St. Paul Living On Earth as In Heaven

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

St. John Chrysostom writes about the Apostle:

“For this Paul, who stripped down to his flesh, renouncing his body, and almost naked, encircled the whole world with his soul, having exiled from his mind every passion. And imitating the apathea of the bodiless powers, and living on earth as if in heaven, and standing with the cherubim above, and taking part in their mystical song, he easily bore everything – enduring, as if he were in another’s body, imprisonment, chains, arrests, scourgings, threats of death, stonings, dunkings, and every other kind of punishment.”

(Letters to Saint Olympia, p. 78)

The Church is the Body of Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.   (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

Peter Kreeft comments on being a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ, the Church:

“I am I whether or not I am a part of a party, a club or a nation.

But this is not true of members (organs) in a body. Remove heart, lungs or kidneys from the body and they die.

A member of a group has a life outside the group; an organ in a body has no life outside the body. An eye removed from the body and put on a plate no longer lives. It is even no longer an eye. It cannot see outside the body, it loses its identity.

This is how we are related to the Church. The Church is not essentially an organization but an organism. The Church is not Christ’s society but Christ’s Body.

The Christian has no life or identity apart from Christ (and therefore apart from his Body). If I were to die and discover that there was no Christ, that Christ was dead, that Christ was not God, that I was not alive with his life in his Body, then I would not be I, I would be another person.

(Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 319-320)

Most interesting insight into being a member of the Church – “The Church is not Christ’s society but Christ’s Body.”  Each member is indispensable to the Body, and no Christian can claim that he or she does  not need the Body of Christ.   The Body is essential to the life of each Christian who can remain alive only as part of the Body.

Jesus: The Word of God

“The all-too-frequent pitfalls of speculating on the nature of God helped make the option of saying nothing a desirable one. Within the heart of the Godhead itself some early Christian writers had discovered a profound silence, that of the Father, from out of which the Word, the second person of the Trinity, was spoken. Ignatius of Antioch was a pioneer in this respect. Writing at the very beginning of the second century, he says, ‘There is one God, who manifested himself through Jesus Christ, his Son, who is his Word, coming forth from silence, who in all things was pleasing to the one who sent him.

Two and a half centuries later the idea was still alive in the poetry of Ephrem the Syrian:

‘Glory to the One who came to us by his First-Born.

Glory to that Silent One who spoke by means of his Voice.'”

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, p. 44-45)

Creativity: Revealing the Truth or the Self?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after . . .
to behold the beauty of the LORD…  (Psalm 27:4)

Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw . . .   (2 Kings 6:17)

In 2008, I decided to purchase a camera for myself.  I certainly had no ‘philosophy’ of photography which was driving me.  I wanted to take pictures of things I enjoyed looking at, and my first interest was the trees.  I was then and am now a walk-by shooter.  I take photos of whatever catches my eye.  Excuse the pun, but I have no focus in my photography.

I discovered however that photography changed me.  It made me pay more attention to nearly everything – from color to light, from the smallest of things to the big picture of landscapes.  I became more alert to sounds and smells as well as shapes, shades and sizes. Patterns interested me and texture, and I realized that sometimes photos told stories.  I realized that unlike language which one has to know to communicate, photos are a somewhat international language which people can understand and appreciate no matter what their native tongue.

I’ve never even risen to the level of being an amateur photographer, for the root of that word means “a lover of …”.   And I know that while I have enjoyed photography, I’ve not loved it so much as to study it or learn how to improve my skills.  I do a lot of trial and error and don’t remember the lessons.

I read Jan Phillips’ book, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, with the hope of gaining insight into how to be a better photographer, but realize I probably will always be the walk by shooter and will never take the time to learn the art of photography or the science of the computer which the digital camera is.  I was intrigued by Phillip’s comments on art and creativity, somewhat because I do not share a lot of her values or experience about life, art, photographs or photography.  She writes:

“A creative act is a process of conjuring up something visible from the invisible, of transforming a thought or experience into a form that can be perceived or encountered by another.  Creativity is a universal human urge.  We each yearn to express our experiences in such a way that others can know them vividly and sense their significance.  Art emerges out of this urgency to share our lives, our visions and voices, fears and passions, and every work of art reveals something intimate about the artist.

Her words above are different than my inner life.  I remain an introvert and shy.  I have no yearning to express my inner experiences, no urge to be creative and show off my ‘art.’  I’m amazed when anyone pays any attention to what I’ve written or photographed.  My works are not original, but trying to frame what I see and hear and read – things that stand out from the world around me and all created by someone else.  I find her image of “conjuring up something visible from the invisible” intriguing, but see myself only drawing attention to what is visible, but perhaps overlooked.

Phillips writes:

When I look into a mirror, I see my face, my body, the form of my being.  When I look into my images, it is my soul that I find reflected, parts of myself that cannot be revealed in language.  I could tell you about myself in puffed-up words, exaggerating my abilities, emphasizing my strengths, leaving out my flaws and failings, and you would walk away with a certain notion about who I am.  If, instead, I handed you a box of my photographs and said, ‘This is the essence of who I am,’ your understanding of me would be truer, undistorted by language and interpretation.  My photographs are a direct line to my inner world.  They are the shortest distance between my soul and yours.

While I believe what she says is true, my photos do say something about me, I don’t see them as revealing me as much as they show to what I pay attention.  I’m far more interested in the world outside of myself.  Every one of my photos is an enigmatic photo of me exactly because I’m not in them.  I like to be invisible and so prefer being the photographer than the photographed.  And unlike Phillips, I think even photographs are interpreted so they are always seen through the lens of the experience of the beholder.

Again Phillips writes:

Even more important, my photographs are a direct line between my soul and me.  As much as an image speaks of the things seen, it speaks also of the person who photographs it.  In Photography of Natural Things, Freeman Patterson writes that ‘the finest images- the images that stir our souls- combine documentation of natural things with a sense of what they mean to us.’  My take on a desert dune or a redwood forest is not only different from any other photographer’s but reflects where I am emotionally and spiritually on the day when I’m shooting.  If I am feeling fearful in the face of an oncoming storm, my image will contain a sense of that.  If I am standing on mountain top, awed by the grandeur, my awe will be reflected in the photograph I make.  I listen for what my subject is saying to me, and once I know that, I can make a photograph that expresses both what it is and who I am as I see it.

The above comment is definitely one way in which I fall short as a photographer.  I don’t always think about what the subject or the scene means to me or what I feel about it.  I’m certainly guilty of allowing myself to view life only through the camera and not enjoying or experiencing what is right before my eyes.

I don’t try to capture awe or fear in my photos though I think the idea is right.  I am not as convinced as her that my take on a subject is all that different than others.  I’ve seen the photos of my family members of a given place or event which we all experienced.  We often focus on the same thing, though granted there can be variation on what each was trying to capture in the moment.

Minor White said that the goal of the serious photographer is ‘to get from the tangible to the intangible, to render the image in such a way that it becomes a metaphor for something else- usually the photographer’s state of mind.'”  (Jan Phillips, GOD IS AT EYE LEVEL, pp 91-92)

I wonder, can I see myself in my photography?

It seems to me that for Phillips “art” as just an expression of what is in the person, individualism, the person creates the art.  My sense of art is that it reveals what is there to be seen, especially the beauty.  Is that just another dandelion – another pesky weed, or is there something beautiful that we can see?    Can we see beyond the visible to the invisible Creator of beauty?  I think we can.

The difference in how we see the world is the difference in understanding  between a Transfiguration in which Christ suddenly reveals His divinity like a nuclear blast to His disciples, or one in which the disciples are the ones transformed  – everything that prevents them from seeing reality is removed from their eyes and now in the transfiguration they finally see Christ as He always is.

Phillips in her book writes about “self-discovery” and what a thing or the the thing she photographs “means to me“.  I think what art is really about is discovering the other, the not-me, so that I find my place in the world, in God, my relationship to all that is, because all that is is not my creation or just a way to find me or just what it means to me.  In discovering the other, I learn to think beyond the self, to open myself to love – loving the other and being loved by the other.  I realize their is an entire created order which I did not create but has a real Creator.  Self-discovery can quickly disintegrate into self-love which is the opposite of love, which is always oriented  in the full meaning of that word – exactly other directed or directed toward the other.  Love gives us direction, it orients us!

The beauty of photography is not what it reveals about me, but that it reveals beauty is beyond me, not limited by my ideas, but a window into the eternal Creator which can be seen by all.  The photograph gets me to stop for one second and realize the beauty of truth and the truth of beauty.

Cultivating vs Chaos

“Woe to the road if no one walks along it nor hears in it the voice of man, because it has become the den of wild beasts!  Woe to the soul in which the Lord does not pass along its route and from which the Lord does not drive out by his voice the spiritual wild beasts of evil!

 Woe to the house where the master does not abide!

Woe to the earth which does not have a farmer to cultivate it!

Woe to the ship without a navigator, because it is carried along by the waves and by the heaving of the sea and is lost!

Woe to the soul which does not have the true navigator, Christ, in it, because finding itself on the sea of frightful darkness and tossed to and fro by the heaving of the passions and beaten by the winter storm of evil spirits, it finally gains perdition!

Woe to the soul when it does not have Christ, cultivating it with care so as to bring forth good fruits of the Spirit; because left sterile and filled with thorns and thistles, its fruit finally is burning in the fire.  Woe to the soul when it does not have Christ as its Master dwelling in it, because being abandoned and filled with the foul odor of passions, it finds itself a dwelling place of iniquity.

Just as the farmer, when he girds himself to cultivate the soil, must take the tools and clothing for cultivating, so Christ the King, the heavenly and true cultivator, when he came to humanity made barren by evil, put on the body and carried the cross as his tool and worked the barren soul and removed from it the thorns and thistles of evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin and burned up with fire every weed of its sins.

And in this way he cultivated it with the wood of the cross and planted in it the most beautiful paradise of the Spirit, bearing every fruit that is sweet and delectable to God as its owner.”

(Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES AND THE GREAT LETTER, pp 184-185)

Clothe Yourself With Christ

“‘As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them…But love ye your enemies and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again and your reward shall be great and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father is also merciful.’ (Luke 6:30-36)

These words of Christ describe two ways. On the one hand, the ‘natural’ way is to do good to them that do good to us, to love them that love us. The other way, the way of the Gospel, takes us far beyond the natural way. Christ leads us to a deeper, supernatural way of life, a reflection of the perfect life of God: ‘Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful.’ This commandment raises the human soul to great heights, for by it we are made children of the Heavenly Father and become like unto God.

The Lord’s commandment does not have a negative character. He does not say, ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you’ but ‘Do unto others that which is precious to you, which so fills your soul that you would wish to receive it from them.’ Christian asceticism is ultimately meaningless unless it has a positive character. It is not simply a matter of ‘don’t do this or that’ but rather ‘do this, and be perfect’. We struggle not merely – to divest ourselves of the passions of the old man, but to clothe ourselves with the new man, the New Adam, that is, with Christ Himself.”

(Archimandrite Zacharaias, Remember Thy First Love, p. 316-317)

Deliver Us From Evil

“The awesome force of evil does not lie in evil as such, but in its destruction of our faith in goodness – our conviction that good is stronger than evil. This is the meaning of temptation. And even the very attempt to explain evil by virtue of rational arguments, to legitimize it, if one can put it this way, is that very same temptation, it is the inner surrender before evil. For the Christian attitude towards evil consists precisely in the understanding that evil has no explanation, no justification, no basis, that it is the root of rebellion against God, falling away from God, a rupture from full life, and that God does not give us explanations for evil, but strength to resist evil and power to overcome it. And again, this victory lies not in the ability to understand and explain evil but rather in the ability to face it with the full force of faith, the full force of hope, and love that temptations are overcome, they are the answer to temptation, the victory over temptations, and therefore the victory over evil.

Here lies the victory of Christ, the one whose whole life was one seamless temptation. He was constantly in the midst of evil in all its forms, beginning with the slaughter of innocent infants at the time of his birth and ending in horrible isolation, betrayal by all, physical torture, and an accursed death on the cross. In one sense the Gospels are an account of the power of evil and the victory over it – an account of Christ’s temptation.

And Christ didn’t once explain and therefore didn’t justify and legitimize evil, but he constantly confronted it with faith, hope, and love. He didn’t destroy evil, but he did reveal the power of struggle with evil, and he gave this power to us, and it is about this power that we pray when we say: “And lead us not into temptation.”

The Gospel says about Christ that when he was suffering alone, at night, in the garden, abandoned by all, when he “began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Mt. 26:37), when all the force of temptation fell on him, an angel came from heaven and strengthened him.

It is about this same mystical assistance that we pray, so that in the face of evil, suffering, and temptation our faith would not waver, our hope not weaken, our love not dry up, that the darkness of evil not reign in our hearts and become itself the fuel for evil. Our prayer is that we can trust in God, as Christ trusted in him, that all the temptations would be smashed against our strength.

We pray also that God would deliver us from the evil one, and here we are given not an explanation but one more revelation, this time about the personal nature of evil, about the person as the bearer and source of evil.”   (Alexander Schmemann, Our Father, pp. 78-81)

Theosis: Being a God to the Unfortunate

Many Orthodox note that the goal of the Christian life is theosis or deification – the goal is not to get to some distant”heaven”.  Rather the goal is to transform and transfigure our own life and our own being, now on earth.   As in heaven, so on earth is what we pray in the Lord’s prayer.  The goal of the Christian life is not merely to get to some eschatological and transcendent location, but to become and be the temple of God – the very place where God dwells on earth!  And attaining theosis in this life means to be like God – to be a God to the unfortunate, offering love and mercy to those in need.  Fr. John D. Jones  writes:

As Orthodox Christians, we recognize the ultimate goal of the Christian life is theosis or divinization—becoming like God as much as is possible for human beings. Yet this process of theosis is not a matter of a discarnate spirituality that retreats from human need and suffering. The journey towards theosis is rather expressed through concrete acts of love and mercy in imitation of God, who is love. As St. Gregory the Theologian writes, ‘Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.’…[doing so] constitutes a sacred obligation for us to minister in Christ’s name to our neighbor; that is, to every person in need whom we encounter (cf. Luke 10:25–37).  —Metropolitan Anthony (Gergiannakis)

Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God. There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.” So wrote St. Greogry the Theologian near the end of his Oration XIV, On the Love of the Poor. This theme is basic to the oration from the start:

Beautiful is contemplation (theoria=the knowledge and vision) of God, as likewise beautiful is action (praxis). The one is beautiful because it conducts our mind upward to what is akin to it. The other is beautiful because it welcomes Christ, serves him, and confirms the power of love through good works (sec. 4)…. Of all things, nothing so serves God as mercy because nothing else is more proper to God (sec. 5)…. We must, then, open our hearts to all the poor [and] those in distress from whatever cause (sec. 6).

“Opening the Doors of Compassion: Cultivating a Merciful Heart”, In Communion, Spring 2012, p. 4)

 

Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
Selah

that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Selah

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.

May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

The Faithfulness of Christ

For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through  the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.   (Romans 3:20-26)

Biblical scholar Michael J. Gorman, writing about St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, notes that in biblical scholarship today there is now a strong tendency to translate and interpret St Paul to speak more about “the faith of Christ” than our “faith in Christ.”   St Paul speaks about the faith of Abraham, and so it seems correct to read him as also speaking about the faith of Christ, rather than what Protestantism wants St Paul to say – our faith in Christ.  Gorman writes:

“The bold proclamation of God’s faithfulness (“righteousness”) in these verses stands over against the dismal portrayal of humanity’s faithlessness in [Romans] 1:18-3:20. Although it appears that Paul is drawing on fragments of early Christian liturgical material (some of which are very difficult to translate), he makes them decisively his own, revealing a distinctively Pauline gospel that is, as 1:17 announced, ‘out of faith into faith.’ If we follow the majority of the most recent interpretations of Paul, which understand God’s righteousness as God’s saving covenant faithfulness, and which render phrases normally translated “faith in Christ” as ‘the faith/faithfulness of Christ’ (3:22, 25), then the faith/faithfulness of God, Christ, and those who respond are all named in this text. This appears most succinctly in 3:22:

  1.  What is manifested: God’s righteousness (=saving covenant faithfulness).
  2. Where or how it is manifested: all who respond in faith.
  3. For whom it is manifested: all who respond in faith.

. . .  Christ’s death, then, says Paul, is God’s faithful and merciful gift (Rom. 3:24, 25) as well as Christ’s faithful act. This death accomplishes two things: forgiveness for sins and redemption from sin. God “put forward” Christ as “a sacrifice of atonement,” referring to the Jewish system of sacrifices for sins (3:25). But this was also an act of “redemption” (3:24) or liberation – the language of deliverance from bondage to Egypt or any other slave master. In other words, Christ’s death deals both with sins (the deeds) and with sin (the power) – just as Paul’s analysis of the human predicament in 1:18-3:20 requires.” (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, p. 358-360)