Be An Example

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:8-12)

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘I am living with some brothers. Do you want me to be in charge of them?’ The elder said to him, ‘No. Do your own work first, and if they want to survive they will provide what is needed themselves.’ The brother said to him, ‘But it is they themselves who want me to be in charge of them.’ The elder said to him, ‘No. You must become their example, not their legislator.’”

An example like that does not draw attention to himself. Only those who wish will follow.

“A young man came to see an old ascetic to be instructed in the way of perfection. But the old man said not a word to him.

The other asked him the reason for his silence. ‘Am I your superior to give you orders? Do what you see me doing if you like.’ From then on the young man imitated the ascetic in everything and learned the meaning of silence.” (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 145-146).

 

Jesus, the Wisdom of God

Icon of Christ the Wisdom of God

“If we proceed further into the Sacred Scriptures – not in the historical order that the books have been arranged, but in a more spiritual manner – we shall discover the name of Wisdom, which is mystically ascribed to Christ. And thus Solomon cries to the Father: Give me the Wisdom that sits by Your throne (Wis 9.4). And who sits next to God, at the right hand of the Father (cf. Heb 1.3; 10.12; 12.2), exalted above all created things, if not the Lord Jesus Christ? For He is indeed the Power and the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1.24). Elsewhere Solomon says: I determined to take Wisdom to live with me, knowing that She would be a counselor for me (Wis 8.9).

Wisdom, then, is clearly a Person, and not simply an attribute. It is the Son of God, who is also God’s Word; His Wise Word, as the Fathers say. From ancient times, Solomon points beyond time, and reveals the Person of the Son, Who sits by the throne of the Father, a situation which expresses their inseparable relationship, since there can be no Father without a Son, and no Son without a Father. Each one, at all times, points to the other. In this way we have a common, mutual revelation, which is, in essence, a self-revelation.”  (Archimandrite Aimillianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 271-272).

Deification: Becoming God’s Children

Patristic tradition usually sees a man’s potential for deification in the fact that man is created by God in his own image. Because of this natural affinity, the fathers spoke of a man as potentially a son of God. The process of deification involves the realization of the status of son of God through the process of hyiothesia (“adoption of sons”).The idea is present already in the New Testament. Christ gave power to those who receive him “to become the sons of God” (Jn. 1:12), that the faithful might “receive the adoption as Sons” (Gal 4:5; cf Rom 8:15). This adoption of sons was accomplished through Christ’s incarnation. Athanasius represents one set of ideas when he asserts that “Christ made us the sons of the Father and deified man by becoming himself a man.”

His thought hinges upon the idea of the incarnation: humanity is deified in a natural (physikos) manner, being assumed by God in the incarnation. Due to this understanding – our becoming God’s children as a natural consequence of God the Son becoming man – he uses the concept of hyiothesia as synonymous with “deification”: to be a son or daughter of God is to be deified. Another set of ideas is presented by Basil, who speaks of our adoption not so much through natural deification at the incarnation as through its subsequent effects: the descending and indwelling in man of the Holy Spirit.”   (Nicholas V. Sakharov, I Love Therefore I am, pp. 144-145)

Testing the Patience of the Lord

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?

How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.    (Matthew 16:5-12)

O Lord, though we wish to be Your disciples, and wish we could be just like Your Apostles, help us so that we will not imitate their wooden literalism!  How often they misunderstood You!  Open our hearts and minds to Your Gospel teachings.  We have the advantage that the Apostles did not have – we clearly know who You are, and we already know the lessons they had to learn.  You have revealed to us Your teachings through them.  We see their mistakes and what they learned from those errors and lessons. Their lack of perception becomes for us a lesson in enlightenment, and yet, how we are just like them in not understanding Your love.

Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!  You gathered us into the Church through your preaching.  We have you as examples of discipleship to emulate.  We have learned both from your correct teachings and your mistakes.  Ask God to take away from us the blindness of failing to see the deeper lessons He intended for you and us.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will heal our hard hearts, our stiff necks, our darkened minds, our failure to bend the knee, our closed hands, our eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, and our mouths that fail to give thanks or speak the truth.

Lord, forgive us when we don’t want to understand but instead want rules and regulations because we don’t want to love others as you love us.   We fear judgment and so want to bury the talents you give to us because we too often think you are a harsh judge rather than a loving God.   Do not abandon us to our blindness and desire for an easy way.  Let Your light shine even into the darkness of our hearts and minds.  Stay with us until we understand You!

Psalm 95 – The World is the Lord’s

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.  

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And the heights of the mountains are His;  

For the sea is His, and He made it,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And His hands formed the dry land.  

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.   (Psalm 95:1-7)

St. Jacob of Alaska, Peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

St. Jacob of Alaska (d. July 26, 1864) brought peace to warring tribes in Alaska at the same time as the Civil War was being fought in the United States.  He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, instructing them that once baptized they were brothers in Christ and so should no longer go to war against each other. (Of course, at that same time the fact that many Americans considered themselves Christian did not stop them from going to war against each other or from enslaving people).  St. Jacob’s accomplishment is no easy task.    Traditional enemies laid down their weapons and embraced each other in the Faith.  St. Jacob writes in his journal:

“Beginning in the morning, upon my invitation, all the Kol’chane and Ingalit from the Yukon and the local ones gathered at my place and I preached the word of God, concluding at noon. Everyone listened to the preaching with attention and without discussion or dissent, and in the end they all expressed faith and their wish to accept Holy Baptism, both the Kol’chane and the Ingalit (formerly traditional enemies). I made a count by families and in groups, and then in the afternoon began the baptismal service. First I baptized 50 Kol’chane and Ingalit men, the latter from the Yukon and Innoko. It was already evening when I completed the service. March 21, 1853.”

St. Jacob pray for our country asking God to give peace between the politically factious and fractious.  May we Christians in America live according to the Gospel.  If traditional enemies can become brothers and sisters because of the Gospel, certainly Christians can learn to live in peace with one another.

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

Patience: Being Able to See Clearly

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  (James 5:7-11)

“Patience is a virtue,” goes the saying.  It is indeed one oft mentioned in the New Testament but rarely in the Old Testament.  Patience needs other virtues to bear fruit, otherwise it can just be inaction, passive tolerance.  Patience needs to be coupled with the actions of love, kindness and mercy to be Christian virtue.

“Therefore the patient [people] should be told to study how to tolerate those whom it is necessary for them to love. For if love does not follow patience, the virtue on display will transform itself into the greater sin of wrath. Thus, when Paul says: ‘Love is patient,’ he immediately adds: ‘it is kind’ (1 Corinthians 13:4).  Clearly those who are tolerated in patience are also loved with unceasing kindness. And so, the same great teacher when he was persuading his disciples of the virtue of patience, was saying: ‘Let all bitterness, and wrath, and indignation, and clamor, and blasphemy be put away from you’ (Ephesians 4:31). And having put all outward matters in good order, [Paul] turned to the internal life when he added: ‘with all malice.’

Because clearly, it is useless for indignation, clamor, and blasphemy to be endured externally, if internally malice, which is the mother of all the vices, dominates. In vain is wickedness cut from the outer branches if it survives at the root internally, only to grow again in many forms. Thus, the Truth well says in person: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and speak falsely of you’ (Luke 6:27).  For it is a virtue before men to endure adversaries, but it is a virtue before God to love them. Because the only sacrifice that God accepts before his eyes on the altar of good works is the flame kindled by charity. Hence, to those who were patient but did not love, he says: ‘And why do you see the particle in your brother’s eye but not see the beam in your own?’ (Matthew 7:3)

 For the disturbance of impatience is the particle, while malice in the heart is the beam in the eye. For the breeze of temptation blows the former, but consummated iniquity makes the beam nearly immobile. Rightly, then, was it added: ‘You hypocrite, first remove the beam from your own eye and then you will be able to see so that you can clear the particle from your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:5).  It is as if it were being said to a wicked mind, which grieved inwardly but feigned patiences externally: ‘First, cast off the beam of malice and then correct others for their mere impatience; otherwise, if you do not even attempt to conquer your own pretences, you will suffer much more than simply bearing the faults of others.'”

(St. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, pp. 104-106)

St. Photius: On the Essence of Icons

St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, preached a sermon on the day the icon of the Theotokos was dedicated in Hagia Sophia, 29 March 867.  In the notes introducing the English translation of the sermon, we find this comment:

“In the eyes of Photius, painting is the most direct form of instruction, for a picture that is in agreement with religious truth contains the eidos, or essence, of the prototype, which is in turn apprehended by the faculty of sight and indelibly imprinted upon the mind. A painter is guided by divine inspiration, so that his work is not merely mimetic, but contains an actual share of the prototype. One would look in vain for a better expression of Byzantine art theory.”  (Cyril Mango, THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, pp 282-283)

For the Byzantine Christians, the icon was even more powerful/truthful than the written texts because the icon shares in the prototype.  It is hard for us to imagine a time when the presuppositions and perspective of the people are different than our own.  There was a time when people heard the phrase, “the word of God”, it was not the Bible that came to mind,  instead they would have thought, Jesus Christ.

Living in the literary culture of the 21st Century, and being shaped by the literary tradition of recent centuries, it is hard to imagine that at one time Christians, like Photius, thought the pictured icon to be “truer” than the written text – a more certain witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Our modern penchant for scholarship has increased this idolization of the text, which, when combined with cultural literalism, proves to be deadly, as St. Paul says. Just read 2 Corinthians 3 in the light of Photius’ idea that the painted text shares in the prototype. Christian don’t have to rely only on a printed text, we have icons – we are icons of God, created in God’s image!

2 Corinthians 3 –

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  . . .  God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

St. Paul says the Christian, the disciple is the true scripture because God’s Holy Spirit has written on our hearts.  In the beginning, humans were created in God’s image and likeness – we were created in the image and likeness of the Word of God.  Now God’s spirit writes on our heart, making us visible images of the Word.

Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?  . . .  Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

When we turn to the Lord . . . . which we can really do when we turn to look at an icon, we see the splendor of God.  Most miraculous of all is that we can look upon Christ in an icon and we do not have to put on a veil, as Moses did to protect the Israelites from the glory of God shining forth in his face.  And, we are changed by looking at the icon of Christ into His likeness.  This is how the icon serves a better purpose than the scriptures themselves.  The incarnation of Christ our God has changed the very nature of the world.

Nature As Images of Spirituality

There are many images and metaphors of the spiritual life, some more poetic than others.  Sometimes we find even among non-Christians descriptions of the spiritual life that show that indeed God distributes His words to all people on earth.

Mevlana, who lived in the thirteenth century writes:

“Become like the sun in your compassion and generosity;

Like the night, cover up the shortcomings of others;

As the rushing waters, reach out to the entire world;

During moments of anger, at times of rage, become like a dead man;

Become like the earth (humus) so people can stand firm on your foundation;

And either become that whom you manifest, or manifest who you really are.”

(Mevlana Rumi, from Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, p. 95).

Sojourning on the Way: Roadblocks

“Those who follow the path of God often experience times when the holy peace, that glorious inner seclusion of calm detachment, and the freedom they love are interrupted-when, in fact, they withdraw. Sometimes movements within the heart raise such clouds of dust within that one cannot see the path one must follow.

When we happen to experience something like this, we must realize and recognize that God allows it to happen for our own good. This is precisely the warfare for which God has rewarded his saints with radiant crowns. Remembering this, then, let us not lose courage in the trials we face. As in any other trouble, we may look to the Lord and say to Him from our heart, ‘O Lord my God, take care of Your servant, and let Your will be done in me. I know and confess that Your words and promise are true. I put my trust in them and stand firmly upon Your path.’ Blessed is the soul that surrenders to the Lord each time it experiences trouble and hardship.

If, in spite of this, the struggle persists and we are unable to attune and unite our will with the will of God as quickly as we wish, let us not mourn or lose heart, but continue to surrender ourselves to God, bowing willingly to His decisions. Through this we will gain victory. Remember the battle our Lord Jesus Christ had to fight in the garden of Gethsemane, when he cried, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.’ But he immediately added, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ (Matthew 26:39). For He indeed faced all we have to face.

When we are faced with difficulties, it is best not to take any step til we raise our eyes to the crucified Christ our Lord. There we will see written in large letters how we too should behave in the hardships which face us. So let us copy it for ourselves – not in letters and words, but in actions. That is, when we feel attacks of self-loving, self-pity, we must not pay attention to them nor crawl down from our cross. Let us rather resort to prayer and endure with humility – striving to conquer our will and to stand firmly in the determination to desire God’s will to be done in us.

If we emerge from our prayer with this fruit, let us rejoice. If we fail to attain it, our soul will be left fasting, not having tasted its natural fruit.

We must try to let nothing dwell in our soul except God – even for a short time. In the meantime, do not mourn or be distressed by anything. Nor should we turn our eyes to look at the evil of others or to bad examples. Rather, let us learn to be like a little child, which, in its innocence, does not notice such things, but passes them by unharmed.” (Jack N. Sparks, Victory in the Unseen Warfare, pp. 111-112)