To Know God is More Than Just to Think About God

He presented Himself to them living (Acts 1:3).

With these words, Luke is telling us that the fullness of time has come (Gal 4.4), that God’s promises have been fulfilled. Christ had to suffer, rise from the dead, ascend into the heavens, and resume His place at the right hand of the Father, in order to ensure the promise of their salvation; so that their deepest desires would not remain unfulfilled.

Thus Christ presented himself living in order to show his disciples that, if there was any point to their existence, it was precisely the vision of God: in seeing the living Christ. True communication with God is not simply thinking about God; neither is it a loving disposition toward Him. Instead, it is perfect knowledge of Him, a ‘grasping’ of God in the sense of taking possession of Him, making Him your own, having an experience of God as living. And that God is living means that I stand in relation to him as to life itself, a relationship in which the two of us – two lives, two activities, two persons – live and move together, in a process of mutual giving and receiving.

By saying that He presented Himself living, Luke is telling us that the aim of life is the vision of God: to see and enjoy the living God. Thus if I am unable to see God, or lay hold of Him, or win Him over; if I am unable to love God truly, with a love that is a true dynamic embrace, then God for me is not a living God: He is a dead God. And Luke’s words are consequently a testimony to the resurrection. In Christ, God became man, suffered, was buried, and rose from the grave – without ever ceasing to be the Son and Word of God – so that man might share in His divinity and thereby partake fully of true life.”

(Archimandrite Aimillianos, The Way of the Spirit, p. 167-168)

 

How To Prepare Yourself to Read Scripture

Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra offers a thought about how we can prepare ourselves to read Scripture.  The Scriptures are spiritual, so we have to prepare our hearts spiritually to receive the Word contained in them:

“…it requires desire, exile, interest and lack of interest. What does that mean? Can you fill up a glass that’s already full? For divine meaning to enter your mind, for divine grace to enter into you, you have to empty your heart of its passions, of your self-centeredness, your selfishness, your hate, envy, and negative feelings; you have to purify your heart of these things, and fill it with virtues.

The passions are like static. You turn on the radio to listen to a station, and all you hear is static. You don’t understand a thing the announcer is saying. If you want to hear, you’ve got to eliminate the static. And how can you hear the voice of God, when the passions are booming away and growling loudly within you? You’ve got to free yourself, because if you don’t, you’ll remain a fleshly, carnal person, and a ‘carnal person cannot receive,’ does not understand, ‘the Spirit of God‘ (1 Cor 2.14).”   (The Church at Prayer, p. 109)

The Church is God’s House for Prayer

“Because we know and believe that God is our Father, we view the church, especially when we celebrate the Liturgy, as our true home.We come in and go out freely, we are happy to be here, we make the sign of the cross, we light our candles, we speak with our friends, and it is easy to see that the Orthodox feel that the church is their home. And the church is our home. Our family is the gathering (synaxis) of the church. Our family is not simply our children and relatives, however many we have. It is rather all of us, all humanity, including all those who have turned aside to the left or to the right, or who have perhaps not yet even thought about God, or dared to admit that their heart is filled with cries and groans, and that, with these, they hope to open heaven, or that God will answer them, but they are hesitant and are ashamed.

The Liturgy is our family, our gathering, our house. And what a spacious house it is! Together with us are those who are absent, along with sinners, and the wicked, and the dead, indeed, even those who are in hell, but who may yet remember something about God. And who knows how many of these will find relief, be drawn out of Hades, and even dragged up from the depths of hell, thanks to the prayers of the Church, her memorial services, and divine liturgies. This is our home. We believers have such a large house!” (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Church at Prayer, p. 68)

Human: Created for God

“God did not create man in order for him to feel pain, but rather to know pleasure, which is why he placed him in the garden of Delight (Gen. 2.15).

We were not brought into the world to be deprived of God, but rather to become gods ourselves, to share in the perfection of the image of the Trinity. Man was created to become a vessel and temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 4.7; 1 Cor 6.19).

In his sermon on the humility, St. Basil says that “from a state of nothingness, man has expanded into the heavens.” (Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God, p. 203, 248, 311)

Jesus, the Wisdom of God

Icon of Christ the Wisdom of God

“If we proceed further into the Sacred Scriptures – not in the historical order that the books have been arranged, but in a more spiritual manner – we shall discover the name of Wisdom, which is mystically ascribed to Christ. And thus Solomon cries to the Father: Give me the Wisdom that sits by Your throne (Wis 9.4). And who sits next to God, at the right hand of the Father (cf. Heb 1.3; 10.12; 12.2), exalted above all created things, if not the Lord Jesus Christ? For He is indeed the Power and the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1.24). Elsewhere Solomon says: I determined to take Wisdom to live with me, knowing that She would be a counselor for me (Wis 8.9).

Wisdom, then, is clearly a Person, and not simply an attribute. It is the Son of God, who is also God’s Word; His Wise Word, as the Fathers say. From ancient times, Solomon points beyond time, and reveals the Person of the Son, Who sits by the throne of the Father, a situation which expresses their inseparable relationship, since there can be no Father without a Son, and no Son without a Father. Each one, at all times, points to the other. In this way we have a common, mutual revelation, which is, in essence, a self-revelation.”  (Archimandrite Aimillianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 271-272).

Christian Marriage: A Sign of Christ’s Presence

“It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that is is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. “You haven’t suffered? Then you haven’t love,” says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that’s why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. “Marriage,” in the words of an ancient philosopher, “is a world made beautiful by hope and strengthened by misfortune.” Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you’ll see just how many difficult moments it has.

We often speak of seven “mysteries,” or sacraments. In this regard, a “mystery” is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence not unlike these. Christ says, “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.”   (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Church at Prayer, pp. 95-96, 98)

The Blessed Death and Life

“Whoever is able to accept suffering, whoever is able to die the death granted to Him by the Father, is able to participate in the true, eternal life of Christ.  If he cannot, or will not do this, then his life is a living death, for whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it (Lk 17:33)”   (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 163)

There are all manners of death we experience in this world.  Physical death is but one, and that we experience only once.   Those following Christ have to die to their passions daily as they take up their crosses to follow Christ.  We so much want something or want to do something but we must die to that desire in order to stay on the path to the Kingdom of God. It is a death that we may have to undergo daily and even many times in the course of a day.  It is about loving Christ who died for me.

Many a humble person has died a thousand deaths at the abuse of others.  Some die daily to avoid destructive conflicts, for the sake of family peace, to preserve marriages, to help a greater cause.  We suffer wrong rather than take revenge.  We accept a martyrdom called love for the benefit of another – we put others ahead of ourselves.  We forgive debts owed to us and sins committed against us for the sake of Christ.

These deaths to self for the sake of others bring to mind the words of Winston Churchill, spoken about politics but can be applied to so many relationships in life: “Politics are almost as exciting as war, and – quite as dangerous … [I]n war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”  There are countless positions in life in which one can be killed more than once.

Archimandrite Aimilianos says, “whoever is able to die the death granted to Him by the Father, is able to participate in the true, eternal life of Christ.”  I think of this on these many levels of death.  If we can accept them, they are all given to us by the Father, chances to die to self, and in doing so we find eternal life in Christ.  but it is also true about the one terminal death our bodies experience.  Some of us are given disease to suffer, not only in middle age but even when we are young.  Others are given long lives, and they find in the end a readiness for death which remains elusive.  Some don’t want death no matter when it comes.  Some of us will die suddenly unprepared, and some excruciatingly slowly.  A few live relatively healthy and long lives enjoying their senior years.

We can, however, always be prepared for it, whenever it comes, realizing it is a gift granted by the Father.  We endure it, even it we can’t embrace it because we know who it is from and what it will enable us to participate in – that true life beyond the grave.

As Archimandrite Aimilianos notes, whoever cannot accept the suffering given to them, life becomes a living death.  Blessedness is so different than the world says it is.

And I heard a voice 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!”  (Revelations 14:13-14)

All Saints: Praying for the Salvation of All

Many Orthodox theologians from the earliest days of Christianity understood sin in medical imagery rather than in legalistic terms.  Sin was a wound inflicted on humanity.  This is a different understanding of sin from one which views it purely as humans violating the law set down for us by God.  The serpent in Genesis 3 inflicts a venomous bite on Eve and Adam, causing a grave wound on humanity.   Thus what humans need to be restored to health is not more laws, nor will we be saved by a lawgiver.  Rather, we need a physician to heal our souls.  The Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra writes:

“The prophets all saw that the wound was incurable and that none of the creatures was able to heal it, but only the Only-begotten, Who is the very Mind and Image of the Father, and Who made every rational creature in the image of His image. Knowing that the Savior is a great physician, they all assembled and offered prayers for their member, that is, for us, crying out and saying: Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? We would have healed her, but she is not healed: now therefore let us forsake her (Jer. 8:22 and 51:9)’

God, seeing this incurable wound, and seeing that it had become grave, visited them in His mercy, and after a time, He in His benevolence, granted them the law through Moses. And Moses founded the house of truth and wanted to heal the great wound, but could not complete the building of the house.

Then all the host of saints assembled in unity and prayed by the benevolence of God for our salvation, that He would come to save us all, He, who is the great and true high priest and true physician, Who is able to heal the great wound, for being God, He took the form of a servant, and gave Himself for our sins, and our inequities humbled Him and through His wounds we were all healed (cf. Phil. 2:6-7, Gal. 1:4, and Is 53:5).” (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit, p 242)

Some understand salvation as Christ juridically paying the price for our sins in order to restore justice in the universe.  But there is another imagery used by the Orthodox Church of Christ the physician who heals our wounds, our illnesses, our diseases.  He does this by being wounded himself on the cross.  The dead are all those who succumbed to the spiritual wound of the serpent.  Christ by joining the dead – by allowing Himself to be wounded as all humanity is wounded – becomes the antidote for Death’s venom.  Christ by destroying the sting of death is able to raise up all the dead from Hades and to restore them to health.  Christ’s incarnation, life and death is able to do for humanity what no law or legal writ could do.

The saints, all those healed by Christ, continue all to pray for the salvation of all.

The Expulsion of Adam from Paradise

In the long history of Christianity, many insightful meditations have been offered giving Adam voice to explain his free choice and to lament the loss of Paradise after sinning against God and being expelled from God’s hand-planted Garden of Eden.  Below is a modern meditation from Archimandrite Aimilianos who has Adam fearfully explaining himself, ignoring the merciful nature of the God whom Adam knew from the beginning.

“And so it was with Adam: ‘I’m over here, hiding, because I was afraid to see you, because I have sinned. I’m afraid that you wouldn’t accept my excuses; that You’d say it was all my fault. I was afraid that you would no longer acknowledge me as Your child.’

To be sure, Adam’s desire to justify himself, the various excuses he contemplated, were the signs of certain death. And this is why St. Makarios says: ‘When Adam fell away from God, he died spirtually,’ Seeking to justify himself, Adam condemned himself to life without God. Until then, the damage wasn’t fully done; the blow could have been blunted, the tradgedy averted. This was the critical moment which we all must face, when it becomes clear whether we’ll choose God or our self. As a general rule, we choose our self. Every day we repeat the sin of Adam. He fell when he opened his soul to the poison of the serpent, but there was still hope that he might turn and embrace God.

He could have raised his arms to God and cried: ‘God, I am your voice, your self-expression; I am your creation, your child, and I have sinned. Bend down and hold me; save me before I perish completely!’ Instead, he said, in effect: ‘What do You want, God? Have you come here to judge me?’” (Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit, p 239)

Interestingly in the Gospels, it is the demons who have nothing but fear for Christ; they are terrified that He is there to judge them, yet they do not repent.  For example in Mark 1:24, the demons possessing the man cry out:

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Adam feared God and God’s judgment, yet it did not bring him to repentance, to seek reconciliation with God.  Instead, Adam blames Eve and God for his sin and fails to ask the merciful God for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Also in the various versions of the Gospel lesson of the Gadarene swine and the demoniacs (Mt 8:28-34; Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39), the demons squeal in fear that Christ is there to torment them before the Judgment Day, yet they do not seek to be reconciled to God.  So too in Archimandrite Aimilianos’ meditation, Adam fears God’s judgment, yet fails to seek reconciliation with the merciful Lord.

So often many want a just God who punishes sinners, yet so seldom do we willingly seek God in confession.   We believe sinners should fear God like the demons, yet what we should be doing is offering all an example by our own repentance.

In the next post we will consider words from St Silouan as he too gives Adam a voice of lament for sinning against his Creator:  Adam Laments His Exile.

The Liturgy of Theology

Archimandrite Aimilianos said in a talk:

“In speaking of the Holy Apostles and the Fathers of the Church, we return to the story of creation, for the Holy Fathers are true images of God.  All that they said and did was according to the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).

And they celebrate the liturgy of theology in the company of all creation, for together with them

the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 18:1);

Hubble Telescope Photo
Hubble Telescope Photo

the rivers lift up their voices (Ps 92:4);

Ohio River at Cincinnati

the mountains rejoice (Ps 97:8) and skip like lambs at the presence of the Lord (Ps 113:6).

Deeps calls unto deep (Ps 42:7) and

night proclaims knowledge to night (Ps 18:3);

San Francisco

the morning stars sing together and shout for joy (Job 38:7),

indeed there are no tongues or voices in which the praise of God is not heard (Ps 18:4),

so that even the very stones cry out: Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! (cf Lk 19:38-40).”

(THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 276)