The Story of the World We Live In

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The Story of the World We Live In

July 8, 2020 · Fr. Stephen Freeman

Some ten or so years ago, my wife and I were hunting for a long-ish audiobook to entertain us as we made a 10-hour drive. A novel was one possibility, but none came to mind. As it was, we chose a book named “Salt.” It was an account of the world in terms of salt – its use, its production, its vital importance to human life, and its place in the shaping of our history. I was skeptical as the trip began, but found myself intrigued as the hours rolled by and we journeyed across world history courtesy of everyone’s favorite condiment. Salt apparently belongs to something of a literary genre. The author of Salt has also given us Milk, Cod, Salmon, and Paper. I need to schedule more road trips.

What these fascinating books illustrate is that the story of the world, and civilization, can be told from any number of angles. Is the world really just the story of salt? Or, could the story of the world be told from the point-of-view of a single grain of sand? Doubtless, more would be said of the endless procession of ocean waves than is accounted for in our historical travails. As narrative creatures, we tend to dismiss the grain of sand as nothing more than background, a prop that supports the real action. A single grain’s story, however, would provide a great deal to consider. The silica and other elements that make up the average beach have an origin, no less complex than our own, though with fewer words and emotional tensions.

These exercises in historical perspectives are instructive for understanding the limits of all historical conversations. In history, we are always right to ask, “Who is telling the story? What’s this story about? From what point of view is it written?” If we were speaking of a “pure” history, then it would be the story of everything, about everything, told from everything’s point of view. Such, of course, is impossible. Choices must be made. When the choices are made, those questions will be answered more finitely and with greater precision. But what is then called “history” is not really about everything – but about a few things, and always with a point.

During a time of social upheaval, one of the most disturbing aspects of our lives is the turmoil within the public narrative. How do we speak about ourselves and others? How do we describe what is taking place. What is unfolding?

For the faithful, this disturbance should be revealing. The nature of the secular world is that it establishes the dominant narrative for the world. Without noticing, we quietly make the Christian story to be a sub-plot of this larger account. Our faith becomes what secularism tells us: a personal option that is, at most, a religious life-style. We feel powerless and worry that the voice of the Church is silent. Indeed, I hear this when various people suggest how the Church could make its voice more “effective.”

There is a “clash of narratives” as Christ stands before Pontius Pilate. Pilate imagines that the Roman Imperium is the true narrative and defining story of the world. He threatens Christ, “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you or to release you?” For Christ, the Roman Imperium is but a passing moment within the salvific providence of God. “You would have no power over me were it not given to you from above.”

This same clash of narratives occurs day-by-day in our own lives, though we rarely notice. We hear the dominant cultural narrative announce its importance and power. Our response is anxiety and concern flows from the fact that we believe its claims to be true. Imagine Pontius Pilate’s shock at being told that he would have “no power” over Jesus had it not been given to him by God (“from above”). It is Christ’s complete dismissal of the Roman narrative. The martyrs of the early Church lived in the same dismissal. Their faith was the full acceptance of the narrative we have received from God in Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is the final word of God on the outcome of human history. In Christ, history comes to an end, and we won. That quiet assurance eventually led to the complete failure of Rome’s claims.

The danger resurfaces, however, as converted empires, and their secularized children, begin to assert new narratives that seek to replace the gospel of the Kingdom of God with the bastardized gospel of progress and human perfection.

There is always a danger within the political life of modernity that our participation will mark our capitulation to its narrative. As such, our vote (or other such actions) always borders dangerously on the pinch of incense offered to the emperor as worship, a thing rejected as idolatry by the early martyrs. I say, “borders,” because it need not be a capitulation. But, in order to refrain from that capitulation and blasphemous offering, there is a need to deconstruct our own vote.

So, what is the narrative that explains our vote? Do we imagine that history depends on such a thing, that the world is being constructed through politics? Again, in His dialog with Pilate, Christ said:

“If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

The ballot is certainly a “peaceful” way of joining battle (thank God!), but it, nevertheless, generally assumes the Hobbesian contract in which the world is a pitched battle for control. The nature of the American social contract is an agreement to allow the ballot box to replace the battlefield. Nevertheless, it presumes the supremacy of the ballot. That is its presumed narrative.

For the Christian, the narrative of the gospel of Christ is, always, the controlling structure of our life. That work of Christ, completed in His death and resurrection, are the sole source of peace and true meaning. We may vote, but the outcome rests in Christ, just as surely as the outcome of Pilate’s judgment was not truly in his own hands. None of this denies the actual historical reality of our actions. Rather, it affirms the historical reality of Christ’s actions and their lordship over every human reality. There may be an election whose outcome could be classified as “death.” It remains a fact that Christ “tramples down death by death.”

For too many, the Cross of Christ has disappeared into the historical past and become a “fact” about which we proclaim a doctrine, a religious belief. As for the present, we take up our swords (even the peaceful ones) and imagine ourselves as having been delivered into the wars of this world for good or ill. (Do your best!) However, the historical character of the Cross does not exhaust its content. The Cross is an event of the God/Man. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, both within time and utterly transcendent of time. It is an eternal moment while being truly historical. Its “cause-and-effect” is equally eternal and triumphant over every human cause. Every human cause is thus “judged” by the Cross. An election, like every act of the human will, stands before the Cross and has its meaning within the light of the Cross. It is only in that Light that we see light.

Christ’s words, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world,” remain true and triumphant. Today, this is the story by which we live. All of creation holds meaning only in its light. God forbid that we imagine this to be a religious conversation and not a conversation about the whole of life.

We all stand before Pilate. However, it is God’s story that rules the world.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

Upcoming Events and Sunday Bulletin

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Upcoming Services

Wednesday   9 am-Nativity of St. John the Baptist-Liturgy

Saturday       5 pm-Vespers

Sunday         9 am-Matins 10 am-Liturgy

Sunday, June 21-Saints of America

Tone 1-Troparion

When the stone had been sealed by the Jews, while the soldiers were guarding Thy most pure body, Thou didst rise on the third day, O Savior, granting life to the world. The powers of heaven therefore cried to Thee, O Giver of Life: “Glory to Thy Resurrection, O Christ! Glory to Thy Kingdom! Glory to Thy dispensation, O Thou who lovest mankind!”

Tone 8-Troparion  (All Saints of America)

As the bountiful harvest of Thy sowing of salvation, the lands of North America offer to Thee, O Lord, all the saints who have shone in them. By their prayers keep the Church and our land in abiding peace through the Theotokos, O most Merciful One!

Tone 8-Troparion                     

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, glory to Thee!

Tone 1 -Kontakion (Resurrection)

As God, Thou didst rise from the tomb in glory, raising the world with Thyself. Human nature praises Thee as God, for death has vanished. Adam exults, O Master! Eve rejoices, for she is freed from bondage and cries to Thee: “Thou art the Giver of Resurrection to all, O Christ!”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

Tone 3Kontakion  (All Saints of North America)

Today the choir of Saints who were pleasing to God in the lands of North America now stands before us in the Church and invisibly prays to God for us. With them the Angels glorify Him, and all the Saints of the Church of Christ keep festival with them; and together they all pray for us to the Pre-eternal God.

Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Steadfast protectress of Christians, constant advocate before the Creator, despise not the entreating cries of us sinners, but in your goodness come speedily to help those who call on you in faith; hasten to hear our petitions and to intercede for us sinners, for you always protect those who honor you.

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (2:10-16)

Brethren, glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  For God shows no partiality.  All who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.

For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.  When Gentiles who have not the Law do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law.

They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)

At that time, as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.

And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.  And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

And He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

Prayer List:

Sub-deacon Mitri and Nora Moussa, Helen Nicholas, Barbara Demis, Dennis Poney, Lydia Holt, Lily Zelner, Anna T., Matushka Sasha, Fr. Ian, and Alia Karras, Al Maruskin.

                                            The Apostles Fast

The Apostles Fast began Monday, June 15th and lasts through Sunday, June 28th. During this fast we observe the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, poultry, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with katalysis for fish, wine and olive oil on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

On Receiving Holy Communion

Let us attend.

We welcome all people to come and worship with us, however, only Orthodox Christians in good standing may come to the chalice and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This means that we believe it is the Body and Blood, not just bread and wine. This means that we confess ourselves to be sinners in need of salvation and we have participated in the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession, confessing our sins to the priest for absolution and forgiveness.

St. Paul teaches us that there is a dangerous way to receive communion, unworthily, not discerning the Body and Blood, this can cause people to get sick and possibly to die. (cf. 1 Cor. 11:26-31) But St. Paul does not teach us that we can get sick if we approach the chalice the right way. We cannot get a virus by consuming the Body and Blood of Christ. The God who created the cosmos, appeared miraculously in the burning bush and revealed Himself in the Holy Trinity can certainly keep us from illness when properly communing with and consuming a miracle. This does not mean we blindly go worth, but we go forth in faith; distancing, sterilizing, masking, etc.; out of love for neighbor, not believing that the building itself will keep us healthy. We do not put God to the test.

The miracle is in the chalice, not the people nor the building. But even with that we are careful, tilting our heads back, opening our mouths and allowing the Gifts to be dropped in with care. Not touching anything, for the sake of the weaker brethren. Have faith, not fear; be cautious, not afraid.

Church Services On-Line

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Services are not open to the public, due to virus restrictions.

If you would like to attend please send your request to frstephenlourie@gmail.com

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The Church Is Not a Cruise Ship, But a Battleship

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By: Archpriest John Moses | 28 December 2019

It always surprises me when someone comes to the Orthodox faith. Given the present age, there are so many versions of Christianity on offer. Many of them are in step with the values and hopes of the culture. Some offer a path of prosperity and comfort (whether they ever deliver is another issue). Some offer helpful hints for hurtful habits and demand little more while others teach the path of positive thinking. In some, the music is rousing and contemporary, but often the theology is not intellectually demanding.

Why then would someone want to join a Faith that asks you to be regular in your attendance instead of coming when it suits you; that you fast as a lifestyle; adopt a prayer rule instead of just praying what you want and when you want; tithe instead of dropping in the box whatever you have in your pocket; study to challenge your thinking instead of believing that all you have to do is “read and heed”; attend classes to learn from others, etc.

Read more here: battleship

Elder Ephraim Reposes in the Lord

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On December 7, 2019 at approximately 10 p.m., Elder Hieromonk Ephraim of Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos Arizona, founder of 17 monastic communities in the United States, peacefully fell asleep in the Lord at Saint Anthony Monastery in Florence, Arizona at the age of 92.

The Athonite elder, loved throughout the entire Orthodox world, also remained the spiritual father of several monasteries in Greece and on Mt. Athos, where he labored for many years as the spiritual child of the recently-canonized Elder Joseph the Hesychast and as abbot of Philotheou Monastery.

The Funeral Service for Elder Ephraim was held on Wednesday, December 11 at Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America presided, along with numerous hierarchs and monastics of his Archdiocese. May his memory be eternal!  ​

 

A Simple Approach to Reading the Entire Bible

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Archpriest John Whiteford | 04 August 2019

There are some elaborate charts that tell you how you could read the Bible all the way through in one year — which if you followed, would work fine. However, I wonder how many people have ever followed such charts all the way through, because it would require that you make regular reference to the charts, and remember where you were on the chart.
On the other hand, many people simply open up the Bible at Genesis, and then get bogged down somewhere towards the end of Exodus and Leviticus, and then quit.
One method I would suggest is much simpler to follow, and if you do, you not only will read the Bible all the way through in about a year or so… but you could continue to read the Bible and get a balanced intake of the various parts of the Bible rather than hit one section that is difficult and then lose interest.

Read the rest here: Read