Heavenly Delight

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”  (Luke 6:21)

“God does not demand or desire that someone should mourn out of sorrow of heart; He wants him to rejoice in love for him with the laughter of the soul. Take away sin and then the sorrowful tears that flow from the eyes will be superfluous. Why look for a bandage when you are not cut? Adam did not weep before the fall, and there will be no tears after the resurrection when sin will be abolished, when pain, sorrow, and lamentations will have taken flight.”  (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 7.49, 50, from Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, p. 227)

Appearance is Deceiving

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

“Furthermore, we have given ourselves a very serious problem our ancient ancestors did not have. In our own time, in which we jog and diet and generally believe that there must be an intimate connection between virtue, physical beauty, health and a person’s worth, we make outcasts of those among us who do not measure up: the old, the fat, the young but unattractive, the handicapped. That we have discovered that there is no real physical basis for believing in a ‘body-soul dualism’ provides us with a reason to value people in terms of what they look like and what they are able to do physically. Our churches are as guilty of this amazing confusion as any other group. This is a theology of ‘wholeness’ that benefits the strong and ignores the weak. It certainly stands in opposition to the Christian way of life … (Roberta C. Bondi, To Love as God Loves, p. 65)

St. John the Forerunner

The Prayer of Elder Paisios

“In the abundance of your mercy, O Jesus, You called publicans, sinners and unbelievers.  Like them, despise me not, but as precious myrrh accept this song…”    (Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus)

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

A friend sent me the following Prayer of St Paisios  (d. 12 July, 1994).  It is a beautiful prayer for the needs of all the people of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ:

Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.
Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.
On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.
On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.
On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.

Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.
Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.
On troubled families and those who have been divorced.
Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.

Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.
Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.
On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.

Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.
Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.

Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.
On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.
On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.
Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.

Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.
Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our country in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.

(BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.
Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.
Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.
Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.

Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.

The Promise Not Through the Law

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 4:13-27, he writes:
 
5512468731_22bbe5a554_mFor the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.  Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.  (Revised Standard Version)
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The Revised English Bible translates 4:13 as:
“It was not through the law that Abraham and his descendants were given the promise that the world should be their inheritance, but through righteousness that came with faith.”
St. Paul’s point is clear – his reading of the Torah is that God didn’t make His promise to the Jews through Moses, after giving Moses the Law.  It was not through the Law, or in relationship to it, that God would fulfill His promise or that the Jews would inherit the world.  The promise was given long before the commandments were given to Moses.  The promise was given to Abraham and required a response of faith/faithfulness.  As St. Paul reads the Torah, the promise of God to inherit the world ultimately is a promise about the Messiah and His eternal Kingdom.  The point is clear that the promise of God, namely the Messiah, does not come through faithful adherence to the Law.  The promise is given to those who respond in faith, for it is those who live by faith who are truly God’s people and the inheritors of God’s promise.
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Those who continue to try to conform to some law, whether Torah or Christian tradition, are still trying to live by adherence to the law rather than by faith – they are following Moses rather than Abraham, and for St. Paul Christ is faithful like Abraham, not a law giver like Moses.

Making Christ Your Greatest Love

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”   (Matthew 10:37-38)

St. Brigid of Ireland

“If you worship Christ in your heart, you can save your kinsfolk as well as yourself; if your heart worships father and mother, son and daughter, you will certainly lose both yourself and them. For whoever denies Christ before the world, him will Christ deny at the Last Judgement before His heavenly Father and all the hosts of angels and saints.

(Saint Isidore of Pelusium wrote to Philetus the Mayor, who was downcast at not having got into the eminent society that he craved:

‘Glory in this life is of less significance than a spider’s web, and more insubstantial than dreams; therefore lift up your mind to what is of first importance, and you will easily calm your saddened soul. He who seeks the one glory and the other cannot attain them both. It is possible to achieve both only when we seek, not both but one: heavenly , glory. Therefore, if you desire glory, seek divine, heavenly glory, and earthly glory will often follow on from it.’  (Letter 5, p. 152)

The Lord made it clear to the apostles that this moment of decision is difficult saying, “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” – that is, his family, that will hold him back from following Christ more than anyone else in the world, and who will condemn him the most strongly if he does so. For indeed, it is not our enemies who bind us to this world, but our friends; not strangers but our kinsfolk.”   (St Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pp. 4-5).

The Acts of the Apostles and Us

In the 7 weeks following the Great Feast of Pascha, we read in the Church daily from the Acts of the Apostles.

Biblical scholar N.T. Wright describes the significance of the Book of Acts for the Church:

“Acts begins by saying that in the first book (i.e., the gospel of Luke) the writer described “everything Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The implication is clear. The story of Acts, even after Jesus’s ascension, is about what Jesus continued to do and teach. And the way he did it and taught it was–through his followers.

But of course it doesn’t stop there. When the church does and teaches what Jesus is doing and teaching, it will produce the same reaction that Jesus produced during his public career. A good deal of what the church has to do and say will fly in the face of the “spirit of the age,” what passes for “received wisdom” in this or that generation. So be it. The day the church can no longer say, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29), it ceases to be the church. This may well mean suffering or persecution. That has been a reality today. Some of the most profound passages in the New Testament are those in which the church’s own sufferings are related directly to those of Jesus, its Messiah and Lord. Kingdom and cross went together in his own work; they will go together in the kingdom work of his followers. (Simply Jesus, p. 220)

We Christians not only live in and for Christ, we suffer with Him – in fact, we die and rise with Him.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:3-11)

The Afterlife

“Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.”  (Acts 2:29)

“…have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”  (Matthew 12:26-27)

In the Scriptures, belief in the resurrection of the dead is not common.  When a person died, they remained dead throughout time – the tombs of the dead are still with us reminding us those folk are still dead. And yet, Jesus challenges His contemporaries to look again at their scriptures, for they do in fact witness to life after death and to the resurrection of the dead.  It is Christ who makes this belief and teaching possible.

“Still, the notion of an ‘afterlife with God,’ following death, is entirely alien to the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, it is also alien to the New Testament, unless a person has died in the redemptive faith of Christ. It is Christ alone who delivers man from death, including the saints of the Old Testament. Nowhere in the Bible is there an afterlife apart from Christ. Whatever afterexistence there may be apart from Christ, it is certainly no real life.” (Patrick Henry Reardon, The Trial of Job, p. 54

Healing Our Bodies and our Souls

I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.  (Job 29:15)

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The Gospel lesson of John 9:1-38 tells us about Christ healing a man who had been born blind.  We are also given in the healing miracles a chance to reflect on the nature of the human body and its relationship to the spiritual life.  I happen to be reading Jean-Claude Larchet’s newly published THEOLOGY OF THE BODY and will quote a few passages that struck me as a powerful witness to the meaning of today’s Gospel lesson of Christ healing the blind man.  Larchet writes:

“Without the soul, the body can accomplish nothing.  Likewise the soul without the body, though for different reasons: the body needs the soul in order to live and move, whereas the soul needs the body in order to reveal itself, to express itself, and to act on the external world.  For the body is the servant, the vehicle or instrument of the soul, essential to the exercise of its functions of relating to the world and manifesting its faculties in the conditions of the earthly existence.  In this setting, all of the soul’s activities, insofar as they reveal themselves, can only exist through the body.  Moreover, they remain unexpressed if the necessary bodily organs are unable to function properly.  Such is the case with some illnesses that prevent these organs from expressing certain of the soul’s capacities, something for which they had naturally been ordered.”  (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 18-19)

So it is that each of us is a composite of soul and body, neither of these two substances alone make a human – it is only their union which cause a human being to come into existence.  Both are necessary for each of us to be fully human; neither substance can act alone without the other.  Whatever affects one affects the other.  Sin whether originating in the will or the body affects the whole human, body and soul.  And as Larchet notes when illness affects any part of the body, the soul’s capacities are denigrated.  Without the body’s physical eyes to see, the soul’s ability to navigate in the world is also affected, suffering limitation.  And so when Christ heals the man born blind, He is restoring or recreating the man’s full humanity – gifting this man so that his soul can fully experience the abundant life of grace.

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In the Psalms it is idols, not humans which are portrayed as being blind and not even as capable as any human being.

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not, they have eyes, but they see not, they have ears, but they hear not, nor is there any breath in their mouths.”   (Psalm 135:15-17)

8480132255_5cf28fbb2f_nThe idols are lifeless, and lack not just one bodily function or sense, but all of them.  On the other hand, the Law of the Lord, just like the Holy Spirit, enlivens every soul and gives sight even to the blind:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…”  (Psalm 19:7-8)

Each and every organ in the body serves a particular role in allowing us to fully experience God in this world and also to totally serve the Lord.

“Like Scripture, the Fathers often point out the role played in our spiritual life by the different members of the body.  They stress that their purpose is not merely physiological but also one of enabling us, in superlative fashion, to attune ourselves to God and unite ourselves with him.  This is above all the case with the senses, which should contribute to our perception of God in all sensible phenomena.  Thus, the eyes should enable us to see God in the harmony and beauty of creation and so to praise him and give him thanks.  The ears should enable us to ‘listen to the divine word and God’s laws,’ but also to hear God in all the world’s sounds.  The sense of smell should enable us to detect in every creature the ‘good odor of God’ (2 Cor 2:15); the sense of taste to discern in all food ‘how good the Lord is’ (Ps 33:9).  . . . Thus the spiritual function of the hands is to carry out for and in God whatever is necessary in order to do his will, to act on behalf of justice, to reach out to him in prayer (cf. Ps 87:10; Ps 143:6; Tim 2:8).  The task of the feet is to serve God by allowing us to go to where we may do good.  The tongue should proclaim the Good News and sing of God’s glory.  The heart is to be the place of prayer; the lungs are to produce the breath that regulates and supports it.”    (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 28-29)

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And though we can both experience and accomplish goodness in and through the body and its organs and part, it is also true that the same body can be used to experience and accomplish evil.

“A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, scrapes with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. There are six things which the LORD hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers.”  (Proverbs 6:12-19)

Our bodies are fully capable of experiencing the Holy Spirit and theosis.  It is not only the soul which has a relationship to God’s Spirit for the body is created to be a divine temple for the Spirit. And as we see in the quotes above, there is an important relationship between certain parts of the body and the Holy Spirit.  Thus, at Chrismation, we anoint the head, ears, eyes, lips, nose, breast, hands and feet of the new Christian, saying each time, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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“At the same time, the Fathers refer to the spiritual benefits that our body obtains from being directed towards God in this way, for, acting under the direction of the soul and in collaboration with it, the body too receives the grace of the Holy Spirit.  ‘For as God created the sky and the earth as a dwelling place for man,’ notes St. Macarius of Egypt, ‘so he also created man’s body and soul as a fit dwelling for himself to dwell in and take pleasure in the body, having for a beautiful bride the beloved soul, made according to his own image.’  This is simply to repeat in another form St. Paul’s assertion that the body is the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 6:19).”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 29)

God created our bodies to be the very means by which we can accomplish His will and grow in virtue and holiness.

“For the Fathers, it is by means of the virtues that we can become like God, and it is in this likeness to God, acquired by a collaboration between free will and the grace given us that we can ultimately become a partaker of divine life – a participation to which we are both destined by our nature and called by personal vocation.”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, p 27)

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We become like God not by escaping our bodies, but by willfully making them instruments of goodness.  We become virtuous and holy in and through our bodies – and all who do with, in and through our bodies are potential means for us to unite ourselves to God.  We have the task to choose wisely what we do so as to invite the Holy Spirit into our bodies.

Recreating the Blind Man

Fr. John Behr notes that St Irenaeus of Lyons sees in the healing of the man born blind (John 9), Christ by whom all things were made, bringing to completion that which was lacking in this creature – his eyes were unformed.  Jesus shows Himself to be the Creator in giving sight to the blind man by recreating His eyes.

“That this is indeed the work of God is shown, for Irenaeus, by the manner in which Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole:

‘For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning us back to his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy, restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).’

If all of this was done so that ‘the works of God should be manifest in him’, Irenaus concludes that ‘the work of God is fashioning the human being’. (Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, pp. 162-163

Wiggle Room: Wisdom and the Two Ways

“Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.”  (Jeremiah 21:8)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

The notion that there are two ways through the world – the way of life and the way of death – permeates the Scriptures.  They are sometimes dramatically pitted one against the other, and we humans must choose which we will follow.

“O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?”   (Acts 13:10)

And yet the same Tradition which is the Two Ways also is the Wisdom Tradition.  Wisdom is not law, but rather is the Spirit guiding us in how, when and where, with whom and to what degree we can keep the law.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: …  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5)

The Tradition which says there are only two ways also provides that we have to know what to do when we are in a grey area, when things are not and aren’t supposed to be black and white.  Between black and white there exist gradiation and degrees, some better than others in terms of doing God’s will.  All or nothing thinking has its limits and sometimes causes problems and even evil.  It can lead people to abandon a good way because of a mistake or sin which causes them to think all is lost.  Something is better than nothing is also wisdom.  I may not be able to be perfect but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to do as much good as I can.   There always is repentance and a spirit of humility which confesses persistent spiritual failure.  We fall, and we get up.

We see this Wisdom often in the ascetic literature of the Church.

“Be as eager as you can to love everyone, but if you cannot do this yet, at least do not hate anyone.”    (St. Maximus the Confessor, A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 6835-36)

“If you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect. But if you are not able, then do what you can.”  (Didache, A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 645-46)