The World and I

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

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. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.   (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

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The Gospels as well as the entire Bible gives recognition at times to a spiritual warfare of cosmic dimensions which is ongoing within the created universe.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate and entered into the world exactly to engage in this warfare on our behalf.  Oftentimes in our daily lives we are not aware of the ongoing spiritual warfare, though some people, monks for example are consciously engaged in the warfare on a daily basis.

That Christ came into the world to enter into the fray on our behalf is obvious in today’s Gospel lesson:

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

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Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.  (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

The Gospel lesson shows Christ active in the world, not enthroned in the comfort and safety of heaven, and not just piously praying in the temple.  It is a lesson about Christ engaging evil face to face in a desolate place where most humans have decided not to go.  Christ is God’s presence and power in the world casting out the forces of Satan from the lives of two rather unsavory men.

Whether we think in these terms or not, we ourselves come to church in order to personally experience that presence of the Kingdom in our lives, to commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God and to show our own rejection of all that is evil.  Our presence at the Liturgy is not withdrawal from the world, nor fleeing the real presence of evil in the world, but rather adding ourselves to the spiritual war against Satan.  Throughout the Liturgy we are praying for and about the world and all that is in the world.    We unite ourselves to Christ in order to defeat Satan in our own lives so that we can be what Christ expects of us:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

In the Gospel, it is obvious that Christ does not just talk to those who are holy, sinless, without problems.  He engages everyone in the world, even those possessed by Satan.

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Compared to life in Biblical times, we have many modern advantages that help relieve suffering, pain and sickness.  The medical progress and social welfare  we experience are a direct result of Christian efforts to help the needy and to relieve suffering.  The impetus was the mercy and care that Christianity advocated for the poor and needy.  It was the Christians who established hospices and hospitals and famine relief and care for orphans and widows throughout the Roman Empire.  That was the seed for the development of medical science and social concern for those in need.   This was a real response to the evil they could see everywhere and which most people simply tried to avoid.

War of the Worlds 2It is interesting that science fiction often portrays the earth being invaded by an alien army which attempts to destroy life on earth or tries to turn everyone into inhuman possessions of the aliens.  Science fiction really is just borrowing the narrative of the Gospel.  Science fiction turns Satan into an alien invader, but the story is the same.  The world is at risk and we need to repel the invasion.  The Scriptures tell us the alien invader is Satan  and Christ came into the world to drive back this alien invasion and to overcome the spreading corruption of the Evil One.  That is what Christ does in the Gospels, and whether we see it or not, it is what we are doing in the Church through the exorcism at Baptism and in our becoming the Body of Christ.

Throughout the Gospel Christ is present in the world seeking lost sheep, injured lambs, the sick and the possessed.  Christ freely went even to places and people who had forsaken God.    We attend the Liturgy to make Christ present in our lives, because we agree and believe that there is real evil in the world and we want it defeated.  We unite ourselves to Christ to expel evil from our lives.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ to strengthen ourselves in the spiritual warfare so that we can go back into the world to defeat evil and witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We accept the risk of what spiritual warfare means – including martyrdom.   Our task is not simply to come to the church to receive Christ and be united to Him.  Our task is to go back into the world to get Christ out of the Church and into the entire world, to claim our lives for God and be God’s servants daily so that evil is crushed because we are oriented to God.  We don’t need to orient ourselves toward evil to defeat it, we defeat evil by completing orienting our lives, our hearts and minds to God.  If we keep our eyes and hearts on Christ, Satan and evil are automatically defeated.

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The Liturgy in the Church orients our lives toward the Kingdom of God, it helps us always keep our face toward God.  In the Liturgy we are always facing in one direction toward God, with our backs toward Satan because we have left evil behind us.  That is the symbolism of the Liturgy and why we stand and orient ourselves this way in the Liturgy rather than sitting around in circle with the altar at our center.

Our spiritual struggle is not just against our personal sins and passions, it is part of the cosmic warfare against Satan and all evil powers.    This is why it is so difficult to overcome our personal sins and failings.  Our struggle within ourselves immediately puts us into the conflict with Satan and his forces.  When you desire to stop any sin or passion within yourself, lust, greed, anger, lying, etc, you are at once engaged in the spiritual warfare which is raging through the entire world. One difficulty in overcoming our sins, temptations and passions is we are not prepared to engage in the full spiritual warfare against Satan, and we fail to think of ourselves as part of the world or part of a greater whole.  We tend to see our self as isolated and in a lonely struggle and that we just have personal problems, but the reality is we really are part of a bigger war.  Christ came into the world to take on Himself the sin of the world, to directly confront and defeat Satan.  But we have to keep ourselves united to Christ to benefit from His power.  We keep ourselves united to Christ in the Communion of the Saints, in the Church, through confession, communion , prayer, the Liturgy, bible study, in practicing charity and forgiveness.  We learn to love in and through community and that keeps us in the Body of Christ.

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How do we keep Satan from influencing our lives?    A willingness to listen to God’s Word, listening to God’s word, heartfelt prayer, a devout fear of God, true Christian love for God and for one another, a desire to serve God, humility, self-denial, seeking truth, doing God’s will as revealed in the Gospel commandments.

What is a Biblical Prophet?

And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”   (1 Kings 17:24)

On July 20 we Orthodox commemorate the Holy Prophet Elijah (Elias).

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“…the word prophet (a compound from the Greek word for “speaker”) does not mean in the first instance someone who predicts the future, but one who speaks out on behalf of God – not one who foretells, therefore, but one who tells-forth (which often also includes, of course, foretelling the future). The primary and defining characteristic of the biblical prophet, then, is to be sought in the divine vocation and mission of telling and speaking in the name and by the designated authority of Another.”  (Jaroslave Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It? p. 11)

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Condemned for Not Believing?

Mark 16:9-20 presents to us an interesting dilemma to consider.  Are unbelievers condemned for all eternity?    The text begins:

Now when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

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The text indicates that the eleven remaining Apostles are twice told that Jesus has risen from the dead.  First Mary Magdalene, who in this text of Mark’s Gospel is the very first person to hear the Gospel of the resurrection, directly encounters the Risen Lord Himself.   She goes and tells the Apostles, but they refuse to believe.  Then two others encounter the Risen Christ and they too go to the Apostles to tell them that Jesus is alive.  Again the Apostles refuse to believe. What happens next is that Jesus Himself appears to the eleven Apostles:

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Jesus chastises them for their unbelief – the Apostles had not believed the witness of those three people who had talked with Him after He had risen.  The Apostles were not a people unprepared for the Good News – they had spent the previous three years in intense personal training under the tutelage of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  They were the most prepared people in the entire world to hear the Gospel, and yet they didn’t believe the Good News.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Now, comes the dilemma.  Jesus says those who do “not believe will be condemned.”  The Apostles themselves did not believe.  So do they stand condemned?   Their repentance for initially not believing is not recorded.  They eventually do go into the world and do as Jesus commands.  Their initial unbelief is not held against them.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”   So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.

The Apostles who were hand-picked and discipled for three years by the Lord Jesus Himself, did not believe the Gospel when they first heard it proclaimed.  They even heard it twice and still disbelieved.  It is only when Jesus appears to them directly and upbraided them that they apparently believed.  They did not remain condemned forever despite twice disbelieving the Gospel proclaimed to them.

This is a great message of hope for the world that Jesus’ first reaction to disbelief will not be eternal condemnation, but a tongue lashing from the Lord.  If His hand-chosen disciples after three years of living with Jesus did not believe the message of the resurrection when they heard it proclaimed, perhaps it is reasonable that others who never met Jesus also disbelieve us and the Gospel.  Maybe they all will be given the same chance as the Apostles – to personally encounter the Risen Lord before any judgment or condemnation is actually pronounced.  The Apostles were shown great mercy despite failing after all the advantages they had by being personally trained by Jesus.  We can hope that Christ will be even more merciful to those who never met Him, let alone being discipled by Him, and who disbelieve.

When the Apostles heard the Good News, they were not people who had never heard of Jesus or the Gospel.  They were the best trained Christians on the planet, and yet they disbelieved.  Jesus still chose patience and mercy toward them.  Giving them power and opportunity to serve Him.

The Bee is the Worship of God

The bee is the worship of God (St Macarius, d. 392AD)

I have posted several accounts about bees through the years, noting how bees are kept in high regard by many spiritual writers in the Orthodox tradition  (see for example:

The Blessing of the Bees

How Sweet It Is to Bee

Flies, Bees and Seeing One’s Own Sin

Three Hierarchs: Apis mellifera 

“Let your works form as it were a honeycomb of sweetness, for virginity deserves to be compared to bees, being so industrious, so modest, so self-controlled.  The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage bed, it forms honey.  The dew of the virgin is the divine utterance – because the words of God descend like dew.   ….  Daughter, how I wish you to be an imitator of this little bee whose food is the flower, whose offspring is gathered by mouth and formed by mouth.  Imitate it, daughter.”  (St Ambrose of Milan (d. 397AD), EARLY CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, pp 93-94)

Bees are used as models of virtue, inspiring us to good behavior.  They are used to teach about the spiritual life, sometimes allegorized to make specific points to help us understand the world as Christians.  They are used to explain the mysteries of God’s own activity in our lives.  Usually it is the honey bee (apis mellifera)  that is being mentioned in these Orthodox writings, but my posts have photos of all kinds of bees, just because I like the bees in general.   The honey bee has been domesticated by humans since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.  It is the only insect I know for which there are specific Orthodox prayers asking God to bless them and their hives.

The brother inquired again, “Tell me about constancy in God, my father.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is like the honeybee flying in the midst of the green plants and the flowers of the field, sucking honey until it fills its hive with what it has gathered: unless someone smokes out the hive, it cannot be robbed of its sweetness.” The brother said to him, “What is the smoke and what is the sweetness, my father?” The old man said to him, “Acts of fornication and defilements and abominations and pollutions and envious thoughts and hatreds and vain imaginings and the remaining pleasures: these are the smoke. The flowers on the other hand are the virtues;

the bee is the worship of God; the hive is the heart; the sweetness itself is our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the person who shows constancy and who fills his soul with all the virtues and with all purity is the one who demonstrates constancy in God. Go, my child.”   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 2409-2418)

A Syrian monk of the 4th Century writes:

“Like a bee that secretly fashions its comb in the hive, so also grace secretly forms in hearts its own love.  It changes to sweetness what is bitter, what is rough into that which is smooth.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS: THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 132)

“Look at the bee, how diligently it labors!  It gives of itself without reserve, unsparingly.  The lifespan of a bee is a month and a half at the most.  It often dies working without going back to its home, the hive.  And we?  How we pity ourselves and spare ourselves!  . . .  we give up immediately if things do not go the way we want them to!”  (Elder Thaddeus, OUR THOUGHTS DETERMINE OUR LIVES, p 90)

You can find other of my bee photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/        Search for bees or bee and click on Search Photos.

Being Humble, A Sinner or Virtuous?

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  (Luke 15:7 )

But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.   (Romans 5:8)

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15)

Athonite Elder Porphyrios writes:

We must all be humble: in thought, in word and in behavior. We will never go before God and say, ‘I have virtues.’ God does not want our virtues. Always appear before God as a sinner, not with despair, but ‘trusting in the mercy of His compassion’. Suffice it that we find the secret. 

The secret is love for Christ and humility. Christ will give us the humility. We with our weaknesses are unable to love Him. Let Him love us. Let us entreat Him earnestly to love us and to give us zeal for us to love Him too. (Wounded by Love, p. 154)

Fellowship Hour in the Ancient Church

Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457AD) commented on what for him was an ancient practice of the Christians sharing a meal together after their Eucharistic celebration.  He saw it as a wonderful opportunity for the wealthy to share with and minister to the poor and needy members of the Christian community.  He presents this as normal and expected behavior for the local parish.

They were in the habit in the churches, in fact, after the eucharistic ritual, of eating in common, rich and poor alike, and from this practice great consolation derived for the needy; the affluent brought provisions from home, and those in the grip of poverty shared in the good cheer on account of their participation in the faith. (Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, p. 205)

Truth is Truth

“‘Truth is truth, wherever it is found, and while Orthodox Christianity does claim uniquely to teach the fullness of truth, it does not claim a monopoly on truth. On that basis, Orthodox Christians are open to mutual learning and mutual transformation. This step may sound radical. But once we admit that truth exists outside our own faith, and especially if we say that everything that is true is true because it reflects Jesus Christ (who is Truth), then we must be open to the ways in which God’s truth has been found even in faiths that do not share our belief in Christ.’ (Peter Bouteneff)”

“‘[Justin] says that all truth belongs to Christians because God, through the Word, is the source of all truth, and the Word who took on human flesh in Christ is the fullness of all human truth. But those who even unwittingly have participated in this truth are in some sense in communion with it however imperfectly, and this is because ‘seeds of the Word (logos)’ [logos spermatikos] are found everywhere.’ (John Garvey)”

(Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, p. 50 & 60)

Servant of God vs Slave of Sin

7474538216_118f8705be_nAs he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.  (Matthew 8:5-13)

In Matthew 8:5-13, we learn a little bit about being a servant. This Roman army officer, a commander of 100 soldiers, who is used to giving orders and being obeyed, comes to Jesus not as a commander but as a servant himself to beg for mercy from Christ for one of his slaves. And this Centurion gives a good description of what being a servant means. “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” A servant is meant to do what he is commanded to do by the master.

A servant serves others and doesn’t demand his own way. That is what the centurion models as he humbles himself before Christ.   This should cause us to ask ourselves:  am I not supposed to be a servant of God? Then, what should I be doing?  If in relationship to God, I am God’s servant, how am I to behave?

Certainly, not demanding God do what I want, but rather I should be studiously trying to figure out what God wants me to do.

7811283412_2b464de92a_nAt some point in my life I decided to follow Jesus Christ, to be His servant. I must admit that being a servant was a concept that was nebulous to me as I never grew up around anyone who had servants. But I had this vague sense that I was supposed to obey God in my life. I’ve found it to be very difficult to be a servant of God because at times I forget that I am the servant and God is the master. In my prayer life I demand things from God instead of standing before my master to clarify what I am supposed to do to serve Him. I sometimes forget (and other times ignore!) some of the commandments that Christ gave to me through the scriptures. More embarrassingly, I occasionally even forget about my master – namely God. I get involved in life and lose awareness of His existence. Even worse, I have strong feelings and passions and opinions which make me want to act in a way that I know is contrary to God’s will. So I have to struggle with these questions – do I really want to be a servant of God? What price am I willing to pay to be God’s servant? Am I willing to put aside my wants and my will to serve God? AND to serve others as God commands me?

The centurion in the Gospel lesson understood well what it is to be under command and also to command others.  He knew how to obey and serve as well as give orders.  As a Christian, I need to understand Jesus is Lord, and I am to be his servant.

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Also note in the Matthew 8 that Jesus first talks about the kingdom of God before healing the Centurion’s servant. “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness…” The centurion’s humility and faith speak to Christ about the Kingdom of God. Christ recognizes the presence of the Kingdom in the centurion – who also happened to be an officer in the army oppressing Israel!  When Christ sees the Kingdom present in the centurion, then He declares the servant healed. He recognizes the Kingdom in this Roman soldier because the soldier showed himself willing to be a servant of God. Christ will also see in us His Kingdom anytime we willingly serve others and do God’s will.

Being a servant of God is a blessed thing.  St. Paul in Romans 6:17-23 talks about another issue related to being a servant: being slaves of sin.  Here we see the negative side of being a servant.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:17-23)

39348295742_6827d42f96_nSt. Paul shows us sin is not merely disobeying a rule, sin enslaves. It controls our behavior and our way of seeing the world. Christ comes to deliver us from slavery to sin so that we can love God and love one another.

Sin is an attitude which shapes everything we do or think or say. To sin is to miss the mark or completely miss the goal, to fail to do and be what we are supposed to do and be.  On the other hand, “Good” as a word meant to do or be what you are created by God to do or be. Being good means to do what God wants you to do. A story from the desert fathers to illustrate that sin is more than breaking a law or that sin is complete lawlessness:

There was a wealthy Christian man who was known for being a great philanthropist. One day the abbot of the monastery came to visit him. It happened that a poor widow also came to the rich man and asked for a little wheat. The man told her to bring a cup and he would fill the cup for her. The woman came back with a pot. The man chided her, “This pot is too large. You are a greedy woman.” The widow blushed and was shamed by her benefactor. After she left, the abbot said to the man, “Were you selling the wheat to the widow?” The man said, “No, I was giving it to her in charity.” The monk replied, “If you gave her the wheat in charity, why did you speak harshly to her and measure the amount of wheat you gave her and put her to shame?”

Maybe we even sympathize with the rich man, but the story shows us that sin distorts our view of everything, even charity. Sin is not just disobeying a law, it is a failure to love and act in accordance with the commandments of our Lord Jesus.

Sin is death because it separates us from God, and from God’s love.

Union with Christ means salvation from sin. Generally we seem to want salvation to mean we are saved from sin’s consequences such as the bad results from what we do, or from sin’s guilt,  or from punishment for sin and from hell. Salvation means far more than this – for it means the possibility of living for God and overcoming sin in our life so that guilt and fear of death no longer have any meaning for us.  Salvation means we can actually serve God and receive God’s love.

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It is also true at times that if we suffer as a result of our own sins, the suffering can be a form of mercy – it warns us to change our life, it warns us that sin leads to death and that it is time to change our minds, our hearts, our direction in life.

Christ comes to free us from enslavement to sin, so that we can be united to God. Being united to God, being God’s servant, requires of us to be willing to love God and one another.   It is only by being united to God that we can fulfill our task to be God’s servant.  Salvation is not simply from the consequences of sin but from slavery to sin.  We regain our humanity by being re-united to God.

Enslaved to the Tyranny of Sin

Sometimes we reduce sin to a notion of breaking a few commandments.  And as serious as believers might consider that, St Paul takes sin to an entirely different level.  For he portrays sin as horrific, brutal and inhumane – enslaving us, and thus forcefully dehumanizing us.  He writes:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:17-23)

St Gregory of Nyssa comments:

For each of our impulses, when it takes control, becomes the master and we the slave. Like a tyrant it seizes the citadel of the soul, and by means of its underlings plays havoc with its subjects, using our own thoughts as the servants of its good pleasure. There they are: anger, fear, cowardice, arrogance, pleasure, grief, hatred, spite, heartless cruelty, jealousy, flattery, bearing grudges and resentment, and all the other hostile drives within us – there is your array of the masters and tyrants that try to enslave the soul, their prisoner of war, and bring it under their control. (From Glory to Glory, p. 89)

Give Rest, O Lord, to Those Who Have Fallen Asleep

In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John hears a voice calling from heaven saying:

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”  (Revelation 14:13)

It is a promise of eternal rest for the saints of God – rest from labor, hardships and all toil and tears.   It is the final lifting of the curse that was imposed on our ancestors, Eve and Adam, after they sinned against God.

And to Adam God said, “Because you … have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”   (Genesis 3:17-19)

The labors we experience because life in this world of the Fall is hard and at times harsh.  It is God who promises us a rest from all labor when the eternal kingdom is established.

In our funerals and memorial services, we pray that God will give rest to the souls of those servants of God who have departed this life, just as is promised in Revelation.  We even speak in our services of dying as falling asleep, we are entering into a rest from our labors.  Yet, even though death is a sleep, a rest from our labors, we fear death, and often avoid talking about it.  Death is the one thing in life we are guaranteed to experience but we rarely want to think about it. Talk about living in denial!

We all look forward to the joy of the Pascha midnight celebration, and yet what are we singing about there?  Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…   Pascha is all about death and the dead – about the death of death.  The very things we avoid thinking about are both part of the greatest celebration of the Orthodox Church.

Myself, I am preparing to enter into retirement, which I hope will be a rest from my labors, but then I think about the Parable of Jesus:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16-21)

I hope I am not that rich fool.  I know I’m not financially rich.  I did not work to build the parish in order to have an easy life in this world.  My hope is that our labor in establishing St. Paul parish has made us rich towards God.  So when the day comes for us to enter into that sleep, we will do so joyfully awaiting God to call us awake.

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)