Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on June 07, 2009

The great monastery complex at Mount Athos of Greece is really a series of self-governing monasteries, as well as sketes and hermitages. Called simply the Holy Mountain in English, Mount Athos is accessible only by sea even though it is a peninsula and not an island. Mount Athos is the second holiest site in Orthodox Christianity. Only men 18 years or older may enter Mount Athos and preference is always given to Orthodox Christians. (Only about 10 non-Orthodox visitors are allowed to visit each day.)

To get to Mount Athos, visitors must obtain a special pass called a diamoneterion. Stamped with the date according to the Julian Calendar, the diamoneterion allows for the enforcement of the strict entrance requirements to Mount Athos. You can see the diamoneterion at:

The Greek word diamoneterion has three parts:

1.  The prefix dia, which means across or through;
2.  mone, which means dwelling place or place to stay; and
3.  The suffix terion, which means “place where”.

Putting the three together, diamoneterion means “across to the place where there are dwelling places”.


The Greek word mone is used only twice in the New Testament, both times in the Gospel of John. The first is where Jesus, on the night before his execution, told his disciples that there were many mone (dwelling places) in his father’s house and that he was going to prepare a place for each of them there. This statement by Jesus is well-known to his followers today. It is a statement of anticipation of the heavenly journey at the end of this life (although it should be noted that heaven is not specifically mentioned in this part of the Gospel of John).

The second use of the word mone comes from Jesus on that same night but is less recognized by today’s Christ-followers. Here, Jesus told his followers that if someone loves him and obeys his teaching, his father and him would come and make their mone (dwelling place) inside of him or her. This second and only other use of mone in the NT complements the earlier statement by Jesus. It describes how God wants to work through his followers on earth: By dwelling inside of them and living through them on a daily basis in their day-to-day lives. Rather than allowing the world around us to be blinded by the very brightness of the unveiled light of God, the father lets the world see the “enfleshed shadow” of God living in those who follow after him in his love and in the love of his son. It’s in this way that the world might gently comprehend his goodness.


Also, please see the recent Reuters article about Mount Athos:

Denver Post article:

Kingdom Gospel

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on May 30, 2009

Scot McKnight has just published a series of posts called the Kingdom Gospel.

I was wondering if anyone else had thoughts about these posts, either agreeing or disagreeing.

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Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on May 22, 2009

In the Bible, mountains are often symbolic of kingdoms. Hills, in turn, are smaller kingdoms or principalities. Islands are symbols of democracies or republics, and the landless sea is a symbol either of outright anarchy or perhaps of tribal rule. Valleys are symbolic places of the weak and disadvantaged in society.

With this in mind, the biblical reader can discern parabolic meanings:

But it is to the words of the prophets Micah and Isaiah that I would most like to draw your attention to here:

“And it will come about in the last days: The mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the greatest mountain. It will be raised above the hills, and people will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty and distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.” (a modification of the NASB version)

What is this mountain of the house of the Lord that is somehow associated with the coming of peace on earth? How can something as mighty as a mountain (which is symbolic of a kingdom) be associated with a single house? What would induce all of the nations of the world to stop fighting each other and voluntarily go up to this “house of the Lord”?

We’ll explore more about this in the coming days ahead.

The Donkey and the Colt

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on April 04, 2009

For those of you who are commemorating Palm Sunday (in Western Christianity, April 5, and in Eastern Christianity, April 12), this is the day where Christians remember the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem a few days before his arrest and crucifixion.

The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew chapter 21) depicts Jesus as riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. But Matthew’s account also mentions the presence of a second animal: a colt. The colt (foal) was probably the child of the donkey. As best as we can tell, Jesus was probably riding on the donkey with the colt walking along side of both of them.

Matthew’s story tells us that the disciples of Jesus placed garments on both animals. Yet Jesus, like most of us, would find it difficult if not impossible to ride two different animals at the same time. One possibility is that Jesus switched from riding the donkey to riding the colt at some point in his procession into Jerusalem. Another possibility presents how the young colt was prepared with garments, as was its mother; yet the younger animal was probably not ridden by Jesus or by anyone else on that first Palm Sunday. I would tend to agree with this second interpretation of the story. And with this interpretation comes a possible symbolism.

The two animals, the donkey and her colt, I would contend, are symbols of two generations. The donkey that Jesus was riding on represents what God is doing now. Yet the work of what God is doing now usually find its true fulfillment in the next generation. This is where God works “trans-generationally”: From spiritual fathers to spiritual sons, who in turn become spiritual fathers for a new generation of spiritual children.

What God is doing now (the donkey) will be completed in the next generation (the colt). Something to think about on this Palm Sunday.

Ex Anastasis

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on March 28, 2009

Ex anastasis. It’s a phrase used only one time in the Greek New Testament. The word anastasis means “resurrection” and ex means “out”. The two words together mean, literally, “out-resurrection”. It could also be phrased in English as “out from resurrection” or “out of resurrection”. In the middle of the apostle Paul’s first-century letter to the Philippians, Paul mentions this “out-resurrection” as being a goal that he is striving for but also a goal which he had not yet attained. (Please see:

Anastasis, which means resurrection, has always been a key theme for followers of Christ throughout the world. The word anastasis literally means “to stand again”. (Statis means “to stand” and ana means “again”). Easter, which occurs on April 12 this year in Western Christianity and on April 19 in Eastern Christianity, is the most important traditional Christian holiday. It celebrates the resurrection (anastasis) of Jesus from the dead. The theme of resurrection has been a key and common theme of followers of Christ since the time of Jesus. The word anastasis itself appears 42 times in the Greek New Testament.

Yet this use of a variant of anastasis, placing it with the prefix ex, was deliberate by the apostle Paul. There was something important about this “standing again”. There was something that needed to come out from it: out from each of us towards the world around us.

I would propose that this ex anstasis is seeing things God’s way, from his eternal point of view. It is here that the ascension and resurrection meet. Since Jesus, after his resurrection, ascended to heaven, and since the apostle Paul also mentions in another letter how the followers of Jesus on earth are somehow seated with him in heaven (;&version=49;), it is from that eternal place that each of us has the possibility of seeing things how God sees them: with true love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and goodness. To see the possibilities of life where others see only death. To have compassion on those who have been forgotten. To stand again for justice for those in desperate need of it.


The phrase ex anastasis (or ek anastasis) is mentioned by Dr. Sam Soleyn in the following teaching series on his web site (

Love and Our Destiny (Program 25)
Seven Spirits of God, Lordship
Seven Spirits of God, Wisdom, Part 1
Seven Spirits of God, Wisdom, Part 2 

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Dr. Sam Soleyn mentioned three key symbols in Jesus’s story of the prodigal son in his recent teaching sessions entitled “The Mindset of the Orphan” (please see

When the prodigal son returned to his father, the father gave him three things. Each of these gifts were symbols of status in the ancient world.

1.  A robe. The robe is a symbol of identity. To put on the robe of another was tantamount to identifying yourself with that person. (Consider the custom in Latin American countries of a president wearing the national sash over his or her right shoulder. Here, the president is identifying his or her self with the nation and accepting the responsibility of representing it.) In the times of Jesus, a slave or household servant could not wear a decorative robe; only an honored son could wear the robe of his father. It was a mark of distinction and privilege.

2.  A ring. A ring is a symbol of authority. As with the robe, only a privileged son could wear the ring of his father. This was not the authority of self-will; rather, it was authority given freely from a father to his son. It was the type of authority where the son could show the ring and rightfullly say, “I’m doing this in the name of my father”.

3.  Shoes (Sandals). Shoes were the sign of ability and purpose. Only slaves would go barefoot. A son of a wealthy house must be given shoes. Shoes provide the ability to walk about in relative comfort.

Please notice also in the story that not only did the father give these gifts freely to his son, but he had ordered that these gifts be given quickly, without any delay. The status of the returned son was restored immediately and without any conditions.

In the story, therefore, we see a restoration of identity, authority, and purpose without any conditions when a lost son returned to his father. And it is these three symbols that tell us that story of restoration in a deeper, richer way than words alone could.


For a comparison of Jesus’s story of the prodigal son and a similar story in Mahayana Buddhism, please see:


Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on January 01, 2009

Jesus said many radical things. One of the things that he said was that “something greater than Solomon is here”. Jesus said this in response to certain religious leaders of his time. These religious teachers and scribes had asked to see a visible, miraculous sign from Jesus.

It was clear in the rest of the gospels that Jesus could and did perform miracles (signs). Yet Jesus never performed miracles because he was commanded to do so by other people. If he had done so, it would have demonstrated that he had had the power but not the authority to do what he was doing. It would have shown that he was working under the authority of earthly authorities, religious or political.

To Jesus, authority was more important than power. It was the authority of Jesus that first impressed the people who had first listened to him (see Luke 4:31-32). And, later on, the direct question of authority from the religious leaders led to the puzzling response that Jesus gave back to them: A question about authority that they chose not to answer. This led Jesus to say to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” To Jesus, you must know who truly are before you can know what to do. To humanity, the natural thought process is usually reversed: in other words, might makes right. If you have the power, then others must obey you. For Jesus, this was not the way of life, … the way of love.

For the people of Jesus’ time, Solomon, the son of the great king David, was the most powerful and most wise king. Solomon reigned almost 1,000 years before Jesus. His kingdom’s boundaries were greater in extent than at any other time in the history of Israel. The capital of Jerusalem was so wealthy during his rule that silver was considered to be as though it were worthless: only gold was valuable. And, of course, his wisdom was legendary. In Jesus’ time, the authority of Solomon as a great king was unquestioned.

For Jesus, however, Solomon the king was a symbol, a shadow of something greater that would ultimately come later in history. Solomon’s reign was one of visible displays of greatness. Yet, with this story about Solomon in the common thoughts of everyone in his society, Jesus made the amazing statement that something greater than Solomon was there.

Rather than the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to the greatness of the days of Solomon, Jesus spoke of another kingdom, the eternal kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? Rather than answer that question directly, Jesus invites us here to think about the greatest rulers that the world has ever seen. (And don’t restrict yourself only to thinking about political rulers: think about business leaders, scientists, and others, also, who have made significant contributions for the greater good.) Then, once you have carefully considered the greatest qualities of each of these rulers and their kingdoms, then consider each of them, even at their very best, to be a mere shadow and preview of the goodness of God ruling in and through people. … And what is goodness? It is power carefully constrained under proper authority to do things that will be beneficial to others, especially the less powerful, in love. … When goodness is reflected from God into the world, then this is the kingdom of God, and this kingdom has a king.

The familiar leads to the unfamiliar. The knowledge of the best of the kingdoms of this world present a shadow and a type of the kingdom of God.

Born the King of Angels

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on December 25, 2008

Many things must be unlearned if one is to fully experience the subtle majesty of the stories of the gospels. For people such as ourselves, Westerners living in the post-Enlightenment era, a mode of life and thinking that is now foreign to us was fully accepted during the time of the ancients. For example, a belief in supernatural beings like gods, goddesses, angels, and demons was considered normal during the life and times of Jesus and his disciples.

When the Midaeval missionaries first encountered the tribes of northern and eastern Europe, the chief question that each of the tribal leaders had for them was this: “Is your god stronger than our gods?” Their questions were not: “Does God exist?”, “Does God care about us?”, or “Why should I care about God?” Rather, the tribes assumed that the Christian evangelists had a god and were representing him.

Stepping back further in time, look closely at the state of mind of Pontius Pilate in regards to the trial of Jesus. Pilate, the historical record tells us, was a man who did not flinch from dispensing tough justice, even to the point of mass executions. Because of this, modern scholars are puzzled by Pilate’s hesitancy to dispatch Jesus to his death (although he ultimately did just that). Yet to a pre-modern leader like Pilate, the possibility that Jesus might be divine led to a caution to dispense justice. Pilate took the dream of his wife seriously, at least seriously enough to pause before issuing the death warrant. The divinity of Jesus, in the ancient Greco-Roman sense of the existence of gods, was affirmed right after the death of Jesus on the cross when the leader of the Roman soldiers said, “Surely this was the son of a god”.

And notice in the gospels that the opponents of Jesus did not question that he had actually performed miracles. Looking closely at the stories of Jesus, his opponents objected to his miracle-working on the Sabbath day or they assumed that Jesus had used the power of the devil to perform miracles. They in no way questioned that extra-natural events had taken place by the efforts of Jesus.

Taking a step back to a pre-Enlightenment sense of life, the gospel stories surrounding Christmas also will come with more clarity to us. To the modern Western mind, it might be impossible to imagine ancient astrologers (“magi”) travelling a long distance based on astronomical events in order to pay homage to the brith of a foreign king. We see, however, that the people of the time took this all very seriously when those magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked “Where is the one who was just born as the king of the Jews?”

Likewise, when a baby was born in ancient Judea, the friends and family of the child would come together and sing around the home of the newborn in joy and happiness. So the coming of a large group of singing angels to nearby shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus was a supernatural event that fit the natural cultural traditions of that time and place.

When you read the ancient stories of Jesus’s birth, take a quiet moment to let go of strictly held ideas that only what is seen and can be scientifically measured is real. When you do, these stories will take root in a fresh way in your heart.

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The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #2

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on September 06, 2008

Continuing with our reflections on the 12 marks of the New Monasticism, we encounter the second mark:

“Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us”

The first mark dealt with geographical relocation, whereas the second mark deals with monetary reallocation. What some have called “commonism” (which is not the same thing as Communism, by the way) was a hallmark of the earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem. “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (The Book of Acts, chapter 2 verses 43 and 44) Such a deep commitment of communal sharing, however, lasted for decades beyond the Pentecost. As the church father Tertullian later expressed (around the year 200) about the lives of Christ-followers: “Everything is shared among us – except for our wives.” (Tertullian, Apologetics, 39:11)

Such a communal sharing takes real maturity and love. Yet the benefits are remarkable. Everyone is cared for to the best ability of the community. No one is left behind. Each person has the supply and backing of the greater community. Additionally, the leaders of the community cannot gain unfair advantages over the followers on the basis of monetary wealth. What greater statement could there be that God is no respecter of persons.

Notice carefully that there are two different groups of recipients of the common economic resources of the community of followers of Christ: the members of the community and the needy (poor). The needy mentioned here may or may not be part of the faith community. The pagan Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate (who reigned from 355 to 363), was no friend of Christians. However, he famously observed that believers in Christ not only provided for their own poor but also for other poor people, too. Jesus made it clear that he had come to preach good news to the poor, and it was mostly the poor of this world who became his followers in the decades before Christianity was made into an official religion. I, myself, have seen hearts that were hard towards Christ and his followers quickly soften when they see true works of charity given to the poorest of the world by the followers of Jesus. And if there is one thing that I have seen that separates the true spiritual seekers from the spiritual charlatans, it is that their hearts are soft and caring towards the desperately poor.

The New Testament Greek used two words for the poor: penes and ptochos. Penes referred to what we typically call the “working poor”. These were people who did not have many material possesions or property, but who were able to work as day-laborers in order to provide for themselves. Ptochos, on the other hand, were the desperately poor, the destitute ones. It is these needy ones that Jesus was talking about when he said that he was preaching good news to the poor. The poor (ptochos) widow who Jesus observed donating everything that she had to the temple was one of these very needy people. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor (ptochos). When the apostles Peter and James recognized the work and calling of the apostle Paul, they gave him only one command: that he should remember the poor (ptochos), which was something that Paul was already eager to do. Paul also said that, though he was poor (ptochos), he and his spiritual brothers, through many difficult and dangerous journeys, were making many (spiritually) rich.

It is at the very core and nature of true Christ-followers that they yearn to care for the desperately poor in their own communities and around the world. It is the rhythm, pulse, and heart-cry of Jesus and his disciples, and the sharing community provides a place of wisdom and gentleness for the redistribution of possessions to those who are truly in need.


For further reading related to this subject, I recommend the article “OK, I Admit It” at Behold: The Blog!

The New Monasticism: The 12 Marks: Mark #1

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on September 02, 2008

Let’s now examine and think about the first mark of the New Monasticism:

“Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.”

In the gospels, we find three different ways that Jesus was referred to as being a son: son of David, son of Man, and son of God. As son of David, we are reminded of Jesus’ connection to the Jewish people, the tribe of Judah, and the Davidic royal house within Judah. As son of God, we see Jesus’ eternal relationship to God the Father. Yet, in spite of these two significant titles, it was “Son of Man” that was Jesus’ favorite self-referential designation.

It’s “son of man” that suggests Jesus’ descent and connection to Adam, the biblical first man. Since we are all Adam’s children, Jesus with this title is also suggesting his connection and relationship to all of us. Taking a closer look at the four gospels, when Jesus used this term to refer to himself, the majority of the time it was in the context of some type of movement, such as coming, going, sending, or handing over. It’s in the incarnation of Jesus that we see the Son of Man, the one who uniquely joins and identifies himself with human beings, coming into the world.

Jesus made it plain that he was only doing here on earth what he saw his father doing. His time here with humanity was about representing the specific interests of his father here on earth. These interests and the representation thereof is called the kingdom of God. Jesus relocated himself from heaven to earth in order to be the perfect ambassador for God’s kingdom here in this world.

Jesus expressly stated that he had come for those who were truly in desperate need: the blind, the sick, the poor. Those who lived on the margins of society were those closest to his heart. (The ten lepers who lived in the no-man’s land between Samaria and Galilee were a good example, and there were many others.)

As followers of Christ, we have been commissioned by Jesus to be his ambassadors here on earth. As Jesus relocated himself in the most dramatic way possible (from heaven to earth and then on to the cross), so now we are each called to move ourselves by his spirit and in his love out to a lost and needy world. We are called to go to the abandoned places: the areas that have been largely forgotten and overlooked by the societies around us.

The term of abandonment strongly suggests the orphaned nature of humanity. For once upon a time, our progenitors Adam and Eve had a face-to-face and unblemished relationship with God their father in Eden. When they were cast out of that garden for their failings, so were we.

Where are these abandoned places? Most of them are right around the corner of your heart. They are the inner cities of the U.S.; they are places of grinding rural poverty in the developing world; they are the orphans on the streets and the widows waiting to die. Each one is precious, created in the very image of God. Each one needs to be blessed, loved, and encouraged by God’s representatives in flesh and blood here on earth.

The term “Empire” could be interpreted in many ways. I see this as, biblically, pointing to the kingdom of darkness. As followers and ambassadors of Christ, we are called to shine the light of Christ into the dark places of this world. When we do, the light overcomes the darkness and the spiritual prisoners are set free. Their freedom comes in changing their alliances from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God.

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