Christ in Me

“Where Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, d. 107AD)

“Where the Church is, there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is the Church.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, d. 202AD)

In the writings of the post-apostolic fathers and early Patristic writers, there is made a close union between Christ the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  St. Irenaeus describes them as being “the two-hands of God” at work in creation.  In the quote below by St. John Chrysostom, we see how closely he identifies the presence of Christ in us with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  To have “Christ in me” is to have the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, to have the Holy Spirit abiding in oneself means that Christ is present as well.

St. John Chrysostom writes, ‘You will ask, “What will happen if Christ is within us?”  “If Christ is in you, your body is dead to sin, but your spirit lives unto righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). You see how much evil comes from not having the Holy Spirit within you: death, enmity towards God, the impossibility of pleasing Him by submission to His law, or of belonging to Christ and having Him dwelling in you. Look also how good it is to have the Spirit within you: really to belong to Christ, to have Christ Himself within you, to compete with the angels! For to have a body dead to sin, means to begin to live in eternal life, to carry within you – even here on earth – the pledge of the resurrection and the reassuring power to advance upon the path of virtue.

Note that the Apostle said not only, “the body is dead”, but added, “to sin”, so that you should understand that it is the sins of the flesh, and not the body itself, that is mortified. It is not of the body as such that the Apostle speaks; on the contrary he wants the body, although dead, still to remain alive.  When our bodies, in so far as carnal reactions are concerned, do not differ from those that lie in the grave, this is a sign that we have the Son within us, and that in us dwells the Spirit.’ As darkness cannot stand before the light, so all that is carnal, passionate or sinful cannot stand before our Lord Christ and His Spirit.

But as the existence of the sun does not abolish the fact of darkness, so the presence within us of the Son and Spirit does not abolish the existence within us of something that is sinful and passionate, but only takes away its power. As soon as an occasion arises, the passionate and sinful elements step forward and offer themselves to our consciousness and will. If our consciousness pays attention and occupies itself with them, then our will may also turn towards them. But if, at that moment, our consciousness and will pass over to the side of the spirit and turn to our Lord Christ and His Spirit, then all that is carnal and passionate will disappear immediately like smoke before a breath of wind. This means that the flesh is dead, powerless. Such is the general rule of life for true Christians; but they are at different stages.

When someone remains steadfastly with his consciousness and will on the side of the Spirit, in living and tangible union with Christ our Lord in His Spirit, then at that time nothing carnal or passionate can so much as show itself, any more than darkness before the sun or cold before flames. In such a case, the flesh is quite dead and immobile.”   (Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pp 176-177)

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation 1863

Lincoln2The recent U.S. presidential election was particularly rancourous and divisive.  There was unrest after the election as some were so shocked by the results that they couldn’t even accept it.  Even through the Thanksgiving  Holiday, some were still unsettled by the results of the election.  All of that made me call to mind President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.  Talk about a divided nation – at that time we were in a civil war.  Yet, despite the war and the divided country, Lincoln still could see there were plenty of things for which the American people could be thankful.

And though Thanksgiving is already past us, I felt it is good for us, as Americans, to remember those things for which we owe our Creator thanksgiving, even in times of uncertainty or unrest or dissatisfaction.   Whatever our differences, however politics push us in polar opposite directions, we Americans also need to remember those gifts from God which we all enjoy and which make us the great nation we are.  Let us never forget our blessings and let us always remember that to be an American is to be thankful at heart, and to have gratitude for those gifts whether of nature or of freedom that we hold in common.

Here is what President Lincoln wrote to the nation:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

God Became Human So that Creation Would Serve Humanity

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.   (Romans 8:19-23)

The Nativity of Christ, sometimes in popular thinking gets reduced to warm fuzzies about a manger and a baby.  However, the context of that story is the creation of the cosmos, and the Fall of Adam and Eve – their committing the ancestral sin.  Creation was meant to serve humanity, and humans were meant to have a leadership role in creation – to be the mediator between God the Creator and the created order.  All of creation, including the angels, were meant to find their proper relationship to God through humanity.

But, when humans sinned against God and rejected their God-given role, all of creation fell into an unnatural relationship with humanity and with God (see Romans 8 above).  The restoration of the cosmos, the transfiguration and redemption of all Creation, this is the context and content of the Christmas story.

“ ‘When all of the created world which God had brought out of non-being into existence saw Adam leave Paradise, it no longer wished to be subject to the transgressor. The sun did not want to shine by day, nor the moon by night, nor the stars to be seen by him. The springs of water did not want to well up for him, nor the rivers to flow. The very air itself thought about contracting and not providing for the rebel. The wild beasts and all the animals of the earth saw him stripped of his former glory and, despising him, immediately turned savage against him. The sky was moving as if to fall justly on him, and the very earth would not endure bearing him upon its back.’

But God’s love for man intervenes in this truly cosmic catastrophe: ‘He restrains everything by His own power and compassion and goodness, suspends the assault of all creation and straight away subjects all of it once again to fallen man. He wills that creation serve man for whom it was made, and like him become corruptible, so that when again man becomes spiritual, incorruptible and immortal, then creation, too, will be freed from its slavery….and, together with man, be made new, and become incorruptible and wholly spiritual’ (cf. Rom. 8:20-1). God’s compassionate intervention limited the consequences of man’s rebellion. Man and the cosmos then had to wait for the blessed coming of the Lord. As long as God’s peace was absent, the world ceased to be a cosmos, an adornment of God: ‘When it ceased to be at peace, it also ceased to be a cosmos.’

But with the coming of Christ, divine peace returned to the world and the world became once again God’s adornment. The created world too is invited to the festival of the new creation: ‘Let creation be glad, let nature dance….Dance, you mountains, for Christ is born!’ IN Christ Jesus, the cosmos and man coexist in peace.” (Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, pp 126-127)

 

Wrestling with Depression

Jesus said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)

The desert fathers understood that we each are tempted by or influenced by demons.  They also understood that sometimes “demons” are our own thoughts over which we lose control so that they come to dominate us.  Depression is certainly such a demon.  It can oppress us and take away from us hope and joy and love.  In the modern age, we also realize that sometimes depression is caused by chemical imbalances in our brains and bodies.   Knowing these things, we also have many weapons to fight the “demons” of depression.  For some, medical treatment, including the use of pharmaceuticals, can help in the fight against depression.  For some, counseling can help rid us of false ideas which run like a continuous tape through our minds.  The fog can be lifted as we understand  what is oppressing us is not real, but false ideas that we believe to be true.  For some, prayer along with reading scriptures and the Fathers, and receiving the sacraments, drives from us those demons which suck the life and hope from us.  For some, all methods are needed.  This is true because as humans we are spiritual and physical beings, we are psychosomatic beings.  Whatever affects us spiritually, also affects us mentally and physically.  What affects our physical being, lays hold of our minds and spirit.  What affects us mentally, touches our bodies and souls.  We are one being, and whatever affects one part of us affects our entire being.

We don’t need to see psychological problems, or treatments, as somehow being nonspiritual or unChristian.  Healing is a gift from God.  Christ used physical means to heal people.  Christ healed bodies, minds and souls.  Depression is not some kind of spiritual failure, but can be part of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged, hopefully only occasionally, but sometimes daily.

St. Cassian wrote about the demon of depression:

It is the evil spirit that causes depression and from that we come to know the fruits of the evil spirit, which are discouragement, anger, impatience, hatred, contentiousness, despair and sluggishness in praying. So let us struggle with the demon of depression, who casts the soul into despair, and drive him away from our hearts.”

(in Holy Joy by Anthony Coniaris, pp 102-103)

 

Blessed is the Kingdom

“The first exclamation of the Divine Liturgy reveals the key to the entire celebration:

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

With these words the celebrant announces the source and the goal of the divine service of the People of God, the very context and contents of the entire liturgical action. It is the Kingdom of God brought to the world by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and mystically reigning already in the faithful disciples of Christ by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom of God is eternal life in communion with God in loving obedience to his divine will. It is life in union with the Blessed Trinity; life lived toward the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the life which Christ has given to men by his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification. It is the life to be lived already in this world by the People of God. To bless the Kingdom of God means to love it as one’s most precious possession. The response of the people to the proclamation of blessing by the priest is with the word Amen, which means so be it. This is the solemn affirmation that indeed the blessing of God’s Kingdom is fitting and proper. It is the official confirmation that this Kingdom is indeed the ‘pearl of great price’ for the faithful, which once having found it, they will love it and serve it and desire to have it forever (Lk 13.14).” (Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith: Worship, Vol. 2, pp 152-153)

The Gospel lesson of Luke 17:12-19 –

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.

As God’s own children, we are to “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Yet, we often need to be reminded to thank family, friends, co-workers, those who serve us and those who love us.  “Thank you” does not automatically flow from the hearts of many Christians even when others are kind to them.  And, God who constantly showers us with gifts of life, love, the world, is often taken for granted and we do not have the constant thankful and grateful hearts which we should have for our Creator.

 “Parents always want their children to be happy, content, and thankful to them for all their work and sacrifice. So when they see their children in a bad mood and unthankful, they’re saddened. It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. He has given us everything, but we are unsatisfied and gloomy. Instead of thanksgiving and praising God for everything, we only express our thankfulness with our lips, and our hearts remain cold. Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.” (Ana Smiljanic in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, p 97)

Every Divine Liturgy is a Eucharistic Liturgy – our thanksgiving to God.  Every Sunday we gather together exactly to give thanks to God for all things.  We should come to the Liturgy with joy and rejoice throughout the Liturgy, for this is our communal thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity for creating us, sustaining us, and redeeming us.   The Divine Liturgy is not the time for our personal petitions to God, it is rather the time for us to join our fellow Christians in giving thanks to God.

The Present Age

In every period of history since the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, some Christians have found themselves living in perilous times.  St Paul in his epistles describes the endless threats and actual suffering he endured.  Christians suffered persecution from the Roman Empire, from Persians, from Arab Muslims, Turkish Muslims, from Tartars, from communists and at times from other Christians.   Scripture scholar Richard B. Hays says St Paul actually pictured all times on this earth, as long as we await the parousia (the end of history and this world), as being a perilous time for believers.  Despite the appearance of the incarnate God in Jesus the Messiah, we still live in a world which is a spiritual battlefield, in which Satan and evil have not yet been fully defeated.  For St Paul the struggles of Israel in the Scriptures foreshadows the trials Christians face in the world.

Paul regards the present as a time out of joint, an age riddled with anomolies: despite the revelation of the righteousness of God, human beings live in a state of rebellion and sin, and Israel stands skeptical of its appointed Messiah. Under such circumstances, God’s justice is mysteriously hidden and the people of God are exposed to ridicule and suffering, as Israel learned during the period of exile. Paul’s pastoral task thus entails not only formulating theological answers to doubts about God’s righteousness but also interpreting the suffering that the faithful community encounters during this anomalous interlude.  […]  The point is not that ‘righteous people have always suffered like this;, rather, Paul’s point in Rom. 8:35-36 is that Scripture prophesies suffering as the lot of those (i.e. himself and his readers) who live in the eschatological interval between Christ’s resurrection and the ultimate redemption of the world. Thus, in this instance as in many others that we will examine subsequently, Paul discerns in Scripture a foreshadowing of the church.”(Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of St. Paul, pp 57-58)

If we follow the teachings of St Paul, we are given a framework in which to understand the current age.  The present is not more perilous than the past for Christians, it just is our time to face the perils which have always been a threat to Christians.  As Christians living in this world we must always remember that times of prosperity are as dangerous to our spiritual lives as our times of peril.   The world is not made less under Satan’s power by prosperity!

American elections do not usher in the Kingdom of God nor do they thwart God’s Kingdom.   Even in America, we live in this world, a world still under Satan’s influence, a fallen world – no matter who is president, this is our reality.  We live in the same world that all Christians have since the time of Christ: a world created as good by a loving Creator, one which has fallen under the power of sin, death and Satan, and yet which is redeemed by Christ the Savior.  This is why we have hope and joy no matter what is happening in worldly politics.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Luke 12:32-34)

Adam’s Death And God’s Mercy

One aspect found in Patristic writings is that the authors always viewed God through the lens of “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).   This was considered to be an unvarying, non-negotiable truth, never up for interpretation or revision.  So all the passages in Scripture in which God appears to be only just or even cruel or capricious were viewed by them through the lens that God is love.  They felt the problem was not God appearing to be different in different bible passages, but our inability to understand God or to read the Scriptures correctly.  We are limited, one-sided creatures, and so we write about God and interpret Scripture to mean that God is something other than love.  We even have a need for this at times to justify our own actions.  These Patristic writers, however, felt we had to hold to the truth that God is love even when that truth seems to conflict with what the Scriptures literally say.  The very fact that God is Trinity, testified to them all that God is love, for the Three Persons of the Trinity abide in a unity of love.  They felt the literal reading of the text was the problem, God remained love no matter how we read the text.  So we see St. Gregory the Theologian (d. 389AD) reading the passage in Genesis 3 where Adam is expelled from Paradise and in which death becomes part of human existence.  While reading the words of the passage, he still sees the text as bearing witness to the love and mercy of God.  He does not see this as a passage about God’s justice and anger, but rather how God limits evil in our lives.  Death prevents us from sinning eternally.  Death prevents us from moving away from God forever.  Death prevents sin and evil from becoming eternal powers in our lives.  Thus for St. Gregory, even when God appears to punish, it turns out to be another form of God’s love and mercy.

“This being (man) He placed in Paradise, having honored him with the gift of free will (in order that God might belong to him as the result of choice); naked in his simplicity. Also He gave him a law, as a material for his Free Will to act upon. This Law, was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the The Tree of Knowledge. But when the Devil’s malice and the woman’s caprice, to which she succumbed as the more tender, brought to bear on the man, he forgot the commandments which had been given him, he yielded; and for his sin he was banished, at once from The Tree of Life, and from Paradise. Yet here too he makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal. Thus punishment is changed into a mercy; for it is in mercy, I am persuaded, that God inflicts punishment.”  (Gregory of Nazianzos, On the Birthday of Christ, p 7)

The Power of a Praying Community

“One can see them scattered in the desert waiting for Christ like loyal sons watching for their father, or like an army expecting its emperor, or like a sober household looking forward to the arrival of its master and liberator. For with them there is no solicitude, no anxiety for food and clothing. There is only the expectation of the coming of Christ in the singing of hymns. Consequently, when one of them lacks something necessary, he does not go to a town or village, or to a brother, or friend, or relation, or to parents, or children, or family to procure what he needs, for his will alone is sufficient. When he raises his hands to God in supplication and utters words of thanksgiving with his lips, all these things are provided for him in a miraculous way.” (Benedicta Ward, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, p 50)

The Incarnation is No Illusion

“Believe that for our sins this only begotten Son of God came down to earth from heaven, assumed this humanity with feelings like ours, and was born of holy Virgin and of Holy Spirit, since the incarnation took place, not through an illusion or mirage, but in reality. He did not only pass through the Virgin, as through a channel, but actually took flesh from her, actually ate as we do, actually drank as do, and was actually nourished with milk. For if the incarnation was an illusion, salvation is also an illusion.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: Vol.56, Num.2,2012, p 152)