Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Living With Enemies


Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.  
   Matt 23.23-28




Heiromartyr Anthimus was born in Nicomedia, and was raised from childhood as a true Christian. ``His body was mortified, his spirit humbled, his envy uprooted, his anger subdued, his sloth banished…. He had love for all and peace with all; he was prudent with all, had zeal for the glory of God and was forthright with all.'' It is no wonder that a man with such virtues was appointed bishop. St. Anthimus governed as Bishop of Nicomedia during the cruel persecution of Christians under the villainous Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Streams of Christian blood were shed, especially in Nicomedia. One year, on the Feast of Christ's Nativity, twenty thousand martyrs were burned to death in one church.  This took place during the time of Anthimus's episcopacy. Even so, the persecution did not end with this, but continued, and many Christians were cast into prison and kept there for torture and death. St. Anthimus withdrew to the village of Semana, not because he was fleeing from death, but in order to continue encouraging his flock in the feat of martyrdom, so that no one would fall away out of fear. One of his letters to the Christians in prison was intercepted and turned over to Emperor Maximian. The emperor dispatched twenty soldiers to find Anthimus and bring him to him. The gray-haired and clairvoyant elder came out to meet the soldiers, brought them to his house, and treated them as guests-and only then revealed that he was Anthimus, whom they were seeking. The soldiers, astonished by Anthimus's kindness, suggested that he hide, saying they would tell the emperor that they could not find him. But Anthimus replied that he could not let himself transgress God's commandment against falsehood to save his life, and he went with the soldiers. Along the way, all the soldiers came to believe in Christ and were baptized by Anthimus. The emperor had Anthimus harshly tortured for a long time, and then had him beheaded with an axe. He glorified the Lord and went to his rest at the beginning of the fourth century.


                                                           Prayer For Our Enemies

Lord Jesus Christ, in Your great mercy You prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified You, and You taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Lord, I pray that You forgive those who treat me unjustly and speak out against me, and that You bless them and guide them according to Your will. Take away any bitterness I may have in my heart against them. Lord, may Your forgiveness, goodness and love be revealed in all of us, to Your praise and glory. Amen

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Dormition Fast


There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us “suffer” gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, and do not merely diet) that please Him. We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. 

The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was “anxious and troubled about many things.” Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of “the one thing needful.” It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God. In essence it helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.

From Pravmir- http://t.co/rgNU6a3M5M

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Quietude

Not many of you should be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.  In many things, we all stumble. Anyone who does not stumble in word is perfect, even able to bridle the whole body!   (Ja 3: 1-2)

Remaining quiet is hard for a proud person, I know this from my own spiritual struggles.  Pride convinces us that we have something of importance to say; something that people desire or perhaps even need to hear.  It is  a rare thing however that the proud person's perception and reality match.  It is more likely that the proud person needs others to hear about his self perceived righteousness.

The passion of pride attacks the mind in particular. Pride is the result of blindness to the reality of who God is and who we are.  According to our fathers among the Saints, pride is a disordered passion.  "A disordered passion is an excessive feeling or appetite that goes beyond what is reasonable. Passions are a disturbance of the soul contrary to nature, and disobedient to reason" - Clement of Alexandria.  In other words, passions are the direct result of an unbridled appetite and delusional fantasies.

Few have been more successful in dealing with the passions as the dessert fathers. Fortunately, they have left us with many successful cures for pride and its delusions.  One of the cures is 'quietude'.  Evagrious the Monk said: "cut out 
the desire for many things out your heart.  By doing so you prevent your mind from being scattered and thus your quietude from being lost."  According to the consensus of these fathers it is a lack of knowing  God, and a desire for many things to fill that void that prompts us towards delusion.  Consequently, these delusions result in our expulsion of a great deal of hot air to our own demise.


This quietude can be quite a challenge to someone brought up with a Western mindset.  In the West we have come to embrace the concept that most things can be cured by education and thus by much talking.  In this way of thinking it is the verbal transference of information that saves us.  In fact, most folks in the West attend church to be educated, or to use the proper word, to be edified.

By contrast the earlier Eastern and premodern approach accepts the fact that it is by silence that we are most edified.  It is by a quiet but constant lookout for our pride, and by quietly turning ourselves around-metanoia that we are saved. I have learned this  much, when I want to speak, it's probably best to SHUT UP!  And if I must speak, first consider God and my delusions of pride, as well as what I really want to obtain by speaking.  Only then consider speaking, or then again perhaps not.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Becoming Orthodox


As time passes, I find that most of those clichés that I read about when considering Orthodoxy are actually truer than I ever thought possible.  I am specifically referring to that feeling that one gets when it becomes impossible to fit Orthodoxy into a properly shaped box. It feels like a ride in a whirlpool.  Yes, one does travel the same ocean year after year, yet, like a whirlpool it is to some degree different each time one comes around, faster and deeper each time. 

One of the consequences of this forever new kind of experience is that one is left feeling like a student and a novice, always striving to figure out how to work out ones own salvation.  I am learning to appreciate this aspect of Orthodoxy because it beats down my pride, and turns my eyes towards the log in my own eye rather than the spec in my neighbor's eye.  This single difference is large enough to create an impassible gap between my Orthodox experience as a Christian and my heterodox experience.  Without a doubt, my daily concern is the healing of my wounded soul and body.

This does not mean that Orthodoxy is mainly introspective, far from it.  The fact is that nothing brings salvation to the world as effectively and powerfully as one who is a well healed and oozes the fragrance of God. Consequently, it is a given that the best thing one can do for the salvation (healing) of others is to become well healed oneself.

Secondly, I find that Orthodoxy forces my faith in the Lord to be ever growing.  I cannot be satisfied as I once was telling myself that I have been declared righteous.  it is true as they say that you see your sinfulness more clearly with each passing day. It is like seeing one's own spiritual birth defects laid out in an ever expanding field. Thus, I am enabled to see how I fall short moment by moment.  My only help then is in the mercy and grace of our Triune God who loves to give mercy.

"Teach your heart to follow what your tongue is saying to others.  Men try to appear excellent in preaching, but they are far less excellent in practicing what they preach."

Poeman the Monk

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It Is Hard To Be Saved



Before I began to take my faith seriously I used to laugh at bumper stickers that said. “Jesus Saves.”  I was always tempted to take a sharpie and write “at Citibank,” right after the little slogan. Thankfully, I never acted on the temptation. I think the reason that the whole topic seemed so silly to me was that from all outward appearances, we in today’s America had better lives than the entire human race before us; just what were we supposed to be saved from? My secular way of thinking told me that we were safe, and that this kind of talk was to be kept within the walls of the church and not as an intrusion into my field of vision outside of church.

It was not until I was in my early 30's that I was introduced to the theology of the Western Reformation. It was then that I heard for the first time that God knew everything that I had ever done, said, thought, and wanted, and being the perfect being- he was extremely offended, so offended that he could not bear to even look at me. It is here that I was told that Jesus, the Son of God was loving and for that reason He became man to take on the punishment of the angry God and Father for me and all sinners who would receive his sacrifice by faith. 

I finally understood what saved meant; or at least that is what I thought. I accepted the reformation’s claim that to be saved meant to be saved from the Anger of God, because God loved me in spite of His wrath.  It was comfortable to believe that all I needed to do I order to be saved was to believe in my mind, and confess with my mouth that Jesus is my Lord, and I would be transferred from the Damned column into the saved column. Faith alone in Christ alone is all that was required- EASY!  My actions, important as they might be, would never affect my justification so long as I believed. This would remain my understanding for the next 15 years. 

It was not until I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy that this Western truncation (reduction to a small portion of the whole truth) began to become visible to me.  I must say that I all of this time I whole heartedly believed every word of the Nicene Creed. Yet, I was not able to see the Way, the Truth and the Life (Christ) as presented in the New Testament.  Due to this truncation my interpretive grid was off just enough to skew the person of Christ and thus ‘salvation’.  What I learned from Orthodoxy, the faith of the one undivided church until today, was that ‘salvation’ was nothing less than becoming exactly like Christ by the grace of God (deification).  The wrath of God was not the center of salvation. If God is one, how could one person be angry and not the others?  In fact, it is the one constant love, mercy, longsuffering, and compassionate love of the one united God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is the driving force behind salvation. What I needed to be saved from was from myself. I needed to be saved from my darkened heart and mind that was bent on destotting the likeness of God to which every person is called.  What I needed to be saved from was sin and death that dwelt in me.

This meant that I had to begin to see “being saved” as something altogether different; it began to seem as an extreme sport of transformation, and as something that would require my every breath. I finally understood the Lord meant when he said He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  There is never a moment that my attitude, thoughts, words, or act that does not affect my salvation. Moreover, I began to understand that I should never assume that I am saved until I have attained unto the image of Christ.  Salvation is not what I believe in my mind alone, but rather what I believe with my whole person. I began to understand that it is unacceptable not to grow I holiness daily, weekly, monthly, and so on. Salvation is Christ-likeness, nothing less will do!

What then do I find?  I find a great deal of unbelief in myself.  I find that it is much easier to be satisfied with simply believing that God the Father is no longer angry at me because of the Cross.  I find that I would like to be like Christ, but that I just don’t want to have to work at it very hard.  I find that of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 7.  I find that I would prefer to have Christ to do it for me.  I find that I have to constantly preach the gospel to myself: “The kingdom of heaven has arrived (Mat 10: 7).” I find that I constantly forget that I am on a journey to that kingdom of God empowered by His grace, and that I like to pretend that I have arrived. I find that ‘salvation’ is hard.  Yet, salvation, Christ likeness is what the gospel offers to those who desire it, and God in Christ loves to give it to all mankind.

In Thy kingdom remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Problem With DOMA


We found out very early on this day June 26, 2013 that constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act - DOMA was struck down by the supreme court of America.  I learned of it through my electronic news portals.  It was no real surprise to me at all!  To be frank, I am not moved either by its being upheld or struck down.   The problem with DOMA is much more complex than it seems at first glance.

America, the premier Western nation, has long championed the rights of individuals, and made the individual’s freedom and happiness central to all of our jurisprudence.  Our so called democracy debates in the public square with its winner being the one with the loudest voice able to sway the hearts and minds of the populous.  Right and wrong for Americans is not a moral imperative given to us by our maker and sustainer, but rather it is a conditioned set of suggestions that the populous approves of or disapproves of.

So then, am I saying that DOMA was evil and needed to be overturned?  No, but neither am I saying that it was the most helpful legislation in light of our present perdicament.  Let’s face it; those who planned DOMA and fought for it were for the most part conservative Christians of various sects.  Their motive was to keep America from sliding into an advanced secularism and to try and keep some vestiges of the Christian culture within the law. I can understand that desire.  Nevertheless, it is foolish to assume that America is now or ever was a Christian land.  It just doesn’t hold to historical fact.  We have always had the secularists and the Christian sects fighting in the public square and each has exchanged victories. 

The real problem is that American Christians and their various confessions have lost almost all credibility with the rest of Americans. Why, because of their naïveté.  Most people look upon Christians as those people who cherry pick amongst evils.  Example: they fight against abortion, and homosexuality, but they sleep around, get divorced, gossip, and for the most part are not much different than the rest who are not Christians. Consequently, the masses conclude that Christians are just hypocrytical bigots who happen to be backward in certain social areas.

It is at this point that a great amount of repentance is required by everyone who names Christ.  Today’s readings in the Orthodox Church calendar were quite timely for today news (Rom 1: 18-27 & Mat 5: 20-26).  What particularly struck me about the epistle passage was the complete list of evils.  It begins by saying, therefore God gave them up in the passions of their hearts to impurity.”  Then a list of those things which the historic church has come to call "the Passions" is given. 

         First on the list is heterosexual sex outside of marriage. The passage states, therefore God gave them up in the passions of their hearts to impurity, the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”  Now, I must ask, why have we not had a “No Dishonoring Our Bodies By Unmarried Sex Act?”  It seems to me that it is because Christinas have come to accept this act as tolerable, or at worst as a venial sin. This evil has not been found worthy of opposition.

The list goes on in the passage calling the rest all manner of unrighteousness, here is the list: evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slandering, hating of God, insolent, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventing of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.  I cannot help but ask when have Christians run a campaign to legally suppress that list?  Or better, when was the last time in American history when the absence of this list has characterized so called Christians?   How dare Christians signal out one passion on the list of many, and neglect the rest of them in their own lives.

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his works”  Rom 2: 3-6


Friends, there is much to repent for! Only when Christians are true to the whole restoration of human beings to the image of God, will they have any kind of public platform that is of any redeeming consequence. Only then can Christians speak to the issues of  DOMA with credibility. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A World Split Apart - Solzhenitsyn

 Thirty-five years ago today – on June 8, 1978


I am sincerely happy to be here with you on this occasion and to become personally acquainted with this old and most prestigious University. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today’s graduates.

Harvard’s motto is “Veritas.” Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I then said…
The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom – in this case, our Earth – divided against itself cannot stand.

Contemporary Worlds
 
There is the concept of the Third World: thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as compact units. For one thousand years Russia has belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in communist captivity. It may be that in the past years Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West, I am no judge here; but as to Israel, for instance, it seems to me that it stands apart from the Western world in that its state system is fundamentally linked to religion.

Read the whole article here