Resurrection Not Mere Immortality

St. Paul, furthermore, is not concerned with the specifically Greek dichotomy between the soul and the body.  Faithful to the realism of Jewish thought, he always thinks of man as a whole: for him, the body does not imply so much the materiality of human life as opposed to its spirituality, as it does the organic unity of that life, indissolubly material and spiritual.

This is why eternal life, salvation made perfect, is for him in no way a deliverance from the body, but the resurrection of the body.  Is not man’s body called to become a member of Christ, a temple of the Spirit?”

(Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, p. 79)

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Palm Sunday (2018)

When the Lord entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the only time when there was public acclamation of Him as Messiah and King.  In our joining the celebration, we declare Jesus to be our Lord, which has great implications for our daily life.

The significance of this ascription of lordship to the risen Christ is also fairly clear, though it can be exaggerated. At the very least, kyrios denoted an asserted or acknowledged dominance and right of disposal of superior over inferior – whether simply master over slave, king over subject, or, by extension, god over worshiper. To confess someone as one’s “lord” expressed an attitude of subserviencey and a sense of belonging or devotion to the one so named. And if the confession was used in baptism (as seems likely in Rom. 10.9), it would also indicated a transfer of allegiance and change in acknowledged ownership. At the very least, then, the confession of Jesus as Lord betokened a life now committed to his service.   (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul, p. 247)

“The followers of Jesus of Nazareth founded an early Jewish movement centered on a charismatic figure who offered hope for an ideal future in which the power of the God of Israel would be dramatically manifested and universally recognized. The movement they began was not however, the only one of its kind. Other such movements, dating back from the first century BCE to the second century CE, promised a sudden end of the present age, which they regarded as evil and corrupt, and the inauguration of a new age in which God’s people would see the wicked punished and the world ruled in righteousness.

Notably, this king accomplishes his goals not by military might; his weapon is ‘the word of his mouth,’ based on Isaiah 11.4.

One major function of the Messiah is to bring about God’s justice by defeating all agents of oppression, human and superhuman (Pss. Sol. 17.34, Ezra 13.38). However, the focus of the texts is less on the messianic figure than on the messianic age, the time when God’s justice rather than Satan or Empire, would prevail.”  (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 530, 531)

We are in Holy Week – the week in which God reveals His true nature to us.   God is Holy and it turns out that holiness also means humble and self-sacrificing.

Giving Satan Opportunity

33268195933_661cfa9dcc_nAs we come to the end of Great Lent, we realize that it is easy to give Satan opportunity to enter into our lives and tempt us away from Christ.  It can happen so naturally and mundanely that it has occurred before we realize what we have done.  We turn against those around us because we have lost sight of Christ and we come to believe falsely that “my” will is the most important thing in the world, and I become willing to sacrifice everyone around me to defend and preserve my self will.   In doing this we come to the fact that when we no longer are willing to let all we do be done in love for others (1 Corinthians 16:14), we have lost Christ.   If we have lost Christ, we no longer have anything to say to other Christians.

Whenever we become obsessed by some past event in which we perceive that we have been wronged, we give the devil ample opportunity to lead us toward greater temptation. We forget that our warfare is not with each other! We are to engage in spiritual warfare against the Enemy of our salvation and his willing hosts, the demons. When we remember wrongs, we fall prey to the Father of Lies and engage in combat with our fellow brothers and sisters.   (Joseph David Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever, Kindle Loc. 924-27)

38195829935_4831a43b3b_nThe antidote for Christians to this sinful self-will is Christ Himself.   “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  In order for Christ to become human, He emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-7).  In order for  us to become fully human, we need also to empty ourselves and open our hearts to Christ abiding in us.   Here we realize that “the heart” of which the fathers speak isn’t the organ that pumps blood in our bodies, but refers to the spiritual reality that every person is capable of being a temple for God, or a dwelling place for Satan.  The choice is ours.

Understanding these things, enter within yourself by keeping watch over your thoughts, and scrutinize closely your intellect, captive and slave to sin as it is. Then discover, still more deeply within you than this, the serpent that nestles in the inner chambers of your soul and destroys you by attacking the most sensitive aspects of your soul. For truly the heart is an immeasurable abyss. If you have destroyed that serpent, have cleansed yourself of all inner lawlessness, and have expelled sin, you may boast in God of your purity; but if not, you should humble yourself because you are still a sinner and in need, and ask Christ to come to you on account of your secret sins.

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The whole Old and New Testament speaks of purity, and everyone, whether Jew or Greek, should long for purity even though not all can attain it. Purity of heart can be brought about only by Jesus; for He is authentic and absolute Truth, and without this Truth it is impossible to know the truth or to achieve salvation. (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 33655-64)

This is why we prayed daily throughout Great Lent:  Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.

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)

 

The New Law is Christ

“The new law, then, is spiritual because the Spirit works everything. The former law is written because it goes no further than letters and sounds. Therefore that law is “a shadow” (Heb. 10:1) and an image, the present one is reality and truth. The words and letters are like an image in relation to reality. Before they were realized God foreshadowed them on many occasions by the tongue of the prophets. “I will make,” he says, “a new covenant, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-32). What does this mean? “This,” He says, “is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah: I will put my laws within their mind and in their hearts I will write them” (Jer. 31:33)–that is, not composing them by mere sound of words, but by the Lawgiver’s presence, without intermediary. For He says, “no longer shall each man teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34). Because he had obtained this law David also uttered this blessed saying, “I know that the Lord is great” (Ps. 135:5). He says, “I know,” having experienced it himself, not by having head it taught by others. Wherefore he leads others too to the same experience, saying, “O taste and see that the Lord is gracious” (Ps. 34:9).”

(St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 95)

Running the Race, Looking Unto Jesus

For the past two weeks the Winter Olympics have been going on enabling us to see some of the world’s best athletes.  The Olympics in some way are a good metaphor for the Christian life.  Athletes train very hard and aim to win the prize.  They commit all their soul, heart and strength to the sport.  But it is also true that the Olympics only run for 2 weeks out of every 4 years, so they represent a rather small part of the athletes whole life.  Indeed the athletes have more to their life – some are parents, some are spouses, some are in school, some have jobs, all have to train and fund raise and just live life.  They have to have food and transportation and housing.  They have all the needs and many of the responsibilities of any citizens.  Standing of the winner’s platform really ends up being only a few minutes of their entire life.  Often the actual game they participate in may last only a few minutes.  The Olympics are a very tiny part of a much bigger world and life.

So too is the Christian struggle.  We are to love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength.  We have many mundane things we have to attend to just like everyone else – employment, housing, family, meals, health care, social and political involvement.  Our Christian life is to spill over into the rest of the things we do, but being a Christian doesn’t free us from the cares of the world.  We exercise our Christianity in the context of the greater whole of life, just like an Olympian.  And this life turns out to be just a very small portion of the entirety of human history which is dwarfed even further by the eternity of God.  Our life on earth ends up being something like the two weeks of the Olympics – a very small portion of the entire, grand picture of the universe in God’s eternity.

We encounter this Olympic vision in the Scriptures, for example in Hebrews 12:1-2 where we read:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We have to lay aside the many obstacles to loving God and to receiving God’s love.  All those things weigh us down, but we are to run the race, just like Olympians do and this requires great endurance on our part.  But, most amazing of all we don’t have to do the hardest part of the Olympic race – Christ has already done it for us.  He ran the race, endured the cross and death, then entered into heaven and now sits with God.   All we have to do is stick with Him.  He did the hard part and he invites us to share in the prize and reward.

Last Sunday in Orthodoxy, we heard a great deal about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise.  That narrative is recorded in Genesis 3.  After Eve and Adam disobeyed God, they were filled with shame and tried to hide from God.  Not unlike many of us do when we sin or do something we know we shouldn’t do.  We try to hide it from spouse and family and friends.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them, calling out:  “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:9)

Every Lent God comes looking for us and calls to each of us:  Where are you?

Where are you in your spiritual life?

Where are you in your Lenten efforts?

Where are you in relation to God and His Church?

Where ae you?  Are you coming home to Him like the Prodigal Child?

Where are you?  Are you seeking Him like Zacchaeus or the Publican?

Where are you?  Are you seeing God in the people around you, the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ and ministering to Him?

Great Lent is a time for us to find our way home.  To remind us not to be so self centered and rather to see Christ in the poor and needy.  To seek Christ every day of our life.  To see God because we are working on purity of heart.  The pure in heart will see God.

In Great Lent we are walking the path carrying a cross on the way to Christ’s crucifixion:

Look at the icon of the Crucifixion:   what do you see?

Just a man dying?    Or do you see God?

It is an icon of God.  That is who we see in the icon, nailed to the cross.  If we only see a man dying and a group of saddened people around us, we are missing the main point.    God is there revealing himself to us, open the eyes of your heart so that you can see.

We are preparing ourselves to receive the Bread of Heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Holy Communion:  what do you receive?

Bread and wine?  Or Eternal life?

Do we see beyond the visible and physical?

Lent says it is time to see with the eyes of our heart.  And we have to purify our heart in order to see with it.  Lenten fasting is not about the stomach but about the heart.

Unfortunately often with our eyes we can look at others and only see their faults.  We look and we see in order to criticize and condemn.

Or, we can repent of that thinking and    we can see in the other, in the neighbor, in friend and family as well as in the stranger an opportunity to love them and serve them.  We have to have the eyes to see.  Great Lent endeavors to open the eyes of our heart.

Nathaniel in today’s Gospel was quick to judge and criticize Jesus:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

The response to his quick criticism:  Come and see.  Only when his eyes were open could Nathaniel see Christ.

A story from the desert fathers reminds us about what we are looking at and how we see the world around us:

Certain Old Men went to Abbâ Poemen to ask him a question, “Would you like, Abbâ Poemen, if we see our Brothers sleeping in the congregation, to give them a swift kick (or as one old English version has it: smite him mightily) and wake them up?”  Abbâ Poemen answered them, “If I see my Brother sleeping, I place his head on my knees, and I give him a place to rest.”

Then one of the Old Men said to him, “And what, then, do you say to God?”

Abbâ Poemen replied, “I say this to God: You Yourself have said, ‘First of all, pluck the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see well enough to remove the splinter from your Brother’s eye.’” (St Matthew 7:3)

 

Great Lent is the time to take out the log from our own eye which blocks us from seeing clearly.  To confess our sins, to acknowledge the power of sin in our life, so that we can see the icon as a window to heaven, to see the neighbor or the stranger as Jesus Christ, to see heaven opened and to see beyond the physical and visible into the eternal Kingdom which Jesus has opened to us.

Sunday of Orthodoxy (2018)

“The orthodoxy that we celebrate today is not fulfilled by having the right answers to particular questions, nor by preserving the traditions for the sake of their antiquity or particular practices because we think that they will make us better Christians. No. The orthodoxy that we celebrate today is that of having our attention captivated by, our gaze fixed upon, our ears opened to, and our hearts enthralled with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is for us the beginning and the end of all things; he is the one who began our faith, and he is the one who will bring it to fulfillment.

For the joy that was set before him, he endured the Passion, and only by having his joy before us are we able to set our hearts on high, above the things of this world, focused on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, so that he can conform us to his image.”

(Fr. John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, p. 80)

To Be Christian: Embracing the Gift of the Resurrection

“For this reason the resurrection is the gift common to all men, but remission of sins, the heavenly crowns, and the kingdom become theirs alone who have given due cooperation, who have so ordered themselves in this life as to be familiar with that life and with the Bridegroom.

They have been born anew since He is the new Adam, they are resplendent with beauty and have preserved the youth which the baptismal washing infused in them, for He is ‘fairer than the children of men’ (Ps 45:2).  They stand with heads uplifted like the Olympic victors because He is their crown;

they give ear because He is the Word; they lift up their eyes because He is a sun; they breathe deeply because the Bridegroom is a sweet odor and ointment poured forth (Cant 1:3), they are stately even in vesture because of the wedding feast.”

(St. Nicholas Cabasilas, THE LIFE IN CHRIST, pp 83-84)

To Love as Christ Loves

“Indeed, if anything in Christ’s unique image is predominant, then it is His extreme humility and not at all any desire to ‘prove’ His Divinity by using miracles. The Apostle Paul writes some extraordinary words about this humility of Christ: ‘He was in the form of God … but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant… He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross…’ (Phil 2:6-8). He never used His miraculous birth as “proof” and never once in the Gospels even mentions it Himself. And when He was hanging on the Cross, abandoned by everyone and in terrible agony, His accusers mocked Him precisely by requesting a miracle: ‘…come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’ (Mk 15:32). But He did not come down and they did not believe. Others, however, believed because of the fact that He did not come down from the cross, for they could sense the full divinity, the boundless height of that humility, of that total forgiveness radiating from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do‘ (Lk 23:34).

Once again, the Gospels and genuine Christian faith do not view miracles as proofs to force belief, since this would deprive man of what Christianity regards as most precious, his freedom. Christ wants people to believe in Him willingly without the coercion of a miracle. ‘If you love me,‘ Christ says, ‘you will keep my commandments‘ (Jn 14:15). And we love Christ–sadly, all too little–not because of His love, His humility and because, as those who heard Him said, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ (Jn 7:46).

(Alexander Schmemmann, The Virgin Mary, p. 17-18)

Christ Alone? No, Christ in the Crowd

“Think of it: Jesus Christ, the Life of all, the Creator of the universe, the only One ever to have been born without sin, was all alone, left in a common grave, outside of Jerusalem. He was alone even among his closest friends, since they never really understood Him, and thus He asked them: Do you not perceive or understand? (Mk. 8.17) Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me? (Jn. 14.9). At the time of His passion, His isolation became acute. In the garden of agony, when His sweat became like great drops of blood, His disciples drifted off into sleep (Lk. 22.44). One by one His friends deserted Him. He stood alone before the judgement seat of Pilate, alone on the cross, alone in the grave: everywhere alone. He went alone into Hell. Alone, always alone. Why? So that you might learn that you have to be alone with God in order to become His dwelling place.

Then the Lord will say, at the Last Judgement, to those on His left, whom He will send away into Gehenna, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me” (cf. Mt 25:33-41). Do you see? He’s a stranger, somebody who’s alone, who’s ignored: I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was alone in prison and you did not visit me (cf. Mt 25.42-43).

…For many of us, this can be a rude awakening: after beholding Christ in our dreams, we find it annoying to open our eyes on a world filled with other people. Immediately we say: “I wasn’t looking for you I want Christ,” forgetting that the stranger, the poor man, the prisoner, the sinner, and especially my enemy – especially the person who seeks to harm me – is Christ for me.”

(Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 244-245, 254)