Imitating Scriptural Saints

And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  (Matthew 19:16-17)

4th C Fresco Christ Teaching

“A brother asked one of the elders: What good thing shall I do, and have life thereby?

The old man replied: God alone knows what is good. However, I have heard it said that someone inquired of Father Abbot Nisteros the great, the friend of Abbot Anthony, asking: What good work shall I do? and that he replied: Not all works are alike. For Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him.

Hospitality of Abraham

Elias [Elijah] loved solitary prayer, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. Therefore, whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe.”    (Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, p. 25-26)

 

 

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St. John the Baptist: The Greatest Prophet

St. Romanos the Melodist imagines in his lyrics what Jesus might have said to St. John the Baptist when in Matthew 3:13-17 the Forerunner protested to Jesus that he should not baptize Jesus but rather himself needed to be baptized by the Lord.

“I am not asking, Baptist, that you overstep the bounds; I do not

say, ‘Say to me

what you say to offenders,’ nor ‘Give me the advice you give sinners.’

Simply baptize me in silence, and expectation of what will follow

the baptism.

Because in this way you will gain a dignity which does not belong

to angels, for I will also make you greater than all the prophets.

Not one of them saw me clearly,

but only in types and shadows and dreams.

But as he stands before you by his own will,

you see, you grasp

the unapproachable light.”

(On the Life of Christ, p. 43-44)

John is considered to belong to the Old Testament prophets, but in Orthodoxy he is the greatest of the prophets (see Matthew 11:9-11) for he saw his Lord and Messiah not only in shadows and from a distance  but saw Him face to face, spoke with Him and baptized Him.  On June 24 in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the birth of John the Forerunner of the Lord (see Luke 1).

Truth Relies on Us All

The Lord Jesus said: “‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'”  (John 14:21-22)

St Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD) offers an answer to the Apostle Judas‘ question as to how it is that God’s manifestation may be seen only by some when “objectively” the event should be visible to everyone.

“…True doctrine conforms to the dispositions of those receiving the word, for although the word presents to all equally what is good and bad, the one who is favorably disposed to what is presented has his understanding enlightened, but the darkness of ignorance remains with the one who is obstinately disposed and does not permit his soul to behold the ray of truth….

In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod [Exodus 10:21-29], while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.

Jesus & Moses at the Transfiguration

According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness. while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.”  (The Life of Moses, p. 69, 72-73)

St Gregory’s answer is based in a clear idea of synergy – God’s revelation, God’s manifestation requires also observers who prepared/open to receive what God reveals.  This idea is reflected in quantum physics where the observer affects the outcome of what is being observed.  God does not even impose His revelation on humanity.  Our inner disposition toward God will determine what we experience of God in our life.  Almost 200 years before Gregory of Nyssa’s writing, St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) offered a very similar idea:

“In respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, no man shall see God and live (Exodus 33:20), for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict.  For those things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Luke 18:27).  For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills.  For God is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone from the fact of his seeing God.

For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor.  But [His] splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life.  And for this reason, He, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith.  For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him.  It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness.”  (ADV. HAERESES 4.20.5)

NASA Photo

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3)

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)

God Became Human so That We Humans Can Become Divine

Christ shares our experience, in order that we might share his; he came under Law, to set free those under Law, and the result is sonship – not of Abraham but of God himself. He who is Son of God was born of a woman in order that those who are born of woman might become sons of God. As proof that his work was effective, we find that the Spirit of Jesus himself. This time, certainly, we must interpret Paul’s statement in terms of the incarnation: Christ became what we are, in order that we might become what he is. But once again, it is not a straightforward exchange. Christ does not cease to be Son of God, and we receive the Spirit of the Son…

The basis of this reconciliation is the fact that the one who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him. As Paul is dealing here with reconciliation, it is natural that he should write in terms of ‘sin’ and ‘righteousness’. In some unfathomable way Christ is identified with what is opposed to God, in order that man should be reconciled to him…

It is because the second Adam took the form of the first Adam that men can be conformed to his likeness in a new creation; it is because of his obedience and his dikaioma (righteousness), that the dikaioma is fulfilled in us. Christ became what we are – adam – in order that we might share in what he is – namely the true image of God.

The idea of man’s conformity to the image of the second Adam is found widely in the Pauline epistles. Sometimes it is expressed directly in terms of being transformed into Christ’s image. In 2 Cor. 3.18, we find that we are changed into his image, through various stages of glory – and a few verses later, in 4.4, we are told that Christ himself is the image of God. In Col. 3.10 we are urged to put on the new man which is being renewed according to the image of the one who created him; we know from 1.15 that Christ himself is the image of God. In these passages, the ideas of a new Adam and a new creation are important. We may classify them as expansions of the second half of our original statements they describe what we become – in Christ. But since they refer to Christ as the image of God – a phrase which echoes Gen. 1.26f, the idea of Christs ‘manhood’ is fundamental.

(Morna D. Hooker, From Adam to Christ, p. 16, 17, 19)

2018 Pentecostarion Posts

I have gathered all of the 2018 posts from my blog related to the Pentecostarion into one document.  This includes posts related to the  Sundays after Pascha, the Feast of Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost.   You can find that document at 2018 Post-Paschal Sundays (PDF).

You can find PDF links for all of the blogs I posted for each of the past 10 years for Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, Post-Paschal Sundays and many other topics at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

Baptizing Infants

St. Augustine made the observation that in the Scriptures, circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people.  The community did not wait until a man had proven his faithfulness to God before circumcising him.  Baby boys were circumcised and then the community had the responsibility to help them grown into faithful men.  For Augustine, baptism works in a similar way as part of the new covenant – a sign of God’s faithfulness which each person receives and then works on converting their heart to God.  St. Augustine writes:

“In the case of Isaac, circumcision was performed  as a sign of the righteousness of faith on the eighth day after his birth; he then followed the  example of his father’s faith. Thus, the sign of righteousness had come first in the infant,  and the righteousness itself followed in the growing man. In a similar way, the sacrament  of regeneration comes first in baptized infants and, if they later commit themselves to  Christian fidelity, then the conversion of heart follows, for which there was an earlier sign  in their bodies.”   (Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators  by J. Patout Burns Jr., Kindle Loc. 2014-17)

Though baptism has a spiritual antecedent in circumcision, it is still something totally new.

In the Old Testament, physical birth determined whether someone belonged to the chosen people. Only the children of Abraham were heirs to God’s promises. Despite the fact that proselytism was especially strong by the time of Christ’s coming – “You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23.15) – the neophytes themselves were not regarded in all respects as true members of Israel, but only their descendants. In the New Testament however, it is spiritual birth that determines if someone belongs to the Church: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Beginning with the first apostolic preaching on the day of Pentecost, the sacrament of baptism by water and the Spirit is the one and only way of entering the Church, without which salvation is impossible. (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, p. 23)

If the only purpose of baptism was the washing away of sin, then there would be no reason to baptize infants.   But baptism is not God’s reaction to sin, but rather God’s own effort to unite each of us to Himself,  so that we might share in the divine life.  Baptism gives a new birth, a new life to each person – a spiritual life in communion with God in Christ.  A baby is fully human and thus capable of being united to God and to share in the divine life.    [for further thoughts about the baptism of infants see my post Baptism or Blindness]   Baptism is a sign and a sacrament so is rich in meaning.  As biblical scholar Geza Vermes writes:

“For Paul, the baptismal pool had a deep allegorical meaning. It symbolized the tomb in which the crucified body of Jesus was laid to rest and where it remained until the resurrection on the third day. Baptism for Paul is a myth-drama. Being dipped into and lifted from the baptismal pool meant an allegorical identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Through the baptismal ritual, the effects of the cult drama were transferred onto the new Christian. Baptism seen through believing eyes was a sacramental rebirth.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)”   (Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 1708-14)

The Beauty of Holiness

“From earliest times man called sacred or holy that which he perceived as the supreme value, demanding reverence, acknowledgement, awe, and thanksgiving; which at the same time attracted man to itself, inspiring familiarity and intimacy. We speak of the sacred feeling of homeland, of the sacred love towards parents, of sacred awe in the face of beauty, perfection, wonder. Thus, the sacred is that which is higher, purer, demanding all that is best: the best sentiments, the best efforts, the best hopes in man. The peculiarity of the sacred is precisely in the fact that it demands from us an inner awareness of self-evident and free desires; yet not simply an awareness, but action and life consistent with this awareness. The awareness that two times two makes four, or that water boils at a specific temperature leaves us neither better nor worse; such an awareness belongs to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the ignorant and the intelligent, the genius and the simpleton. But if we experience a sacred awareness in terms of beauty, or moral perfection, or a special intuition about the world and life, then this awareness immediately makes some demand on us, effects some change in us, invites us somewhere, captivates us, seduces us.

How simply and beautifully Pushkin described this in his famous poem, “The memory of a glorious moment….” The poet forgets the “vision,” the instruction of “disturbing storms,” the dispersion of “previous hopes,” and writes,

…my soul was stirred

And once again you came,

A passing vision,

A glimmer of beauty pure.

In fullness beats my heart,

Feeling once again

The resurrection of divinity,

And inspiration, and life,

And tears, and love.

Here is the description of the sacred as beauty. This experience changes life in its entirety, fills it, in the words of Pushkin, with meaning, and inspiration, and joy, and the divine. “

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Our Father, pp. 26-28)