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)

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

4587898584_d0c96a04dc_w

The Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) in the early Church was treated as the last day and culmination of the 50 day great Feast which encompassed all the Church’s Spiritual experience of Pascha through Pentecost. It was the pinnacle and apex of the Christian life and experience of which Pascha, the Resurrection was but the beginning.  [So on Pascha night the Scripture we read is John 1:1-17 (“In the beginning“) and Acts 1:1-8 (the beginning of the Church).]  Historically in the this same 50 day period starting with Pascha, the disciples had grown in the faith from being fearful, cowering men behind locked doors, hiding from the world, after our Lord’s death to those boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah on the day of Pentecost. Michael Quenot comments on the terrified, hopeless disciples, cowered by the Lord’s crucifixion, who were to be transformed by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon their lives:

“It would be easier to imagine the apostle’s sadness at hearing that Jesus was going to His Father. Had they not left everything to follow Him? What would become of them without Him?  Knowing that nothing would ever be as it had once been, Christ promised them the ‘Comforter,’ the One who would be with them as well as lead them to Him, who is Himself the ‘Door’ and the ‘Truth.’ After the ‘cloud’ of the Old Testament, which was the tangible sign of God’s presence among His people, the descent of the Spirit on each believer becomes the divine presence within that person: the same Spirit that was active long before Pentecost, the One that inspired the many prophets, the One through whom the Virgin Mary conceived.

14249342377_ef665d9db6_w

He guided the old man Symeon; He inspired John the Baptist and many others. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 20:23). Jesus used this formula only after His Resurrection. During His earthly ministry, He healed, forgave, gave His flesh for food, but never directly gave the Spirit. As He promised the Samaritan woman: ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (Jn 4:13-14).”  (THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON, p 190)

5256157978_f8f2f36949_w

Christ gives His disciples the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit to whom He is united in the Holy Trinity, and shares with His friends (John 15:15) not just the gifts of the Spirit but the Spirit itself so that Christians can be fully united to the Holy Trinity. Christ destroys death in all its ugly, hostile and destructive power by transforming it into our path to eternal life so that we do not need to fear death because it too now serves God’s own will and purpose.  Death no longer separates us from our God and no longer has its poisonous sting.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

“Pentecost confirms the paschal message that death is no longer the mere absence of life, but that henceforth it can be transformed into the power of life.” (Michael Quenot, THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON, p 192)

We see in the Pentecost event Christ sharing with His disciples the power of the Holy Spirit just as God took from the same Spirit from Moses to share with the Israel’s leadership.

So the LORD said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.  (Numbers 11:16-17)

4587917216_dd3821f5cd_wBy ‘taking’ the Spirit from Moses, rather than simply giving the elders the Spirit, it is clear that it is the exact same Spirit that is given to Israel’s leaders.  God affirms to Moses that the Spirit to be given to Israel’s leadership is the Spirit which came upon him – they are not receiving a lesser Spirit.  The same is true of all of us Christians, we are receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit that revealed Christ, and as came upon the Theotokos and all the saints.  There is no lesser Spirit and no lesser portion given to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters in Baptism.  No Christian has a greater Spirit or more of the Spirit than any other.

And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:27-29)

The end result of the coming of the Holy Spirit is the transfiguring of all Christians.  On Pentecost we celebrate that each and every Christian has received the Spirit of our God.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

10352805796_00849e6676_w-1

And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved. (Joel 2:32)

Moses, the Law and the Prophets Serve Christ

8186036295_8bdd79d6e3_w

So when they had appointed Paul a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.  (Acts 28:23-24) 

5692052863_15cd6c4339_wSt Paul used Moses, the Prophets and all the Scripture (i.e., the Old Testament) to prove that Jesus was Lord, Savior and Messiah.  Moses and the Law were not greater than Jesus but rather witnesses to Christ and thus subservient to Christ.  Moses and the prophets are very important, but only because they bear witness to Christ.  Christ fulfills all that the Scripture and the Temple prophecies, prefigures and promises.  Christians in reading the Old Testament are not to make the Law their Lord or the Lord of other Christians or people.  As Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).   This is what the Apostles themselves concluded in their first council when Peter, the leader of the Apostles, said to the other apostles and elders of the Church regarding the Gentiles and the Law:  “Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke [namely, the Law] upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will”  (Acts 15:10-11).  James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, concurred with Peter when he spoke at the same council: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20).  Neither Peter nor James were antinomian or can be accused of advocating libertine ideas but they did understand that in Christ the Law is to love one another.

“No one – not even Moses – has ever seen God, but the only Son has declared him to men, and we have seen his glory, a glory which makes known the character of God himself [John 1:18; 1 John 4:12]. The theme set out here is one which underlies the whole of John’s gospel: Moses was the mediator of the law, the one through whom God made his glory known, but the son has not only seen God’s glory, he is himself the source of divine glory. Christ is a much greater figure than Moses – the real contrast is therefore between Christians and Moses since both are the recipients of revelation. The glory of Christ is greater than that of Moses, but it is nevertheless continuous with it, and Moses therefore bears witness to Christ, the lesser to the greater.

4918591731_e0f17b6d1c_w

… both of them [Apostles John and Paul] are using the ideas of wisdom, which has come to be associated in Jewish thought with the law. The divine plan was with God from the beginning, and was revealed to Israel on Sinai, just as the divine glory was reflected by Adam in the Garden, and then glimpsed again when the Law was given. Later rabbinic writings described the Torah as having been hidden with God since before creation. It is clear that for Paul the secret wisdom of God, hidden from creation and now revealed, is not the law but Christ; he is the divine plan for mankind, the image to which we are being conformed, and the glory of God – and John expresses the same belief in his own terms. Over against the Jewish claim that God’s eternal purpose was finally revealed at Sinai, we have the Christian claim that the Torah only pointed forward to the revelation made in Christ. As the result of a gigantic takeover bid, we find all the functions of the law attributed to Christ (cf Rom 8:3ff; 10:5ff).”   (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, p 148) 

Christians Can Only Be One in Community with Everyone

3776381258_1f02e4b27e_w

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)

The Lord Jesus in His final talk with His disciples before His arrest prayed to His Father for the unity of all Christians.  While it is an inspiring vision of all of His followers in each generation being one with all others, exactly in what way the Christians would be “one” and how that unity would be maintained among repentant sinners living in a fallen world was not spelled out.  Love was to be the glue to hold us all together along with the Holy Spirit indwelling in us.  However, we already see in the New Testament Christians disagreeing with one another (Paul and Peter are a major example).  Is it possible for millions of individuals to be of one heart and mind without each disappearing into the collective?  Would absolute agreement on every issue be required?  How much latitude for variation could be tolerated before unity was broken? Were Christians to be like Star Trek’s The Borg in which all individualism is given up in favor of the collective?  Was unity to be maintained by leaders who had despotic powers? Christians showed their humanity through history in the endless series of disputes, debates, disagreement, divisions, heresies, apostasies, schisms which have racked the Church.  St Paul recognizes that on just about any issue there will be ‘sides’ which he deals with in the framework of the strong and weak who have to learn to disagree and yet love one another (Romans 15:1-3).  Despite these problems, Christians were still guided by Christ’s vision even if they couldn’t live up to its ideals.  And in the Nicene Creed, we continue to profess a belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Oneness or unity is one of the four key elements by which the Church is recognized.

3755137775_9c9a8609d8_w

“The church is the body of Christ. The church is wholly centered on Christ and the Gospel, nurturing its communal faith and life by the power of the Spirit through sacrament, proclamation, teaching, practice and witness. It’s unity is confirmed by a common faith and life, not by one world organization controlled by a single center. It is a church which rejects both clericalism and congregationalism. It is shepherded by a hierarchy defined by conciliarity and the synodical system. The church lives by a synergy of gifts and talents of clergy and laity, together making up God’s people, all mutually supportive and accountable, all serving as the conscience of the church, all being the guardians of the faith.”   (Theodore Stylianopoulos, THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 5)

It turns out that unity requires not only synergy with God’s Holy Spirit, but hard work by the membership to be loving, forgiving, humble, self-sacrificial, and harmonious to maintain our oneness with one another.  We Christians must each become like our Savior in our activity towards and reaction to other members.

34643523071_8c2c79954b_w-1

“The basis for ethical action is not one’s own convictions and judgments in regard to a substantive issue but rather one’s responsibilities towards others – not knowledge, but love, to reiterate the summary of this approach to ethics given in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. The Pauline Christian cannot do ethics monologically, reflecting in isolation on what is right and wrong, but can only make that discernment as a situated participant, in the context of human relationships: what is right or wrong in terms of one’s conduct cannot be specified in the abstract, but only in terms of a particular community setting, in relation to the others with whom one is placed.

Overall, then, what Paul seeks to do in Romans 14:1-15:13 to foster the corporate solidarity of the Christian congregation in Rome while legitimating differences of ethical practice. He seeks to undercut the basis on which some judge or despise others, and urges the priority of mutual up-building and the pursuit of peace, in order that those with differences might nonetheless welcome and accept one another. . . . This vision of a united community in which people with different convictions mutually welcome and accept one another, and together offer praise and glory to God through Christ, finally culminates in a series of scriptural quotations which describe the Gentiles (ta ethne) and God’s people Israel (o laos autou) together praising God (15:9-12) the quotations are chosen so as to reinforce the message, central to Romans as a whole, that God’s purpose was always to bring Jew and Gentile together in one worshiping community (cf Rom 1:16; 2:9-11; 3:9, 29-30; 9:22-25; 10:12; 11:25-32).”   (David Horrell, SOLIDARITY AND DIFFERENCE, pp 188-189)

38787109601_63f4372767_w

The early Christians did say that “one Christian is no Christian” meaning that one cannot be a Christian alone for being a Christian by definition means loving others.  One can only fulfill the commands of Christ to love if one has a community to love.  I think it was St Basil who said that if you attempted to live alone as a Christian, whose feet would you wash?  The question refers to Christ’s own example and teaching that His followers were to imitate Him in washing the feet of others.  We can fulfill this Gospel command and be Christ like only if we submit ourselves to serve others.  We cannot fulfill Christ’s vision that we all be one if we try to live alone or demand that we live the Gospel on our personal terms.  Though it is counterintuitive, Christ’s envisioned oneness for each of us can only be attained in the community of all believers.  We cannot be “one” if we are not united to all.

We Love Because God Loves Us First

Jesus said: “… for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”  (John 16:27-28)

34643523071_8c2c79954b_w

Jesus tells us that God loves us, which then becomes the basis for our following the Gospel commandment to love one another.  “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Our love for Christ and one another yields furthers blessings – God’s continued love for us.  Love is not an energy that is expended and exhausted, but in Christ is an energy that kindles further love. Godly love is related to life itself – not an addition to life, but the content of our life.  St Isaac the Syrian writes:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the word clothe himself in the body in order to bring the world back to His Father, using gentleness and humility? And why was he stretched out on the cross for the sake of sinners, handing over his sacred body to suffering on behalf of the world? I myself say that God did all this for no other reason except to make known to the world the love that he has, His aim being that we, as a result of our greater love arising from an awareness of this, might be captivated by his love when he provided the occasion of this manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven’s power—which consists in love—by means of the death of His Son.”   (THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH, p xii)

15507959496_ffb4ed8d0f_w

St Isaac reminds us also that God “... wishes for our salvation, and not for reasons to torment us” (THE SECOND PART, p 177).  God is not watching our every step in order to find fault with us.  Rather, God in His love is always looking to embrace us and keep us united to Him.  God is love – this is an eternal truth which the Fathers saw as sacrosanct and incontrovertible. The Scriptures do speak of God’s wrath and judgment, but the Fathers maintained those ideas must be read within the truth and context that God is love, not as additional truths or contradictions to God’s own nature.  God’s judgments are meant to correct, teach and heal us, rather than merely inflict punishment and retribution on us. God patiently awaits for us to turn to Him and to accept the love which He offers us. There is another truth here:

“… the reality that God does not compel anyone to love him but knocks at the door of our hearts, wait as a beggar in his ‘absurd love,’ even desiring to ‘share the bread of our suffering.’”   (Michael Plekon, LIVING ICONS, p 91)

6887712294_7ceb9e74f3_w

God offers love to us, but we have to decide whether to embrace God’s love and abide in it.  We have to decide whether God’s love will become the basis of our own lives.

Evangelism: First Things First 

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”  (Acts 23:6-9)

39654233943_9a0b5fa5fe_w

As Roman Catholic scholar Peter Kreeft points out, and as we can see in the above passage from the Acts of the Apostles, it was Christ’s resurrection that was the original Good News proclaimed by the Apostles.  St Paul obviously realized it was exactly the resurrection which showed that Jesus, though executed as a criminal by crucifixion, was in fact God’s chosen Messiah.

When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation (kerygma) was not ‘Love your enemies!’ but ‘Christ is risen!’  This was not a new ideal but a new event, that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation. Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, an event, news, the gospel, the ‘good news’.  The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ.   (BACK TO VIRTUE, p 83)

33651875786_4a24b42963_w-2

The resurrection of Jesus was the primary proclamation of the Apostles.  They didn’t go forth proclaiming some new ideals for humanity (as Kreeft points out above), but offered the event of Christ’s resurrection as evidence of God’s own life and activity breaking into our lives and world.   The resurrection  was the message they first wanted the world to accept – His commandment to love one another, only is important if one accepts the fact that Jesus is Lord, God, Savior and Christ.  What is essential and primary is that people become aware of God’s love and desire to be reconciled to all humans which is what the resurrection shows – death is overcome in Christ, it is no longer something that separates us from God and one another.   God’s love for His creation and creatures is the conclusion we draw from God’s own actions in our world.  As Orthodox scholar Olivier Clement writes:

“In fact, if Christ is not risen, death will always have the last word, the days following the feast will be days of ashes and loneliness.

But if Christ is risen, Easter is the ‘feast of feasts’, and we are henceforth capable of ‘giving thanks in all things’, so that in the course of our daily struggle, even in martyrdom, we can be in a state of celebration.

7033804847_1c81dcf57c_w

The feast of the church is closely allied to contemplation. The feast gives to each of us a first experience of the living God. It opens ‘the eye of the heart’ to his presence and makes us able to see for a moment the icon of the face, the fire at the heart of things. In the feast any being and anything is revealed as a miracle, so that, around the sanctified person, the world itself enters into feasting and in the miracle recovers its original transparency.

The Saint is the person consumed by the joy of Easter, the ‘feast of feasts’, who, like Seraphim of Sarov, can greet a neighbor with words, ‘My joy! Christ is risen!’

4122034681_325617e805_w

Then we realize that the feast in the world and the feast in the church are rather alike, but there is a difference in order. In the world there is first exaltation, then bitterness; first the intensity of life, then sadness at the taste of death. In the church there is first bitterness, then death to self, repentance that breaks down our insensitivity; then immense joy and peace, from having been forgiven, loved and recreated, the joy of thus being all together, so many wondering children.”   (ON HUMAN BEING, p 154)

51206927871_632d5ccd3b_w

In the Old Testament God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt before giving Israel the Law.  The Law was guidance in how to live for those saved from enslavement in Egypt.  In the New Testament this same pattern is followed in the preaching of the Apostles: first, we hear about and experience God’s salvation from death in Jesus Christ, and only after hearing the Good News are we given the Gospel commandments about how to live in and for the Kingdom.  Christians fail in evangelism when they first proclaim all kinds of moral laws and regulations which they want to impose on others to change their behavior.  Rather, the biblical way is to experience salvation first and only then to begin answering the questions about what the resurrection means for our daily lives.

The Comforter, Spirit of Truth 

49939524431_946132679b_w

Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  (John 16:7-13) 

Fr John Breck writing about the Church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit as one of the persons of the Holy Trinity says: 

“While a great many passages from both Testaments could be cited to support the Church’s traditional view, the most important are to be found in the Gospel of John.  These are passages that speak of the ‘Spirit of Truth,’ or ‘Paraclete’ (Advocate, Counselor, or Helper). In His final teaching to His disciples shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus depicts the Spirit as a divine being like Himself, originating with the Father and destined to appear within human history, to fulfill the work of salvation and sanctification that Jesus Himself had begun. As spirit of truth, he dwells within the faithful.

48087737838_e2d7513599_w

He receives the words of the risen Lord, in order to convey and interpret them to the church and the world, and thereby He glorifies Jesus and fulfills Jesus’ own ministry as Teacher and Prophet (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). As Paraclete, the Spirit defends the faithful against persecution by a hostile and unbelieving world, while He pronounces judgment on the world and on its archon, it’s ‘Ruler,’ the devil (16:7-11). While Christ serves as our heavenly Paraclete or Advocate before the Father (1 Jn 2:1-2), the Spirit acts as our earthly Paraclete or Defender (hence the common translation of parakletos as ‘Comforter’). In all of His presence and operation, the Spirit is as ‘personal’ a being as Christ himself.” (GOD WITH US, p 194)

The Holy Spirit, one of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity comes to abide in us, God’s people, if we are receptive to having the Spirit abide in us. 

7338684732_1e84d6a122_w

“For the dwelling place and the repose of the Spirit is humility, charity, and meekness and the other commandments of the Lord.”   (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, pp 148-149) 

We make ourselves receptive to God through humility, love and by following Christ’s commandments to love God and neighbor.  God is revealed to us through those in whom the Spirit abides.  In God’s Holy Ones we find God’s holiness.  Humans are capable of being God-bearers, of being a light to the world as is our God. 

“The Lord is made known in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit pervades the entire man – soul, mind and body.”   (ST SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 353) 

The Will of the Lord Be Done 

48139843073_718122f8bc_w

And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”  (Acts 21:10-14) 

Below are two comments which expose the meaning of “the will of the Lord” for Christians: 

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’. (CS Lewis)   (quoted in Peter Kreeft’s BACK TO VIRTUE, p 13) 

32802665627_05f80871fb_w

God’s will is that all be saved, however, humans with free will can reject God’s love and salvation.  God gives us free will and is willing to allow us to use it to choose our way to loving or rejecting our Creator and Savior. 

“The will of God is not a judicial imperative, it is an influx of life; it bestows existence and renews it when it goes astray.  The will of God is, first of all, creation itself, the universe itself entirely borne up by the will-ideas, by the logoi, the sustaining words of the poet-God.”   (Olivier Clement, THREE PRAYERS, pp 23-24) 

49465292507_0360aee03d_w

The will of God is life for us, both in this world and in the world to come. Just by being alive, we are already participating in God’s will.  We can choose to conform our will to God’s which is life or to choose separation from God which is death.