Unity in Christ

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”  (John 17:20-23)

“But a common faith was not the sole mark of unity; mutual love was its other and perhaps even more crucial indicator. Cyprian quotes 1 Corinthians 13:8 (“Love never ends…”) and declares:

It will exist forever in the kingdom, it will endure forever in the union of the brethren among themselves. Disunion cannot attain to the kingdom of heaven, nor can one who has violated the love of Christ by wicked dissension win the reward of Christ, who said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” [John 15:12].”

Thus schism, the fracturing of ecclesial unity, is almost always characterized as a breach of love; and as love is the greatest of virtues, so schism is the worst of the vices. At the root of schism is that pride and self-righteousness that allowed some individuals to make extravagant claims to holiness for themselves. Where do schisms come from? Augustine asks–and then answers the question: “When people say, ‘We are righteous’; when they say, ‘We sanctify the unclean, we justify the impious, we make petition, we obtain [what we ask for].’

Ecclesial unity was not something to be cherished merely for its own sake, however. Its importance lay substantially in the fact that it mirrored the unity of the Godhead itself. “God is one,” writes Cyprian, “and Christ is one, and his Church is one, and there is one faith and one people joined together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.” Despite Cyprian’s emphasis on the idea of the Church as the reflection of God’s unity, the theme is even more evident in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, who preceded Cyprian by nearly a century and a half. The concord of its members, of its people and its ministers, images the unity of the Father and the Son.

‘Just as the Lord, then, being one with himself did nothing without the Father, either by himself or through the apostles, so neither must you do anything without the bishop and the presbyters. And you must not attempt to convince yourselves that anything you do on your own account is right, but there must be in common, one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope in love, in flawless joy, that is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better. Come together, all of you, as to one temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father and yet remained with one and returned to one.'”

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp.104-105)

All Saints of North America
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St. Paul Apostle to the Nations

Today, June 29, we honor the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.   St John Chrysostom, whom many in the Orthodox world think is the greatest Patristic interpreter of St. Paul, writes that though we honor the saints, we are also confronted by the fact that the saints did not escape trials and tribulations in their own life times.  Rather, the saints learn in and from their tribulations about themselves, about the world and about God, and are thus able to find benefit even in events most of us want to avoid.

Chrysostom says:

“That tribulation served the purpose of the Saints can be heard from David the Prophet, who said: ‘It is good for me Lord, that I have been in trouble, that I might learn thy statutes.

Paul said, ‘I was caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise. Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’

By “messenger of Satan” Paul does not refer to particular demons, but to men serving the devils: unbelievers, tyrants, heathens, all who constantly troubled him. ‘God,’ he said, ‘permitted these persecutions that I might not be too much exalted.’ 

Although Paul, Peter and others like them are holy and wonderful men, yet they are but men, and require much caution lest they should allow themselves to be too easily exalted. Nothing is as likely to cause one to presume a high state for himself than a conscience full of good works and a soul that lives in unquestioning confidence.”   (Afflictions of Man, O LOGOS Publications,  p. 4)

Chrysostom notes the holy people recognize that suffering and setbacks contribute to our own humility, and they recognize the need for this humility because they recognize themselves as being chosen and favored by God.  Chrysostom’s warning is note-worthy – who suffers the most from sinful pride?  Those whose conscience is full of good works and thus is full of confidence that God will reward them.   St. Paul admits:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-4)

Rather than focusing on all the good things we do – even when done for God – godly wisdom has us focus on God’s love for us.  This reminds us of our need to love others as God loves us.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

The saints are not those whose consciences are made clean by all the good works they did, but rather are those who experienced the love of God and endeavored love God in their own lives.

Justification by Faith

“‘Justification’ (and related words like ‘righteousness,’ all of which come from the same Greek root) has often been understood as a legal (judicial, forensic) concept. It is associated with the image of God as a judge rendering a ‘not guilty’ verdict to the guilty. However, although there is certainly a judicial dimension to justification…, it is now generally understood as a much more relational and especially covenental concept than previously recognized (cf. Rom. 5:1-11, where it is paired with ‘reconciliation’). To be justified is to be restored to right covenantal relations now, with certain hope of acquittal on the future day of judgement (Rom. 5:9-10; Gal. 5:5).

‘Faith’ is likewise a covenantal term that implies not merely intellectual assent, but faithfulness–a total commitment of the self from the heart that is more akin to loyalty, obedience, and devotion (as in ‘love of God’) than to ‘belief’ or even ‘trust’ (though each of these must still be understood to be part of faith). A growing number of scholars–approaching a consensus–believe Galatians 2:15-21, like Romans 3:21-26 and Philippians 3:2-11, speaks not only of our faith but of Christ’s faith, understood in this covenantal way as his faithfulness. Space does not permit an argument for this interpretation, but it is recognized in the NRSV margin and will be adopted as the basis for the commentary below. Specifically, it affects two verses…. The NRSV marginal translation (our interpretation) means that Paul understands Christ’s death as his faithfulness to God in giving himself on the cross “for me” (us–Paul speaks representatively), and that it, rather than our performance of the works of the Law, is the basis of our right relationship with God.” (Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, p. 201).

The Church According to St. Paul

“The second reality that Paul engages is the assembly (Greek ekklesia) of the Greco-Roman city (Greek polis). The ekklesia was something like the city council, a group of male elders who met to deliberate about local issues and to ensure that the polis was faithful to its heritage and values. The ekklessia had the additional duty–especially if the polis happened to be a Roman colony and/or home to the imperial cult (e.g., Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus)–of dutifully and creatively expressing its loyalty to Rome and to its lord and savior, the reigning emperor.

Paul uses the term ekklesia for “the church” as a term of both continuity and discontinuity. On the one hand, it designates the assembly of believers who affirm Jesus as Lord and constitute the renewed “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). On the other hand, this assembly exists as an alternative ekklesia and even an alternative polis, since it incorporates not just a few leaders but an entire believing community. It exists as a counterculture to embody the values of its true savior and lord, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

The church, therefore, is a visible, even a “political” reality rather than just a group with invisible “spiritual” bonds, whose mission it is to be a living commentary on the gospel it professes, the story of the Lord (Jesus) in whom the church exists and who lives within the assembly. (See especially Phil 2:1-15.)   As such, the church reflects the character of the God revealed in Christ. This countercultural community is not produced by human effort, nor does it occur to perfection overnight; it is a process of divine activity and communal and personal transformation (e.g., Rom 12:1-2; I Thess 3:11-13; 5:23-28). To be holy is to be different, different from those outside the church and different from the way we used to be, changed from what was “then” to what is “now” (Gal 4:8-9; I Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:1-6; Col 3:1-7).” (Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul, pp. 133-134)

Salvation and Slavery

St. Nicholas Cabasilas  writing in the 14th Century turns to the imagery of slavery to explain what it is to become a Christian.   Building upon the images and metaphors of St. Paul’s epistles, St. Nicholas explains both how becoming a Christian is like becoming a slave, and simultaneously how this activity is totally different than the idea of slave and master which was known in the world.

“The blessed Paul makes all things clear in a brief saying, ‘you are not your own, you were bought with a price’ ( 1 Cor 6:19-20).  He who has been purchased does not regard himself but Him who has purchased him, and lives according to His will.

A slave is purchased by a master to accomplish the master’s will.  The slave’s purpose for existence is to serve the will, and even the whims of the master.  Slaves are property, chattel, not human beings.

In the case of men, the slave is bound to the wish of the his master, but only in body; in his mind and reason he is free and can use them as he pleases.   But in the case of him whom Christ has bought it is impossible for him to be  his own.  Since no man has ever bought a complete man, and there is no price for which it is possible to purchase a human soul, so no one has ever set a man free or enslaved him save with respect to his body.

St. Nicholas says slavery is about enslaving the body, for no one can enslave the soul – the person’s inner self and thoughts.  The slave may not be free to express those inner thoughts, but the master can never completely control them.  Christ pays a price for others that includes their souls.   Those for whom Christ pays the price are owned body and soul by Christ, for Christ is not interested only in getting bodily work from someone. Christ in love wishes to share His wealth, His life with those He buys.  And the price Christ pays is not a finite sum of money, but rather He pays with His own blood, He spends His entire being in order to take possession of those who would be His slaves.

The Savior, however, has bought the whole of man.  While men merely spend money to buy a slave, He spent Himself.  For our freedom He surrendered body and soul by causing the one to die and by depriving the other of its own body.

Not only does Christ the Master, pay in His own blood, He dies to give freedom to His slaves – freedom from sin and death.  Christ liberates those held captive by Satan and Death.  He does this by His own sacrificial death.  He gives His entire being to purchase His slaves in order to set them free!

His body suffered pains by being wounded; His soul was troubled, and that not merely when the body was slain, but even before it was wounded, as He said, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’ (Mt 28:38).  . . .  Because of the fact that it was our will which He was seeking, He did not violence to it nor took it captive, but He bought it.

Christ does not forcibly impose His slavery on us.  He pays the full price for our redemption, in order to allow us the freedom to accept or reject the salvation He offers.   He dies to liberate us from death, but makes it an offering, that we are free to accept or reject.  We have to use our wills to chose to embrace what Christ offers for us and to us.

 . . . He who spent money for a slave did not spend it with the aim of conferring benefits on him who he has bought, but rather that he himself might derive benefit by exploiting his labors.  The slave is, as it were, being spent for the profit of those who have acquired him and through whom he suffers misery, and gathers pleasures for them while he himself is subject to constant sorrows.

Slavery in the world is not done for the benefit of the slaves, but purely for the benefit of the masters.  The slave himself or herself is then spent, exhausted for the good of the master.  The slave benefits nothing and is tasked with always benefiting the master who owns him or her.  Not so with the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the case of the slaves of Christ the opposite is true, for everything has been accomplished for their benefit.  He paid the ransom, not in order to enjoy  anything from those who have been ransomed, but in order that what is His might belong to them, and that the Master and His labors might profit the slaves, and that he who has been purchased might himself wholly possess Him who has purchased him.

Slavery to Christ means possessing Christ!  Christ pays the price of our redemption with His own blood in order that we might possess Him!   After paying for us with His own blood, He then gives us His Kingdom.  He holds nothing back from us but gives us everything, even eternal possession of His Kingdom.

 . . . Among men the law makes the masters lords over their slaves and possessions unless they renounce their domination or release them from servitude.  In this case, however, the slaves possess their own Master and inherit that which is His when they love His yoke and regard themselves as bound by His act of purchase.  This is why Paul commanded, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4), meaning by ‘the Lord’ Him who has purchased them.”  (THE LIFE IN CHRIST, pp 220-222)

Heavenly Delight

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”  (Luke 6:21)

“God does not demand or desire that someone should mourn out of sorrow of heart; He wants him to rejoice in love for him with the laughter of the soul. Take away sin and then the sorrowful tears that flow from the eyes will be superfluous. Why look for a bandage when you are not cut? Adam did not weep before the fall, and there will be no tears after the resurrection when sin will be abolished, when pain, sorrow, and lamentations will have taken flight.”  (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 7.49, 50, from Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, p. 227)

Appearance is Deceiving

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

“Furthermore, we have given ourselves a very serious problem our ancient ancestors did not have. In our own time, in which we jog and diet and generally believe that there must be an intimate connection between virtue, physical beauty, health and a person’s worth, we make outcasts of those among us who do not measure up: the old, the fat, the young but unattractive, the handicapped. That we have discovered that there is no real physical basis for believing in a ‘body-soul dualism’ provides us with a reason to value people in terms of what they look like and what they are able to do physically. Our churches are as guilty of this amazing confusion as any other group. This is a theology of ‘wholeness’ that benefits the strong and ignores the weak. It certainly stands in opposition to the Christian way of life … (Roberta C. Bondi, To Love as God Loves, p. 65)

St. John the Forerunner

The Prayer of Elder Paisios

“In the abundance of your mercy, O Jesus, You called publicans, sinners and unbelievers.  Like them, despise me not, but as precious myrrh accept this song…”    (Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus)

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

A friend sent me the following Prayer of St Paisios  (d. 12 July, 1994).  It is a beautiful prayer for the needs of all the people of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ:

Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.
Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.
On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.
On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.
On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.

Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.
Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.
On troubled families and those who have been divorced.
Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.

Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.
Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.
On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.

Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.
Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.

Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.
On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.
On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.
Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.

Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.
Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our country in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.

(BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.
Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.
Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.
Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.

Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.

Keeping a Strict Fast

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

As we continue to sojourn through the Apostle’s Fast as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, we are reminded that whether or not we strictly keep food fasting rules, we are as Christians obligated to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another as He loves us .

The monastic elders stressed conversion, compassion, and forgiveness, which they saw as far more important than the most extreme ascetic practices.

As one elder declared, “If a man have humility and poverty and judge not another, that is how the fear of the Lord gets into him.”

Another elder taught, “It is better to eat meat and drink wine than by detraction to devour the flesh of your brother.” (Jim Forest, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, p. 31)

St. Nicholas Cabasilas: How to Be a Saint

St. Nicholas Cabasilas  writing in the 14th Century in his THE LIFE IN CHRIST, offers a vision for how to live as a Christian that makes discipleship accessible to all.  In his book, he does not see Christ demanding extreme asceticism from all Christians, but he does believe Christ offers holiness to every Christian.  His words might be a good framework for all of us to see how we can move the Church in America from honoring a few past Saints in North America to seeing all of us as being called to be the saints in North America.  First, St. Nicholas reminds us that all of  us have to consider what virtues we need in our particular lives to fully follow Christ in the vocation which we have chosen or to which we were called:

No one would claim that the same virtues are needed by those who govern the state and those who live as private citizens, or by those who have made no further vow to God after the baptismal washing and those who live the monastic life and have taken vows of virginity and poverty and thus own neither property nor their own selves. (p 160)

St. Nicholas recognizes that the president of the country and congressional leaders are in need of specific and special virtues to help them do their jobs properly.  Not everyone is in their positions, those who aren’t are going to need other virtues.  Same is true of those who have chosen to be monks or priests – they need to develop particular virtues to fulfill their roles.  The laity whether married or single and all non-monastics need  to cultivate particular virtues in order to live “in the world” as Christians.  In this sense the laity cannot just imitate monks to faithfully live their life in Christ.  Monastics will not always be the right role model for the non-monastics.  St. Nicholas uses the example that monastics have already given up possessing private property – so they aren’t going to be as focused on the virtue of charity as working people should be.    We, the non-monastics need to think long and hard about what virtues do we need to be faithful to God in the 21st Century world in which we live.  Which virtues do spouses need?  Which virtues do parents need?  Which virtues do we need in each profession or workplace in which we find ourselves?

If we share in His blood we must share in His will.  We cannot be joined to Him in some ways, and yet be separated from Him in others, neither can we love Him in one way and be hostile to Him in another, not be His children on the one hand and worthy of blame on the other.  . . .    It follows, therefore, that he who has chosen to live in Christ should cling to that Heart and that Head, for we obtain life from no other source.  But this is impossible for those who do not will what He wills.   It is necessary to train one’s purpose, as far as it is humanly possible, to conform to Christ’s will and to prepare oneself to desire what He desires and to enjoy it, for it is impossible for contrary desires to continue in one and the same heart.   (p 161)

While receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is essential to our weekly lives as Christians, it is not sufficient for salvation.  We have to share in doing Christ’s will.  We have to know what the will of the Lord is and figure out how to imitate Christ in our daily lives.   This isn’t simply following a bunch of rules and rituals, which might be what monastic obedience requires.  We have to read the Gospels to learn how to imitate Christ in the work-a-day world, in our homes and neighborhoods.  To be Christian is to be Christlike – but we are to be Christ like in our marriages, on our jobs, when interacting with our fellow parishioners or when being neighborly to friends and strangers.  What we need to pay attention to is the particular Gospel lessons that help us live each day in dealing with other people and with the problems we face as home owners, citizens of our country, as employees or employers.

When we thus greatly love Him we become keepers of His commandments and participants in His purpose, for as he says, ‘he who loves Me will keep My commandments’ (Jn 14:15,21).   Besides, when we recognize how great is our own worth, we shall not readily betray it.  We will not endure being slaves to a runaway slave when we have found out that a kingdom is ours.  (p 165)

We have the responsibility as Christ’s disciples to know His commandments and to fulfill them in our lives.  As we know, Christ taught that His commandments are basically that we love God with all our soul, heart and mind and that we love one another as He has loved us.  We sometimes get so focused on minutiae of ritual and rule that we lose sight that all we do is to be done in love for God and neighbor.  When we forget love, we become ritualists.  It is easy to become Pharisees once we become ritualists.

St. Nicholas reminds us of our great worth – we are created to be the children of God!  God is giving us His Kingdom.  We are not slaves, but God’s own family.  God loves us as His children.

But Christ does not regard His servants as though they were slaves, nor does He bestow on them honors fit for slaves; He regards them as friends.  Towards them He observes rules of friendship which He has established from the beginning; He shares His own with them, not merely one or another part of His riches, but He gives the very kingdom, the very crown.  What else is it that blessed Paul has in view when he says that they are ‘heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’ (Rom 8:17), and that all those who have shared hardships with Christ reign with Him (2 Tim 2:12?  (p 167)

We are called to follow Christ in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  No need to change circumstances, though perhaps at times repentance does call us to make major changes in our lives.  However, we can be full Christians as parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, businessmen, civil servants, soldiers, and friends.

Thus the law of the Spirit is with reason a law of friendship and consequently trains us in gratitude.  There is no toil involved in applying ourselves to this law, neither is it necessary to suffer hardship or to spend money, nor is there dishonor or shame, nor shall we be worse off in any other respect.  It makes it no less possible to exercise our skills and it places no obstacle in the way of any occupation.  The general may remain in command, the farmer may till the soil, the artisan may exercise his craft, and no one will have to desist from his usual employment because of it.  One need not betake oneself to a remote spot, nor eat unaccustomed food, nor even dress differently, nor ruin one’s health nor venture on any reckless act.  It is possible for one who stays at home and loses none of this possession constantly to be engaged in the law of the Spirit.”  (pp 173-174)