What’s Up with the Weird Cross?

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I have often been asked about the 3 bar Cross and why it is so different or to some folks weird, especially since I have it tattooed on my forearm. I came across this the other day and thought for those inquiring it would be useful:

The symbolism of the “complete” Cross (much of which is contained in the Old Rite Russian prosphora seal and on metal and wood icons) is quite complex…

Through the Cross came our Salvation. We are constantly reminded that Christ died for us when we see the Image of the Cross (depicting the crucified Lord), and we are reminded that He rose from the dead when we behold the Image of Christ “Not made by hands” (Slavonic: Нерукутвореному образъ) on the towel (depicting the Lord risen frem the dead).

Worshipping the crucified Lord are two flying angels, with the inscription between them: “Angels of the Lord” (in Slavonic:Ангели Господни). In some depictions of the Cross the Angels are bearing an image of the Holy Trinity, but traditions vary in allowing this; usually the Angels are simply holding towels, indicating their position as messengers who serve the Lord and who wait on Him.

The top bar of the Cross is the title-board which Pilate ordered to be hung in mockery over Christ’s head. On this board was inscribed: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (abbreviated to the Greek initials ‘INBI’, or the Latin initials ‘INRI’ in the Western tradition). This has been replaced with the Christian inscription: “King of Glory”(Slavonic: Царь славы), placed below the knees of the angels. [Note that while the use of the inscription ‘І.Н.Ц.І.’ does not usually appear in the Russian tradition, examples of its occurrence are occasionally found on newer Russian Crosses.] On the title-board is inscribed the initials ‘IC XC’,being the first and last letters of Christ’s name in Greek (Greek: Iisous Khristos; Old Rite Slavonic: Ісоусъ Христосъ; New Rite Slavonic: Іисусъ Христосъ). In addition, just above Christ’s arms we see the inscription: ‘NIKA’, which in Greek means: “He conquers” or “He is victorious.” [Frequently, especially on the Greek and New Rite Russian prosphora seal, we see these last two inscriptions together with the simple two-barred Cross: ‘IC XC NI KA’, meaning: “Jesus Christ is victorious” (i.e., over death and sin). Note that in the proper Orthodox tradition the Saviour does not wear a crown of thorns (as in the Western tradition), nor is He portrayed alive on the Cross, nor in any aspect of suffering, but in a state of humble and peaceful repose, with inclined head. Also note that His feet are nailed with two nails.]

The middle bar is that on which the Lord’s hands were nailed. On either top corner we see the depiction of the sun (left; in Slavonic: солнца) and themoon (right; in Slavonic: луна), for “The sun hid its light, and the moon turned to blood.” (Joel 2:31) The inscription: “Son of God” (Slavonic: Сынъ Божіи) is placed on both sides of Christ’s head, and below His arms we read the inscription: “We bow down before Thy Cross, O Master, and we worship Thy holy Resurrection” (in Slavonic: Кресту Твоему покломняемся Владыко, и святое воскресение Твое славимъ). The halo of Christ is inscribed with the Greek letters ‘w ov’, meaning: ‘The Being’ or ‘He Who is’, to remind us that Christ is the same God Who identified Himself with those words to Moses in the Old Law.

Behind the body of Christ, on either side, are a lance (which pierced Him) and a sponge (which was soaked with gall or vinegar and offered Him to drink) on a pole made of reed or cane. The lance (on the left:) is marked “К”in Slavonic; standing for “копие”, while the sponge (on the right) is marked“Т”, standing for: “трость” (which means: ‘reed’ or ‘cane’). [On some Crosses one might see instead of “Т” the inscription “Г” which stands for “губка” (sponge) in Slavonic.] On the body of Christ is depicted blood and water flowing forth from His side.

The slanted bottom bar is the foot-brace. In prayers for the Ninth Hour, the Church likens the Cross to a type of balance of righteousness:

“Between two thieves Thy Cross did prove to be a balance of righteousness: wherefore one of them was dragged down to Hades by the weight of his blasphemy [the balance points downward], whereas the other was lightened of his transgressions unto the comprehension of theology [the balance points upward]. O Christ God, glory to Thee.”

The city of Jerusalem is depicted in the background, for Christ was crucified outside the city walls. By the foot of the Cross are the letters: “Г Г” standing for ‘Mount Golgotha’ (in Slavonic: Гора Голгофы); this is the hill outside the city gates upon which Christ was crucified. Below the feet of Christ are four Slavonic letters with abbreviation marks: “М.Л.Р.Б.”, meaning: “The place of the skull, where Adam was” (in Slavonic: Место лобное рай бысть). Hidden in a cave under the earth is ‘the skull of Adam’ (for by pious tradition it is said that Christ was crucified at preciseIy the same place where Adam was buried), identified with the letters: “Г А” (in Slavonic:глава Адамла). We are thus reminded that Adam our forefather lost Paradise through the tree from which he wrongIy partook; Christ is the new Adam, bringing us Salvation and Paradise through the tree of the Cross.

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Bright Thursday: Moe’s Art Vandalay Burrito & Marie’s Vegan Mac n Cheese

Anyone wanting fasting cooking advice, good meal ideas, and such from us Orthodox should check out our friend Janalyn’s delightful blog! Fasting is a big part of Orthodoxy, so her blog is a great resource!

Oh, she cooks!

Yesterday I had two meals I didn’t cook myself. The first was lunch at Moe’s,

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I always get the Art Vandalay on a white tortilla with black beans, rice, veggies, salsa, cilantro, and lime juice (you can add tofu, but that technically makes it a Homewrecker, and it’s more expensive). I love these burritos, but I can never eat them without making a huge mess.

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Then for dinner I finally ate the vegan Jalapeno Lime Mac n Cheese I got from Marie’s the other day, along with half of the Almond Joy cupcake.

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The “cheese” is made of nutritional yeast. There were TONS of jalapenos in this and I definitely got hiccups and couldn’t get rid of them the whole time I was eating. But…it was really good, so I didn’t care. This was from back in the deli. They don’t always have this flavor, but I’ve never seen them…

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Good Deeds Always Win

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“Responding to the embittered man, the angry man, or the stupid man, while hoping to win him over, does nothing for him, and eventually gives power to the demon who would devour the man’s soul, and consume your own. Thinking you have to prove the correctness of your point of view does nothing for truth, but only gives power to the demons of pride, anger, and stupidity. The power and influence of good deeds always wins out in the end.” –Abbot Tryphon

This short reflection is more geared towards the Orthodox readers who follow along. Abbot’s words are welcomed for us Westerners who tend to think only upon rational arguments or rational evangelical tools to convince others of the Truth of Orrthodoxy. While there is room for such arguments, like when, asked about the Faith by other Christians or non-Christians, I believe there is a better way. The way of good deeds. Jesus himself says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

The thing about light is that it shines. Yes, yes, rational discourse and reason most certainly play a part in the Faith. Some most certainly can be won to the Faith by them. Orthodoxy theology certainly won me over, but it’s Orthodox spirituality that keeps me coming. Good deeds are undoubtedly a part of it for they are born out a heart whose existence revolves around the Mystical Axis of the Universe, Christ the Pantocrator.

So remember, have a defense for our beliefs and be prepared to give sound reasons because fideism has no place in Orthodoxy. However, the best way to show converts the Faith that established the universe and to shine our lights is by good deeds and holy living among our friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues.

May God have mercy on our souls and grant is peace within.

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

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Newbies, Beware of Convertitis

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This piece I originally wrote on Orthodox Ruminations, but for those seekers of Orthodoxy or the newly illuminated I wanted to post these thoughts here. May they bless you:

I once read in a book about how St. Athanasius was known to go up to the Emperor, grab his horse by the reins, and proceed to tell him how his theology is wrong! I have always been able to relate to that tenacious zeal that St. Athanasius held. I would tell President Obama at the drop of a dime that his theology is wrong too (I say this with a lot of humor).

In all seriousness, I believe as a convert to the Orthodox Church that one does go through, and hopefully comes out of, a period of radical zeal for the Faith. In fact, this tends to be true of any person who leaves the Faith Tradition of their childhood and converts to a new Tradition.

For the person coming to Orthodox, it is as if one has discovered an incredible treasure.

A treasure beyond all value.

Priceless.

Invaluable.

Inestimable.

For the Orthodox convert, the depths of Orthodoxy are not only a vast ocean that one can spend a lifetime exploring, learning, and growing in, but also it is a welcoming journey of relief from the crazy theological worlds from which many of us come. For the Orthodox convert, discovering Orthodoxy makes one feel as if they had been lied to all their life! That this beautiful, mystical Church has been here for 2,000 years and for some, at least in my case, I had never been told about it. I felt as if I had been robbed. I felt like I had found the most beautiful thing in the world, so the need and desire to share it with everyone is strong.

However, I came across something to today that promoted much thought about how often we share our theology and faith and in what manner we do so. Our enthusiasm can, but not always, drive us to always be talking and sharing Orthodoxy, primarily with our other Christian friends, so much that it could push them away or cause them to be turned off by our zeal. They end up having nothing they want to learn about Orthodoxy.

In our haste, perhaps we assume that others want to learn when perhaps they do not.

In his book, “Gifts of the Desert”, Kyriakos Markides interviews Metropolitan Kallistos Ware about converts and how we can go about sharing our Faith, theology, worldview, etc. Father Kallistos says:

“We must surely engage in a dialogue with Western culture. Otherwise we are the betraying our roles as Orthodox placed here in the West as mediators and witnesses. God did not put me in 9th century Byzantium. He placed me in 21st century Oxford. There must be a reason for that. Moreover, what is asked of us Orthodox is to listen as well as speak. All too often we carry on an Orthodox monologue. But we need to hear the voice of the other. Somebody said to a friend of mine (my friend is a Christian the person speaking to her was not) ‘The trouble with you Christians is you want to give us the answer before you bother to find out what are questions are!’

Now I think we could apply that to Orthodoxy in the modern Western world. Before we give them all the Orthodox answers, which in any case we ourselves know so incompletely, we need to listen to what the questions are. We need to consider where these questions are coming from. What is the meaning of the whole experience of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment? As a Westerner I should start from where they are.”

“A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility,” writes Richard Mouw. I believe that having a convicted civility involves our beginning to listen before we speak so much and so often. That is not to say we do not speak, but that we do so with discernment and wisdom.

Mouw also said, ”Too often in life we proceed with a hermeneutic of self-assuredness and criticism of those for whom we disagree rather than a hermeneutic of self-criticism and grace for others.” There’s a fine line between an Orthodox Christian, which says “right belief” in our very name, and knowing that we don’t know it all. That’s the beauty of Orthodoxy. There’s a tension between a Foundationalism and Post-Foundationalism so to speak with Orthodoxy. Tension between having right belief, but having mystery and paradox and not knowing it all. Orthodoxy has taught me that I do not know it all. It has taught me to first examine myself and my sins and to repent of them. It has taught me to focus on growing in Christ.

Speaking.

Tension.

Listening.

The tension between those two is quite strong. The tension between believing you are right, but living as if you could be wrong is high.

The best way to correct this zeal is to focus it inwards. In her blog, “I Hope That Some Of This Makes Sense,” fellow Orthodox blogger Molly Saborin discusses how, in her zeal, she spent much time defending Orthodox or over-sharing it with many, but at one point of her journey a transformation took place. She began to move away from the things the mind does and come into her heart; it was there she began to cease to defend and focus on her own salvation. She writes:

“Over time, however, as Orthodoxy began to take root in my heart and soul, I lost myself in the all-consuming journey of salvation as a mysterious process. Defending my decision ceased to matter to me much anymore, quite frankly. I had way bigger fish to fry, like chipping away at my pride, selfishness and impulsivity every minute of every day – like falling down and getting up again, every minute of every day. Somewhere along the line, Eastern Orthodox Christianity ceased being something I had done and evolved into everything I was/am…

As an Orthodox Christian, I’m concerned primarily with dying to my self-centered desires and urges, and serving, loving, never judging my neighbor. Orthodoxy is so, so…so humbling. Orthodoxy contains every tool I need to run this race with perseverance until I die.”

We converts tend to have a lot of zeal for the Truth, for the Faith, for the Orthodox Catholic Church. This zeal is not in and of itself bad at all. However, I am learning it is in how we use it that matters. We must learn to be gracious, self-critical, patient, and understanding of others. We must learn to let them speak, to let them ask questions as they want. This does not mean we do not talk about, discuss, or share Orthodoxy. It just means we learn to seek first to understand then to be understood.

I want to offer a few thoughts on how we can evangelize the lost and share the faith with other Christians in more meaningful ways (I do not believe in evangelizing other Christians. I will talk and discuss with them my journey and the Orthodox Church, but I do not seek to evangelize them. Those who are not Christians I do think we should evangelize and practice these means of evangelizing). This may appear to be a digression, but I promise it is not:

Dying to one’s self- As we discussed earlier with Molly’s journey, we need to focus more on bearing our own Cross and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. We are not in charge of working out the salvation of others. It’s hard enough to work out our own salvation. We need to be self-reflective, introspective, and focused in regards to these matters. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We witness and evangelize by our complete surrender, which changes us from the inside out. I Peter 2:12 says we do this so that those around us who are not Christians see how good works and living that they may praise our Father in heaven. We can evangelize and witness by coming into deep, abundant joy that only Theosis and Christ can bring about in us. That is what transforms us into beautiful people of God. Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” I do think that we can evangelize by showing the light of Christ to others in our lives. We radiate with His beauty.Being in God’s presence- We find this transfiguration of our hearts by coming to faith in Christ and being in His presence. In Luke 10:38-42, we see what it looks like to choose Christ. Mary wanted to be with Jesus not just around Him. She wanted to communion with Christ. We can evangelize and witness by sitting at His feet and learning, having communion with Him. We can evangelize and witness by, like Mary, desiring one thing, Jesus Christ. St. Paul said, “I desire to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” We come to know Christ by dying to ourselves and having communion with Him. This brings about transformation and joy in our lives that, as Jesus said, lets our lights shine before men.By being with others- James 2:14-18 speaks of how faith without works is indeed dead. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that our good works are indeed pleasing to the Lord. We believe that we are capable of doing good works that are righteous before the Lord. We do this by feeding the hungry, the poor, the destitute. We do this by caring for the widow, the loner, the grieving. We must become Christ to the world. We must be in their presence and get to know them. We share with them the light of Christ and the joy we have found by our good deeds and love for them. We evangelize by being His hands and feet. We relate with those in our lives and build relationships.

Now, I know that I may appear to have gone off topic, but I think that once we learn to focus our zeal inward that we become truly concerned with our own salvation and less judgmental and zealous about defending Orthodoxy. That allows for us to really evangelize the lost in this world, but these three ways I have presented are also means for us to share our faith with other Christians. As we are deified and transformed, we become more gracious, more attentive, more open to listening rather than speaking.

In closing, if you are Orthodox and reading, I pray that you and I both are challenged by this. I pray that we can take to heart the wisdom I have learned and shared with you.

If you are another Christian and I have in any way hurt you, annoyed you, pushed you away from Orthodoxy then I ask you for your forgiveness for I am a sinner, and I leave you with this closing from Molly’s blog:

My dear friends, forgive me my lack of clarity and far from perfect example of Orthodox Christianity lived out in the everyday. I am weak and forgetful, for sure, but nonetheless Christ and His Church is where I’m at, who I am, what I live for, love for, die for, create for, strive for and depend on.  Orthodox Christianity cannot be mastered or dissected,  only experienced. Far be it from me to try and convince anyone of anything; I am not the Holy Spirit. All that to say, I have not much else to say but, ‘Lord have mercy on us all!’”

Millennials Need Worship that’s Been Around for Millennia

DSC01969Thom Rainer, the current CEO of the Southern Baptist LifeWay story chain, recently wrote about what type of worship the so-called “Millennials” like. He defines a Millennial as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, essentially those who grew up watching the rise of the internet and technology, or the pre-9/11 generation. The entire article is very much worth the read and I believe he is accurate. All of it is summarized by one statement toward the end:

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In other words, what young people want is a real worship experience, something that really strikes at the heart. The above statement is really unpacked earlier in the article, where Rainer states,

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.
  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.
  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Again, I don’t think Rainer is wrong in his assessment of what young people are looking for in worship. A lot of us Millennials were raised in very superficial environments; the message we received in music was so filtered and pacified that any deep message was quickly lost. When we first sang the stanza, “This is the air I breathe” we might have felt something, but ultimately it became another motion, a temporary fix on our search for the ultimate high. Worship in the 90s really came across as one emotional experience leading to another. Somehow that experience turned into a genre and in the 2000s we were pummeled with numerous “worship bands.”

Yet, we live in a very cynical and Nietzschean society. Everything is doubted, everything seems to have an illicit motive behind it. We view worship bands as simply trying to get one over on Christians and make a buck, or use their popularity to slingshot themselves into “secular” stardom. The preacher doesn’t really care about people coming to Christ so much as he cares about increasing revenue. Justified or not, these are stereotypes that exist among young people when viewing the church. What it means, however, is that we are perpetually suspicious of reality, always looking for the man behind the curtain; we want the authentic, but are often too cynical to appreciate authenticity when encountered. In a way, our experiences of the past shape our expectations of the present and our dismal hope for the future. Thom Rainer certainly has his finger on the pulse of the problem and I do believe he has found the proper solution…kind of.  Continue reading