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Friday, December 28, 2018

    “…For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘Do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (κατακαυχᾶται ἔλεος κρίσεως).” (James 2: 10-13)

     The word “ἔλεος,” translated into English as “mercy,” means a lot more than just “a withholding of punishment.” It is the overflowing of God’s goodness upon us and the whole world; it’s His way of being and doing in our world, and of sharing Himself with us. Mercy is an un-written “law” of the way God is, in the freedom of His...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

     “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and with your governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors your ways (Διδάξω ἀνόμους τὰς ὁδούς σου, научу беззаконныя путем твоим), and the ungodly shall turn back to you.” (Ps 50: 12-13)

     One might ask, Can “I” really teach transgressors God’s ways? I mean, isn’t this verse of Psalm 50 a bit presumptuous for me, who is also a transgressor? 

     No, it isn’t presumptuous, when I look at all of Psalm 50, and how it progresses, – or teaches me to progress, – from placing myself and all my “transgression” into the hands of God’s “great mercy,” and from there to open up to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and reliance on Him. It is in Him, not in “me,” in the self-isolation of self-reliance, that I not only...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ’Lord, let me receive my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ’Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Lk 18: 35-43)

Now, did “Jesus of Nazareth...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy; and according to the multitude of your compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done this evil before you, that you might be justified in your words, and prevail when you judge.” (Ps 50: 1-4, Septuagint-translation)

This Psalm opens me up to seeing my “transgressions” and “sins” and “iniquities” as God sees them, according to His “great mercy.” In God’s light, in the grace of His humility, that is to say, honesty, my “sin” can be both “ever before me,” and “cleansed” from me thoroughly, so it no longer binds me nor drags me down, in crippling self-doubt. 

So today let me hand my sins an...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’ But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged…” (Lk 6: 31-37)

Is Christ presuming here that we, to whom He addresses these words about “doing unto others,” aren’t “sinners,” or...

Monday, September 18, 2017

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, in knowledge and in ignorance. And make me worthy/proper (ἀξίωσόν με), without condemnation, to partake of Your pure mysteries for the remission of sins and for eternal life...“ (Byzantine Liturgy, Pre-Communion Prayer)

Now, you may disagree with me, but I find the English word “worthy,“ in the context of receiving Holy Communion, utterly confusing, unhelpful, and even unorthodox. It seems to pose a question about my “worth“ in t...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lord, have mercy!” (Frequent refrain in Byzantine Liturgy)

Isn’t it somewhat morbid, how often we repeat, in our church-services, “Lord, have mercy” (Κύριε, ἐλέησον)? It is, if we misunderstand the word “mercy” (ἔλεος, eleos), limiting it to what it means in today’s English, a “withholding of punishment.” But the term means much more in patristic usage. “Mercy” is in and from our “merciful” God, as His way of being, and His way of acting. With respect to us, “mercy” (eleos) is an overflowing of God’s goodness, spiritual riches, and salvation, abundantly upon us, if we are open to it, like a soothing oil (ἔλαιον, elaion). That’s why, traditionally, “oil” is seen as a symbol of God’s “mercy.”

So, when we say, “Lord, have mercy,” we are saying, Yes, have it Your way. Have mercy. We are open to...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

“…And forgive us our debts/trespasses (τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, долги наша), as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us…” (Mt 6: 12, The Lord’s Prayer)

The expression used in the original Greek of Mt 6: 12, “ὀφειλήματα” (from “ὀφείλω,” meaning “to owe, having to pay or account for”) means “debts.” So the Slavonic translation of the Our Father (долги наша), as well as the German one (unsere Schuld), have it right. I point this out because I think the term, “debts,” is key to understanding the human experience called “guilt.” It is the feeling that I “owe” someone or something; that I have not sufficiently “paid up.” Hence “guilt” means me carrying around with me an invisible, gaping hole of insufficiency.

Guilt is irrational, in the sense that we don’t “will” it to come upon us by som...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Lk 18: 10-13)

Tonight in our churches we will be hearing the very long, “Great” Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. It contains many, many words: beautiful lamentations, biblical references, theological insights, and so on. It can be hard for us, with our present-day short attention-spans, to “follow” every word of this Canon. But the refrain to th...

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