Christ Our Hope 

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… Lord Jesus Christ, our hope…  (1 Timothy 1:1)

We Christians, if we are united to Christ, should be full of hope. If we feel the burden of the world because of what is happening around us to friends or family, or even if the news weighs us down, we still should be hopeful because we are united to Christ. Even if we have sinned and need to repent, we still should be full of hope. St Isaac the Syrian comments:

It is proper for a Christian even when he has done all he has commanded to do, all righteousness, to consider that he has done nothing (Luke 17:10).  . . .   Though he despises himself, his heart is filled with hope, joy, and expectation of that Kingdom and of salvation, reflecting that, ‘If today I am not redeemed due to my sins, I shall be redeemed by grace tomorrow.’ The man who plants a vineyard first reckons in his mind the harvest, the tribute he will give to the king, and the expenses he must pay from his household; then he undertakes the work. So it is also in our case. We endure the afflictions of the narrow way in hope of our salvation and that we shall be accounted worthy of eternal life. For without hope and joy the burden of labor and the hardship of tribulation and patience would weigh heavily upon us.”  (THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES, p 458)

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Even if today’s events or news cause us to feel despondency or despair, as St Isaac says if we don’t feel redeemed today, we can hope that tomorrow we will be. So we sing in the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”:

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes. You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are love; You are creator and Redeemer. We praise You singing: Alleluia! 

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I also would say if by listening to your favorite politicians or political pundits you feel angry, fearful, or hopeless, then recognize that their message is not Christian. Turn them off and instead listen to Christ our Hope or go out and be neighbor to someone in need of love. Christ tells us:

“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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The Glory We Have to Give to God

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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.” (Luke 17:12-19)

51114148986_86a5d7d59d_w[Note that although only one of the ten who were healed returned to give glory to God and that God says it was his faith that made him well, Christ does not withdraw the blessing of healing from the other nine. He doesn’t punish them for their failure, but does note their ungratefulness to contrast them with the ‘stranger’ (non-Jew) who behaves properly. The grace of God is a free gift given to all, both the good and the wicked. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).]

The Lord Jesus makes a point that of the 10 lepers He cured, only the Samaritan returns to give glory (Greek: doxa = worship) to God, while the nine Jews who were healed fail to do so. Doxa (glory) is in the word Orthodox, sometimes translated as giving ‘right glory’ or ‘correct worship’ to God. Christ is perhaps pointing out that His fellow Jews have become extremely ungrateful to God even though they like to boast about being God’s chosen people. Jesus was perhaps prophesying about the change that was coming to Judaism and the world as God opened salvation to all the people of the world rather than just to the ‘chosen’ people, the Jews. He was giving His fellow Jews fair warning that they had lost God’s favor through their own behavior. St John Chrysostom speaks to us about always giving glory to God and gives us some ideas as to how we can do it. It is not only ancient Jews who forget that as God’s people we all are always to give glory to our Creator and Savior, for many Christians fail on this account as well and risk the same consequences as those ancients who failed to give glory to God:

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This is why, in exhorting others to take heed of virtue in all things, he said: Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Notice, please, the exactness of his exhortation. Let all the things which you undertake and accomplish have this root and foundation, namely, that they end to the glory of God, and let no action of yours fail to have this foundation.  . . .

But how is it possible to glorify God? By living for the glory of God and making our life shine in the way of which He spoke elsewhere when He said: Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Nothing brings such glory to our Master as does the best conduct. Just as the light of the sun illumines with its rays the faces of those who look upon it, so virtue draws all who look on it to contemplate it and moves those who are well disposed to glorify the Master. Let us do everything we do in such a way as to move each one who sees us to glorify God, for it is written: If you do anything, do all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10: 31).

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What do I mean? If you ever wish to associate with someone, make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, those in critical circumstances, those in prison, those who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation. Put a high value on associating with these; for from them you shall receive such profit, you will be a better lover of the true wisdom, and you will do all for the glory of God. And if you must visit someone, prefer to pay this honor to orphans, widows, and those in want rather than to those who enjoy reputation and fame. God himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows (Psalm 67:6). And again: Judge for the fatherless, defend the widow. Then come and let us talk sayeth the Lord (Isaiah 1:17-18).

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If you wish merely to go to the marketplace, remember the exhortation of the Apostle when he says: If you do anything do all for the glory of God. Do not waste your time in senseless and harmful meetings, but run to the house of God, that your body and soul together may receive the greatest profit. And if we talk with anybody, let us do so with modesty and great meekness; let us refrain from prolonging conversations on worldly topics which bring us no benefit; but let us continue to talk of the things which will bring great profit to those who hear and which will set us free from all reproach. (BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS, pp 96-98)

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[Giving glory to God is an interesting concept for it implies that we humans have glory to give to God! St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” When we are fully human as God created us to be (in His image; see Genesis 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 11:7) we are full of God’s glory, just as heaven and earth are full of His glory (as we sing in the Divine Liturgy). God looks for us to give Him our glory and God accepts our gift!]

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God in Our Midst Will Rejoice in Us 

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has cast out your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear evil no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. (Zephaniah 3:15-18)

The Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Prophet Zephaniah each year on December 3. Zephaniah had prophesied that God would one day be in Israel’s midst and Israel would no longer have anything to fear. Interestingly, Zephaniah has it that God would rejoice at being in the midst of Israel (rather than Israel rejoicing in God’s presence). When God is present in Israel, God will renew His people with His love. There is no promise that there will no longer be enemies for God’s people, only that they will no longer fear these enemies. Being with God drives away fear. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

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“The one whose intellect is always ‘with the Lord,’ whose irascible part is full of meekness owing to the remembrance of God, and whose desire completely inclines to the Lord, is entitled not to be afraid of our enemies who surround our body on all sides (Evagrius).” (Gabriel Bunge, DRAGON’S WINE AND ANGEL’S BREAD, p 17)

We are taught to fear God, but even this is a special fear that is not opposed to love, but is related to it. St Theodoros the Ascetic says:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole man‘ (Ecclesiastes 12:13, LXX). Here the preacher says to us: I show you in summary form the best way to salvation: fear God and keep his commandments. By fear he means not the initial fear of punishments, but the perfect and perfecting fear, which we ought to have out of love for Him who has given the commandments.

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For if we refrain from sin merely out of fear of punishment, it is quite clear that, unless punishment had awaited us, we should have done things deserving punishment, since our propensity is for sinning. But if we abstain from evil actions not through threat of punishment, but because we hate such actions, then it is from love of the master that we practice the virtues, fearful lest we should fall away from him. For when we fear that we may neglect something that has been enjoined, the fear is clean (cf. Psalm 19:9), arising for the sake of the good itself. This fear purifies our souls, being equal in power to perfect love. He who has this fear and keeps the commandments is the ‘whole man’, in other words, the perfect and complete man. (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 2, p 36)

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For St Theodorus if we avoid sin only because we want to avoid punishment/hell, it becomes clear we are willing and even want to commit the sin and abstain from it not because we love the good but only because we fear punishment. What he calls us to is to love God and to let all we do be done in love – let all we do be what we freely and lovingly choose to please God. This of course means denying the self at times and recognizing the Lordship of God to determine what is good and what is evil. We become fully human when we fully and freely embrace the good and reject all that is evil. So, we pray to God: “deliver us from evil.”

Love: THE Mighty Work of God 

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Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)

The Evangelist Luke has the disciples rejoicing in and praising God “for all the mighty works they had seen” (emphasis added). Presumably, he is referring to the miracles which Christ had done as part of His ministry. While Christ’s signs were miraculous, still they are not mighty if we think in terms of political or military power. Rome was still in firm control and Israel was downtrodden and subservient. The ‘mighty’ deeds of God in Christ are acts of love – forgiving sins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing humans from bondage to Satan, restoring humanity’s relationship with God the Father and Creator of us all.

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The Prophet Habakkuk (whom the Orthodox Church commemorates on December 2) spoke of God’s “mighty love” in the Septuagint version of his prophecy (vs 3:4). This ‘mighty love’ is also mentioned in some of the hymns of Holy Week, as Orthodox scripture scholar Eugen Pentiuc notes:

Applying Hab 3:4C and the present hymn to the foot-washing episode (John 13:1-20), one may notice the ingenious and subtle way the hymnographer links the ‘mighty love’ expressing God’s ‘strength’ with Jesus’s love and humbleness shown in the washing of his disciples’ feet. In the hymnographer’s view, Jesus though Son of God exuding wisdom and power, humbles himself, bending his knees in front of his disciples, showing that love is strong and gets even stronger when it serves others.

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Here is a variant of the above hymn:

You established for us a mighty love, O Lord; for you gave your only begotten Son to death for our sake. Therefore giving thanks we cry to you, ‘Glory to your power, O Lord!’  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, pp 134)

The ‘mighty works’ of God – His power – are not political or military, but rather are acts of love toward His human creatures as well as toward the entire cosmos.  Christ’s mighty acts include His making Himself a servant and washing the feet of His disciples.  St Cyril of Alexandria says of the same Habakkuk passage:

And the fact that he was destined to rescue us he demonstrates in advance by saying, He placed a powerful love of his strength [Hab 3:4]; In other words, we have been saved, ‘not by works of righteousness that we ourselves performed,’ not by achievements of the Law, since ‘the law made nothing perfect,’ but from the clemency of the God and Father, who for our sake placed the powerful –that is, strong and mighty – love of the Son. The God and Father, remember, ‘so loved the world as to give his only Son so that everyone believing in him might not perish but have eternal life‘ [John 316].  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, pp 135)

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While so many, even Christians, seem more interested in political and military power than in reconciliation with God, it is God’s love for the world and for all of us which is revealed in the Gospel. That is the peaceful gift that Christianity has to offer to the world. God’s love is God’s mighty power.

Prayer of the Heart 

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Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work. . . .  Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17… 3:5)

While St Paul prays that Christ Himself might comfort and direct our hearts, the Orthodox tradition built upon this idea to form the prayer of the heart – when Christ abides in our hearts, uniting Himself to us. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware comments:

The aim of the Jesus prayer, as of all Christian prayer, is that our praying should become increasingly identified with the prayer offered by Jesus the High Priest within us, that our life should become one with his life, our breathing with the Divine Breath that sustains the universe. The final objective may aptly be described by the Patristic term theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’. In the words of Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, ‘The Name of Jesus, present in the human heart, confers upon it the power of deification. ‘The Logos became man,’ says St Athanasius, ‘that we might become God.’  . . .

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In the Hesychast tradition, the mystery of theosis has most often taken the outward form of a vision of light. This light which the saints behold in prayer is neither a symbolic light of the intellect, nor yet a physical uncreated light of the senses. It is nothing less than the divine and uncreated Light of the Godhead, which shown from Christ at his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and which will illumine the whole world at his second coming on the last day. …

The Jesus prayer causes the brightness of the transfiguration to penetrate into every corner of our life. Constant repetition has two effects upon the anonymous author of The Way of a Pilgrim. First, it transforms his relationship with the material creation around him, making all things transparent, changing them into a sacrament of God’s presence. He writes:

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When I prayed with my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that everything proved the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise. Thus it was that I came to understand what The Philokalia calls ‘the knowledge of the speech of all creatures’ . . .   I felt a burning love for Jesus and for all God’s creatures.

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In the words of Father Bulgakov, ‘Shining through the heart, the light of the Name of Jesus illuminates all the universe.’  (THE POWER OF THE NAME, pp 25-26)

BeLIEving the Lie 

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The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.  (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

In the Old Testament, Satan is nothing like God’s equal and opposite (namely, evil), but rather is just one of God’s angelic creatures who has a specific role to play in the heavenly court of being the accuser of humanity. In these texts, Satan is not particularly evil but recognizes human frailty and sinfulness and has the desire to bring this information, and accusation, to God. Satan’s desire is that God will be true to His just nature, judging the humans for their failures. One only has to consider Satan in Job 1-2 to see Satan as the figure who is trying to disabuse God of His love for humanity as being misplaced because in Satan’s opinion humans are not trustworthy. Later tradition portrays Satan as being jealous of God’s love for humans and hopes to redirect God’s favor to himself by discrediting the humans.

As Peter Schafer has noted, Satan is not a figure of complete evil here. He represents the principle of justice and wants to make the claim that Israel does not deserve forgiveness.  (Gary Anderson, IN DOMINICO ELOQUIO – IN LORDLY ELOQUENCE, p 20)

11244902215_459a327fbd_wSatan’s rebellion against God is because Satan doesn’t want God to be merciful and forgiving, but rather he wants God to be completely just – demanding retribution and satisfaction against humanity for every sinful infraction of which humans are guilty.  We Christians should contemplate this: the one demanding God be absolutely just and thus condemning sinners is Satan!  God remains true to His nature as Love and is ever willing to forgive or work with His human creatures, and thus rejects Satan’s demand for absolute justice. Even the story of Adam and Eve’s Fall in Genesis 3 doesn’t happen purely by human design, for Satan is willing to trick and trap the humans into rebelling against God. And the humans comply, and complicity do Satan’s bidding. Several Church Fathers noted it is only Satan, not Adam and Eve, who is cursed by God for sinning. For example, St Irenaeus writes:

The whole curse, however, fell upon the serpent who seduced them: And God said to the serpent, [the Scripture] says, because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle and above all wild animals on the earth (Genesis 3:14). The same thing the Lord said in the Gospel to those who will be found on his left, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). thereby indicating that eternal fire was not prepared originally for humankind, but for him who seduced humankind and caused humans to sin; for him I say, who is the prince of the rebellion, and for the angels who together with him became rebels.  (AGAINST HERESIES Book 3, p 107)

38195829935_4831a43b3b_wEve and Adam are appropriately disciplined by God for their infraction, but they are not cursed. Rather they are put at enmity with Satan who is cursed by God.

It takes a long time for Satan as the purely Evil One to emerge in the Scriptures. Some scholars feel that Satan as the Evil One really emerges in Israel rather late in its history under Babylonian influence. The Jews in exile and captivity in Babylon are influenced by the more dualistic theological ideas they encounter among their conquerors, and Satan grows in evil and power. By the time of the New Testament, Satan is deemed the father of lies in the New Testament and a murderer (John 8:44). Satan seems to have much more control over the earth and its inhabitants. Christ however comes to expose Satan as truly powerless since all power comes from God. In the presence of Christ, the demons even have to ask His permission to depart – they have absolutely no power in God’s presence. I have made that point numerous times in these blogs as some Christians seem to treat Satan as God’s equal and opposite and act as if we do live in a dualistic world torn between good (God) and evil (Satan), but that isn’t the witness of the entirety of Scripture, but only those parts which absorbed the dualistic influence of the culture around God’s people. Partly this may have occurred because people wonder reasonably if God is all powerful, why is there so much evil present in the world and in humans who are created in God’s image and likeness? If God is all powerful, why do His people suffer oppression?

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As St Irenaeus notes from Matthew’s Gospel, the hell fires were created for Satan and his demons, not for humans. Satan and all his doings are temporary, not eternal and they belong to the fallen world which will pass away (Revelation 20:13-14). As God’s people, we do not need to live in fear of Satan’s activities as Satan’s world is passing away. There may be one area where we Christians though do need to pay attention to Satan’s influence. Satan is the father of lies, and those who lie and spread lies or disinformation or conspiracy theories all allow themselves to be under Satan’s influence.  It is never acceptable for Christians to use lies to discredit political opponents or enemies because God never lies (Titus 1:2).  With the internet and social media, lies spread faster and more broadly than ever. We should never participate in them or spread them because in so doing we show a rejection of God and a desire to follow the father of lies. Think about St Paul’s words which are a warning against those who embrace lies or spread them because these lies agree with their own political interests. If we choose to spread lies, God will allow a “strong delusion” to overtake our minds pushing us further away from God the Truth:

And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Christ Glorified in You and You in Him 

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… that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:12)

St Paul speaks about our union with Christ in glowing terms: that Christ may be glorified in us and we in Him. When we are united with Christ, we share in the life of the Holy Trinity. We are in God and God is in us. Archimandrite Aimilianos rejoices in this, our salvation:

“And when I receive Christ, when I see Him, I feast my eyes on the living God and rejoice in Him. Even in my state of spiritual decay, even in my sin, in the abyss into which I’ve fallen, in the dark cloud that overshadows me, in my eternal midnight, I can still remember that the apostles have assured me that they saw the living Christ. Thus Christ lives, he who is my life lives, and, at any moment, with one ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ that life can become mine, and, dead as I was, I can be filled to bursting with life.”  (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 171)

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God is actively seeking union with us and has prepared the way to make this salvation possible in Christ. That salvation can happen in an instant (as with the Wise Thief) or it may take a life time of seeking God as we fall away at moments and then seek to return to God in repentance. Whether immediate or long term, the end is the same: we abide with Christ in heaven and He abides in us. We receive the fullness of Christ – all that He is:

“… Jesus Christ is described in a plethora of images: the Prophet, the King, the Messiah, the High Priest, the Lamb and the Suffering Servant, to name a few. Each of these images, and the many others, contain a vital insight into the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is himself more than any one of these particular elements.”  (John Behr, THE WAY TO NICEA, p 74)

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Christ does not withhold Himself from us.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Striving to Live the Lord’s Way 

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But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-16)

St Paul encourages us to not to keep company with those who claim to be Christian but then who don’t attempt to follow the teachings of the New Testament. However, he also admonishes us not to treat these straying Christians as enemies, but as brothers and sisters who have lost their way (Paul actually does this in his confrontation of Peter as he reports in his letter to the Galatians, 2:11-16). We are not to hate them, but to love them in order that we might obey Christ and be at peace with those around us.

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Paul also encourages us not to lose heart and grow weary in well doing just because life is difficult. He wants us to strive to follow Christ in as many ways as we can – not just in prayer, but in practicing all the virtues as well. As we read from the 6th Century anonymous monk now called Pseudo-Macarius who inspires us to imitate Christ and to obey His gospel commandments:

If a person pushes himself to attain prayer alone, when he has none, in order to attain its grace, without striving earnestly for meekness and humility and charity and all the other commandments of the Lord, neither taking pains nor struggling and battling to succeed in these as far as his choice and free will go, he may at times be given a grace of prayer with some degree of repose and pleasure from the Spirit according as he asks. But he has the same traits he had before. He has no meekness, because he did not seek it with effort and he did not prepare himself beforehand to become meek. He has no humility, since he did not ask for it and did not push himself to have it. He has no charity toward all men, because he was not concerned with it and did not strive for it in his asking for the gift of prayer. And in doing his work, he has no faith or trust in God, since he did not know that he was without it. And he did not take the pains to seek from the Lord for himself to have a firm faith and an authentic trust.

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For just as he forces himself to prayer, even when unwilling, so everyone must push himself likewise to trust, so also to humility, so to charity, so to meekness, sincerity, and simplicity, so ‘unto every patience and long-suffering with joy’ (Colossians 1:11), so also to regard himself as little and to consider himself as poor and the least of all. He strives not to speak without profit, but always to be concerned to speak the things of God with mouth and heart. He is attentive not to become angry and loud-mouthed according to the saying, ‘Let all bitterness and anger and clamoring be put away from you, with all malice’ (Ephesians 4: 31). He strives to live according to all the ways of the Lord, in the practice of virtue and good and noble conduct, to possess all manifestations of goodness, of humility, of meekness, never being proud and high-minded and puffed up and never to speak against any one.  (THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, pp 147-148)

Christ Our Peace and Christian Unity 

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For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-22)

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St Paul describes Jesus Christ as “our peace” referring to Christ’s bringing an end to the division between Jews and Gentiles. In Christ, we have been created as a “new man” – a new humanity which is God’s faithful people now constituted by everyone in the human race who accepts God’s love and salvation. St Gregory of Nyssa comments:

Who, after all, is as peaceable as he who ‘brought the hostility to an end‘ (cf. Ephesians 2:16) and ‘nailed it to the cross‘ (cf. Colossians 2:14); he who reconciled to himself us, his enemies – or better, the whole cosmos – and ‘has broken down the dividing wall… in order that he might create in himself one new humanity, so making peace‘ (Ephesians 2:14-15); he who ‘preached peace,’ through those who brought the message of good things, to people who were ‘far off‘ and to people who were ‘near at hand‘ (Ephesians 2:17)?

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And who is such a temple builder as the one who has set his ‘foundations … upon the holy mountains‘ (Psalm 86:1), that is, upon the prophets and the apostles, but laying, as the apostle says, ‘upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets‘ (Ephesians 2:20) stones that their living (cf. 1 Peter 2:5) and ensouled, which by their own agency are rolled up to contribute to the structure of the walls, as the prophet says, so that, being ‘joined together‘ in the unity of the faith and in the ‘bond of peace‘ (Ephesians 4: 3) they have of themselves so increased the holy temple that it has become ‘the dwelling place of God in the spirit’ (Ephesians 2:22)?  (HOMILIES ON THE SONG OF SONGS, p 215)

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Christ has united all people into one human race, which is also a holy temple in whom God dwells. This one people is also the Body of Christ. All the divisions and inequalities which resulted from the Fall of Adam and Eve have been overcome in the unity which is Christ’s. Not only are we humans no longer separated from God because of the salvation in Christ, we are not separated from each other. We are to be a new humanity in Christ, united by love for one another. Anti-semitism, clericalism, misogyny, nationalism, political polarization, social class – all belong to the old fallen order and are not to be part of the Church.

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

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And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

The Righteous Gideon 

52470305086_995e17f10d_wToday the Church commemorates the Righteous Gideon, a righteous man of the Old Testament.  We first meet Gideon in the narrative of Judges 6 –

Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Pray, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this befallen us? And where are all his wonderful deeds which our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:11-13)

Gideon speaks what is on his heart and mind, even to an angel of the Lord (though at the beginning of the narrative Gideon has not yet recognized to whom he is speaking). The angel honors Gideon telling him that the Lord is with him.  But Gideon finds this puzzling, for he does not see the Lord being with his fellow Israelites as Israel is in a downtrodden position and the Lord’s saving acts for Israel are all ancient history.  To Gideon it appears that God has in fact abandoned His people for God has not recently done anything great for them.

Note also that while the angel tells Gideon that the Lord is with him, Gideon understands himself as part of Israel.  If God is not with all of Israel, then from Gideon’s viewpoint, God is not with him either. Gideon sees salvation as something that affects all of God’s people, not just an individual.

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Gideon expresses a lament to the angel of the Lord about the current condition of God’s people.  It is wonderful in the distant past that God was with His people, but such ancient wonders do little, Gideon says, for the people in Gideon’s day. Eventually Gideon realizes the ‘man’ speaking with him is actually an angel of the Lord and he is pretty dismayed and terrified that he has been talking so openly and casually with God’s angel:

51724901269_b847b571da_wThen Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD; and Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it, The LORD is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites. (Judges 6:22-24) 

Gideon realizes something has been revealed to him that few others have experienced and he is literally scared to death. The angel assures Gideon that all will be fine by blessing him with peace. This so stuns Gideon that he builds an altar to honor the God of peace.

While many think of God as terrifying and threatening (Hebrews 10:31, 12:29), God also reveals Himself to us as Peace (for example, see: 1 Chronicles 23:25; Psalm 85:8; Isaiah 9:6; Romans 15:33, 16:20; Philippians 4:7) and we should call this to mind and worship our God of Peace. It is ok to offer lamentation to God for the way things are on earth, and even to question God as to “why?” It is within the spiritual tradition to be troubled about what God does or is doing or isn’t doing, but that also needs to be paired with trust and hope in the God of Peace – that God’s Wisdom does govern the universe.