Unity, Authenticity, and the Paranormal

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 22 November 2009

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Homily/Lesson (24th Sunday after Pentecost)

Epistle: Ephesians (2: 14-22)

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Paraphrase of the Epistle reading:

Christ is our peace. He has broken down the barriers that divide us from one another. The peace Christ offers unites us and Him into one body. Once we are united to Him, none of us are strangers or foreigners, but all have a home [and are at home] with the saints in the household of God.


Do you see the great gift God has offered us? He promises to end all divisions and make us members of his household. One cannot help but be struck by how many of us feel like strangers in our own homes and in our communities.  This should not be – we are the Church of Pentecost, not of Babel.  God desires that we be one as He is one.  If we are to be Christian people and if this is to be a Christian parish, there can be no divisions between us.  Differences?  Of course we will be different!  But differences need not lead to division or damnation.  The Persons of the Trinity differ from one another but are one in Essence; and yet God is the very source of goodness; we can differ from one another but be one in His energies and commitment to His will.  We pray during the Divine Liturgy that we have one mind, one heart, and one voice.  When this happens, through grace, our differences become a source of blessing and not the beginnings of a curse.

So the only question that remains; the only question that has any meaning; the question which, once answered in the affirmative changes everything … is the one you answered before your baptism; “Have you united yourself to Christ?” “Have you united yourself to Christ?” “Have you united yourself to Christ?”

Many of you may not remember answering this question – you were Baptized as infants and your sponsors answered it for you. I think it is time that all of us revisit this question and our response to it. I say this because there are many people who, when they are honest with themselves, say things like;

“I did, and nothing happened.”

Or “I did, but I still have no joy.”

Or “I did, but I am still alone.”

Or “I did, but, I am still hungry for more.”

Or “I did, but I am still tired and cold.”

How is this possible? How can the Baptized Christian not experience the things that God has promised? Did God (or your priests) sell you a pig in a poke? Or is there something else going on?


[The metaphor of the (almost) Atkins Diet].

Once, when I (Fr. Anthony) was on one of the long deployments the Army used to send me on, I had an interesting conversation with one of the civilians I was working with there.  We were sitting at dinner in the mess hall, and she expressed her frustration that the Adkins diet was not working for her.  The Adkins diet was interesting; it had dieters keep to a very low number of carbohydrates each day.  It used the physiological mechanism of ketosis to burn fat.  Counting carbs was critical because the body won’t go into ketosis if it has more that just a few carbs.  We all ate together in that compound, so I knew that there was no way she her diet would take her into ketosis.  She was genuinely willing to talk about it, so we did.  Come to find out, her impression of the Adkins diet was that there were certain foods, like blueberries and some vegetables, that were “Adkins safe” at that you could eat as much as wanted and still lose weight.  I showed her the Adkins carb chart and when she used it to count the carbs on her plate, she found that she was well above the maximum.  She adjusted her diet and, by the time I left, she was seeing results. 

I share this story to point not to recommend the Adkins diet (it worked for me, but I could not sustain it), but to point out that intentions and labels are not enough.  Facts matter.  Truth matters.  If this is true of diets, you can be sure it is true of deeper and more meaningful things like achieving the kind of joy, harmony, and fellowship that God has offered us. 

Music provides another wonderful metaphor – if someone is committed to singing the tenor line but they are singing it a quarter-tone flat, no amount of untrained will can make up for that.  They may desire harmony and they may be using the very music that was written to achieve it, but they aren’t reading that music well.  The result is frustration and division.  

Christ tells us; “Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No.” But it is not enough to just say “Yes” – you have to continuously live that “Yes” (just as not enough to get married; you have to LIVE married). We not be experiences the results that God has promised because we are doing the equivalent of eating too many blueberries or singing flat – we have not adapted ourselves to the reality of being Christian.]


If we want to enjoy the many blessings God has offered to those who follow Him, then] we must live a life completely dedicated to love; completely dedicated to charity; and completely dedicated to serving others. And this is possible only by dedicating ourselves to Jesus Christ. Through Him all can be brought into peaceful union. Without Him, without His love, the violent divisions of this fallen world automatically replicate themselves within our hearts and within our communities. Without Him, without His love, we have no defense against division; without Him and without His love, we will end up feeling alone even in the midst of family and friends, we will end up feeling hungry while sitting at the greatest banquet table, and we will end up feeling cold despite the fire that burns before us. God does not want us to be cold. He does not want us to be hungry. He does not want us to live and die alone.

So how do we actually live a life of love? How do we break down these divisions? What exactly do we need to do to experience the joy that God has promised us?

1) Put our feet squarely on the rock that is Jesus Christ and commit ourselves to Love. It is through Christ that sin is destroyed. It is through Christ that we are able to love others as we learn to love ourselves. His soft touch cures our loneliness; His Body and Blood satisfy our insatiable hunger; and His warm embrace removes every trace of frost from our hearts.

We think of love as something we have (like cars or jobs), but love is not a noun that can be possessed; it is a verb that must be lived.  This truth flows naturally from the reality of the Trinity.  We must ground ourselves in this love by immersing ourselves in a relationship with the source of Love. We cannot be love on our own; we must open ourselves up to God – His love is perfect. It will sustain us; it will teach us. It will allow us to live and share this love with others.

2) Find Peace and Self Control. We need to stop chasing our tails. We need to stop reacting to every stimulus the world throws our way. We need to stop embracing all the temptations that pull us away from Christ. This requires that we develop self-control. How? Daily prayer, fasting, reading of scripture and good books (and other media), sacrificial giving. Sacraments. We need to sanctify our icon corners and homes with prayer and love so that they become places of peace; thin to the grace of God. You remember all those old-fashioned things that your grandparents did? Do those things. We cannot skip this step. If we do not have peace, if we do not have control over our thoughts and emotions, if we cannot resist the temptations that lead to pride, greed, lust, envy, impulsiveness, anger, and judgmentalism (this is the list of great sins/temptations from our Prayer Book), then how can we have joy in a fallen world?  How can bring peace and harmony to others? Skipping this step is like trying to run a marathon without bothering to train, like going to an audition without having prepared, and like trying to lose weight without bothering to go on a diet or exercise: it leads to frustration and failure.

3) Share the best of yourself with those around you (i.e. spread this love to others). If we have done the first two things, then this one will come naturally. No matter what the physical transaction is or what words are being spoken, we must make sure that the real thing being communicated is our love for the person in front of us. This can be hard. We do not get to choose the people God puts before us. The devil will try to tempt us to react to them in pride, lust, envy, anger, and judgmentalism; He will try to tempt us away from spending even a moment sharing our life with them through laziness or impulsiveness. But if we have developed self-control, if we have found peace by being connected to its source, then we will be able to resist these temptations and share love. A good place to develop this skill is to pray for people you know by name every morning at your icon corner. Not only is prayer effective, but it is also good practice because there are fewer distractions and all temptations that come are more obvious.

4) Repeat the process. When we find ourselves running on empty, when we have given all that we can possibly give (and this will happen, especially if we rely on our own hearts as the source of the love we share); we need to recharge ourselves by repenting and starting the process over again. Remember that God is the unending source of love – when we live in Him, we have access to this source. It will reinvigorate we and be the very thing that we share with others.  Because we have united ourselves to Christ, it is no longer us who live, and love, and harmonize, but He who lives in us.

Conclusion: The Growth of Communion

These four steps are the way for each of us to find the joy that God intends for us. And the beauty is that when we do it, not only do we find peace: harmony and joy grow around us. This is fruit of the Christian life: a community (a Blessed Communion) without division, united in love, devoted to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, growing eternally into perfect union with one another and with God. In such a community, there are no strangers or foreigners – all are members of God’s household. This is what “Church” is, and this mission of Holy Resurrection is meant to enjoy it in its fullness.

May God strengthen us as we commit ourselves to this goal.

Mail Call (and news):

  • Summary of an e-mail trends that have been piling up in the in-box since I started podcasting:
  • What is the “real” Ukrainian Church? Which group has the authentic claim to being the Ukrainian standard-bearer? The implied question for some (but certainly not for all!!!) is “As a Ukrainian, which Church should I belong to?” Local effects. Personal choice. Heritage is a part of it – but paganism is VERY authentic for the people of Rus’. Occultism and gnosticism is VERY authentic for Americans. Which is authentic – which is true? What God are you worshipping? The attraction of the UOC-KP here in America is based on its claim to the purity of its ethnicity (the same was true to the UOAC earlier). Unfortunately, people “fill-in” theology to match this motivation (i.e. outside observers, even sympathetic ones, note the canonical irregularities… this was me a decade ago: I would not have considered becoming Orthodox within the KP (nor would I have been all that welcome!)).
  • Related question: what about the Roman option? Wouldn’t it be more efficient? Wouldn’t it protect us from nonsense?

Other Mail:

  • Mail about the martyred priest Daniel (& letter from his wife).
  • Mail on two views within the OCA on unity. Where is the humility, and the pastoral responsibility? Is increased speed really worth the damage it would do to our parishes and dioceses? Why are some people so impatient? Why are they so willing to cause chaos and disunity (a first order bad thing) for the quicker correction of a second-order bad?
  • Mail on Global Warming e-mail discoveries (but also here). Response: my opinion is that in a world of imperfect information and lots of spin, limited governmental responses (and limited government) are the best response. Funny how this is instinctive for some in regard to military policy, but not with regard to economic policy (and vice-versa for others). As with the building of community/communion, this is best affected locally (e.g. slow food, slow money). Don’t fall into the trap of seeing this through your pre-made political lenses – you will end up defending nonsense (big business, big government). Let’s muddle through as best we can, but let’s do it without breaking the bank (and while building our communities). Sure, we’ll miss a few opportunities, but there is no perfect solution on this side of the Great Remaking.

One more mail (Vol’ya Moment)

Mail on Coast to Coast and questions about the paranormal. How should we react to the “Religion of the Future”? Like the Christian missionaries did with pagans? Or black and white condemnation? How much charity do you allow towards pagan beliefs? Dvoeveriye? Therapeutic deism? Need to do a show on the paranormal. Basically, this would be a talk on spiritual warfare; ascetic preparation; on temptation is the key battleground; on the prayer book our best theoretical and practical manual; on the need to read Scripture and Fathers more than Enoch, Jubilees, and Gnostic scripture; on the need to attend Liturgy more than you watch Ghost Hunters and other paranormal shows; on the need to pray panakhidas for the departed (if you want to interact with them), pray akathists to your angel (if you want to communicate with spiritual beings) rather than consulting mediums, tarot readers, or astrologists; and the need to have your home blessed by your priest and to go to Confession with him rather than consulting or engaging new age mystics and trendy gurus. The division between the physical and the spiritual is artificial. The paranormal is real. Let the Church teach you what it is, how it works, and how to interact with it.