Vices vs. Virtues

“Let us rather avoid greed, through which injustice thrives and justice is banished, brotherly love is spat on and hatred of mankind is embraced. Let us avoid drunkenness and gluttony, which are the parents of fornication and wantonness; for excess of every kind is the cause of insolence, and outflow is the begotten child of plentitude, from which fornication and wantonness are hatched. Let us avoid strife, division, seditions, whereof plots are born and murders begotten; for evil crops grow from evil seed. Let us avoid foul speech, whereby those who are accustomed to it slip easily into the pit of evil deeds; for what one is not ashamed to say, one will not be ashamed to do either, and what one enjoys hearing one will be drawn into committing. Let us abominate these things and spit upon them, but let us love the Lord’s commandments and adorn ourselves with them.

Let us honor virginity, let us attain gentleness, let us preserve brotherly love, let us give lodging to hospitality, let us cling to fortitude, let us cleanse ourselves with prayers and repentance, let us welcome humbleness that we may draw near to Christ; for the Lord is near to those who are of a contrite heart, and He will save the lowly in spirit. Let us embrace moderation; let us practice the judgment and distinction of the good from the bad. Let the soul be undaunted by the evils of life, especially if they are inflicted on us on account of Christ and His commandments, for we know that justice will follow, and it is thanks to them that we are easily carried up to heaven.”

(St Photius, The Homilies of Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, p. 71-72)

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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)

 

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)

 

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)

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)

Put on Christ

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  (Galatians 3:27)

Baptism

All things are possible with Christ. Where is the pain and effort for you to become good? Things are simple. You will invoke God and He will transform things into good. If you give your heart to Him, there will be no room for the other things. When you ‘put on’ Christ, you will not need any effort to attain virtue. He will give it to you. Are you engulfed by fear and disenchantment? Turn to Christ. Love Him simply and humbly, without any demand, and He himself will free you.

Turn to Christ and say with humility and hope like Saint Paul, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Turn towards Christ, therefore, and He will come immediately. His grace will act at once. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 135)

The Way of Love is the Way of Co-suffering

Nicholas Kotar in his book, The Song of the Sirin (Raven Son Book 1), has one of his characters ask a thought provoking question – a thought experiment about human creativity.  We are capable of creativity and of making things beautiful, but we come into a world not of our making, and so we interact with that world.  Humans have a synergy with creation and with God.

“Tell me, Voran. What is the most beautiful thing a man can mold and form, though it is not of his own creation?”

Voran had already contemplated this question for a long time, and thoughtfully gives a reply which immediately suggests to  him a follow up question.

How many times had he pondered the same question while sitting half-frozen on the banks of their river of a morning?

“His own life,” he said.

The most beautiful thing that we can form which we did not create is our self!  This is why Christianity is not mostly about learning information, but it is about formation.  We are each in the process of forming our soul, our self.  We cooperate with God in creating our self – true synergy.

“His own life,” he said. “To make his own life beautiful, what must he do?”

It came to him like floodwaters, overwhelming.

The answer to this question is one which Orthodox Christianity has embraced, contemplated and attempted to live in its spirituality.  God has imbued us with the gifts necessary for and capable of making things beautiful.  It is truly a good that we can add to creation.

To love as God loves is to love to the point that one suffers with the other, for the other and even because of the other.

“A human being can only become truly human if he lives for others.  That way, the way of love, is by necessity the way of pain. Shared pain. Co-suffering.”  (page 82).

The way for us to become truly human – to make ourselves good and beautiful is the way of love, the self emptying love which God revealed in the incarnation.  For God to become human, God emptied himself.  For us to become fully human is to become as God is, which means we too must empty ourselves.

“The kind of co-suffering we are talking about is …  precisely in the ability to understand man, fathom the good qualities he possesses, and to appreciate him, freeing him from the admixture of falsehood.  What is required for this– in addition to humble love– are a power and broadness of mind.  Thus, co-suffering is the ability to come to an inner self-identification with a person, a joyous blending with all that is good in him, and sorrow about all that is negative.  This is precisely where a ‘fisher of men’ is revealed.  Such people somehow manage to penetrate a person completely, to appropriate all his thoughts, to become linked to his very heart and soul, to raise his whole being to truth and love.  All this requires spiritual knowledge, sincere love and the ability to know the innermost thoughts of a person without reacting in a negative manner.

Hieromartyr Gorazd of Prague

The prerequisite of this influence of one will upon another may be stated thus: By humbling oneself, loving and learning about people, a human being ascends or returns to a primordial mysterious union with everyone and, in pouring the holy content (acquired through communion with God) of his soul into the soul of his neighbor, he transfigures the inner nature of the latter in such a way that merely by the consent of his will, the difficult path of his rebirth is almost accomplished.”  (Anthony KhrapovitskyDOSTOYEVESKY’S CONCEPT OF REBIRTH, pp 37-38)

Imitating Scriptural Saints

And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  (Matthew 19:16-17)

4th C Fresco Christ Teaching

“A brother asked one of the elders: What good thing shall I do, and have life thereby?

The old man replied: God alone knows what is good. However, I have heard it said that someone inquired of Father Abbot Nisteros the great, the friend of Abbot Anthony, asking: What good work shall I do? and that he replied: Not all works are alike. For Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him.

Hospitality of Abraham

Elias [Elijah] loved solitary prayer, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. Therefore, whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe.”    (Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, p. 25-26)

 

 

Weapons in the Church?

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

In 431AD, Emperor Theodosius II the Younger, issued an edict regarding imperial dignity, rights and security which acknowledged that being Christian also meant belonging to a kingdom not of this world.   It was normative for the Emperor to be protected by armed guards which also was a show of imperial power.  Even as the Byzantines thought that their Empire could accomplish God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven“, they accepted that life on earth still required the use of he sword at times.  They were not Utopian or Pollyanna-ish in their view of a Christian empire.  However, Theodosius decreed at the Ecumenical Council in Ephesus that when entering a church, all weapons were to be left outside the church.  Not only weapons, but even his crown, another sign of imperial power, was not to be brought into the church.  Before God we stand stripped of outward signs of imperial power or weaponry, acknowledging our own submission to the will of God. 

Although we are always surrounded by the lawful imperial weaponry, and it is not fitting for us to be without weapon-bearers and guards; when, however, entering the churches of God, we shall leave our weapons outside and take off the very diadem, emblem of our imperial dignity. (at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, 431. From For the Peace from Above, p 111)

For Emperor Theodosius, even the “good guys” were not to bring weapons into the church.  We all stand before God as sinners without defense and in need of God’s mercy.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6:17)