Labor as Light to the World

Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.  (Ephesians 6:7-8)

Another example of light is our work, which here [in the monastery] is not servile labor but a diakonia, a service performed for monastic community without gain, without necessity, without force; a well-pleasing sacrifice which is illuminated by prayer and becomes a transfiguration of the world and of objects, a way of continuing the Divine Liturgy outside church.

Because here the light is the contemplation and use of the physical world, not for pleasure but for the needs of the community; not like the destructive consumption based in technology, but in order to make nature already now a partaker of the glory of the children of God, and allow it to sing praise with them.   

(Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra, from Living in God’s Creation, p. 112)

 

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Do You Really Want to Know God’s Will?

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.    (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One day I was alone in prayer at the church.  Struggling with knowing what God’s will was for me.  Kneeling before God with a heavy heart, I asked for His guidance.  Then came to me this question:

“Do you really want to know what God’s will is?”

My initial reaction was a joyful “yes! of course!”   My life would be easier if I knew what God’s will was for me.  But then a calmer and wiser word came to mind.  I had to think.   If I knew God’s will and did it, then I wouldn’t disappoint God again by following my own way and not God’s.

But a more compelling thought came to my mind.  “NO!  I don’t want to know.” For if I don’t know God’s will and fail to do it, I can plead ignorance and ask for mercy.  But if I know God’s will and can’t or don’t do it or, even worse, won’t do it, then I have no excuse for not doing it, and little justification for asking for mercy.  Indeed, God’s will really is above and beyond my understanding, and there are simple commandments (like the Thessalonians passage above that I can do).

 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.  (Psalm 131)

In the words of St John Climacus:

Looking into what is above us has no good conclusion. The Judgment of the Lord concerning us is incomprehensible. Through his divine providence He usually elects to conceal His will from us, understanding that, if we were to know it, we would disobey it, and on this account we would receive a harsher punishment.  (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2466-2468)

 

We are Made into Icons of Christ

With unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are all being transformed into the same image [Greek: icon], from glory to glory, and this is from the Lord, the Spirit.  . . . Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish, as the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, so that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ who is the image [Greek: icon] of God should not dawn on them.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:3-4, EOB)

This transformation of all believers into the likeness of Christ (cf. “the same image” [2 Corinthians 3:18] and “Christ who is the image of God [4:4] – the key word eikon is used in both places) should be understood as a further clarification of the senses in which Paul can claim that the Corinthians are a letter from Christ that can be known and read by everyone. Because they are being changed into the likeness of Christ, they manifest the life of Jesus in their mortal flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 4:11). Consequently, the deepest paradox of the passage emerges: Paul’s reading of the sacred text (Exodus 34) reveals that revelation occurs not primarily in the sacred text but in the transformed community of readers.  

(Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 144)

As St. Paul states it Jesus Christ is the image (icon) of God the Father and we believers are being transformed into that same image!  We believers are becoming Christ.  We are the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Church is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), and so we together are becoming Christ.  We are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ – not individually, but collectively as part of the Church which is Christ’s body.  In as much as we become the image of God, in as much as we become Christ, we become the Word of God to the world.  To read and understand Scripture, we need to be able to see Christ manifested in the world – we need to see the Church.  The Church is to be light to the world thus fulfilling Christ’s own teaching.  We are to be the fullness of Christ in the world.  As Richard Hayes notes above for people to understand a passage such as Exodus 34 they need to see Christ, visible to them in His Body, the Church.

Show Paradise Through What You Say & Do

Archimandrite Amilianos teaches:

In conclusion, I would like to read a few lines from a discourse by St. Basil the Great: “Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech, confirming your love for your neighbor.” You who are in the monastery, when you approach your brother; you who are married, when you approach your spouse; you who are a father or a mother, when you approach your child: “Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech.” Whatever you say, whatever you think of saying, say it only after you’ve said a word or two which will give the others joy, consolation, a breath of life. Make them say “I feel relief, I feel joy.” Make others proud of you, love you, dance for joy when they see you. Because everybody in their life, in their home, in their body, and in their soul, has pain, illness, difficulties, torments, and everybody hides them within the secret purse of his heart and home, so that others won’t know about it. I don’t know what sort pain you’re in, and you don’t know what pain I’m in. I may laugh, shout, and appear happy, but deep down I’m in pain, and I laugh to cover up by sorrow. And so before anything else, greet the other person with a smile.

And St. Basil adds this: “Let your face be bright, in order to give joy to him who speaks with you.” Once you’ve made the other person smile, don’t stop smiling. This is what it means to have a “bright face.” Let your face be a radiant sun, so that throughout the conversation the other will continue to feel the same happiness. “Take delight in every achievement of your neighbor.” With respect to whatever achievement your neighbor has, rejoice along with him. “For his achievements are yours, and yours are his.” Let the one share in the joy of the other.

In this way there can be a meeting, a true social relation, of monks and married people, of all people, saints and sinners, giving us all the right and the ability to pray. And when we say: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” everybody is included: my husband, my wife, my brothers and sisters, my children, the whole world. When God sees such love, when he sees the paradise in my heart, that my heart has room in it for everybody, then it will be impossible for him not to find room in his paradise for me and for you.

(The Church at Prayer, p. 88)

A Divine Reward Before Doing the Labor

By the inexpressible providence of God some people have obtained divine rewards for their labors before doing them; others during their toil; others after; and some only at the time of their departure.   (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2394-2395)

The above quote from St. John Climacus reminded me of an event that happened almost 50 years ago.  A friend of our family had an aging mother who was about 85.  She was having serious trouble walking, suffering a lot of pain in her legs.  Perhaps it was a circulatory problem, but I don’t remember that detail.   She kept telling her son, our family friend, that if she couldn’t walk anymore, she hoped God would take her.  She didn’t want to keep living if she couldn’t go to church and she was afraid that since she couldn’t walk they would put her in a nursing home and that would be the end of her church attendance. She had been several times doctors but they hadn’t so far found a solution to the problem.  Then, one day, the doctor called the man and told him they had a new medication for his mother which the doctor felt would help her be able to walk.  Our friend went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription and drove it to his mother’s house.  To his surprise, she was not home.   She didn’t drive, so he couldn’t imagine where she went.  He searched the house and began looking around the neighborhood.  A neighbor told him that he had seen his mom walking away from the home earlier in the day.  He became very alarmed knowing she wasn’t able to walk very well.  He drove around the neighborhood but didn’t see her.  He felt somewhat panicked about what might have happened to her.  He called the doctor and the hospital, but could not locate her.  After a considerable time, he drove to the church because it was the one place he knew she liked to be.  And sure enough there was his mom sitting on the front steps of the church.   She had walked nearly 2 miles to get there.  When he got out of the car, he felt a bit angry and said to his mother, “What are you doing here?”   She calmly replied that she had come to church to pray to God to ask him to help her so she could walk and come to church, but if that God wasn’t going to help her, then she hoped He would allow her to die in peace.

The son told her that the doctor had called that very morning with a new prescription for her and he had gotten the medication for her.  She replied, “See, God answered my prayer.”    He said later he felt a little amused by her simple faith, imagining as she did that God had answered her prayer, when he knew that in fact that medication was in production for years before she ever made that prayer.   His problem of course was his good Western mind with its linear view of history – as if God needed to wait for a prayer to be offered before God could  begin to act upon the petition.  Or as St. John Climacus noted in the quote above, some obtain their divine rewards before doing the labor.

The Shape of Power

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority  …  (Luke 9:1)

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?   (1 Corinthians 5:6)

The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. While it is alive like a tree, it is growing; while it contains itself, it is a multitude. Its directions are unpredictable; it obeys its own laws.

No one can observe the acorn and extrapolate each vein in each leaf of the oak crown. The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that.  (Naomi Alderman, The Power, Kindle Location 4686-4689)

When reading a book, I often appreciate the author’s choice of words in describing something.  Power is a human concept, but has meaning only in the fact that we are relational beings living in a world that is always changing.  Power is not a branch in a tree but the branching of the tree – growing, extending, reaching out.  We cannot always predict what power will do in a group, in a nation, among a people.  It is a force that causes interactions, the results of which are not completely predictable. Like electrons crashing into each other, we cannot know their location, speed and direction at the same time.  Power moves just like that, transferring its energies in unpredictable ways, and yet its shape is recognizable.

Independence Day (2018)

Even apart from these celestial gifts distinguishing the saints from other living people, there are further ways of recognizing their superiority. For instance, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, summoned to him all the peoples to worship the image that he had set up (cf. Dan. 3:1-30). But God in His wisdom so disposed things that the virtue of three children should be made known to everyone and should teach everyone that there is one true God, who dwells in the heavens. Three children, captive and deprived of their liberty, spoke out boldly before him; and while everyone else, in great fear, worshipped the image, and even if not convinced did not dare to say anything, but was virtually speechless, like beasts dragged along by the nose, these children behaved very differently.

They did not want their refusal to worship the image to go unrecognized or to escape notice, but they declared in the hearing of all: ‘We do not worship your gods, 0 king, nor will we bow down before the golden image that you have set up.’ Yet the terrible furnace into which they were cast as punishment was not a furnace for them and did not manifest its normal function; but as if reverencing the children it kept them free from harm. And everyone, including the king himself, through them recognized the true God. Not only those on earth, but the angelic choirs themselves were amazed at these children. (St Symeon Metaphrastis,, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc.  33936-58)

As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we can think about the nature of freedom by considering the narrative in the Book of Daniel about the Three Youth in the fiery furnace.   Those 3 Jewish children though captives exiled in Babylon were able to exercise their free will despite their enslaved existence.  The Babylonians on the other hand though living at home as free citizens  also lived in fear of the king and were not able to exercise their consciences but rather lived the king’s lie.  So who was truly free – the slaves who had free will or the citizens who had no right to refuse their king’s demands?

Christian freedom means the right to live the godly life even if threatened by punishment of death.  Choosing martyrdom for Christ is the greatest example of choosing free will.  Christian freedom is not just about making all kinds of consumer choices, or being able to express oneself without constraint.  Christian freedom is far greater than any rights guaranteed in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights.  As becomes obvious in the Orthodox spiritual tradition, freedom is denying oneself in order to follow Christ.   As St. Mark the Monk  noted Christian freedom,  has nothing to do with unrestricted self-expression ( Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 1717-1718).  Rather the Christian is one who is able to deny the self in order to conform himself to the will of the Creator.  This is something all of us Christians in America need to consider.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

The World is Like a Music Chord

“The world, as intended by the Lord of the Realms, is like music. Every voice—that is, every reasoning creature—must sing its assigned part for the song to sound well. That may sound limiting, as though the notes that determine the fate of the world have already been written, but that is not quite the truth.

There is a great deal of room for improvisation, as long as harmony is maintained throughout. Thus, the low voices must not break the flow of the high, so that each moment is a beautiful chord. Do you understand so far?”

(Nicholas Kotar, The Song of the Sirin (Raven Son Book 1),  kindle 4016-4019)

St. Gregory Nazianzus: The 10 Commandments

God once inscribed these Ten Commandments on marble tablets

but You write them on my heart;

You shall not know another God, since you honor only one (Ex. 20.3; Deut. 5.7).

You shall not erect an empty facade, a lifeless image (Ex. 20.4-6; Deut. 5.8-10).

You shall never mention the lofty God in vain (Ex. 20.7; Deut. 5.11).

Observe every Sabbath; both the celestial and the shadowy (Ex. 20.12; Deut. 5.12-15)

Blessed are you if you do homage to your parents, as is right (Ex. 20.12; Deut. 5.16).

Flee the guilt of a murderous hand (Ex. 20.13; Deut. 5.17), and of another’s marriage bed (Ex. 20.14; Deut. 5.16), evil-minded theft (Ex. 20.15; Deut. 5.19), and false witness (Ex. 20.16; Deut. 5.20); and desire for what belongs to others (Ex. 20.17; Deut 5.21) is the spark of death.

(St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Poems on Scripture, p. 41)

Being “In” Christ

In the present life those who are blessed are perfect in relation to God in respect of their will, but not yet with respect to the activity of their mind. One may find perfect love in them, but by no means pure contemplation of God. If, however, that which is in the future is present with them while they yet live in the body, they already experience the prize, yet not continually or perfectly, since this life does not permit it. For this cause Paul says, “we rejoice in hope” (Rom. 12:13), and “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), and “we know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Even though he had seen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8), yet he did not enjoy this vision at all times.

For “always” looks to the future only, and this he himself showed when he spoke of Christ’s presence, saying, “and so shall we always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Thus, anyone who is in Christ and has received eternal life has it through his will, and through love he will arrive at the ineffable joy. He has the pure vision of the mind in store for the future while faith leads him on to love. This the blessed Peter shows, saying, “though you do not see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). (St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, pp. 226-227)