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)

Naming Every Living Creature

“So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field…”  (Genesis 2:19-20)

“And yet man was created for this possession, he was called to it when in paradise God appointed him king of creation, invested him with the authority to give names to “every living creature,” i.e., to know them from within, in their deepest essence.  And thus the knowledge that is restored by this thanksgiving is not knowledge about the world, but of the world, for this thanksgiving is knowledge of God, and by the same token apprehension of the world as God’s world.

It is knowing not only that everything in the world has its cause in God – which, in the end, “knowledge about the world” is also capable of – but also that everything in the world and the world itself is a gift of God’s love, a revelation by God of his very self, summoning us in everything to know God, through everything to be in communion with him, to possess everything as life in him. … and again we witness to the world as a new creation, recreated as the ‘paradise of delight,’ in which everything created by God is called to become our partaking of the divine love, of the divine life.”  (Alexander Schmemann, THE EUCHARIST, p 177)

Pleiades Star Cluster

Today science continues to name created things in this world –  we name new elements, new bacteria and viruses, new species, dinosaurs and other extinct animals, as well as stars and even cosmic events.  We continue to do what God commanded humans to do from the beginning, to name things as a way of understanding and knowing them.  And, thus for those who believe, even science continues to be a means for us to give thanks and glory to God.

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.

Trust God

 

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

 

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? . .  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-27,34)

 

“If you believe firmly that God cares for you, then you do not need to worry about the body, nor need you be concerned about discovering ways how to conduct your life. If, however, you doubt God’s care, and want to look after yourself without God, then you are the most miserable person imaginable.”  (The Wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh, p. 6)

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) 

Humanity as an Icon of God

‘The glory of God is man’, affirms the Talmud (Derech Eretz Zutta 10,5); and Irenaeus states the same: ‘The glory of God is a living man.’ The human person forms the centre and crown of God’s creation. Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made ‘in the image and likeness’ of God (Gen. 1:26). Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression. 

Sometimes the Greek Fathers associate the divine image or ‘ikon’ in man with the totality of his nature, considered as a trinity of spirit, soul and body. At other times they connect the image more specifically with the highest aspect of man, with his spirit or spiritual intellect, through which he attains knowledge of God and union with him. Fundamentally, the image of God in man denotes everything that distinguishes man from the animals, that makes him in the full and true sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.

…To believe that man is made in God’s image is to believe that man is created for communion and union with God, and that if he rejects this communion he ceases to be properly human. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is in a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the inner-most centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human.  (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp. 64-65, 67)

Becoming Christian

Becoming Christian 

  • Jesus Christ’s act of salvation, his victory over death and sin through his cross and resurrection, is indeed complete and definitive.

  • Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).
  • But, while the Lord’s victory is certainly an accomplished fact, my personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete.
  • As St. Paul states “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own…” (Phil 3:12).
  • My personal incorporation in Christ is incomplete, not because of any defect or lack of strength on his side, but because for my part I retain continuing freedom of choice, the ability to refuse as well as to obey.
  • In the words of St. Anthony the Great of Egypt: “Expect temptation until your last breath” and with temptation there always goes the possibility of falling.
  • My trust is therefore in Christ, not in myself, and I am confident that Christ is faithful and stands firm.

  • According, then, to the soteriological perspective of the Orthodox Church, salvation – when viewed from the standpoint of the human subject that receives it – is not a single event in that person’s past but an ongoing process.
  • To quote Martin Luther (not that the Lutherans consider salvation to be a process): “This life is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming.
  • I am on a journey, and that journey has not yet reached its conclusion.  
  • On the Orthodox understanding of the fall and its consequences, humans – retaining as they do the divine image – retain also the freedom to choose between right and wrong.

  • The exercise of our free choice, while restricted and undetermined by the fall, has not been abolished.
  • In our fallen state the human will is sick but it is not dead; and although more difficult, it is still possible for humans to choose the good.
  • We Orthodox cannot agree with Augustine when he maintains that, in consequence of the fall, “free will was lost” or when he claims that we are under “a harsh necessity” of committing sin, and that “human nature was overcome by the fault into which it fell, and so came to lack freedom.”
  • Against this the Orthodox Church affirms, in the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, that each human being “has the power to do what it wishes. For you do not sin by virtue of your birth.” Fallen humanity has always the possibility to resist temptation: “The devil can make suggestions, but does not have the power to compel you against your will.

(Kallistos Ware, How are we Saved?, pp. 4, 6, 32)

Keeping a Strict Fast

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

As we continue to sojourn through the Apostle’s Fast as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, we are reminded that whether or not we strictly keep food fasting rules, we are as Christians obligated to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another as He loves us .

The monastic elders stressed conversion, compassion, and forgiveness, which they saw as far more important than the most extreme ascetic practices.

As one elder declared, “If a man have humility and poverty and judge not another, that is how the fear of the Lord gets into him.”

Another elder taught, “It is better to eat meat and drink wine than by detraction to devour the flesh of your brother.” (Jim Forest, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, p. 31)