in us, we seem too lethargic to do much about it.

Change is hard; there is no doubt about that. But I suspect that beneath our sloth and slowness to change there exists an even deeper sin, a sin so stealthy that even though each one of us knows we have it, we ourselves scarcely understand how much of an influence it has upon us. I am speaking of the chief of all sins, the sin of pride. The kind of pride I’m talking about here is not just the vanity of thinking that we are slightly better than we really are. I’m talking about the really ugly and dirty kind of pride that deluded the devil into an attempt to set his throne of rule above even that of God Himself. It is this pride that causes us, just like the devil, to struggle against God and resist His rule.

Let me run a thought by you. Whenever we are consistently sloppy about our rule of prayer or our times of fasting, whenever we routinely skip services that we really could make it to but just don’t want to bother, when we fail to financially support the parish if even a small amount given faithfully each month, when we casually disregard the counsel or penance given to us by the priest in confession or avoid the confessional entirely, aren’t these all signs of a rejection of the rule of God in our lives? Perhaps we never thought of it that way. Perhaps in our hearts we feel we have good reason for all our choices. Perhaps we have forgotten that our hearts are desperately sick and darkened and are not at all reliable guides in the spiritual life. Only obedience brings the light and life of God into our lives.

Perhaps then, our repentance should take the form of a stronger obedience to the Church. For some of us, this would represent a repentance as radical as that of Zacchaeus; for all of us this would bring an even deeper blessing. Repentance must be life changing; that’s literally what the word itself means. But there can be no change if we don’t first humble ourselves before the Almighty God and obey what He has already put in front of us in the Church. First that terrible pride must die; that pride of holding back and of telling God “I can’t” or I won’t” or “I want to do it my way”. Start identifying that pride and start putting it to death through obedience, and you will find yourself on your way to remarkable change in your life.

And so my brothers and sisters, let us take this example of Zacchaeus and realize that we too can change. You can have a soul made more pure in which the Lord can truly dwell and from which He can graciously rule your life, if only that is what you desire.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Images at the Getty

The Khouria and I finally made it up to the J. Paul Getty museum in Los Angeles to see the display of Holy Icons on temporary loan from St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai. Our parish council chairman Bruce H. and his lovely wife Lynn Marie were our gracious hosts, and not only drove us up through the terrible traffic, but treated us to a very nice lunch at the museum restaurant. Thanks so much, guys!

As to the icon display itself, I can only say that it was stunning. When I first heard the news that these images would be at the Getty, I was put off by the thought that such holy objects might treated as mere curiosities of religious art. But the Getty has done as fine a job of presenting these icons in a reverential way as could be expected from a museum, and with an eye toward putting them solidly in the context of the ancient Christian faith which they serve.

All of these icons are indeed very old, and some are truly ancient, dating back to the era of the founding of St. Catherine’s monastery. Monks have lived at the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt, at the very site of Moses’ “Burning Bush,” since the third century (Yep, that’s the 200’s, folks!), and the present church and monastery has existed there since the time of the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565).

As one walks through this display of Christian iconography and liturgical furnishings, one cannot help but be reminded of just how far back the Christian faith dates, and just how truly “Christian” the Divine Liturgy and the use of Holy Images really is. Later, Bruce and I were lamenting that so many of our Evangelical brethren really have no concept of these things and live in a post-modern religious context that is in fact blindly antagonistic toward historic Christianity. Ask the average Evangelical what he thinks about the writings of the second and third century Christian Fathers for example, and he will likely draw a blank and reflexively reply, “Why should we care about the writings of men? We have the Bible to guide us!” Whatever one thinks of the current “emerging church” movement (And I am not certain that I am completely supportive of some of the forms it is taking) it at least demonstrates that some Evangelicals are starting to wake up to the fact that Christianity is much older than they have ever realized, and that many elements of the faith abandoned by previous generations of Evangelicals in the quest for “a pure and biblical faith” are in fact essential to that very faith and are begging to be recovered.

Perhaps only in America—a country which no longer teaches its own true history in its public schools, but a revisionist “politically-correct” version palatable to left-leaning progressives—could a version of the Christian faith be born which so completely ignores the history of the Christian Church itself and its changeless true worship. Perhaps this display at the Getty museum, should many Evangelicals overcome their reluctance to see it, will open the eyes of some of them to what a rich history all Christians do indeed share. If this should prompt some of them to go to the library or log onto the internet in search of information about this ancient Church, I can only think that this would be a good thing.

I thank God for the incredible generosity of the monks of St. Catherine’s in sharing these priceless and irreplaceable treasures with us. Not only does this display represent a great outreach tool for Orthodox Christianity, but for those of us who are Orthodox, the chance to be in the presence of such beautiful and holy pieces of our own history is breathtaking. To see the icon of St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent” for example, is so moving as to make the whole trip worthwhile by itself. Fortunately there are many more, equally moving images on display there. You will leave feeling as if you just left a “Holy Space” and a “Holy Presence” indeed! I hope you will get a chance to go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Old Photographs

I found my old Brownie Hawkeye camera (remember those?) with a roll of film still in it, and had it developed just to see what memories it contained. Lo and behold! There was a photo of the Missus and me on one of our camping trips. Looks like we were having a grand time, doesn’t it?

Then I found a photo of some of the friendly guys who work in a neighboring mine. I had just given a talk to them on developing an “enlightened mind” and as you can see, one of the fellows taped a candle to his cap as a result. Nice to know he was paying attention to my teaching…

Lastly, I finally got around to finishing our bathroom remodel. Yep, it’s a real beauty. It’s a bit of a job to run all the way up out of The Abandoned Mind to get to it (guess that means you’re pooped before you get there…heheh) but it’s a great place to read what’s left of the old Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog (it keeps losing a page or two with every visit).

I don’t know why that last photo came out in color when all the rest of the film was B&W, but I never did understand all this modern technology too well.

Anyway, I hope you all had a chuckle at seeing some of my old photographs. I never realized I lived such an interesting life!

The next day…

Hey, I thought everyone would understand that these photos were just for fun and that the lady in the top photograph was not really the Missus. Apparently her two brothers, Zeke and Rafe, didn’t see it that way and wanted to know what I’d done with their “purty little sister”. The two of them came a knockin’ at the door of The Abandoned Mind last night and shortly after I regained consciousness, I found a crudely hand-written note pinned to my chest--too bad I wasn’t wearing a shirt. Ouch!--that informed me I should “take back wut you said” or else they’d come back and “git downright un-neighborly”.

No problem, guys. Your little sister “shore is purty”. In fact the whole family is gosh dang, drop-dead purty. Especially Zeke and Rafe…