Τετάρτη, 22 Μαρτίου 2017

Reconciliation On Social Justice: The Consequences of Low Aim

Desert Fathers dispatch (Orthodox African Americans)

If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me. When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. —– Matthew 19:21, 22

Although you say you have never murdered, or committed adultery, or stolen, or borne false witness against another, you make all of this diligence of no account by not adding what follows, which is the only way you will be able to enter the kingdom of God. —– Basil the Great (icon), To the Rich, section 1

The problem is not failure. The problem is low aim. —– Dr. Benjamin Mays

Educator Benjamin Mays understood the source of many social ills was a desire to just get by in life rather than to seek to be the best in academics and whatever else we seek to pursue. Ever since the days of Thomas Jefferson, society has tried to use some sort of mental deficiency inherent in African Americans as the reason for our being worthy of being downtrodden and oppressed. First by slavery, then Jim Crow, and now by criminalization. Sadly enough, too many of us began to believe (and still believe) this about ourselves. Mays knew that the kids were mentally capable of achieving good grades and success in life. They just didn’t believe in themselves or care enough to try. Even though racism was (and still is) a real and destructive barrier to black students, low aim in life was just as problematic and a source of crime, unwed pregnancies, unemployment, and other plagues in our community.

Microsoft Word - Project Ad.final.docx

The rich young man in the scripture was told by our Lord what he needed to do to achieve the eternal life he was looking for. He had, at least according to his own testimony, all of the raw materials necessary to do as Jesus told Him to. He kept the commandments since childhood. Unlike the Pharisees and scribes, he was sincere about recognizing Jesus as being the righteous teacher. But, according to Basil, strict obedience to such morality does not substitute nor override the commandment Christ gave him. Rather than to make the effort to comply with the path to perfection, the rich young man walked away from the Holy One in grief, preferring his worldly possessions (1).
I believe that too many of us Christians aim low in the way of life prescribed by Jesus and our society suffers the consequences. We are very sincere about our love for Jesus and desire to go to heaven. We are careful to live morally and encourage others to do likewise. As for the poor, we give to make charitable contributions, especially during Christmas. We may even visit a hospital or nursing home every now and then since such things make us feel good inside. But, we completely miss the mark of achieving perfection by not aiming for the bull’s eye that Jesus set for us, “go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” Not only do we fail to seek treasures in heaven, we spend our lives seeking more earthly treasures as if wealth in this world is a sign of salvation.

In fact, our lack of aim to give up our wealth and give to the poor shows our hypocrisy. Basil makes this quite clear in his indictment to the rich:  
“For if what you say is true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love and you have given to others the same as yourself, Then how did you come by this abundance of wealth? Care for the needy requires an expenditure of wealth; when all share alike dispersing their possessions among themselves, they each receive a small portion for their individual needs. Thus, those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor; yet, surely, you seem to have great possessions! … For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack in love.”(2) 
Note also that the scripture show the young man walking away grieving. Christ exposed him, despite his sincerity, to be no different than the Pharisees which confronted Him. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Sincerity in seeking Christ means nothing unless it is followed by obedience. Living morally is useless unless it is coupled with perfection. Non-believers are not fooled by our Christian versions of popular media. Nor are they impressed with our demonstrations and marches. They see that we are aiming just as low as they are and would rather be atheist or spiritual but not religious rather than join in our hypocrisy. They see that our Christianity is merely a shield for corrupt politicians and preachers to hide behind and our faith serves only to stroke our egos for disobeying the one we claim to serve. We must do better than this.
As he devoted his life to Christ, Basil, a gifted teacher and born into a prestigious family, gave a great deal of his wealth to the poor. What was left of it, he donated to flood victims of Cappadocia. As bishop, his salary went to building hospitals, feeding the poor, and reforming criminals. Rather than having a fine palace, Basil lived among the people he served (3). A more recent non-Orthodox saint was George Washington Carver. He walked away from a prestigious teaching position to work among his impoverished kinsmen. Rather than accept vastly higher earnings in other places, he chose to remain where he was. This highly renowned university professor dressed in simple clothes, slept in a simple apartment, and spent only the money he needed for his simple life (4).
Will all of us become a Basil or Carver? What if we all tried to be like them? What if we all tried to be like John the Baptist and dressed in rough clothes and ate whatever we found or to follow what he taught(5)? What if we all tried to be like Andrew, James, John, and Peter who left steady work after Jesus told them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men (6)?” What if we all tried to be like Matthew who left a lucrative career to become a disciple (7)? What if we all tried to be like the woman who poured the expensive ointment on Jesus at Bethany (8)? What if we all tried to be like Paul who rejected his office as a Pharisee to be thrown in prison for the sake of the Gospel (9)? What if we all tried to be like the first church in Jerusalem where we all sold our possessions and everything was evenly given according to need (10)? No, we all may not reach such lofty examples of self-sacrifice. But, we are all called to aim for perfection. And if we ask, seek, and knock at this door, He is able to make a way for us to live according to His calling on our lives (11).

  1. St. Basil the Great, On Social Justice, SVS Press, pgs. 41-43
  2. Basil, pg. 43
  3. Basil, pgs. 24-35
  4. Fr. Paisius Altschul, Wade in the River, Cross Bearers, pgs. 172-176
  5. Mark 1:6, Luke 3:9-14
  6. Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11
  7. Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27
  8. Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8
  9. Philippians 1:12-26, 3:1-11
  10.  Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35
  11.  Matthew 7:7-12
See also

Orthodox Church & Capitalism: Orthodox Fathers of Church on poverty, wealth and social justice 
Is capitalism compatible with Orthodox Christianity?

The Orthodox African Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria) denounces the exploitation of Africa by contemporary colonialists  
Three Holy Hierarchs: Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom (January 30)
The Life and Legacy of Blessed Father Cosmas of Grigoriou (†January 27)
African Americans   

Geestelike skatte van die Groot Vastyd in die Ortodokse Kerk

Neem jou kruis op

Vandag, op die derde Sondag van die Groot Vastyd, die Sondag van die Kruisverering, hoor ons die Evangelie van Markus en die prikkelende woorde van Jesus Christus  oor wat dit beteken om sy volgelinge te wees. Hy vra ons om onself te verloën, ons kruis op te neem en Hom te volg, en waarsku ons dat as ons ons eie lewens wil red ons dit vir seker sal verloor.

take up your cross

Dit is ontstellende woorde en herinner ons aan die groot prys wat ons moet betaal daarvoor om ‘n Christen te wees. Al te dikwels kan ons wat dit beteken om jou kruis op te neem, geringskat en vergeet dat die Kruis vir Christus iets was wat Hom sy lewe gekos het. En Hy herinner ons in hierdie Evangelielesing daaraan dat as ons sy volgelinge wil wees, dit ons ons lewens sal kos.
Ons kan miskien wonder daaroor. Is ons lewe nie ‘n gawe van God nie, en wil Hy dan nie hê dat ons voluit moet lewe nie? Waarom sou Hy van ons verwag om ons lewe te verloën?Wil God regtig hê dat ons misrabel moet wees? Jesus gee ons ‘n leidraad tot hierdie paradoks deur vir ons te sê dat “elkeen wat sy lewe om My ontwil en om die evangelie ontwil verloor, sal dit red.”
Jesus Christus het gekom om ons ‘n oorvloed van die lewe te bring en hulle in die grafte tot die lewe te herstel, soos ons met Pasga gaan sing. Maar ten einde hierdie gawe van lewe te ontvang, moet ons eers al ons neigings tot die sonde afsterf, ons eie selfsugtigheid en die baie maniere waarop dit ons lewens deurdring het, versaak, en bereid wees ons Christus waarlik te volg. Wat dit beteken, sal vir elkeen van ons verskillend wees, maar ons weet dat daar geen ware lewe is wat nie beteken om vir jouself te sterf nie. En ons weet ook dat deur dit te doen, ons die enigste lewe ontvang wat werklik die moeite werd is om te hê.

In die Paradys van ouds het die vyand my deur ‘n boom kaal gestroop, want want toe ek daaraan proe, het dit die dood gebring. Maar nou is die Boom van die Kruis, wat die kleding van die lewe vir die mensdom dra, op die aarde geplant, en die hele wereld met alle vreugde vervul. O volke, wanneer julle sien dat dit vereer word, laat ons eenstemmig en met geloof tot God uitroep: “Sy huis is vol heerlikheid.”
Uit die Mette vir die Sondag van die Kruisverering
Uittreksel uit Evangelion, ‘n Bulletin van die Ortodoks-Christelike Geloof 19  Maart  2017

Markus 2:1-12
Vandag, op die tweede Sondag van die Groot Vastyd, wat ook die Sondag van die Heilige Gregorius Palamas is, hoor ons die Heilige Markus se beskrywing van die genesing van die verlamde. Daar word vir ons vertel hoe hierdie man deur sy vriende na Jesus gebring is en, vanweë die skare in die huis waar Jesus was, moes hy deur die dak in die huis neergelaat word. Ons word vertel dat Jesus Christus op die geloof van die man se vriende geantwoord het deur vir die verlamde te sê dat sy sondes vergewe is –iets wat die skrifgeleerdes kwaad gemaak het, want net God kan sondes vergewe- en hom later beveel het om op te staan en te loop.


Terwyl ons op ons Vastydtog voortgaan, gee die Kerk vir ons hierdie lesing om ons daaraan te herinner dat ons almal siek is en genesing nodig het. Die binnekoms van die sonde in die wêreld, en die verlies aan die paradys, waaraan ons aan die begin van die vas herinner is, het beteken dat ons menslike natuur bedorwe en siek geraak het. Die bekering waartoe ons geroep word, is wesenlik ‘n manier waarop ons genees kan word deur Christus, die Goddelike Geneesheer.
‘n Mens moet daarop let dat hierdie verlamde deur sy vriende na Jesus gebring is. Hy kon nie op sy eie kom nie en dit is in antwoord op hulle geloof dat Christus hom genees het. Ook ons het ander nodig om ons te help om Christus te nader, om ons te help om ons eie behoefte aan genesing te erken, en tot Hom uit te roep. Ons kan dit nie op ons eie doen nie. Die dienste van die Kerk in hierdie Vastyd, en die middele tot bekering wat Sy ons bied, is nie maar net daar om bloot ‘n groter las op ons lewens te plaas nie, of om ons belangrik te laat voel oor ons eie asketiese pogings nie. Dit is veelmeer daar om ons te help om ons te bekeer, om ons te help kom op ‘n plek waar ons –nie net in woorde nie, maar in die diepte van ons harte – ons eie behoefte aan genesing besef en ons dan so bloot te stel aan die Goddelike Geneesheer wat daarna verlang om ons te genees.

In die tyd van onthouding, het U as Lig opgegaan, o Christus, vir hulle wat in die duister van die sondes wandel. Toon ons ook die deurlugtige dag van u Lyding, sodat ons tot U mag roep: “Staan op, o God, en ontferm U oor ons.”
Uit die vir die Lofpsalms vir die Mette van die Sondagoggend van die Tweede Sondag van die Groot Vastyd
Uittreksel uit Evangelion, ‘n Bulletin van die Ortodoks-Christelike Geloof 12 Maart 2017

Met die eerste Saterdag van die Vastyd word die wonder van die koliwa gedenk. Die keiser van die Romeinse ryk, Julianus die Afvallige, (331/332 – 26 363), het die Romeinse ryk probeer terugbring na die voor-Christelike tyd deur die herinstelling van die heidense godsdienste van destyds en hy wou die Christendom in die ryk uitroei. Een van sy pogings om die Christendom te ondermyn, was om voor die Vastyd al die kos op die markte met die bloed van offers aan die gode te besprinkel, sodat die Christene so verplig sou wees om deel te wees van die gebruike van die heidense tempeloffers. In die nag het die biskop van Konsantinopel ‘n droom gehad waarin die Heilige Theodoor die Rekruut, ‘n geliefde Martelaar vir Christus, aan hom verskyn het en voorgestel het dat die Christenbevolking koliwa eet in plaas van wat op die markte te koop was. Koliwa was ‘n manier van koring berei wat kenmerkend was van die gebied waar die Heilige Theodoor grootgeword het. Die sakke met koring was nie met die offerbloed besmet nie. So het die biskop toe die Christene van die stad in kennis gestel van wat hulle te doen staan en so was niemand aandadig aan die meedoen aan heidense praktyke tydens die vastyd nie.
By die Afrikaanse Liturgie verlede Saterdag in die kapel van die Heilige rafael is die koliwa, pragtig deur Emilia Smuts voorberei, geseën en agterna genuttig en het Magdalena Steyn die pragtige foto daarvan geneem.

Vandag, op die Sondag van die Ortodoksie, hoor ons van die roeping van Filipus en Natánael, en veral van Jesus se ontmoeting met Natánael. Natánael het aanvanklik Filipus se berig dat hy die Messias gevind het, betwyfel. Dit was egter sy persoonlike ontmoeting met Jesus Christus wat hom oortuig het dat hy waarlik die Messias van wie die profete gepraat het, gevind het.
Hiedie ontmoeting toon vir ons dat dit net deur ‘n persoonlik ontmoeting met Jesus Christus is dat ons Hom waarlik sal sien vir Wie Hy is. Ontmoetings van hierdie aard gebeur egter nie gewoonlik sommer so nie. Terwyl God deur ons verdediging kan breek en onverwags na ons kan kom, is ons geestelike sig in werklikheid so verdof dat ons nie die baie maniere waarop Hy na ons toe kom, herken nie. Verder kom Hy na ons toe op ‘n besondere wyse in die Goddelike Liturgie, maar in watter mate herken ons Sy teenwoordigheid en reageer ons op gepaste wyse teenoor Hom?

Die koepel 2

Om die Here te herken wanneer Hy kom, is nie maar net ‘n intellektuele erkenning van Hom nie, al is dit ook belangrik. Dit gaan veelmeer oor die ontwikkeling van ‘n innerlike oog van die verstand waarvan die Heilige Paulus praat wanneer hy sê:
….dat die God van onse Here Jesus Christus, die Vader van die heerlikheid, aan julle die Gees van wysheid en openbaring in kennis van Hom mag gee, verligte oë van julle verstand, sodat julle kan weet wat die hoop van sy roeping (is). (Ef: 1:17-18)
As ons God waarlik op hierdie manier wil sien, moet ons bereid wees om ons harte te reinig, wat dan die doel van die Vastyd is. Deur ons begeertes in toom te hou, afleidings minder te maak, en meer tyd met Hom deur te  bring, kan ons leer om ons denke tot bedaring te bring sodat ons meer ontvantlik word vir die baie maniere waarop God na ons toe kom.

Om te sien, is goed genoeg vir geloof. Al wat jy hoef te doen, is om met Hom te praat, en jy sal soveel meer gereed wees om te bely en sonder aarseling te sê dat Hy waarlik die Verwagte is. Maar ons moet ook glo dat daar ‘n goddelike en ontuitspreeklike genade vloei uit die woorde van ons Heiland, wat vir sy hoorders so aantreklik was ……. Want omdat Sy woord kragtig is, is dit ook doeltreffend om te oortuig.
Die Heilige Cyrillus van Alexandrië
Uittreksel uit Evangelion, ‘n Bulletin van die Ortodoks-Christelike Geloof, 5 Maart 2017

Sien ook

The Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, “mother of chastity, accuser of sins, advocate of repentance, life of the angels and salvation of men” - Like Moses, Elijah, Daniel & the Lord... 

A Deer Lost in Paradise

Κυριακή, 19 Μαρτίου 2017

"I looked up at the Christ Pantocrator icon on the domed ceiling and wept in awe and repentance..."

Leap of Faith: My Journey to Eastern Orthodoxy; Part Two


Journey to Orthodoxy
by Robert Hammond

Looking East

Was there a pillar and ground of truth beyond man-made organizations and belief systems? Searching online for mystical Christianity, I stumbled across a series of videos by Ted Nottingham, a former pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who had converted to the Orthodox Church. His videos on Original Christianity pointed toward the ancient traditions of the Christian faith, the mystic monks of Mount Athos, and the Jesus Prayer. He talked about Eastern Orthodox spirituality as the unbroken link with Christ and the Apostles. Could this really be the original Christianity I was seeking? In all of my spiritual searching, why hadn’t I heard about Eastern Orthodoxy before? Maybe I had already walked right past it without looking, blind yet thinking I could see. Thus began my turning east toward the Orthodox Church.
I read Nottingham’s book “Written in our Heart: The Practice of Spiritual Transformation” and his translation of “The Prayer of the Heart: The Foundational Spiritual Mystery at the Core of Christ” by Father Alphonse and Rachel Goettmann. I began praying the Jesus Prayer,
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,”
invoking the divine presence. I watched the documentary “The Ancient Church” narrated by Stephen Baldwin as well as talks from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Other videos that I found helpful included talks by Father Barnabas Powell, Father John Behr, and Sister Vassa. But I realized that I needed more than just books and videos to truly connect with the ancient faith. I needed to find a living community.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I discovered several Orthodox Churches in the area, including one here in my town of Walnut Creek, as well as in nearby Orinda, Berkeley, Concord, and Oakland. Where to begin? I had no idea which church might be the best one to check out just to see how the services were conducted. I was concerned that some Orthodox churches might be more ethnically based or conducted in foreign languages. As an African American who only speaks English, I wanted to find a place where I would feel welcome. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had already visited an Orthodox Church when my wife and I attended a Greek Festival at Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland several years prior. At that time, I thought I already had all the answers to my spiritual life and was not interested in learning anything about the Orthodox way of worship. But I enjoyed the delightful Greek food. Little did I know that I would be back again for something much greater than spanakopita and baklava.
Photo from part one
I reached out to Father John Peck at Journey to Orthodoxy for guidance. I also connected with Presbytera Judith Irene Matta at Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Christian Mission in Santa Maria, CA as well as to Ted Nottingham with Inner Work for Spiritual Awakening. All were helpful in recommendations. Fr. John Peck connected me with Father Michael Anderson at Saint Christina of Tyre Orthodox Church in Fremont, CA. He also recommended the books “Light From the Christian East” by James Peyton and “Orthodox Spirituality” by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos.
Although Fremont was a bit of a distance (about 40 miles) from my home, I appreciated the meetings with Fr. Michael who showed me the inside of church and gave me some additional insights and referrals to other Orthodox churches in the area. He encouraged me to read “The Didache” which provided a short overview of early Christian tradition as taught around the first century. Fr. Michael recommended listening to Ancient Faith Radio podcasts, especially those from the late Father Thomas Hopko, of Saint Vladimir Seminary. He also suggested the Russian film “Ostrov”, a moving story (with subtitles) about a fool for Christ.
As I left my meeting with Father Michael in Fremont, I got a call from Father Marin State of the Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Concord, CA. We scheduled a meeting for the following week. As I entered the nave of the St. Demetrios, I looked up at the Christ Pantocrator icon on the domed ceiling and wept in awe and repentance. After a long silence, Father Marin led me through the Lord’s Prayer. He welcomed me to return anytime and encouraged me to continue the journey with faith and humility. He recommended the documentary, “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” as well as videos from Frederica Mathewes-Green on her website Frederica.com. Meanwhile, I visited the beautiful Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco where I prayed for God’s guidance and venerated the relics of Saint John Maximovich. I also purchased my first icons and prayer rope at the Holy Virgin Cathedral bookstore.
Presbytera Irene Matta from Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Christian Mission sent me several books, including writings by Father John Romanides, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, and Fr. George Metallinos along with many words of insight and encouragement.
Through Ted Nottingham I was referred via Fr. Philip Tolbert of Santa Rosa to Fr. Tom Zaferes at Ascension Cathedral in Oakland, CA. Father Tom invited me to attend Divine Liturgy the following Sunday. He also suggested the book, “Wounded by Love” by Elder Porphyrios. Ascension Cathedral is high up in Oakland Hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The service was moving, stunning to my senses as scents and sights of the heavenly realms surrounded me. Although the majority of the members were of Greek descent, the congregation was large and diverse enough for me to feel comfortable. Several people greeted me after the service and introduced me to other members.

I continued to attend Divine Liturgy services and met with Fathers Tom Zaferes and Ninos Oshana for biweekly Orthodox Faith Classes and Bible studies. Even though I had read the Bible from cover to cover several times in the past and had attended many studies during my years as a Protestant, I realized that Orthodox Christianity was something very different. Instead of seeing the church as a legal system with a get out of jail free card to stay the wrath of an angry judge, I began to see the church as a more like a hospital to heal the sick and brokenhearted, always welcoming us back to the open arms of a loving Father. I began to prepare for baptism into the church with prayer and fasting. I read “The Way of a Pilgrim,” “Desert Fathers,” and “The Philokalia.” I continued to say the Jesus Prayer throughout the day,
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
I was heading home.

The week leading up to my Baptism was spent with much prayer and fasting (right after Thanksgiving weekend). I was experiencing self-reflection, repentance, and unworthiness. Friday (the night before) my wife and I attended the Ascension Cathedral Christmas concert, lifting my spirits. My feelings beforehand including anticipation and humility. I made a Life Confession with Father Tom just before the baptism, which was a relief of unburdening. The “exorcism” stage in the narthex of the church was the most emotional as I experienced waves of repentance and remorse washing away and renewed commitment to Christ as I affirmed the Creed, The Symbol of Faith.
The following morning was my first communion where I went up with lighted candles with my Godfather, Athanasius. The overall experience left me with a deep sense of peace and homecoming, resting in God’s grace. I am grateful for having found the ancient faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church and look forward to diving deep within its depths. I know that I have a long way to go. I trust that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

My Big Greek Orthodox Baptism:
I was received into the Orthodox Church by Holy Baptism on December 3, 2016. Here is the video:

Part 1 (The Exorcism) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wyqux0wO-0
Part 2 (Preparation) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlysMNnGp1o
Part 3 (Baptism) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63YqzDmf7GY
Part 4 (Chrismation) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9_P69gR6P8
Part 5 (Prayers) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLQYsq5utpw
Part 6 (Change) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB6zhl4PhQo
Part 7 (Completion) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIWkBQe2rqU

Read Robert’s Journey from the Beginning by clicking HERE

See also

Fr. Nathaniel Johnson: "The Church That Has It ALL"...
Orthodox African Americans The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place 


"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Eight principal areas of convergence between African spirituality and Ancient Christianity 
Hymn to the African saints  

Παρασκευή, 17 Μαρτίου 2017

An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross

Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries 
About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Some decades ago in my early (Anglican) priesthood, a parishioner brought a crucifix back from South America. The question for me as a priest was whether I would accept the crucifix as a gift and place it in the Church. I like crucifixes, my taste was always towards the Catholic direction. But, you have to bear in mind that Spanish/Latin crucifixes have a tendency to be, well, rather gory. My congregation was pretty straight-up WASP. But, I was young, a still largely unbruised banana, so I installed the crucifix over the rear door of the Church. Everyone could see it as they exited.
The first Sunday was the test. I got my clock cleaned pretty quickly. An irate woman said, “I want that thing removed! I do not want my children seeing it. I believe in a risen Lord!” We had a short theological discussion the outcome of which was that I left the crucifix where it was. I do not think she adjusted. I also do not think her children were scarred for life.
But I understood her sensibilities. The brutality of the crucifixion is easily overwhelming. It is particularly overwhelming if the brutality is depicted in Spanish splendor. My defense of the brutal crucifix, however, did not prepare me for my later encounter with Orthodox presentations of Christ on the Cross.

The "Crucifix of Nicodemus" (15th century). The anguishing vision of pain and death typical of medieval Spanish style.
Like all Orthodox icons, the Crucifixion is somewhat stylized, conforming to the norms of Byzantine grammar. It is a theological rather than historical presentation. Typically, the icon presents a very calm Christ on the Cross. He is clearly “dead” (His eyes are closed). But there is no particular sense of agony. The suffering is more a note of sadness rather than pain. And, contrary to history, the plaque over the Cross reads: “The King of Glory.” As glory goes, it is indeed subdued. There is a profound stillness that comes with it.

The icon of the Crucifixion could also be placed with two other icons that are common to Orthodox Holy Week: the icon of “The Bridegroom,” and the icon of “Extreme Humility.” The portrayal of Christ in both icons is similar. He is seen with head bowed, arms folded in a dropped position in front of Him. It is a picture of submission and acceptance. The Extreme Humility makes a certain obvious sense: it is Christ in death. The wounds are obvious; He is seen in the tomb; the Cross is placed behind Him; the spear and the sponge are there as well. Indeed, the placement of the hands are reminiscent of the hands on the Shroud of Turin.

"Extreme Humility"
If Christ in death is extreme humility, then Christ as Bridegroom is extreme irony. For the term “bridegroom” is a title for Christ associated with His coming in glory (Matt. 25:1ff.) The Orthodox focus on the Bridegroom, however, is a Holy Week devotion, a call to repentance. On the first three days of Holy Week we sing with great solemnity:
Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night!
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given unto death,
And lest you be shut out of the kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying, Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God.
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

This is the Great Irony: the Great becomes small; the Rich becomes poor; the Mighty becomes weak; the Author of Life enters death; the God of All becomes the servant of all. This same irony lies at the heart of the Christian way of life. It strikes down every pretense to power and exalts the emptiness of humility as the fullness of being.
Of great note, however, is the absence of pain and torture in this presentation. The theme of the Orthodox account of Christ’s suffering and death is that of bearing shame and mockery. You can search the texts of Holy Week for the word “pain,” and come up with almost nothing. The mocking and the shame, however, color everything.
The same is largely true of the New Testament as well. When St. Paul describes Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis) on the Cross, he says that Christ “became obedient to death,” and adds, “even death on a Cross.” The point of the “even” is not that the Cross is painful above all pain, but that the Cross is shameful above all shame. There are no gospel accounts of characters taking some sort of masochistic pleasure and delighting in Christ’s pain. However, there are repeated descriptions of His humiliation. The purple robe, the crown of thorns are not unique images of pain, but torturous bits of mockery.
All of this runs counter to the penal theories of the atonement. In those theories, Christ is punished on our behalf. It is His pain and suffering as sacrificial victim that come to the fore. What Western (cf. Spanish) art did to the Crucifixion, Western rhetoric did to the atonement. The Reformation did nothing to change this other than to avoid its artistic presentation in Churches (it looked too “Catholic”).

But what role does shame play within an understanding of the atonement? It is, I think, essential, though hard for us to understand. America has been described as a shame-based culture where shame itself is not acknowledged (it’s too painful). It helps if we understand the nature of shame itself.
"The Bridegroom "
Shame is the natural response to broken communion. [footnote] The relationship of communion with others is the very essence of safety and comfort. Its most primal expression is the bond between mother and nursing infant. Face-to-face, the child is held and nurtured. There the child is comforted and protected. [footnote] Every later experience of union draws on this primal experience. It is not accidental that the ultimate relationship, that of union with God in Christ, is described precisely in the language of face-to-face.
The first instinct of shame is to look down, to turn the face away and hide. Blood rushes to the face (it “burns with shame”). Shame is the very sacrament of broken communion, the most proper and natural expression of sin. When Christ enters our shame (and bears it), it is as though God Himself stands before us, takes our face in His hands, and turns our eyes back to Him. This is the action we see in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father’s actions demonstrate his running to meet his son in his shame. Had the father remained in the house, the son would have born his shame alone. The father not only shares the shame, but in sharing it, restores communion, illustrated by the robe and the ring. Even the shame of the elder son is met with the same meekness and shame-bearing.
The shame that we experience in the natural settings of our lives is an image of something truly and ontologically real: sin shatters our union with God. Christ’s incarnation is an entrance into this realm of ontological shame and brokenness through union with our human nature. That reality is made manifestly clear in the events of His passion and the description that has come down to us.
Pain and suffering are tragic parts of our lives. They are the burden of our mortality. But far deeper and more profound is the shame that represents our ruptured union with God. Pain and suffering are only symptoms.

The Orthodox portrayal of Christ in the events of Holy Week clearly reflect the themes found in Scripture. It is only in understanding Christ’s bearing of shame and mockery that we will fully understand what has been done for us in His death and resurrection. Our culture, as noted above, has an aversion to shame (it’s one of our greatest secrets). We have somehow come to prefer stories of violence. Our cultural treatment of the Cross majors in violence. But nothing sinful can be understood apart from the role played by shame.
In the Ladder of Divine Ascent we hear: “Shame can only be healed by shame.” As difficult as this is for us, it is the place of atonement and exchange that Christ has set. I have been learning recently, however, that to speak of “bearing a little shame” (in the words of the Elder Sophrony) is overwhelming to some. Popular shame researcher and author, Brene Brown, uses the term “vulnerability” when she speaks of confronting and healing shame. Vulnerability, at its core, is nothing other than “bearing a little shame.” It is the willingness to be real, to be authentic with the risk that it entails. This is on the psychological level. There is a deeper level, though we cannot really go there without enduring the psychological first.
God give us grace to be vulnerable in His presence, vulnerable enough to discover our true selves.

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

See also 

Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife Acc. To The Bible