St. John the Baptist: Friend and Lover of God

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“The man who loves himself seeks his own glory, whereas he who loves God loves the glory of his Creator. It is characteristic of the soul which consciously senses the love of God always to seek God’s glory in every commandment it performs, and to be happy in its low estate. For glory befits God because of His majesty, while lowliness befits man because it unites us with God. If we realize this, rejoicing in the glory of the Lord, we too, like St John the Baptist, will begin to say unceasingly, ‘He must increase, but we must decrease’ (cf. John 3:30).”

(St Diadochos of Photiki , The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 7610-18)

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In the Church We Live in Christ

“Hence the Church, in the Orthodox Tradition, is identified with the Sacrament of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist. She is a Sacramental Body of Christ and not a hierocratic institution. The eastern Church Fathers consider the nature of the Church as primarily and essentially a priestly mission of her divine Bridegroom (cf. Exod. 18:; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 5,10). In the Eucharistic service, the whole Church is associated with the sacrifice of Christ, united essentially with His flesh and blood, and transformed into the very body of Christ, Who is her Heart and Head (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 27)

‘When the Church partakes of them (the holy mysteries)’, John of Damascus and Nicholas Cabasilas write, ‘she does not transform them into the human body, as we do with ordinary food, but she is changed into them, for the higher and divine element overcomes the earthly one. When iron is placed in fire, it becomes fire; it does not, however, give fire the properties of iron; and just as when we see white-hot iron it seems to be fire and not metal, since all the characteristics of the iron have been destroyed by the action of the fire, so, if one could see the Church of Christ insofar as she is united to Him and share in His sacred body, one would see nothing other than the body of the Lord.’

Commenting on Saint Paul’s expression: ‘You are the body of Christ and members in particular’ (1 Cor. 12.27), Cabasilas adds:

If he called Christ the head and us the members, it was not that he might express…our complete subjection to Him…..but to demonstrate a fact – to wit, that from henceforth the faithful, through the blood of Christ, would live in Christ, truly dependent on that head and clothed with that body (1 Cor. 12.27).’” (Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, Introduction to Easter Patristic Orthodox Theology, pp 100-101)

Faith is to Be Happy

“…Faith in the trust that forms friendship, hope in the vision of a future where God will finally prevail, and love in the forgiveness that is a human possibility only because it is first a divine reality. Working together to complete and perfect the classical virtues, these new virtues enable us to ‘become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4). When St. Paul declares that ‘[h]e who through faith is righteous shall live’ (Rom. 1:17) and that ‘by grace you have been saved by faith’ (Eph. 2:8), he is not speaking of an abstract doctrine that we are called to affirm as a bare intellectual proposition. To have faith is not to credit a set of ideas that await either proof or disproof. Certainly it is true that faith has real cognitive content – namely, the articles of belief set forth in the various creeds and confessions. Summarily stated, these statements of faith affirm that the triune God has acted in Israel and Christ to create his unique people called the church and, through it, to redeem the world.

Even so, faith is not the same thing as knowledge. Nor is faith something that we are required morally to do – to perform meritorious acts, for example, that win the favor of God. Surely Christian faith issues in a distinctive way of life; indeed, it is a set of habits and practices – of worship and devotion, of preaching and the sacraments. Faith is always made active and complete in good works, says the Epistle of James; in fact, ‘faith apart from works is dead’ (Jas. 2:22,26). Yet faith is not first of all to be understood as exemplary action. At its root and core, faith is always an act of trust if it is to possess true knowledge and to produce true works. People having simple minds and accomplishing small deeds can have profound faith. Whether old or young, bright or dim, mighty or weak, we are all called to be childlike before God. Faith is the total entrustment of ourselves to the God who has trustworthily revealed himself in Israel and Christ. It is the confidence that this true God will dispose of our lives graciously, whereas we ourselves would make wretchedly ill use of them. This means that faith entails a radical risk, for God both commands and grants faith without offering material threat of punishment or earthly promise of reward. To be sure, the life of disobedience incurs divine wrath, just as the life of faith springs from divine mercy. The right relation between God’s anger and pity is defined in the fine phrase of Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth-century Anglican divine: ‘God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.’ To have faith is to have the life of true felicity already within us, as we learn gladly to participate in God’s own Trinitarian life of trusting self-surrender. Because God’s communal life centers upon the perfect and unconditional self-giving of each person of the Trinity to the other, so does the life of faith entail the complete offering of ourselves to God and our neighbors. Such an astounding act could never be a human achievement: it is a miraculous divine gift. There is nothing within our human abilities that could produce faith. On the contrary, it is our free and trusting response to the desire for God that God himself has planted within us.

LordofRingsGod is utterly unlike Melkor and Sauron because he never coerces. We are never forced but always drawn to faith, as God grants us freedom from sin’s compulsion. We are invited and persuaded to this act of total entrustment through the witness to the Gospel made by the church. Even when faith is an act of knee-bent confession alone in one’s own room, it is not a solitary and individual and private thing: faith is both enabled and sustained by the body of Christ called the church, the community of God’s own people.” (Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp 117-119)

The Moscow Council of 1917-18

Moscow CouncilThe recent Holy And Great Orthodox Council in Crete inspired me to read about another Orthodox council, THE MOSCOW COUNCIL (1917-1918) from a book written by Hyacinthe Destivelle.   This Council was held in the midst of most interesting and tumultuous times as Russia was in the spasms of its revolution which would overthrow the dominant social order of their empire.  The Church leaders and membership at times resisted the changes, at times prompted the changes and at times were pushed and carried along by the changes.

The Council was being considered and planned for a number of years before it actually took place.  The outbreak of the Russian revolution actually catalyzed the Church into action.  And while the Church leaders meeting were often inspired with creative thinking and were willing and able to look at issues the Church had not given serious consideration to in the past, ultimately the Church found itself chasing the retreating waters of history and then being smashed by the incoming tsunami called Bolshevism.

The Russian Church for years had been seeking to be freed from its enmeshment with the state, but was totally ill prepared for the collapse of the Russian state and the rise of the Bolsheviks.  And while the atheist Soviet state might seem to be the very government that would have also wanted a church-state separation, it instead decided that controlling the Church as the Russian state had done since the time of Peter the Great was actually to its own advantage.  Rather than ignoring the Church it no longer believed in, the Soviet State attempted to dominate and then destroy the Orthodox Church.  The Council members were trying to delineate (from the Church’s point of view) what the role of the Orthodox Church would be in a society in which there was a separation of Church and state, but history was passing them by and they didn’t realize the arising state had no interest in giving the Church freedom to realize its mission.

ww2russiaWhile these events were just beginning to unfold, we can see the ambivalence or even confusion expressed by the Council as to what the Church’s relationship to the state should be.  “… the Church, although it aspired to independence, did not have the intention of renouncing its privileged relation with the state or of separating itself from it.” (p 183)  The Council members believed the Church had a privileged position and used demographics to bolster their belief.  Stating that since factually “the larger majority of the population” (p 138) claimed membership in the Church it therefore was entitled to an advantaged position in the land, the Council members never envisioned that the Church might lose that majority position or that for the Bolsheviks such thinking meant nothing.  They seemed not to have realized how unaffiliated many (most?) of the population really was with the Church.  It was a state religion, cultural religion, but didn’t have the sincere loyalty of the hearts and minds of many in the Church.  The masses (what the Church believed were their faithful members) did not rise to the defense of the Church.

That the Council members continued to believe in

“The ‘juridical status of the Orthodox Church of Russia’ shows that the ideal of a ‘symphony of powers,’ formulated by Justinian I (527-65), clearly takes precedence over their separation.  In the name of its historical, sociological, and perhaps theological primacy, the Russian Orthodox Church claims a status that would unequivocally assure a privileged place – not only with respect to other confessions but as regards all other Russian institutions.  By claiming this preeminence, the council sometimes seems to resist the idea of separation from the state – especially in its insistence that the principal political leaders profess the Orthodox faith.”  (pp 140-141)

So, on the one hand, the Council believed that in order for the Church to fulfill its true mission, there must be the separation of Church and state.  They knew the disadvantages of being not only wedded to the state but controlled by the state. They wanted the Church to be released from the stranglehold of the Petrine Russian State, what they didn’t realize is what government was coming in Russia intended to fully strangle the Church.

On the other hand, they still wanted to draw upon entitlement from the state.  They expected the newly emerging Russia would give the Church independence while at the same time using all of its civil powers to keep the Church in a entitled position.  It wasn’t to be, for what emerged in Russia was a state freed from the powers of the Church but totally willing to dominate and abuse the Church hoping to eradicate it altogether.

As events in the emerging Soviet society were moving rapidly toward an anti-Church position, the Council frequently ended up responding to the ever changing events rather than leading the Church to help shape the nation.  For example, the Council promulgated in the face of communities losing not only the sacred liturgical objects but their church buildings that

“’The sacred vessels… may be without any ornamentation, and the vestments may be made from a common linen.’  The council gives a spiritual meaning to this persecution that forces the Church to become poor and simple and a better witness ‘so that it may be known to all that the Orthodox Church appreciates its holy objects because of their inner significance, rather than for the sake of material value, and that violence and persecution is incapable to deprive the Church from its chief treasure – its holy faith, the pledge of its eternal triumph, for ‘this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith’ (1 John 5:49”  ( p 150)

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It was, apparently, the revolution, not the Council, that  was forcing the Church to abandon its excesses in order to hold on to what is important and essential to Christianity.  The Church is not about gilded ornamentation but about the Gospel of a poor and humble incarnate God.  The Church is about God not gaud.   The Church was forced to embrace the poverty that Christ lived and taught.  It was the loss of its material treasures that caused the Church to remember its true treasure – Jesus Christ.  This certainly turns out to be a case in which the enemies of the Church in stripping away from the Church its possessions and privileges returned the Church to its fundamentals – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living faith of the people.

As the Council proceeded it made more decisions which were direct responses to the unfolding events of the Russian revolution.  Critics of the Council began to complain that the Council members were being overly influenced by secular law and the demands of the moment.  But the Council noted quite correctly that “…the fathers of the first councils had been influenced by Roman law…” (p 179)  The Church has never existed in a vacuum.   Indeed the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils did often accept Roman civil law and structures in shaping the Church in the Roman Empire.   That the Russian Council had to take  the new Soviet law into account is a sign of the incarnational nature of the Church.  Christians from the time of St. Paul had prayed for their civil leaders, even when they were not Christian or even hostile to Christianity.

“This is why the Council of 1917-1918 still interest us: it reminds us that the Church, in every epoch, even the most troubled, can only be built up again by posing apparently ancient questions in order to find new answers and thus pour an ever-new wine into ever-new wineskins, the wine of its own marriage feast.”   (p 190)

 

Vicarious Living

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I mentioned in a previous blog that I don’t get out as much these days for health reasons.

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So I have to rely on seeing the world through other people’s eyes or lenses.

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Fortunately my son, Seth, has been traveling the country and sharing his photos with me.

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He’s much more adventuresome than I.

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You can see all his photos at my son’s photography.  Hope you enjoy his photography and travels as much as I do.

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I would say he is a better photographer than I am, but I’ll say it is because he has a better camera.

 

 

 

Marriage: Helping Your Partner Attain Heaven

“…The primary purpose of marriage in the Orthodox Tradition: that the married couple may aid one another in their journey towards eternal salvation. They, and any children God may give, are to be ‘glad with the joy’ of the Lord’s ‘countenance’, as the Psalm says. In other words, they are to be in His presence – to behold Him. We know from the Beatitudes that to see God requires purity of heart (Matt. 5.8), and this implies holiness of life. Clearly, by chanting of this beautiful Psalm in the marriage service, the couple is summoned to help each other towards holiness, so that they may abide in the presence of the Lord, both now and forever.” (David and Mary Ford, Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of the Married Saints, p xxix)

Wealth Which Enslaves

“Material wealth enslaves us, sharpening self-interest, corroding the heart, overwhelming us with anxiety and fear; like an insatiable demon, it demands sacrifice. Instead of serving us, it makes us serve it. Cannot the same be said of the treasures of health, strength, youth, beauty, talent? Do not they likewise confirm in our pride and constrain the heart, leading it away from God? Yes, truly: ‘Blessed are the poor’ in the world’s goods. How easily they gain evangelical lightness of spirit and freedom of earthly fetters; but blessed also are those who are without health and youth (for ‘he who suffers in the flesh ceases to sin’). Blessed the ugly, the ungifted, the unlucky – they are free of the chief enemy, pride – for they have nothing to be proud of. But what are we to do if God has granted us this or that earthly gift?  Is it possible that we shall not be saved until we are divested of it? We may keep (but not for ourselves) our riches and still be saved, but we must be interiorly free of them; we must tear our heart from them, hold our treasures as if we did not hold them; possess them, but not let them possess us; lay them at Christ’s feet and serve Him through them.” (Father Yelchaninov in A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, pp 439-440)

 

Let Us Rejoice in the Lord

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth, And the heights of the mountains are His;  

Olympia National Park by Seth Bobosh
Olympic National Park by Seth Bobosh

For the sea is His, and He made it, And His hands formed the dry land.  

Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh
Ruby Beach, Olympic Park by Seth Bobosh

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.

(Psalm 94:1-7, OSB)

Thinking About Walking on Water

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then . . . I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”  (Leviticus 26:3, 12)

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 14:22-34, we encounter Jesus walking on water.

The Apostle Peter asks Jesus for permission to join Him in perambulating across the stormy sea.  At first, all goes well, but then Peter finds himself in a bit over his head, so to speak.  Peter discovers that being the Rock doesn’t help one to stay on the surface of the water.  Here is the Gospel lesson:

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

Jesus clearly favored Peter among the Twelve, though Peter is not the disciple whom Jesus loved – that was John.  Peter though has a favored status, even a leadership position among the chosen apostles.  Jesus recognizes Peter as the rock, and I still have to think that the disciples ultimately might have found it amusing that Peter also sank like a rock when he so boldly asked to walk on the sea with Jesus.

Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi makes an interesting observation about walking in the bible.

“The scriptural ‘walking’ is not done with one’s feet. Rather, it is a way of life that one has to decide for one’s mind.” (The Chrysostom Bible: Romans, p 141)

By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.  (1 John 2:5)