Cleanse the Eyes of Your Heart

“And as St. Augustine reminds us in the following reflections, sand is thrown in the eyes of the heart not only by a multiplicity of images, not only by association of ideas, but also by the refusal to serve one’s neighbor in practical ways. To be too busy filling the coffers prevents one from emptying one’s heart so as to make it attentive to the ‘interior Master’. For ‘where your treasure is,’ says Jesus, ‘there will your heart be also.

To purify yourself, have faith. You would like to see God. That desire is good, it is noble, and I challenge you to make trial of it. You would like to see him? ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ (Matthew 5.8). Think first of all about purifying your heart…You believe that God is evident to the eyes like a light…But if your eyes were clogged with sand, would you not have to wash them out before you could see the light?

Your heart is defiled also. And avarice spreads its murkiness there…Do you not realize that by hoarding in this way you are covering your heart with mud? How then will you see him whom you desire? 

You say to me, ‘Show me your God.’…

I answer you, ‘Take a look at your heart. Everything you see in it that might sadden God, remove. God wants to come to you. Listen to Christ your Lord: “My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14.23). That is God’s promise. If I were to tell you I was coming to stay with you, you would clean your house. Now it is God who wants to come into your heart. Do you not hasten to purify it? How could he dwell with avarice? God has commanded you to clothe the naked. But avarice induces you to strip the one who is clothed…I am looking at your heart. What do you have in it? Have you filled your coffers but thrown away your conscience?…Purify your heart.’ (Augustine of Hippo)”

(quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 166-167)

Peter Walking on Water

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.  (Matthew 14:22-34)

St. Augustine comments:

And hence also is that which was just now read, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto You on the water.” For I cannot do this in myself, but in You. He acknowledged what he had of himself, and what of Him, by whose will he believed that he could do that, which no human weakness could do. Therefore, “if it be Thou, bid me;” because when you bid, it will be done. What I cannot do by taking it upon myself, You can do by bidding me. And the Lord said “Come.” And without any doubting, at the word of Him who bade him, at the presence of Him who sustained, at the presence of Him who guided him, without any delay, Peter leaped down into the water, and began to walk. He was able to do what the Lord was doing, not in himself, but in the Lord. “For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord. [Ephesians 5:8]” (Let Us Attend, p. 64-65)

Cleansing the Heart to Welcome God In

 

“You say to me,’Show me your God.’…

I answer you, ‘Take a look at your heart. Everything you see in it that might sadden God, remove. God wants to come to you. Listen to Christ your Lord: “My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). That is God’s promise.

If I were to tell you I was coming to stay with you, you would clean your house. Now it is God who wants to come into your heart. Do you not hasten to purify it? How could he dwell with avarice?… God has commanded you to clothe the naked, But avarice induces you to strip the one who is clothed… I am looking at your heart. What do you have in it? Have you filled your coffers but thrown away your conscience?… Purify your heart.’” (Augustine of Hippo in The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p 167)

The Evils of War

St. Justin the Martyr
St. Justin the Martyr

Christians have in their long history experienced all sides of war – being attacked as well as sending forth armies to defend and protect themselves.  The early Christian centuries saw Christians persecuted by the empire in which they resided: the Roman Empire brought to bear on the Christians all of the weight and might of its power to contain and eliminate them.   At least as far as I know, the early Christians did not call their fellow Christians to strike back at the Empire in armed resistance.  There were no calls to take revenge or to fight evil with evil, death with death, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

The persecuted Christians defended themselves through the writings and speeches of the apologists, such as St. Justin the Martyr.   Despite seeing their fellow Christians martyred by the Empire, I’m not aware of any early Christian calling for or organizing an armed defense.  Certainly they would  have been aware of the armed rebellion by the Maccabees from the Scriptures.  That was a Jewish example of how to respond to persecution – but the Christians didn’t follow that path.  Miraculously, without an army or call to armed resistance, they survived and continued to gain new adherents.  The witness of the martyrs and confessors continued to sew seeds in the hearts and minds of other Romans which yielded a harvest of faith in God among more and more of Rome’s denizens.

40 Martyred Soldiers of Sebaste

Only with the Emperor Constantine and the legends of his vision do we see an Empire being conquered by the cross with a use of force.

In later centuries, once the Empire itself embraced Christianity, the Christians found themselves with new moral dilemmas as to what it meant to be a Christian soldier and what it meant for Christians to go to war or to defend their empire.  The Christians did not lose or forget the morality of the Gospel commands, but they struggled with how to apply it to their new found position of power.  In the year 300, it was forbidden by the Empire for Christians to be in the army.  By 400, it was required that to be in the Roman army you had to be a Christian.

One early Christian writer who did write about the moral dilemma for Christians being in the army and going to war is St. Augustine (d. 430AD).  Apparently Augustine found that it was not war in itself which was wrong for Christians, but the motives and passions which guided the Christians which could be sinful.

“For Augustine, soldiers in battle must be motivated by charity, love of neighbor, and even love of enemies. They must not delight in the blood sport of war or be motivated by revenge.

‘The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance and the lust of power.’”

The moral problem as St. Augustine describes it is what war does to us internally.   We can be changed by war so that we take some pleasure in the the violence we do against our enemies.  We rejoice in their suffering and believe our wrath is godly.  We come to find joy in destroying those that we have come to  hate.   It appears that for Augustine, the issue is losing the sense that we are defending the innocent and those who can’t protect themselves and coming to enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on those enemies we hate.  It is dehumanizing ourselves and our enemies which itself is morally wrong.  This is one of the evils of war – changing the very reason one goes to war and what one does in war into an evil.  When war raises our own sinful passions and those passions take control of our behavior, then war causes evil to exist in us.

At first blush, Augustine seems hypocritical. He decries violence in the name of self-defense but allows killing in battle and says it is not murder. For Augustine, intention and authority are key. When an individual sheds blood with vengeance (motive) or without permission (authority), that person commits a sin; but as a tool or delegate of the state, the soldier can kill without sinning, so long as the soldier does so dispassionately (without taking delight) and in service to the common good.”

(Mark J. Allman, Who Would Jesus Kill?, p 169)

This is a very treacherous moral path.   We can lose justification for our fighting in war if we allow sinful passions to take control of our reasoning.  But it also is possible that leadership may have the authority to declare war and do it for wrong or evil intentions.  The individual does not surrender responsibility for what he or she does to authority, but can without malice obey authority to serve others who cannot defend themselves.   None of this glorifies killing, or makes war a good.  The world is not perfect; it is fallen.  It is in this world that we have to function and make choices – difficult and hard choices.  We can make wrong choices, or right choices for wrong reasons, as well as wrong choices for right reasons.  Whenever their is choice to be made, we answer ultimately to God’s judgment.

The question remains: What level of force is allowed to stop others from committing evil?   When is lethal force morally correct?

The defense of war is that it is using lethal force to stop others from committing evil or from  inflicting evil upon people.  The moral dilemma remains for us: as people who are ourselves sinful and living in a fallen world, our motivations for doing things can be wrong.  Our sinful passions can control our behaviors which can lead us to act for wrong reasons and to accomplish sinful ends.  We can take men and women and remove from them moral reasoning and empower their sinful passions to commit acts of violence without having any remorse. The military has become quite successful at training its soldiers to accomplish their mission.   That might be the key to military victory.  But therein also lies part of the danger and evil of war.  It is not only what we do to our enemies – it is what we do to ourselves that is the problem.   In war we can encourage sinful passions to take control of ourselves.  We can turn off our moral reasoning in order to accept or justify whatever behavior we engage in.  We can dehumanize ourselves, not just our enemies,  in order to win a war. But, as the Lord Jesus asks . . .

“what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  (Mark 8:36-37)

We can train soldiers to win wars, but we bear responsibility if they lose their souls in the process.   Physical death may not be the worst end for the soldier. Those who die in battle are hailed as heroes.  Those, however, who live and are emotionally and spiritually wounded, are sometimes pitied, sometimes forgotten, sometimes incarcerated, sometimes left homeless.

Certainly this tells  us we have as a nation not only a responsibility to defend ourselves from evil, but we also have an obligation to tend to the men and women we send to war – to help them deal with their passions, moral dilemmas and regrets not only while in the military but when they return to civilian life.  It is wrong to send young men and women to war, to make them killing machines and then to fail to help them return to society.  The cost of war is not just supporting our military in the actual combat.  It also means funding the care for the souls, hearts and minds of those who return from war with their moral, spiritual or emotional lives broken or in turmoil.    The nation has a responsibility to rehumanize all who might have suffered because they went to war.

The cost of war and the evil of war can be the damage it does to us, to cause us to be less than human.  The war may end, but sometimes it does not for those wounded by it.

Christ raising Lazarus

Lazarus: Loosed from Sin

Great Lent comes to a beautiful end by celebrating Christ’s raising of His friend Lazarus from the dead.  Now we see where the Lenten sojourn was headed – to overcoming the things of this world – and death belongs to this world but not to the world to come.  Our resurrection from the dead also comes with the forgiveness of our sins.  This too was part of the Lenten effort – to leave behind sin which also belongs only to this world but not to the world to come.

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430AD) says of the Gospel lesson (John 11) of the raising of Lazarus:

“The remission of sins is their unbinding. What good would it have done Lazarus when he came out of the tomb, if it had not been said, ‘Unbind him and let him go’? He came forth bound; not on his own feet, therefore, but by some power leading him. Let this be in the heart of the penitent: when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay his bare conscious in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulcher; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? ‘Whatever you loose on earth,’ he says, ‘shall be loosed in heaven.’ Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church, but the dead man cannot be raised to life again except by the Lord’s calling him interiorly; for this latter is done by God in a more interior way.”   (CONFESSION, Paul N. Harrilchak, pg. 115)

The Lazarus story is a model of our own story – even while we were sinners Christ called us.  He calls us out of the world of those dead in sin.  And he forgives us our sins, releasing us from the bonds of sin and death.  Liberating us so that we can follow Him on the road to the Kingdom.

He raised Lazarus shortly before He Himself was put to death on the cross.   He raises Lazarus and unbinds him allowing Lazarus to come to the cross on which the Lord of Glory dies.  We too are forgiven our sins so that we can follow Christ to His cross and become witnesses of God’s humility and love.  On the cross we see God as love.  On the cross we see God’s judgment and power.   And we are humbled in amazement.  For God’s judgment is that we might be saved from sin and death.  God does not abandon fallen and sinful humanity but rather unites Himself to us in order to heal us, forgive us, die for us and raise us from the dead.   So with thankfulness, joy and love, we walk this week on the road to the Cross which we will place before ourselves on Great and Holy Friday.

 

Your voice, O Lord, destroyed the kingdom of hell.

Your powerful word raised from the tomb one who had been dead four days.

Lazarus became the saving first-fruits of the world’s regeneration.

All things are possible for You, O Lord and King of All!

Grant Your servants, cleansing and great mercy.

(Vespers Hymn for Lazarus Saturday)

Image of Salvation (XVIII)

This is the Eighteenth blog in this series exploring ideas about and images of salvation.  The first blog is Images of Salvation and the previous blog Images of Salvation (XVII).  The next blog is the last in this series.

Salvation is about restoration and hope.  The unity of the universe which had been sundered by sin, is restored.  And though this renewal and restoration and regeneration of all things at times requires struggle (taking up the cross daily to follow Christ) and even suffering for the truth, it offers the hope that in the resurrection of Christ we see God triumphing over everything including sin and death itself.

“Therefore, we must never weaken in our trust of God or fall away from Him.  Though a soul be overburdened with sins, through it be guilty of all the crimes in the world, though it be defiled beyond all imagination, that soul must trust in God.  If that same soul uses every means and endeavor to become free of sin and turn to the path of good, but cannot get stabilized in anything upright, and even sinks ever deeper into evil, still that soul must continue to trust.

That soul must not abandon its spiritual weapons and labors, but must fight and fight, struggling with itself—and with its enemies—with all its courage and with untiring effort.  We must know and understand that in this unseen war, all are losers except that person who never ceases to struggle and to keep faith in God.  For god never abandons those who fight in His armies—although at times He allows them to suffer wounds.”  (Jack Sparks, VICTORY IN THE UNSEEN WARFARE,  p 34)

The restoration of the entire cosmos involves work – thus the Divine Liturgy is the work of the people of God to bring all things into the right relationship with the Creator.  At the Liturgy we work together with God for the salvation of the world.  St. Augustine  (d. 430AD) writes:

“We have to remind ourselves that our Lord Jesus Christ came not only for the salvation of the poor but also of the rich, not only of commoners but also of kings. He refused all the same to choose kings as disciples, refused rich people, refused the nobly born, refused the learned; but instead he chose poor, uneducated fishermen, in whom his grace would shine through all the more clearly…And if he had first called a king, the king would have said it was his rank that was chosen; if he had first called a learned man, he would have said it was his learning that was chosen. Those who were being called to lowliness and humility would have to be called by lowly and humble persons.”  (POVERTY AND LEADERSHIP IN THE LATER ROMAN EMPIRE, p 93)

Through the Cross joy has come into ALL the world.  God saves and offers His salvation to all.  It is not God who rejects us, but we can reject God and His salvation.  God has been working lovingly for our salvation through the centuries, acting to bring all people to Himself.

“Thus God, from the beginning, fashioned man for his munificence; and chose the patriarchs for the sake of their salvation; and formed in advance a people, teaching the uneducated to follow God; and prepared the prophets, accustoming man on the earth to bear his Spirit and to have communion with God; he himself, indeed, having need of nothing, but granting communion with himself to those who stood in need of it.   To those that pleased him, he sketched out like an architect, the construction of salvation; and to those who did not see, in Egypt, he himself gave guidance; and to those who were unruly, in the desert, he promulgated a very suitable Law; while to those who entered into the good land he bestowed the appropriate inheritance; finally, for those converted to the Father, he killed the fatted calf and presented them with the finest robe.  Thus, in many ways, he harmonized the human race to the symphony of salvation…”  (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 53)

A beautiful phrase:  God “harmonized the human race to the symphony of salvation.”   God the great poet creates the words and the melody of salvation for the world.  His salvation has been offered to us in various times and ways (Hebrews 1:1).  Entering into God’s salvation is not a matter being at the right place at the right time.  St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) proclaims that salvation is not available only to those who are born in a Christian culture or at a time when holiness abounds.  Chrysostom says:

“How can I, Scripture says, be in the world and in the midst of so much troublesome business and be saved?  What do you say, O man?  Do you want me to demonstrate briefly to you that the location does not grant salvation, rather, the way of life and the deliberate choice?  Adam in paradise, as if in a harbor, suffered shipwreck.  Lot in Sodom, as if in the open sea, was saved.  Job was justified upon the dunghill.  Saul, who was found in the midst of the treasuries, fell out of the earthly and heavenly kingdom.”  (ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING,  p 126-127)

Accepting and believing in salvation is not a matter of predestination nor of location in space and time.  It is a matter of faithfulness to God, and of love for God, wherever we happen to be.

Next: Images of Salvation (XIX)

Find God to Find Yourself

“Since the invisible wonders of God are understood and perceived by the aid of the visible wonders that He has created, what shall I do to find my God?

  I will consider the earth: the earth that has been created.   Great is the beauty of this earth, but the earth has someone who made it.

Great are the marvels of seeds and generations; but all these things have a creator.

I contemplate the immensity of the seas surrounding the lands; I am astounded, I admire them, and I seek for Him who made them.

I lift my eyes to the sky, towards the magnificence of the stars;

611908main_image_2134_946-710

I admire the splendor of the sun that can produce the daylight,

and of the moon that consoles the darkness of night.

All these things are wonderful; they are worthy of all praise or, rather, they confound our mind; they no longer belong to the earth, these are already things wholly of heaven.  And yet my thirst has still not been quenched: I admire these beauties, I praise them, but I thirst for Him who made them.

I return to myself.  I seek what I am, the self that examines all these wonders; I find that I possess a body and a soul: a body that I must guide, a soul that is to guide me; a body to serve, a soul to command.  I perceived that my soul is something superior to the body and, in the faculty that carries out these different quests within me, I recognize my soul and my body; and yet I recognize that it is with the aid of the senses of my body that I have examined all the things that I have gone through.”

(St. Augustine, in Louis Bouyer’s THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT & THE FATHERS, p 478)

You will find links to all the photo-blogs I’ve done at Fr. Ted’s Photo Blogs.

Christmas Charity: Giving to God

St. Augustine gives us a wonderful image of Christian giving and charity:

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all;

but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

(quoted in Attending to Your Marriage by Charles Joanides, pg 148)

Links to all of this year’s blogs related to the Nativity of Christ can be found at Christmas Blogs 2012.

Prayer as Relationship with God (V)

This is the 40th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Prayer as Relationship with God (IV).

It is Christ who made prayer to the Father the means to communion with Him.  It is our union with Christ that brings this salvation – the union of God to humanity – to each of us personally.  Our prayers are thus not to some vague and distant deity, but rather to the God who is immanent to our souls and hearts.  We do not hope that “the Force” may be with us, but we seek a relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Three Persons of the Godhead.  We enter into a personal relationship with God, which means we always encounter the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit when we have any encounter with God.  There is no such thing as an amorphous divinity which empowers us.  God is personal and a someone that we encounter.

“However much we say on prayer, it still remains in ultimate need of experience.  In its reality, prayer is the experience of being in God’s presence.  Outside God’s presence there is no prayer.  The right to enter into God’s presence, we have learned, was gained when Christ opened the way.  It was consecrated on the day he was crucified and inaugurated the day he rose and ascended.  He introduced a new and living way through his body, the temple curtain separating from man what belongs to God.  It was torn open by God’s hand.  The tear proceeded from the top, which is God’s dwelling, to the bottom, where we reside.  Having previously been hidden in the Father, eternal life rushed into our being and appeared within us.”   (Abba Isaac in  Orthodox Prayer Life, pgs. 128)

Over and over we have seen in the sayings reproduced in this blog series that we are too seek God, not just what God can give us.  St. Augustine says:

“’I sought the Lord and he heard me.’  [Ps 34:4]   If someone has not been heard it means he has not sought the Lord.

Pay particular attention to this point.  The Psalm does not say: ‘I asked the Lord for riches and he heard me.  I asked for a long life and he heard me.  I begged for this or that and he heard me.’  Seeking to obtain something from the Lord does not mean seeking the Lord himself.  ‘I sought the Lord and he heard me.’

You yourself, when you pray, what do you say to him?

Maybe you request him to remove so-and-so whom you detest form the world!  If so you are not seeking the Lord by setting yourself up as judge of your enemy and demanding that God should execute your sentence.  Are you sure the person whose death you are requesting is not better than you?  In this, at least, he is probably better than you: he can plead that he is not praying for your death.

When you turn to God, do not seek some favor from him.  Seek the Lord himself and he will hear you.”  (in DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p 368-369)

If we want God to hear our prayer, we have to seek Him, not just seek what He can give us or what He can do for us, but actually seek a relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Experiencing miracles is nothing compared with uniting ourselves to Christ, the incarnate God.  Magical power is a vapid and vacuous experience compared to having the Holy Spirit abide in us.

“For the ascetic, prayer was not merely the speaking of words.  It was the heart yearning for God, reaching out in hopeful openness to being touched by God.  Prayer was the Holy Spirit breathing through the inner spirit of the ascetic and returning to God with yearnings for intimacy.”  (Laura Swan, THE FORGOTTEN DESERT MOTHERS, p 27)

We can breathe the Holy Spirit.  That is what it means to be inspired.

Ultimately, the question is why settle for some things that God can give us, when God offers Himself to us?   We are taught to seek first God, and then His gifts will be ours as well.

Yet, it perhaps sadly true that we prefer the gifts to the Giver because the gifts will be ours to do with as we please, while if we have the Giver, we will have to submit to His Holy Will and to recognize Him as King and Lord.

Next:   Prayer as Relationship with God (VI)