Praying Correctly

“Let us pray neither for show nor against our enemies, and let us not be arrogant to think that we can teach Him [God] the method of assistance. . . .  Did you tell Him your injury?  Did you tell Him everything you suffered?  Do not tell Him these and how to help you, because He realizes exactly your best interest.  However, there are many who, in prayer, recite thousands of verses, saying: ‘Lord, grant me physical health, double all my possessions, repel my enemy from me.’  This is completely absurd.

We must dismiss all these things and pray and supplicate only as did the publican, who repeatedly said: ‘God be merciful unto me a sinner.’ Afterwards, He knows how to help you.  For He says, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.‘  Therefore, in this way, my brethren, let us pursue wisdom with toil and humility, beating our breasts like the publican, and we will succeed in getting whatever we ask for; but when we pray filled with anger and wrath, we are hated by God and are found to be an abomination before Him.

Let us crush our thought, humble our souls, and pray for ourselves as well as for those who have hurt us.  For when you want to persuade the Judge to help your soul and take your part, never pit Him against the one who grieved you.  For such is the character of the Judge, that, above all, He sanctions and grants the requests of those who pray for their enemies, who do not bear malice, who do not rise up against their enemies.  As long as they remain unrepentant, however, God fights them all the more.”  (St John Chrysostom, ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, pp 52-53)

A Prayer attributed to St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, is written in the spirit of St John Chrysostom’s comments on prayer above:

My Lord, I know not what I should ask of You.  You alone know my true needs.  You love me more than I am able to love.  O Father, grant to me, Your servant, all which I cannot ask.  For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;  I dare only to stand in Your presence.  My heart is open to You.  You see my needs of which I am unaware.

Behold and lift me up!  In Your presence I stand, awed and silenced by Your will and Your judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate.  To You I offer myself as a sacrifice.  I have no other desire than to fulfill Your will.  Teach me how to pray.  Pray Yourself within me.  Amen.

Mother Syncletica on the Publican & Pharisee

Mother Syncletica, a desert mother, said: “Imitate the publican, and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee.  Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water.”  (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS,  p 233)

Fr Alexander Men writes:

“Whoever believes in Christ is saved.  Whoever calls on the name of Jesus and follows the Lord is saved.  But to be saved, you must begin to follow Him.  And in order to follow Him, we have to see that we are unworthy, that we cannot save ourselves and that first we must repent.  We must take a truthful and honest look at ourselves.  That’s why we pray in the great canticle: ‘Open unto me, O Give of Life, the gates of Repentance’, for we are already used to things as they are, and the gates of repentance are closed to us.  We think we are living normally, like everyone else, and sometimes, like the Pharisee in the parable, we take pride in ourselves and put on airs before others.  But what do we have to be proud of? 

Today, in the Gospel reading, the Church bids us: ‘Arise, like the tax collector, without thinking about your merits, your power or your good works.  Just get up and repeat, as he did: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.'”  (AWAKE TO LIFE!, pp 4-5)

God and Mammon

 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  (Matthew 6:24)

St Silouan the Athonite writes:

“The truly repentant man readily bears every affliction – hunger and nakedness, cold and heat, sickness and poverty, humiliation and exile, injustice and slander; for his soul is turned with longing towards God, and he has no care for earthly things but prays to God with a pure mind.  But the man who is attached to worldly goods and riches can never have a mind pure in God, since in the depths of his soul he is constantly preoccupied with his possessions; and if he does not repent whole-heartedly, and mourn at having grieved God, he will die bearing the burden of this passions, without having come to know the Lord.”   (ST SILOUAN THE ATHONITE,  p 349)

The Heart As God’s Temple

As we celebrate the feast of The Meeting of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple we realize that the Temple’s purpose was fulfilled – it became the place where God came to earth.  But now Christ is the living temple and so the Temple as a building or area was no longer needed.  In a certain sense, its destruction was a natural result of the fact that it had become superfluous in the life of the people of God.  Christ is everything the Temple was ever meant to be or symbolize.  This idea is already reflected in early Christian writings.  Origen (martyred in 254AD) writes that all of the purpose of the temple ended with the coming of Christ.  The destruction of the Temple was simply eliminating something no longer needed for salvation:

“But when the Word became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:14), his earthly presence in Jerusalem, with its temple and altar and everything that was borne there, was torn down, at that time her [Israel’s] husband died, i.e., the law according to the letter.  Or will it not rightly be said in this section that the message of the law is dead, since no sacrifices, no priesthood, and no ministries associated with the Levitical order are being offered?  It cannot punish the murderer or stone the adulteress, for the Roman authorities avenge themselves on these things.

Do you still doubt whether the law according to the letter is dead?  No male goes up to appear before the Lord three times a year (Ex 23:17; 34:23; Dt 16:16); no sheep is being slaughtered at the Passover festival in the city that is believed the Lord God had chosen (Dt 16:2); no offering of the piles of first-fruits are being celebrated; no leprous diseases and no defilement of sin are being cleansed.  It is possible to doubt in all these things that the letter of the law is dead?”  (COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, p 25)

For Origen, the Temple served a similar purpose as the Old Testament Scriptures – they were the covering or flesh of the pre-incarnate Word of God.  But when the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ the shadow of the law as well as the Temple was no longer needed for the Word no longer needed such a covering as He had been fully revealed.  He no loner was hidden in the written word or in the Temple.  Now God was present in Christ in the world.  And Origen realizes that even all that was written about the Temple really was prophecy about Christ.  Jesus has entered the real Temple in heaven as is described in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:11-12, 24).  As Roman Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer says:

“… from now on the Shekinah no longer simply dwells in a sanctuary in the midst of its people: it makes their reconciled hearts its sanctuary.”  (EUCHARIST, p 39)

The Feast of the Lord entering the Temple in Jerusalem is the beginning of God coming to dwell in the hearts of His people rather than in a building, which could never contain Him (2 Chronicles 2:6, 6:18).   No longer do we need concern ourselves with a temple in Jerusalem, for now each of our hearts becomes God’s dwelling place.

For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

The Maker of Heaven and Earth

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made..  (Nicene Creed, emphases added)

In the Nicene Creed we profess a belief that God created everything and everyone.  St John Chrysostom says this fact has an implication for all of us and how we approach the created world we live in (as stewards entrusted with God’s property gifted to us) and how we approach all the people we encounter (as fellow neighbors sharing God’s earth).  For Chrysostom there is only one thing we really own – our good deeds.  Our deeds are our only true possession and the only thing we really can offer to God.

“… Chrysostom … felt that there was but one owner of all things in the world – God Himself, the Maker of all.  Strictly speaking, no private property should exist at all.  Everything belongs to God.  Everything is loaned rather than given by God in trust to man, for God’s purposes.  Chrysostom would add: Everything is God’s except the good deeds of man – it is the only thing that man can own.

As everything belongs to God, our common master, everything is given for common use.  Is it not true even of worldly things? Cities, market-places, streets – are they not a common possession?  God’s economy is  of the same kind.  Water, air sun and moon, and the rest of creation, are intended for common use.  Quarrels begin usually when people attempt to appropriate things which, by their very nature, were not intended for the private possession of some, to the exclusion of others. …

Chrysostom was after justice in defense of human dignity.  Was not every man created in God’s image?  Did God not wish salvation and conversion of every single man, regardless of his position in life, and even regardless of his behavior in the past?  All are called to repentance, and all can repent.  There was, however, no neglect of material things in his preaching.  Material goods come also from God, and they are not bad in themselves.  What is bad, is only the unjust use of goods, to the profit of some, while others are left starving.  The answer is love. Love is not selfish, ‘is not ambitious, is not self-seeking.‘ ” (Georges Florovsky, ASPECTS OF CHURCH HISTORY Vol 4, pp 84-85)


Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

The Canaanite Woman Cries Out and Is Heard

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Elder Epiphanius says: “The Canaanite woman cries out and is heard [Mt 15.22]; the woman with an issue of blood keeps silent and is blessed [Mt 9:20].  The Pharisee calls out and is condemned; the publican doe not even open his mouth and he is heard” (Lk 18:10-14)”  (GIVE ME A WORD, p 96)

Neighbors

But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   (Luke 10:29)

Jesus asked: Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:36-37)

“Neighbors, as Jesus knew. Can be a not insignificant challenge to anyone’s Christianity.”  (Niall Williams. THIS IS HAPPINESS. P 92)

Christ Jesus Came To Save Sinners

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  (1 Timothy 1:15)

How are we to look at sinners?  St Paul identifies himself as the chief of them (an identity we claim for ourselves before receiving Communion).  Jesus says He came to seek and save sinners, which is the Gospel which St Paul proclaims (and how we became part of the Church – Christ seeking us out as sinners and inviting us in).  We are to see sinners as Christ sees them – because this is how He also sees us.  We are to love them as Christ loves us (John 13:34), for while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  We are to treat them as we have been treated by Christ.  We are to treat them with the same spirit as Christ treats us.  This applies to all of us, but very particularly to those involved in any kind of ministry within the Church.

Fr Alexis Trader writes about how a father confessor, or for that matter, a godparent, should treat their godson or goddaughter who has sinned.

“The virtues of love, faith, and humility should be manifest in the way the spiritual father approaches his spiritual child.  Without unfeigned love for the spiritually sick and a desire for their restoration to health, the spiritual father can hardly be considered a spiritual physician at all.  Without unshakable faith in God, he might be tempted to pronounce those who have been severely wounded in the Christian life to be dead, because he is blind to the fact that God can raise up both confessors and martyrs from those reckoned to be lost.

And without humility, he is in danger of resembling a physician who administers medicines to the sick and does not look after the poison of his own infection.”  (ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WISDOM AND AARON BECK’S COGNITIVE THERAPY, p 154)

The Greatest Sin

Now the betrayer [Judas] had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to Jesus at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him.   (Mark 14:44)

 

“The greatest sin is, as Christ himself stressed, not the violation of a rule but the action against love or without love.”  (Michael Plekon, LIVING ICONS, p 90)

“Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.”  (Prayer before Communion)

Creation Both Good and Wounded

“This makes a kind of sense until I look at a child, at all that is wonderful in the world, and then see that creation is both profoundly good and wounded beyond our understanding.  The fact that it takes the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection to cut into the ice around our hearts shows the depths of the catastrophe.

And the fact that the catastrophe is often more apparent to us than the goodness of creation is not the way God wanted things to be.”  (John Garvey, DEATH AND THE REST OR OUR LIFE, pp 42-43)