The Problem of Profanity

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.  (James 3:5-12)

In just about every generation, writers comment on how bad things have become – as if there were a previous age in which things were better.  That probably is a human thing, as far back as Seth who really could think things were better in his parent’s day, but even in Paradise there was a serpent and sin.  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, who died in 1783AD,  laments the disrespectful language he was hearing in Holy Russia which he claimed had become commonplace.  He would not believe how tame the profanity he laments sounds today and in fact for many would not even count as profanity.  His words remind us we should be mindful of what we say.

Profanity has become commonplace – a thing that is extremely unbefitting Christians – as to say “By God!,” “God be upon it!,” “As God is my witness!,” “God look after it!,” “For Christ’s sake!,” and many others. And these are said by some people quite often, even in every utterance. Such profanity is nothing but a satanic plot devised to dishonor the name of God and for the destruction of man. You should guard yourself from swearing in these and other ways.

When there should be need for you to affirm the truth, let Christ’s words be for you, Yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh from the evil one (Mt. 5:37). (Journey to Heaven, p. 15)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:34-37)

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Seeing One’s Own Sins

Love and wisdom are two energies that are to guide us Christians in our decisions and behavior.  Neither can be learned from a book of rules.  Both require the help of the Holy Spirit to know when, how, where and to what degree we are to actor speak.

An Elder was asked by a brother, “If I see the sin of my brother am I to despise him?” And the old man said, “If we hide the fault of our brother God will also hide our faults; and if we expose our brother’s faults, God will also expose ours.”

An old man was wont to say, “There was a brother whose name was Timothy, and he used to lead a life of silent contemplation in a religious house; and a temptation came upon one of the brethren of that house, and the head of the house asked Timothy, saying, “What shall I do to this brother?” Timothy said unto him, “Expel him.” When he had expelled the brother, the temptation of that brother was sent upon Timothy, and he cried out to God, saying, “I have sinned, O my Lord, have mercy upon me.”

He passed the whole night in a grave of dead men, crying out and saying, “I have sinned, O my Lord, forgive me.”  The temptation was upon him until he was greatly exhausted. And a voice came to him saying, “Timothy, do not imagine that these things have happened to you for any other reason than because you offended your neighbor in the time of his trial.”

(adapted from  The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, p. 225)

Remaining In Peace

In peace, let us pray to the Lord.

That we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord.  (Petitions from Orthodox liturgical services)

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Brethren, let us preserve this peace in ourselves as far as we can, for we have received it as an inheritance from our Savior who has now been born, who gives us the Spirit of adoption, through which we have become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf Rom. 8:15, 17). Let us be at peace with God, doing those things which are well-pleasing to Him, living chastely, telling the truth, behaving righteously, “continuing in prayer and supplication” (cf Acts 1:14), “singing and making melody in our heart” (cf Eph. 5:19), not just with our lips. Let us be at peace with ourselves, by subjecting our flesh to our spirit, choosing to conduct ourselves according to our conscience, and having the inner world of our thoughts motivated by good order and purity. Thus we shall put an end to the civil conflict in our own midst.

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Let us be at peace with one another, “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you” (Col. 3:13), and showing mercy to each other out of mutual love, just as Christ, solely for love of us, had mercy on us and for our sake came down to us. Then, recalled from the sinful fall through His help and grace, and lifted high above this world by virtues, we may have our citizenship in heavenly places (cf Phil. 3:20), whence also we wait for our hope (cf Rom. 8:23), redemption from corruption and enjoyment of celestial and eternal blessings as children of the heavenly Father.

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 484)

Keeping the Apostle’s Fast

“This fast,” he said, “is very good, if you keep the commandments of the Lord. So observe this fast which you are going to keep in this way: First of all, guard against every evil word and every evil desire, and cleanse your heart of all the vanities of this world. If you observe these things, this fast will be complete. And here is what you will do: when you have finished the above-mentioned, on that day when you are fasting, you will taste nothing except bread and water, and you will be aware of the amount of the cost of your food you would have eaten on that day which you are going to keep. Having set it aside, you will give it to a widow or an orphan or someone else in need, and in this way you will be humble minded, so that from your humility the one who receives may fill his soul and pray to the Lord for you.

Offering Mercy to Christ

If, then, you complete the fast in this way, as I command you, our sacrifice will be acceptable before God [cf. Phil. 4:18; Isa. 56:7; 1 Pet. 2:5], and this fast will be recorded, and the service done in this way is good and joyous and acceptable to the Lord. This is the way you shall observe these things, with your children and all your house; if you observe them, you will be blessed and as many as hear them and keep them will be blessed, and whatever they ask from the Lord they will receive.”

(Shepherd of Hermas, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 213)

What Time Is It?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Wisdom tells us we need to know what time it is.  Which doesn’t mean we know the time on the clock or our cell phone.  It is knowing the right moment, whenever that might occur.  It is time, as a deacon says at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, for the Lord to act.   St John Climacus writes:

If there is a time for all things under heaven, as the Preacher tells us, and by ‘all things’ we should know it means all things that concern our sacred life, then, if you are willing, let us examine it so that we may attempt to do at each moment what is fitting for that occasion. This is surely the case for those who enter the games, for there is a time for dispassion (I make this remark for the athletes who are doing their apprenticeship). There is a time for weeping. There is a time for hardness of heart. There is a time for obedience. There is a time to give orders. There is a time to fast and a time to eat. There is a time for struggling with our foe, the body, and a time when the fire burns down. There is a time of spiritual tempest, and a time for spiritual peace.

Martin Luther King

 

There is a time for profound grief and a time for spiritual gladness. There is a time for instruction and a time for listening. There is a time for corruptions, perhaps from pride, and a time for purifying through meekness. There is a time for battle and a time for secure rest. There is a time for stillness and a time for distraction. There is a time for ceaseless prayer and a time for devout ministry. Therefore may we not be tricked by haughty zeal and pursue, prematurely, what will happen in its time. That is, we should not during winter seek for that which should come in the summer, or at spring for what is due at the harvest. Because there is a time to sow in toil, and a time to harvest the unmentionable graces. For otherwise we will not obtain even in its time what is fitting for that time.      (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2383-2394)

Know what time it is!  For when spiritually we do not know the seasons and the time, we are subject to despair and despondency.

Despondency—in all its complexity and cunningness—arises from a relationship to time that has become broken. It amounts to no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.  The path to healing—paved and well trodden by steadfast souls who have gone before us—is one and the same as the path back to the present.   (Nicole Roccas , Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, Kindle Location 150-153)

Our Lord Jesus Christ says He is with us always.  If we always are in His presence, then the time is right.  All around us things can be changing, even for the worse, but when we are in Christ we are in the right moment.

For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Salvation: Putting on Christ

“The gift is made to us because  Christ is ‘heavenly’ and has thus become for us a second Adam, the principle of a total renewal.  This renewal will be completed by the resurrection, causing us to bear the image of Christ as we have borne that of Adam.  Thus what is corruptible in us will be ‘clothed’ with incorruptibility, what is mortal in us with immortality.

This image of clothing, applied to the resurrection, is a favorite one with St. Paul; we find it again the Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

So long as we are in this tent [the transitory tent, skene, of our present body] we groan, weighed down as we are, because we desire, not to be naked, but rather to be reclothed [literally: clothed from above] so that what is mortal may be absorbed by life.

The verses that precede, using the imagery of the First Epistle, explain that it is ‘from heaven’ that we await this ‘clothing’, so that we shall not be found naked.

In this last explanation, we find an allusion to the account of Genesis: Adam becoming conscious of his nakedness after he had sinned.  After the resurrection, man will no longer be in this state in which his sin has placed him, reduced to animality: the mortal in him will be as it were absorbed in life, because what is earthly will be absorbed in what is heavenly.  And this will be brought about because the humanity that we have received from Adam will be as it were ‘clothed from above’ with the new, ‘spiritual’, ‘heavenly’, humanity which is that of the risen Christ.

Nor should we imagine that this was only an object of hope for St Paul.  He uses this image of ‘clothing’ again, in connection with us and Christ, not to describe a future but rather a past reality extended into the present, a present which already contains the future in embryo.  For, in the Epistle to the Romans, the first passage concerning Adam and Christ, which we have already studied, leads directly to a development about baptism centered in this statement:

All you who were baptized in Christ were baptized in his death; we were, indeed, buried by baptism with him in death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.

And a parallel passage of the Epistle to the Galatians gives this still more precise formula: ‘All you who have been baptized in Christ, have been clothed with Christ.’

It follows that, when Christ’s death extends its effects in us by baptism, it is already preparing the same effect of resurrection in us that it had in him.  We may go so far as to say that, in a sense, we are already risen with Christ, inasmuch as baptism has united us to Christ dead and risen again.  This is what the Epistle to the Ephesians says explicitly:  ‘God has raised us up together and caused us together to sit in the heavenly places (sunekathisen) in Christ Jesus.’

(Louis Bouyer, THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE FATHERS, pp 68-69)

All Saints (2018)

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men,” He says, “him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10.32).

Notice that we cannot boldly proclaim our faith in Christ and confess Him without His strength and assistance. Nor will Our Lord Jesus Christ speak out on our behalf in the age to come, recommend us to the heavenly Father and make us His kin, unless we give Him reason to do so. To make this clear, He does not say, “Whosoever shall confess me before men”, but “Whosoever shall make his confession in Me” (Matt. 10:32), that is to say, whoever is able, in Christ and with His help, to declare his faith with boldness. Likewise, again, He does not say, “I will confess him”” but “I will acknowledge what is in him“, meaning that His confession will be in respect of the good fight and patient endurance which such a person has shown in the cause of godliness.

Take note, however, of what He goes on to say about those who are cowardly and betray the Faith: “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Here He does not say, “Whosoever shall deny in Me”, since the person who denies God does so because he is bereft of God’s help. Why has he been abandoned and forsaken by God? Because he first abandoned God by loving what is transitory and worldly more than the heavenly and everlasting good things promised by Him. In His turn, Christ will not just disown what is in him, but deny him himself, finding in him nothing at all that could be used in his defense.

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp. 200-201)

Christian Asceticism

The tradition of our Fathers and the authority of Scripture teaches us that there are three kinds of renouncements which each of us must work to carry out with all his strength. The first is to reject all the pleasures and all the riches of this world. This second is to renounce ourselves, our vices, our wicked habits, and all the unruly affections of the spirit and of the flesh; and the third is to withdraw our heart from all things present and visible and apply it only to the eternal and invisible. God teaches us to make these three renounements all at once by what He said to Abraham first of all. “Go out!” he told him, “from your country, from your kindred, from the house of your father; that is, leave the goods of this world and all the riches of the earth. Go out from your ordinary life and from the wicked and vicious inclinations which, attaching themselves to us by our birth and the corruption of flesh and blood, are as it were naturalized and become one thing with ourselves. Go out from the house of your father, that is, lose the memory of all the things of this world and of everything that presents itself to your eyes…”

We shall then arrive at this third renouncement when our spirit, no longer weighed down by the contagion of this animal and earthly body, but purified from the affections of the earth, is raised to heaven by continual meditation on divine things, and is so taken up with the contemplation of the eternal truth that it forgets that it is still enclosed in fragile flesh and, ravished in God, it will find itself so absorbed in His presence that it has no longer ears to hear or eyes to see and it cannot even be struck by the greatest and most perceptible objects.” 

(St. John Cassian, in Louis Bouyer’s The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, p. 327)

We All Offer Sacrifice and Sacraments to God

We shall only understand the character of the world when we think of it as a gift or present.

The whole world ought to be regarded as the visible part of a universal and continuing sacrament, and all man’s activities as a sacramental, divine communion.

Because man is unable to give God anything except that which he has already received from God, man learns to perceive the world as gift and sacrament by sacrificing something in this world for God’s sake, as a sign of his grateful love, and as the vehicle of this love. God for his part returns to man what man has sacrificed in the form of fresh gifts, containing a new manifestation of His love, in a new and repeated blessing. “Grace for Grace.”  And so an unbroken interchange between God and man in man’s use of the world takes place, an ever-renewed and growing mutuality of love. The more man discovers the beauty and the higher use of created things, and the greater the gratitude and love with which he responds to God, the more God responds with still greater love and blessing, because man is in the position to receive it.

Man puts the seal of his understanding and of his intelligent work on to creation, thereby humanizing it and giving it humanized back to God. He actualizes the world’s potentialities. Thus the world is not only a gift but a task for man. Man is able to mark the world with his seal because the world as the gift of God’s love for man is not the fruit of necessity but the fruit of divine freedom. If it were the fruit of necessity there would be no freedom in it, and it would develop as an inexorable casual process. But it is SO constituted that divine freedom and human freedom can manifest themselves in an unbroken dialogue.

(Fr Dimitru Staniloae, The Time of the Spirit, p. 28)

Praying in the Spirit

“The Holy Spirit exists and dwells in those who receive Him, and He does so to such an excellent extent and with such transforming power, that “such a person no longer lives according to the flesh, but is led by the Spirit of God. He is called a son of God, because he is conformed to the image of the Son of God; we call him a spiritual man.

This is an extraordinary statement. It means that the Holy Spirit, received initially through baptism and chrismation, actually transforms our very being, our “essence” or “form,” to the point that we are “conformed to the image” of Christ. We become “spiritual beings,” oriented and directed no longer according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, who is God Himself.

At the close of this same chapter, St. Basil alludes to a passage from the apostle Paul: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Basil concludes, “If you remain outside the Spirit, you cannot worship at all, and if you are in Him you cannot separate Him from God. Light cannot be separated from what it makes visible, and it is impossible for you to recognize Christ, the Image of the invisible God, unless the Spirit enlightens you.”

This means first of all that authentic worship is possible only through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Yet beyond that, it implies that true prayer is not a human endeavor at all. It is the work of God within us. In prayer, God speaks to God; the Spirit addresses the Father within the temple of the heart. Through that divine work, the Spirit illumines for us and within us the “Face,” the image and glory of the Son. Bated in the radiant light of that divine Image, we recognize Christ for who He is: we behold Him as Lord and Savior, the Crucified and Risen One. And that Image in turn reveals to us the Face of the Father.”   (John Breck, Longing for God, p. 171)