By Dawn’s Early Light 

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The very first sign of dawn’s light drives sleep from our eyelids, and when the first grey daylight breaks forth, it scatters the shadows of our dreams.

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Then every bird that can sing, sitting among the branches before it takes flight, bears witness to the presence of dawn.

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For by a movement of its own wings it shakes off the silence as it shakes away the vanity of sleep, and in the morning twilight looks forward to the bright sunshine;

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those who are still sleeping it rouses by its own voice.

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In the same way, as the light of the Gospel floods the house of the universal Church, let the mist of sluggishness fade like night, and let every vain activity, like a tent pitched in a dreamland, be folded up;

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let the inspired songs of our teachers resound from the highest branches of the pulpit, bearing their own witness to the presence of the heavenly light. (Dn Pantolean, LIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN, p 107)

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[According to the notes in the book, nothing is known for certain about Deacon Pantolean; his sermon is listed in a collection of Patristic sermons but who he was or when he lived is not known.] 

The Unity in Community 

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Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10) 

The 5th Century Syrian monk who is now called Pseudo-Macarius comments on how unity might be maintained in a Christian community. He is of course talking to monastics about a monastic community, but there are plenty of ideas for parishioners in any parish. 

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“The brethren should conduct themselves toward one another with the greatest love, whether in praying or reading Scripture or doing any kind of work so that they may have the foundation of charity toward others. And thus their various tasks or undertakings may find approval with those who pray and those who read and those who work, all can conduct themselves toward each other in sincerity and simplicity to their mutual profit. For why else is it written: ‘Thy will be done also on earth as in heaven‘ (Matthew 6:10)? Is it in order that, as the angels in heaven live together in accord with each other in the greatest unanimity, in peace and love, and there is no pride or envy there but they communicate in mutual love and sincerity, so in the same way the brethren should be among themselves. In the case where some thirty live together, they cannot continue at one thing the whole day and night. But some of them devote themselves to prayer for six hours and then they wish to read. Others readily and kindly serve the others, while still others do their own work. 

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The brethren, therefore, regardless of what work they are doing, ought to conduct themselves toward each other in love and cheerfulness. And the one who works should say of him who is praying: ‘I also possess the treasure which my brother possesses since it is common.’ And let him who prays say of him who reads: ‘What he gains from reading redounds also to my advantage.’ And he who works let him thus say: ‘The work which I am doing is for the common good.’ For as the members of the body, being many, are one body (1 Corinthians 12:12) and help each other while each still performs its own function—as the eye sees for the whole body and the hand laborers for all the members and the foot walks, sustaining all the members, and another member suffers with all the others—so also the brethren should be among themselves.   (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, pp 47-48) 

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For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . . that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14 … 25-27) 

Transfiguration (2022)

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For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…  (2 Peter 1:16-19)

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The 14th Century Sicilian writer now called Pseudo-John Chrysostom (his writings were published as if sermons by St John Chrysostom, but were written 1000 years after Chrysostom died) says of the Feast of the Transfiguration:

 And if we desire to be nourished by these gifts, let us make our way with Peter and John and James, the apostles of Christ, so that by grasping hold of Christ in faith and worshiping him, we might be worthy to become spiritual companions of theirs on the way, and come to the divine summit, as if on the top of mount Thabor.  . . .  Therefore ‘his face shone like the sun,’ as the disciples say, ‘and his garments become white as light,’ as far as the disciples were able to see. And why did he appear to them this way? To show them that the Lord of all things had put on the whole Adam and had wiped him clean of sin, and had whitened what had become scarlet in Adam’s descendants. And having cleansed him from all stain, he showed him to his own disciples, being transfigured then on the mountain to be as Adam was when he had just been formed. For this is how Adam was before his disobedience, just as Christ appeared in his transfiguration; And this was the reason Christ appeared in this way. (LIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN, p 320)

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A Footnote in the book says of these comments: “This interpretation of Jesus transfigured human form, as a restoration of the original appearance of Adam and Eve before the fall—and thus a full revival of human nature as it was meant to be—appears to be a new theme in the tradition of preaching on this event.” [Which shows that the Tradition continued to be creative in plumbing the depths of Scripture for its meaning – still able to come up with a new sermon idea even after 1400 of preaching on the event.] It appears that this 14th Century author was the first to connect the ancient belief that Adam and Eve were clothed in glorious garments in Paradise with the transfiguration of Christ’s garments at the Transfiguration. He sees Christ’s face shining like the sun and the garments becoming white as light to be Christ revealing what Adam and Eve were like before the Fall—at the Transfiguration Christ shows that humanity has been forgiven and restored to its original God-given glory. Thus, in the Transfiguration  Christ is showing redeemed humanity in Himself: God already re-united to humanity.  Christ in His very person  reveals that salvation is fully given to us humans.

Holy Moses and Holy Mystery 

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And the Lord said to Moses, I will go before you with My glory, and I will call out My name, ‘the Lord’ before you; and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And again He said, “You shall not be able to see My face, for man shall not see My face and live.” And again the Lord said, “Behold there is a place by Me; you shall stand upon the rock. And when My glory shall pass by, then I will put you in a cleft on the rock; and I will cover you with My hand, until I pass by. And I will take away My hand, and then you shall see My backside; but My face shall not appear to you.” 

And having risen early in the morning, Moses went up Mount Sinai, as the Lord had told him. And the Lord descended in a cloud, and Moses stood there before Him and called out in the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before his face, and called out, “The Lord God, compassionate and merciful, longsuffering, greatly-merciful, and true.” And Moses, making haste, stooped down to the earth and worshipped the Lord.  (Exodus 33:19-23, 34:4-8)

In the above biblical text, note the various ways in which mystery is expressed – that something is being hidden from Moses.  God tells Moses that he cannot see God’s face. God says He will cover Moses with His hand to ensure that Moses can only see God’s backside, but not His face.  God descends in a cloud.  The time of Moses and the Old Testament was not yet time for God to fully reveal Himself. Moses is described as God’s friend and yet God remains wrapped in mystery for Moses.

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Moses is one of the two Old Testament saints who appears with Jesus at Christ’s Transfiguration. The other is Elijah. These two saints represent the Law and the prophets and appear with Jesus to show him in continuity with all of the Old Testament, for the entirety of the Old Testament bears witness to Christ.

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Moses in representing the Law of the Old Testament is contrasted with Christ by St Paul. Modern scholars think St Paul in his epistles also contrasts Moses with Paul himself as well as with all believers. So biblical scholar Richard Hays writes referring to St Paul’s discussion of Moses having his face veiled after seeing God (2 Corinthians 3:12-16):

On the surface, Moses is a figure not like Paul, because he is veiled and mysterious, not disclosing all that he knows. He has numinous encounters, delivers oracular pronouncements, then retreats behind his veil, keeping his wisdom to himself. That is Paul’s picture of the ministry of the old covenant: revelatory glimpses of a truth that remains for the most part hidden. By contrast, Paul has nothing to hide (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). He lays bare the truth, plays no game of revelational striptease. At this surface level, the dissimile serves Paul’s apologia by highlighting his candor and appealing for his readers trust. …

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[Hays is pointing out something that many church fathers also believed – that the Old Testament presented Christ to the Jews but in a veiled way, in shadows, mystery, prefiguration, or enigmatic prophecy. Christ fully reveals that which for Moses was still mystery. In Christ we see God’s face and not only His backside.  And now Paul and the apostolic authors of the New Testament all are making known God’s full revelation. The Old Testament reveals in part, it teases us, but Christ and the New Testament completely reveal what previously had been hidden in mystery.]

Below the surface, however, the current flows in the opposite direction, because Moses did, after all, encounter God face to face. Thus, he becomes a symbol of unveiling as well as of veiling.  . . .

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… Moses unveiled encounters with the Lord were intermittent, punctuated by times of withdrawal and veiling. Paul’s metaphor implies, by contrast, that he and others who have now turned to the Lord through Jesus Christ live in a continuous experience of the presence of the Spirit. The veil has been removed once and for all. Thus, Moses’ occasional entry into the presence of God, while paradigmatic, remains only a prefiguration of the experience of Christians. (ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LETTERS OF PAUL, pp 142-143)

The Feast of the Transfiguration is a feast of God revealing Himself to us in Christ. Moses and Elijah appear with Christ to emphasize – this is the One to whom we referred and to whom we pointed and whom we wrote about. The time for revelation had come and now in Christ we comprehend what previously was understood only in mystery. All that separated us from God (sin, death) has been taken away and in the Church, we celebrate this revelation of light and peace.

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For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

The Art of Evangelism

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Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33) 

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St Paul argues that when it comes to evangelism, Christians must be ‘bilingual’, able to speak in a way that our hearers can understand us. We must be familiar with their customs, worldview, how they think, and what is important to them in order to convey the Gospel to them. Evangelism is not about ‘me’ or what pleases me but is about the good and salvation of the people to whom I am witnessing. Those to whom I am witnessing are not obliged to learn my culture and language, but I am obliged to learn theirs in order to be able to translate the Gospel into the words they can comprehend and respond to.  This is something Orthodoxy in the New World has not always done, as they sometimes have expected seekers to embrace their ethnic customs, ideas and language, rather than translating the faith into the language and terminology of the places they have moved into.

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St Clement of Alexandria (d. ca. 215AD) accepted St Paul’s wisdom regarding evangelism, as he thought about evangelizing among ‘the Greeks’ who were immersed in Hellenistic philosophy. He recognized that the Greeks had a wisdom and intellectual tradition of which they were quite proud and to evangelize them, one had to really know their tradition, or they would not even listen to the Gospel which they often thought of as an inferior philosophy to their pagan tradition. To be clear, Clement is talking about being ‘bilingual’ but not only in the sense of being a polyglot.  Like St Paul, he realizes even when you speak a common language, you still have to know the traditions and ideas which shape those you wish to evangelize. 

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Being ‘bilingual’, evangelically speaking, means more than just knowing a second language, it means being immersed in another philosophical or spiritual culture so that one can convey the fullness of the Truth to the people of that culture. Clement writes: 

‘It is necessary to be a philosopher in order to know whether or not it is necessary to be a philosopher, or even to know whether one ought not to be a philosopher; for one has no means of condemning a thing except by first becoming acquainted with it; therefore it is necessary to be a philosopher’ (Strom. VI, 18:152, 5). Secondly, ‘it is not possible to refute the philosophical opinion of the Greeks by a bare statement; one must go into detail, and make an expose based on full knowledge…’ (Strom. I, 2:19,2). Thirdly, philosophy can be of help in presenting the faith in an attractive way: ‘Wide learning is of great assistance to someone who is propounding the most important dogmas with a view to persuading his hearers, and what is more, by arousing the admiration of the catechumens, it leads them to truth’ (Strom. I,2:20, 2). (Jean Danielou, GOSPEL MESSAGE AND HELLENISTIC CULTURE, p 306) 

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Clement knew that the Greeks appreciated a good rhetorician and often judged a philosophy by the people who were teaching it. To succeed in evangelizing them, one had to be very familiar with the philosophies they embraced, and one had to be a better teacher (speaker, debater, rhetorician) than the ones representing the various Greek philosophies. 

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Evangelism thus is not simply talking at people about the points you want to make as many street preachers seem to think. It is knowing the people to whom you are speaking – knowing their intellectual traditions and being able to explain the Gospel in terms familiar to them while showing them the superiority of the Gospel as a way of seeing the world over other philosophies. If one can find nuggets of truth within these philosophies, one can use them to help edify the people by showing them how their philosophy is only a partial truth, but the full revelation is found in Jesus Christ. 

What Else Should be Overturned with Roe? 

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The recent decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the federally guaranteed right for women to have an abortion was a victory for the pro-life forces in the country, which includes the Orthodox Church. It seemed to me a bit of a stretch to claim the Constitution guaranteed a right to abortion as the Constitution doesn’t mention it. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling mostly agrees that it is not an issue determined by the Constitution so belongs to each state to decide rather than being a federal issue. One issue the Supreme Court may have to decide soon is if there is no Constitutional right to an abortion which applies to all states, can states banning abortion forbid their citizens from going to other states to get an abortion, or since each state can decide for itself the legality of abortion do all states have to recognize what other states forbid or permit regarding this issue? In other words, does the Constitution demand that all states must recognize each other’s laws and recognize that any citizen in the U.S. can do what is legal in any state even if it is illegal in their home state?

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While I do see the Supreme Court’s decision as being supportive of the sanctity of human life and the value of every human being from the time they are conceived, there is also a level for me which makes this ‘victory’ seem a bit hollow.  Mostly because as I see it, no hearts or minds were changed by the decision.  Christians didn’t do the hard work of trying to convince everyone that human life begins in the womb.  The fetus is human and it is true that abortion cheapens our attitude toward humanity and life, making some humans expendable.  But what was accomplished was a change in law which compels people to look for other solutions to unwanted pregnancies than an abortion. But Christians in their effort to support life, I think, are more supposed to try to change hearts and minds on this issue rather than just rely on a law to enforce their point of view.  We have no goal to make ourselves political enemies of anyone, for we are trying to win all to Christ. “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33). We will not accomplish our God-given goals to love God and neighbor if we rely on political means as politics are not part of Christ’s methods to establish God’s Kingdom. We are not to rely on the sword, but on self-denial.

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Abortion, like the death penalty, gun violence and even war, uses death to accomplish its goals.  Death is identified by St Paul as the final enemy of God (1 Corinthians 15:26).  The fact that humans rely on death often to solve their problems speaks volumes about how godly we are or aren’t. Christians should see death as their enemy and not be eager to use it as a means to accomplish their goals – whether dealing with unwanted pregnancies, unwanted criminals or for resolving disputes.  “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ...” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6).

Christianity’s goals are to win the hearts and minds of everyone for God.  We should be focusing on that goal to proclaim victory. Our warfare makes the dead to live, not the living dead, said St John Chrysostom. Our goal is not really to get laws passed that make our lives as Christians easier by removing temptation to sin, or to impose our ideas on others by 4264223704_9133db0ec8_wpolitical power plays. We want people to embrace God’s love and to experience the presence of God in their lives.  As St Paul says: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-26).  If we follow Paul, and he does tell us to imitate him (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), we have to work hard to try to be all things to all people in order that by all means, some will be saved.

There is a degree for me that the recent victory of prolife forces seems more a political victory than a moral or spiritual victory.  Christians are relying on the state to accomplish their goals rather than using love as a witness to the goodness of God’s commands. We can call to mind that from the beginning Christians were able to change the Roman Empire without having the government or any laws on their side. And these early Christians won many converts because of the love they showed for each other as well as for the sick, poor, oppressed and needy. St Paul describes Christian ministry in these terms: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  As I said, no 21610816316_82f233aa47_whearts or minds were changed in the Supreme Court’s decision, so no “reconciliation” was attained. And on the negative side, now some will see Christianity as a political opponent which is not what Christianity is. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Our warfare and victories are supposed to be moral and spiritual ones. Christians should be working to create a society which does not see death as a solution to problems and which helps those who are tempted to use death to achieve their goals to see that death is part of the way of evil in this world. Christians may be on the winning side of the Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade, but now the ministry of reconciliation begins in earnest. Christians may have spared the lives of many unborn, now they have to show love to these families who are struggling with unwanted pregnancies. Christians need to work to support families and children with maternity leave, health care, livable wages and education – as a means to reconcile these families with God by demonstrating to them that they are loved by God and us their neighbors. Maybe the overturning of Roe will also overturn the polarities separating Republicans and Democrats on social issues which effect the working class so we can work to create a greater America for all.

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There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

Questions of Gender, Sexuality and Marriage  

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Some Orthodox think that Western Patristic writers had a more negative attitude toward sexuality and marriage than did Eastern Patristic writers. Compared to modern ideas, all Patristic writers tended to be more negative toward marriage and sexuality. And the differences between Eastern and Western writers may be more of degree than of kind. Roman Catholic scholar Lars Thunberg in his study of St Maximus the Confessor states that Maximus had a more positive view of marriage than did the man who influenced him, St Gregory of Nyssa (one of the few Patristic writers thought to have been married rather than a monastic), but being in the Eastern monastic tradition he still saw gender and marriage as not being part of God’s original creation, but having come into existence due to the Fall of Adam and Eve:

“According to Maximus, sexual differentiation (that is to say that part of sexuality which is related to procreation, sexual intercourse), or at least a great part of it, was brought in by God because of the fall. Before the fall another form of procreation would have been provided for man. . . .

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Yet, his general view of sexuality as the instrument of procreation is negative, since, as we have seen, he regards this form of procreation as a secondary phenomenon, a substitute in time (due to the fall) for the persistence and immortality that God wanted to give mankind. Consequently, sexuality is necessarily linked to the fatal dialectic between pleasure and pain that appears in man’s life as a sinner. The very manner in which man is born today is marked by his sin. … The masculine and feminine elements are not destined to disappear, only to be subsumed effectively under the principle (logos) of the common human nature.”

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[Maximus like Augustine and other Western Patristic writers saw all humans as tainted by sexual procreation since it involved lust or pleasure (concupiscence), and thus sin.  He believed sexual procreation was sort of God’s “plan B” for humans to prevent them from going extinct due to sin resulting in death.  God does provide for marriage and sexual reproduction, so neither is ungodly, but both are connected to the human inability to control sexual desire, which was viewed negatively by most Church Fathers. Sex and procreation are thus part of God’s concession to human weakness – God blesses marriage but it wasn’t God’s original idea for humans according to many Church Fathers who thus tended to see procreation in a negative light.

Christ being conceived without sex and born of a virgin is in their mind what God intended originally.  With the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the dead, sexual procreation is not needed to prevent the human race from going extinct. Thus sexual procreation really only belongs to the world of the Fall, but was not God’s plan for human life in paradise nor is God’s plan for humans in His Kingdom.]

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“But what does Christ do to carry out this mediation? First of all – and now the theandric dimension is obvious – Jesus Christ was born of a woman as is every man, but he was conceived without sensual pleasure and without destruction of the virginity of his mother. In this way Christ broke the slavery of death for himself and was free to accept a death that was not forced upon Him, a voluntary death. Secondly, in his exegesis of Galatians 3:28, maximus identifies the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with anger (thymos) and concupiscence (epithymia) because the sexual relationship has become the symbol par excellence of the life of passions. When the apostle says that in Jesus Christ there is ‘neither male nor female,’ this means that he has conquered the passions and subordinate subordinated the forces of man under the logos of his nature –and that is exactly a true mediation between the sexes. . . .

[For Maximus death comes with procreation by sexual means and is spread to all humans since all humans are conceived by sex – an idea similar to St Augustine’s. Except of course, Jesus, who is conceived without the male seed, without intercourse, and because of their understanding of how conception took place, Mary is simply the fertile womb in whom the divine seed which becomes Jesus is planted.]

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Marriage is not rejected; it is instituted by God Himself. But Christ has indicated a more noble form of relationship between man and woman, a relationship in the common logos of human nature.  . . .

This mediation is carried out by Christ through his ascension into heaven in His earthly body, consubstantial with ours, thereby manifesting the essential unity of sensible nature beyond any separation. This realization also implies man’s restoration to his original vocation of carrying out this kind of mediation. Man should, as much as possible, let his life resemble the virtuous perfection of the angels. Through the suppleness of his spirit he should surmount his bodily heaviness in a permanent and spiritual ascension toward heaven, as he desires communion with God. At this point Maximus is attached to a whole complex monastic tradition that describes the spiritual life as an ‘angelic life,’ but he also combines this tradition with his own reflections.  . . .

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‘Thus He united, first of all, ourselves in Himself through removal of the difference between male and female, manifesting us –instead of as men and women, considered primarily from the point of view of distinction –simply, in principle and in truth, as human beings, totally conformed to Him and carrying that image of His sane and entirely intact…’ (St Maximus).” (MAN AND THE COSMOS, pp 81-82, 90)

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The attitude of Patristic writers towards sex, gender, the human body and marriage is quite different from the modern scientific understanding of these issues.  There probably needs to be more scholarly studies on these issues to see how the Patristic ideas of sexuality, gender, the body and marriage compare and contrast with modern ideas, including modern Christian ideas which tend to see sexuality and marriage in a more positive light and as God’s original plan for humans. The Fathers tended to think the human goal was to live a more angelic life, and so many did not think the physical human body (and its bodily functions) was part of God’s plan for salvation. Marriage, in their mind, was lawful, but basically a concession to human sexual desire, and thus a somewhat secondary life as compared to monasticism.

The Mystery Revealed by the Cross 

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For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . .  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24)

St Paul acknowledges that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ does little to convince some that He is the Messiah or God’s Son. Christ is crucified as a criminal by the Roman Empire. When we call to mind Paul’s defense of civil authority, we can understand why Paul thinks Christ’s crucifixion does not help people believe in Him:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)

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If civil authority receives its power from God, then the Roman government’s execution of Jesus is a sign that God disapproved of Jesus and His messianic claims. But then, there is Christ’s resurrection which reveals that Christ in fact is God’s chosen Messiah and Son, and that the actions of the Roman government and Jewish leaders was in fact opposed to God’s will. What becomes clear is that God was choosing an unusual way to accomplish His will and was showing that the normal way of looking at things, cannot apply when God is working His will.

8561327176_a1c951f9a3_wThe crucifixion and resurrection of Christ turns everything in the world up-side-down – at least by worldly standards, but by heavenly standards reveals that mystery is the way in which God reveals Himself to us. Now we have to look again at the crucifixion, as well as all the Old Testament scriptures, for we come to know that they contain God’s mystery which was hidden from us but now God has revealed in His Son’s crucifixion.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)

The mystery of God revealed in Christ has been expressed in many ways. Orthodox scholar Olivier Clement wrote:

The living God is no longer the Emperor of the world but crucified love.   (THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 9)

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God is imminent and very present in our world. He rules not only from a distant heaven, but also enthroned upon the cross. On the cross the mystery of God as love is revealed to us. St Irenaeus of Lyons expresses it this way, speaking of Christ:

… for it was necessary for Him, becoming visible, to make manifest His <form of the cross> <in> everything, that He might demonstrate, by His visible form [on the cross], His activity which is on the <in>visible level…   (ON THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING, p 62)

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Christ dying on the cross is not the kind of God either Jews or Greeks were looking for (and probably also some Christians today who want a conquering warrior God, not a humble God dying on a cross). Christ’s death on the cross in fact reveals something which was previously invisible to humanity for it makes visible to us God’s love. The crucifixion is an unexpected and surprising revelation of God’s love for us, what God is willing to suffer for us, of God’s own nature, and how close God is to us mortals as we struggle in this world.  God empties Himself, leaves heaven in order to descend not just to earth but to hell itself to save His human creatures.  Christ’s call to repentance is a call for us to change our way of thinking about God and to open our eyes to what the God of love is revealing to us: not more commandments, but salvation.

Looking Out for Number 1 – the Other Person

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We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:1-4) 

St Paul frequently advocates for Christians that they humble themselves and treat others as deserving more than they themselves deserve.  Rather than “looking out for number one” (my self), we are to consider others as deserving more and trying to make sure they get it ahead of ourselves.

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Christ taught us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). [Christ makes life simple – we don’t need to know all 613 laws of the Torah, and we don’t even need to recite all Ten Commandments for they all can be summed up in two commandments – love God and love neighbor, do this and you will have eternal life. In fact, we don’t need to know all the ethical rules that have been written, for the two rules Christ promulgates are enough for every situation.] Even if we imagine we can somehow be a Christian and look out for ‘number one’ (my self), we have to acknowledge that Christ said that as important as the command to love God is, the command to love neighbor as self is equally important.  That means if I think my main concern is me, Christ says, “OK, now love everyone around you as much as you love yourself.”  Self-centeredness and selfishness have little place in Christ’s Kingdom. If I think I am important, I should treat those around me as important as if they were me. Treat others as you wished they treated you.  “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

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Many saints through the centuries have reminded us of the importance of loving others, including St Simeon the New Theologian: 

St Simeon stresses that Christians should look upon all people with the same love as they would Christ himself. They should be ready to give even their life for them. They should not regard anyone as evil, but see all people as good. Even when they perceive that some brother is being tempted by the devil and troubled by passions, they should hate the passion and not the brother who is assailed by them.   (Anestis Keselopoulos, MAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT, p 112) 

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If we see Christ in all others, we will treat them as we would treat Christ if He were in our presence. 

How Do I Learn to Be Humble? 

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For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  (Romans 12: 3)

St Isaac the Syrian offers two comments on humility.  In the first comment he points out humility in and of itself, even without any other good deeds, is spiritually beneficial for bringing us into God’s forgiveness:

Humility, even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without her, works are of no profit to us, and rather prepare for us great evils. Therefore, through humility, as I said, find forgiveness for your iniquitous deeds. What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue, and she can mightily obliterate many sins.  (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES OF SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN, pp 338)

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In his second comment, Isaac lists things that help us acquire humility in our hearts and minds:

Again he was asked, ‘How can a man acquire humility?’ And he said: ‘By unceasing remembrance of transgressions; by anticipation of oncoming death; by inexpensive clothing; by always preferring the last place; by always running to do the tasks that are the most insignificant and disdainful; by not being disobedient; by unceasing silence; by dislike of gatherings; by desiring to be unknown and of no account; by never possessing anything at all through self-will; by shunning conversation with numerous persons; by abhorrence of material gain; and after these things, by raising the mind above the reproach and accusation of every man and above zealotry; by not being a man whose hand is against everyone and against whom is everyone’s hand, but rather one who remains alone, occupied with his own affairs; by having no concern for anyone in the world save himself. But in brief: exile, poverty, and a solitary life give birth to humility and cleanse the heart.’   (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES OF SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN, pp 345)

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