The Essential Apostles 

32849929374_b16881dfcb_w

Each year on June 30 the Orthodox Church celebrates the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. The Apostles are not simply the first Christians, but are considered essential to Christianity for we know Christ only through their witness.  The Church in its creed claims to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”  These words are describing something essential about the Church – we do not simply believe in Jesus, we believe in Christ through the witness of the apostles – their witness is essential to what we each know about Christ.  Jesus chose them to be His witnesses, He didn’t write a book about Himself.  We rely on them for all that we know about Christ, about God, about salvation, about theology.  Fr John Behr notes how indispensable the apostles are to the Church from the very beginning:

Irenaeus [d. 202AD] further examines the relation between Scripture and tradition in the opening five chapters of his third book Against the Heresies, this time to counter the claim of the Gnostics to possess secret, oral traditions. He begins by affirming categorically that the revelation of God is mediated through the apostles. It is not enough to see the “Jesus of history” to see God, nor to imagine God as a partner with whom one can dialogue directly, bypassing his own Word. Rather the locus of revelation, and the medium for our relationship with God, is precisely in the apostolic preaching of him, the Gospel which, as we have seen, stands in an interpretative engagement with Scripture. The role of the apostles in delivering the Gospel is definitive. As Irenaeus puts it:

33823067894_5c9c7c57a1_w

We have learned from no others the plan of our salvation than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down (tradiderunt) to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…. Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, and laying the foundations for the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him.  Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish the Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.  These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the Law and Prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. (AH 3.1.1-2)  (John Behr, THE WAY TO NICEA, pp 38-39)

The apostles are essential to our salvation.  We would not know Jesus Christ if it were not for them, as they are Christ’s own plan for how the Gospel was to reach the world. St John Chrysostom says:

24345557415_fce897a063_w

Are you not aware of this, I ask you, that the Church is placed on earth but its life is lived in heaven? How does this emerge? The facts give clear proof: eleven disciples were under attack, and the whole world did the attacking; but those attacked had the victory, and the attackers were done away with.  The sheep prevailed over the wolves: do you see the shepherd sending the sheep amidst the wolves so that they would not achieve salvation even by flight? What sort of shepherd does this? Christ did it, however, to show you that good deeds are done not in the normal course of events but in defiance of nature and normal events. The Church’s roots, in fact, are stronger than heaven. But perhaps the Greek charges me with arrogance: let him await factual proof and learn the force of the truth, how the sun would more easily be snuffed out than the Church disappear. Who proclaims this, you ask? Its founder: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Instead of simply making this promise, he actually brought it to fulfilment; after all, why did he give it a firmer foundation than heaven? The Church, you see, is more important than heaven. For what reason does heaven exist? For the Church, not the Church for heaven. Heaven is for the human being, not the human being for heaven. This is clear from what he actually did: Christ did not take up a heavenly body. (OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 2, pp 82-83)

4624272487_8da3d01a9a_w

Christ did not envision a “Jesus alone” Christianity.  He envisioned His chosen disciples becoming apostles and bringing new generations of Christians into the Faith.  These new believers in turn would become those through whom the Gospel would be lived and proclaimed.  The Apostolic Church is the one founded upon the Apostles and who continue to honor and teach what the Apostles themselves proclaimed.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

In Praise of the Apostle Paul

32827594552_a9048b089e_w

June 29th is devoted to celebrating the memories of the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Paul is not among the original chosen disciples of Christ, but is brought by Christ into Christian leadership from outside the original circle of disciples.   As Jesus said:  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16). Christ expands His flock and His chosen leaders in order to increase the unity of the Church!

Origen, the great 3rd Century biblical scholar offers this accolade for St Paul:

From the love of God he cannot be separated; what he speaks he speaks in Christ; what he has in his conscience is controlled by the Holy Spirit. What heavens exist, I ask, what thrones are there, what minds of heavenly powers, though most expansive, are able to encompass the whole Trinity in such spacious rooms! (Origen, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, p 106A)

33651870416_b6aa94eee9_wOrigen believes St Paul is guided by the Holy Spirit in his interpretation of the Old Testament which is why Paul’s epistles are the proper interpretation of the Old Testament and essential for all Christians to understand:

Paul says somewhere in writing to the Corinthians: “For we know that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink.  For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1Cor 10:1-4).

You can see how different Paul’s tradition is from the historical reading: what the Jews think is a crossing of the sea, Paul calls baptism; where they see a cloud, Paul puts the Holy Spirit; and it is in this way that he wants us to understand what the Lord commanded in the gospels when he said: “Whoever is not born again of water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Jn 3:5). And the manna too, which the Jews think of as a food for the stomach and satisfaction for hunger, Paul calls “spiritual food” (I Cor 10:3). And not just Paul, but the Lord too, says in the same gospel: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  Whoever eats of the bread which I give him will not die for ever” (cf. Jn 6:49, 50). And right after that: “I am the bread which comes down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). Hence Paul speaks quite openly about “the rock which followed them”: “And the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). How then are we to act, who have received such principles of interpretation from Paul, the teacher of the church?  Does it not seem right that such a method coming to us from the tradition should serve as a model in all other instances? Or shall we, as some would like, abandon what so great and holy an apostle has given us and turn back to “Jewish myths” (Tit 1:14)?   (SPIRIT AND FIRE, pp 204-205 A)

5875726446_8ea8bb056c_w

St Paul not only is a leading Christian interpreter of the Old Testament, he also helps us to understand Christ’s own teachings. Modern biblical scholar James Dunn offers us some of the times in which St Paul is obviously referring to Christ’s own words in his epistles.  He gives us these examples of Paul’s words followed by the teaching of Christ found in the Gospels:

Rom. 12.14 – “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse”;

Luke 6.27-28 – “Love your enemies . . .bless those who curse you”; Matt 5.44 – “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Rom 14.14 – “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is profane (ouden koinon) in itself”;

Mark 7.15 – “there is nothing outside a person . . . which is able to defile him (ouden estin . . . ho dynatai koinosai).”

1 Cor 13.2 – “If I have all faith so as to move mountains;

Matt. 17:20 – “If you have faith . . . you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,’ and it will move.

4264223704_9133db0ec8_w

1 Thes. 5.2,4 – “You yourselves know well that the day of the Lord is coming like a thief in the night . . . you are not in darkness that the day will surprise you like a thief”;

Matt 24.43 – “Know this that if the householder had known at what watch the thief was to come, he would have watched.

1Thes. 5.13 – “Live at peace among yourselves (eireneuete en heautois);

Mark 9.50 – “Live at peace with on another” (eireneuete en allelois).

(THE THEOLOGY OF THE APOSTLE PAUL, pp 650, 651)

Of the Flesh or of the Heart? 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.  (Romans 2:28-29)

38195836555_aeba54e01a_wSt Paul’s comments above are a great example of how Christianity relied on a ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the Old Testament rather than a merely literal one.  Circumcision certainly has a literal meaning, and its literal sense is one of the things that distinguished Jews from Gentiles. Paul, however, argues that it is the spiritual meaning of circumcision to which God’s people should pay attention (which no doubt came as a surprise to many Jews for whom circumcision is the most fleshly of acts).  He is not the first or the only one ‘spiritualizing’ a biblical text as Judaism in the first century had embraced such interpretations of their Scripture just as pagans were doing to their written texts. It was a common and accepted way to read sacred writings in this time period.  Paul in accepting a spiritual interpretation of the commandment regarding circumcision sets a pattern which Christians will follow in history for making the ‘Jewish’ Scriptures their own.

Paul accepts that the Law (the Old Testament) requires circumcision of all Jewish males, but his argument is that the Law is spiritual, coming from God, so its purpose is mostly spiritual.  The commandment of ‘circumcision’ is therefore not just about the flesh, but is spiritual and it is only its spiritual meaning with which God is concerned.  One could be physically circumcised and yet not be faithful to God, thus not a real Jew. The outward or fleshly sign does not determine the inward or spiritual nature of a person. Circumcision for Paul is an external sign of what is supposed to be an inward (spiritual) state.  God is concerned about the heart, whether or not one is physically circumcised.  Circumcision as it turns out is about faith, the heart, one’s relationship to God, more than about a fleshly act. Circumcision is of the heart, not of the flesh in Paul’s understanding.  Thus, he will accuse Jews who keep physical circumcision of being fleshly but not spiritual (inward) 8271152404_c41179af30_wwhich was the opposite understanding that Jews had about the practice.  Circumcision was supposed to be a sign that one’s heart had changed and one was faithful to God.  St Paul says when the Jews reject Christ, they show they are not spiritual but rather are fleshly or slaves to fleshly practice denying the spiritual dimension of circumcision.  In reducing circumcision to a physical act, the Jews are in effect denying God rather than obeying God!

St Paul takes an action which seemingly is exclusively about the flesh – circumcision – and proclaims it a spiritual activity of the heart, more than that of the flesh. It is the same logic that allows Paul to claim in Galatians 4:21-31 that the Jews really are children of Hagar rather than of Sarah since they are more focused on the flesh (physical circumcision) rather than on the spirit (circumcision is a spiritual reality – of the heart – more than a physical one). St Paul turns Jewish claims on their head, saying they have totally misunderstood the purpose of the Law.  The Jews may claim to be physical descendants of Abraham through Sarah, but Paul says because they are not spiritually minded they really are related to Abraham through Hagar!   The symbolic interpretation of Scripture becomes the bedrock of Christian theology and scriptural interpretation.  Roman Catholic scripture scholar Louis Bouyer comments on how this thinking is adopted by early Christian writers by discussing Clement of Alexandria.

For Clement, the physical world is symbolic in its very essence, and it is this which prepares us to understand the symbolism of the Scriptures, . . .  Here we need to clarify the sense in which he understands this symbolism, for it is in the pure Jewish tradition.  For Clement, the contemplation of the physical world itself is to lead us to discover its spiritual – meaning by this, personal – character. . . the perception that this world, which may seem inanimate, is merely the covering and the translation of spiritual existences. . . And it is in having us discover the angels behind the cosmos by associating us with them that it prepares us, like them, to see Christ behind the whole of sacred history.  To this extent gnosis sees “behind the world the intelligible realities and, beyond these realities themselves, more spiritual ones” . . . This leads us towards a summit of gnosis which seems decidedly mystical, if this word is given the meaning of a divine vision transforming man into the image of what he sees.  The gnostic is called to “know God” . . .(Louis Bouyer, THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE FATHERS, pp 270-271)

49848348637_beb55a4b58_w

By looking for the spiritual meaning and divine depth of the Scriptures we become transformed into what we are reading and seeing.  The Law is not meant to just help us live in this world but rather is supposed to transfigure us so that we can enter into life in the world to come.  When we obey God we anticipate life in the Kingdom which is to come, and begin to make that Kingdom present in our own hearts, homes and lives.   When we can see what we are to become spiritually, it gives us direction in life and leads us to become what we are told to be by Christ.

All Saints (2021)

34023320430_48f1cbb6f3_wBut the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9)

8186737106_73a5092051_w

Opponents of Christianity have sometimes viewed the death of Christian saints as a sign that they were not protected or favored by God.  Inflicting suffering and martyrdom on the Christians was thought to be a victory over Christianity, just as crucifying Christ was thought to put a permanent end to Him.  However, the Wisdom of Solomon text above addresses the issue of how things viewed only from a human point of view appear quite differently in God’s eyes.  Those who die in Christ are alive in God’s Kingdom. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).  Christians are not defeated by martyrdom but translated from death to life.

In a text most likely written by a 4th Century Syrian monk, we find these comments about the saints:

 Concerning the glory of the Christians which their bodies in the resurrection will be deemed worthy to receive and how the bodies will be made radiant along with the soul.

47381932371_8c30f8834b_w

Just as the bodily eyes see all things distinctly, so also to the souls of the saints the beauties of the Godhead are manifested and seen. Christians are absorbed in contemplating them and they ponder over them. But to bodily eyes that glory is hidden, while to the believing soul it is distinctly revealed. This is the dead soul the Lord raises to life out of sin, just as he also raises up dead bodies as he prepares for the soul a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1, Is 65:127) and a sun of righteousness, giving the soul all things out of his Godhead.  (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 203A)

49978230898_8236ea45ff_w

According to this spiritual writing, the saints are those who see not only with their physical eyes but more significantly with the eyes of their soul.  They see all around them the spiritual realities that most people cannot see because they only use their physical eyes.  So the saints are not so much ones we can see, as they are those who themselves see the hidden mysteries of the spiritual world and of God.  Their lives are governed by the new vision given to them in Christ.  They are the ones who see reality, the world as it really is – a creation of God which reveals God to us.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

God Acts Towards Us Rather than Reacts to Us

51232093922_fe9638cef7_w

Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:42-48)

51060417132_3e9020d35b_w

St Nikolai Velimirovic offers us a meditation on how to live these Gospel commands:

Christ’s command that we do to others as we would that they do to us is so natural and so clearly good that it is a wonder and a shame that it has not long ago become a daily habit among men.  No man desires that others do him evil: let him therefore do no evil to others.  Every man desires that others do good to him: let him therefore do good to others.  Every man desires to be forgiven when he sins: let him therefore forgive the sins of others.  Every man desires that others be sad in his sadness and rejoice in his rejoicing: let him then be sad in the sadness of others and rejoice in their rejoicing.  Every man desires that others speak good of him and give him honor, feed him in hunger, visit him in sickness and protect him in persecution: let him do the same to others.

6995562377_33d2035923_w-1

This holds good both for individuals and for groups of people, neighboring tribes, nations and countries.  Were this to be adopted as the rule by all classes, nations and countries, all malice and conflict between classes would cease, as would enmity between nations and warfare between countries.  This is the medicine for all such sicknesses, and there is no other.

The Lord continues: For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye, for sinners also love those that love them? And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye, for sinners also do even the same? And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye, for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again?”  This means: if you wait for others to do good to you, and to repay this with good, you are doing no good thing.  Does God wait for men to deserve the sun’s warmth, and only then command the sun to shine? Or does he first act out of His charity and love? Charity is an active virtue, not a passive one. God has made this clear from the foundation of the world. From day to day since the world began, the Lord has, with His gracious hand, poured out rich gifts to all His creatures.  Were He to wait for His creatures first to give Him something, neither the world nor a single creature in it would exist.

24263077011_76a0f1e836_w

If we love only those who love us, we are merchants engaging in barter. If we do good only to our benefactors, we are debtors paying off our debts. Charity is not a virtue that simply pays off debts, but one that constantly lends. And love is a virtue that constantly lends without looking for repayment.  If we lend to those from whom we hope for a return, what are we doing by this? We are transferring our money from one cash-box to another, for that which we lend we consider to be our own, as much as when it was in our own hands. (HOMILIES Vol 2, pp 193-194)

Rejecting Retribution and Revenge 

28147347181_b06917d81b_w

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  (Matthew 5:38-41)

50283598391_0a23950775_w

The Gospel commands related to love are really difficult to obey, at least as long as we hold on to the values of this world rather than those of God’s Kingdom. Even the most ardent biblical literalist often assumes the command to turn the other cheek and not resist an evil person have to be taken within reason or are ideals that can only be accomplished when life is going well.  Otherwise, Christians would find themselves frequently beaten up and always as martyrs. Is that what Jesus really intended?  The martyrs and confessors thought so.

Christians today at times prefer retribution and revenge as forms of godly justice despite what Christ taught.  We demand the mythical creation stories be understood literally but then turn Christ’s direct commandments into ideals for which there are plenty of reasons to avoid obeying literally.  Christians often prefer the image of justice carrying both the scale and sword rather than of Christ carrying His cross.

5123201690_f89abde60d_w

St John Chrysostom comments that maybe we have mixed things up a bit.  The Old Testament may have allowed an eye for an eye in dealing with others, but Christ says the only eye we should pluck out is our own when it causes us to sin.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9; see also Matthew 5:29 – many Christian scholars say when Christ repeats the same teaching it means He emphasizes it).  The Old Testament may have allowed revenge as a form of justice, but Christ leads us to a new way of dealing with sin – we are to rid ourselves of sin rather than attempting to rid others of their sins or, worse, of getting rid of others who sin against us.  Chrysostom writes:

You see, while there is nothing remarkable for anyone in the age of grace to be found free of resentment, forgiving enemies their sins and sparing abusers – that is, after the death of Christ, after such wonderful forgiveness of sins, after the directives redolent of sound values – in the Old dispensation, by contrast, when the Law permitted an eye to be plucked out for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and vengeance to be taken on the wrongdoer in equal terms, who amongst the listeners is not struck by someone found to surpass the norm of the commandments and attain to New Testament values? Is there anyone of those failing to imitate him whom he would not show devoid of both pardon and excuse?     (OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 1, pp 10-11)

5713011534_874c20e8c0_w

Following Old Testament values may have been proper in Old Testament times, but we are living in the age of grace.  Many Christians love being freed from the constraints of the Old Testament Law, but revenge and retribution also belong to those old ideas which have been superseded by Christ.  The Old Testament Law is no longer the height of morality, but represents an antiquated way of living and is certainly not the values of the Kingdom which is to come.

God Provides

25293695051_2d42f6f96d_w

“… God provides for the angels and archangels, the cherubim and seraphim and the other invisible powers,

50661069198_1d9fa11f2b_w

the sun and the moon, 

50208012306_0802a99851_w

heaven and the earth and the sea,

41994932104_549fa328c1_w

the whole race of man,

45018063642_bf3d1ab43d_w

the animals,

51200602165_bb7d9d7b72_w

the plants, the seeds, the grasses,

51206194357_825ac252dc_w

the mists, the winds,

36354341962_a97e069570_w

the springs, the rivers,

51103682672_87324379a1_w

as well as their natural generation, growth and sustenance, or other such things.

(St John Chrysostom, ON THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD, p 37)

The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God

48988138066_8a2ea00cc0_w

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Romans 1:20-21)

50164233793_2ca47ae9a7_w

A number of modern believers debating with scientific materialists attempt to prove the existence of God from the order they perceive in the universe.  Church historian Robert Wilken notes, however that this wasn’t the logic or method of early Christian Apologists and evangelists.  Early on, the Christian teachers first believed in God as their Creator and only then saw the order in the universe.  They did not try to prove the existence of God from creation but rather because they knew God, they accepted that the created order emanated from God.  Creation was the result of God’s love, not proof of God’s existence.  They hoped to understand God’s will and purpose from the creation rather than using creation to prove there must be a Creator.  The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

51118334956_dc7d0212af_w

Wilken writes:

As much as the apologists were convinced that God’s fullest self-disclosure was in Christ they also recognized that God was known through creation.  Athenagoras, a contemporary of Justin, wrote that “heaven and earth are filled with God’s beauty” and from what is made people can know that God “must be one.” But early Christian thinkers offer no philosophical argument for the existence of God drawn from the world of nature.  When speaking of the revelation of God in creation they cite the Scriptures, usually Romans, “God’s invisible nature . . . is clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20), sometimes the psalm, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1).  They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather, they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God.  God was not a principle of explanation.  In seeking God they sought to understand the God they already knew. (THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, p 16)

51116170214_79b3e28dac_w

Contemplating creation can help us understand God, but only if we already believe in God. And without faith it is impossible to please God. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Looking to creation to somehow ‘prove’ God’s existence can turn God into a part of creation rather than the source and ground of our being.  God is not part of the created order and cannot be known by our reducing God to something that can be studied or proven by the created order.

51124080394_15ecd56300_w

We must avoid static, objectifying language, as if the Creator and his creature existed side by side.  Creatures exist only in God, in that creative will which is precisely what distinguishes him from his creation. (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 25)

51013488667_eedf28f5f8_w

We do believe that without the Creator God life is barren and meaningless. A faith in God comes because we believe life and created universe have some meaning and source beyond themselves, beyond a merely material existence. We begin to see the created order as not being purely empirical but as pointing to something beyond and outside the limits of material existence. We study creation not to prove God but to discern God’s purpose in creating things as they are.

The Blessedness of the Beatitude-Bearers

5629486093_252342e989_w

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 4: 3-12) 

St Symeon the New Theologian, offers us a vision of the blessedness of those who embody the Beatitudes in their own lives: 

Blessed are they, however, who have received Christ coming as light in the darkness, for they are become sons of light and of the day.

51098291765_53f309537f_w

Blessed are they who even now have put on His light, for they are clothed already with the wedding garment.  They will not be bound hand and foot, nor will they be cast into the everlasting fire.

Blessed are they who have seen the same Christ while in His body, but thrice-blessed are they who have seen Him intelligibly and spiritually and have worshipped Him, for they will not see death forever.  And do not doubt this when you see what happens on earth, for those condemned who are allowed to see the earthly emperor are immediately freed from the sentence which leads to death.

Blessed are they who daily feed on Christ with such contemplation and knowledge as the prophet Isaiah fed on the burning coal, for they are cleansed of every stain of both soul and body.

44788631031_70be26f7da_w

Blessed are they who hourly taste of the ineffable light with the mouth of their intellect, for they shall walk “becomingly as in the day” [Rom 13:13], and spend all their time in rejoicing.

Blessed are they who have recognized already here-below the light of the Lord as He Himself, for they shall not be ashamed when they appear before Him in the age to come.

Blessed are they who live always in the light of Christ, for they are and shall ever be His co-heirs and brothers both now and forever.

50618469796_6681614e43_w

Blessed are they who have kindled the light in their hearts even now and have kept it unquenched, for on their departing this life they shall go radiant to meet the Bridegroom, and go in with Him to the bridal chamber bearing their lamps.    (ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE  Vol 1, pp 166-167) 

Finding What is Pleasing to the Lord

50658191448_77ea7496eb_w

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. . . .  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:8-10, 17) 

St Sophrony offers a prayer – appropriate for the Day of the Holy Spirit – regarding finding what is pleasing to God and what the will of the Lord is:

“O Lord, unto Whom all hearts be open,

Thou knowest what things I have need of.

Thou art acquainted with my blindness and my ignorance,

Thou knowest my infirmity and my soul’s corruption;

But neither are my pain and anguish hid from Thee.

51232813506_ce041a6c56_w

Wherefore I beseech Thee, hear my prayer

And by the Holy Spirit teach me the way wherein I should walk;

And when my perverted will would lead me down other paths

Spare me not, O Lord, but force me back to Thee.

By the power of Thy love, grant me to hold fast to that which is good.

Preserve me from every word or deed that corrupts the soul;

From every impulse unpleasing in Thy sight

And hurtful to my brother-man.

51176223971_5fa221d76d_w

Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.

If it be Thy will that I make no answer,

Inspire me to keep silent in a spirit of peace

That causeth neither sorrow nor hurt to my fellow.

Establish me in the path of Thy Commandments

And to my last breath let me not stray from the light of Thine ordinances,

51168320437_ff7b2855e0_w

That Thy commandments may become the sole law of my being

On this earth and in all eternity. 

 (ON PRAYER, pp 180-181)