Labor as Light to the World

Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.  (Ephesians 6:7-8)

Another example of light is our work, which here [in the monastery] is not servile labor but a diakonia, a service performed for monastic community without gain, without necessity, without force; a well-pleasing sacrifice which is illuminated by prayer and becomes a transfiguration of the world and of objects, a way of continuing the Divine Liturgy outside church.

Because here the light is the contemplation and use of the physical world, not for pleasure but for the needs of the community; not like the destructive consumption based in technology, but in order to make nature already now a partaker of the glory of the children of God, and allow it to sing praise with them.   

(Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra, from Living in God’s Creation, p. 112)

 

Sunday: The First Day of the Week

The 4th Century bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 339AD), comments on the importance of Sunday to the early Christians.

 “’On this day (Sunday) which is that of the light, the first, and also that of the true sun, we gather together after the interval of six days and, celebrating holy and spiritual Sabbaths, we carry out that which He prescribed for the priests to do on the Sabbath according to the spiritual Law….It was on this day that at the time of creation, when God said: Let there be light, there was light; and on this day also the sun of justice arose on our souls (P.G. XXIII, 1172 B).’

Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Jean Danielou, continues:

“It is this same idea of the First Day as being both that of the generation of the Word and that of the Resurrection which Eusebius takes up again in commenting on the verse of the Psalm: ‘You have delighted me with Your works, O Lord, and I rejoice in the works of Your hands.’ He writes: ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ He means the Lord’s Day of Resurrection, as we have shown elsewhere in explaining what concerns the creation of the World. God said: ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’ You see that on this Day there was no other creation for which the word would be fitting: ‘This is the Day that the Lord has made,’ except that Day itself which was the first Lord’s Day. It is of this day that it is said: ‘Lord, You have delighted me with Your works.’ As to the works of His hands, these are they that were created in the days that followed’ (P.G. XXIII, 1173 B-1176 A).” (The Bible and the Liturgy ,  pp 252-253)

It was on day 1 that God spoke causing light to exist.   Many early church fathers understood this “light” not as a physical light, but God speaking His Word into existence.  The Word of God is light to the world.  Sunday, as the day of resurrection is the new creation, God again calling light into being in the face of darkness.  A light which knows no end.

Zacchaeus Sees the Light

The Gospel lesson of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;  for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) offers these words about Zacchaeus in one of his sermons:

“Today, however, we shall take as our subject Zacchaeus, the inhabitant of Jericho who was blind in soul, and his soul’s restoration to sight (Luke 19:1-10). A great miracle was wrought on him, not inferior to the healing of those sick in body. The inner eyes of Zacchaeus’s heart were darkened, like the external eyes in the blind man’s face (Luke 18:41-41).

For, according to the narrative, he too was unable to see Jesus (Luke 19:3), and he was delivered from mental darkness and received sight simply at the word of Him who in the beginning established the sun and illuminated the entire visible creation by His word alone. Just as before God had said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light’, there was ‘darkness upon the face of the deep’ (Gen. 1:2-3), so now, until the Lord told Zacchaeus, ‘Today I must abide at your house’ (Luke 19:5), the terrible darkness of love and money had settled upon his soul, and his understanding was obviously buried with his gold in the dark places where gold and silver are stored by those who love them. ‘For where your treasure is, there will your mind be also’ (cf. Matt. 6:21). ” (The Homilies, pg. 510)

Lamp and light

A verse from Proverbs (6:23) caught my eye appropriately enough considering the verse.

“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life…”

And in my mind I imaged what I saw.

In the verse the lamp and the light are different things.  This is obvious enough, and yet it was only in looking at a vigil lamp that the distinction became all the more clear.

The commandment is the lamp, but it is not the light. The light is the teaching and it is what we really need to enlighten us. The lamp is needed to hold the light as the commandment is needed to to bring the teaching to us, but the commandment is not the teaching.  Similarly, the Bible is like the commandment – it is the lamp but not the light.

Having the lamp will not necessarily give you the light.  A dark room full of unlit lamps is still dark.  The lamps in and of themselves cannot change the darkness.

“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light…”

Scripture alone will not give us the light – we must have the teaching, the meaning of the text to know how to live: to see what is and to see the way.   My friend, Fr. Silviu tells me in Proverbs 6:23, the Hebrew uses the word Torah for teaching and mitzbah for commandment.  Perhaps we can say Scripture is  the lamp, Tradition the light for it illuminates the lamp from which it draws the oil to fuel the flame.

The lamp of course does serve as a container for storing the oil, but that is not its main purpose.  It’s purpose is none other than to be the place upon which the light, Torah, the teaching, the glory of God rests.

In Revelation  21:23, we read:

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

Now the glory of the Lord is the light which rests upon the Lamb of God who is the lamp.

One more thought –  Luke 11:34-36 has this:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

The optical theory prevalent in biblical times was that the eye gave out light which allows you to see things – unlike the modern idea that light is reflected off of an object into our eye which absorbs the light and translates it into images in our brain.  But the eye as lamp means it is the place where the light resides which illumines our hearts and minds, literally the whole body.

What remains obvious and interesting is a commonly understood difference between lamp and light. Light for the biblical authors has a concrete location from which it emanates. We tend to think of light as an energy diffuse throughout the world or throughout a room (with the notable exception of laser light which at least in popular thinking is more of an idea of a beam of light that emanates from a source). ‘

Electricity has changed our imaging of light.    Electricity has filled our world (and the sky and our eyes) with light, so we forget what a room with a single lit candle/lamp looks like – it is obvious what the source of the light is.  The darkness is all around but the source of light stands against the darkness, driving it back yet still the darkness  (the absence of light) is obvious.  On the other hand, when we flick a switch the light instantly fills every nook and cranny, banishing and vanquishing all darkness.  The darkness vanishes yet our eyes are not attracted to the source of light for the light seems to be everywhere.

St. John says in his Gospel:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   (John 1:5)

His imagery is much more like the candle standing against the darkness, for the darkness  still surrounds the light, even if pushed back to the outer edges away from the source of light.

“And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”   (Genesis 1:4) 

 

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

A Halloween Sermon (1989)

October 29, 1989                                Luke 8:16-39

It is the Halloween season again. Stores and merchants are featuring all kinds of spooky sights. It is a time to when many mock devils and evil spirits, and some who belong to pagan and satanic cults come out in earnest to worship their powers.

Friday evening, I went over to the Books and Company. They happened to be having an adult Halloween event of some sort. There were indeed a number of strange characters there. What was most interesting to me was that throughout the store, they were having a variety of New Age religionists practicing their persuasion. There were tarot card readers, and various people sniffing and selling some sort of scented liquids which somehow are supposed to relax you or make you feel the forces of nature. There were people offering free mood altering stones, which they claimed would relax you or improve your sex life. These stone age believers hold some sort of religious ceremonies on Saturdays and they were proselytizing among the people in the store trying to win converts to their religion.

While all of this was being done in the supposedly friendly spirit of an adult Halloween event, the people who were aiming to make converts to their New Age religion were quite serious in what they were doing. They certainly were not interested in fun, but seemed to believe in what they were saying and doing. I found myself saddened by the pure pagan ideas being hawked there, and at the deception for which the people so willingly embraced.

For me personally, it was my first contact with the New Age religion which has become faddish and popular these days. It was obvious that so many people around us are hungering for something religious, something ritualistic, something spiritual. It was obvious that there certainly is a spiritual harvest that can be made in America if only we Orthodox would take seriously Jesus Christ’s command to us to go and preach the Gospel to all people. There is obviously a need. There are obviously a number of people who are suffering this spiritual emptiness and who fill that void with any and every type of belief.

So Christ tells us in the Gospel lesson today:

No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a basket or puts it under the bed, but rather he sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.

My friends, in baptism, and through the faithful hearing of the Gospel, the lamps of our hearts have been illumined. We are to shine with the light of Christ to all of those who walk in darkness. Our faith is not some private thoughts between me and God. Rather, our Faith is to be the Light of the World. In all humility, let the light of Christ shine brightly in your life so that all other people may see Christ in you and give glory to God the Father!

As the Lord Jesus told the man whom he saved from demonic possession, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” Each of us has to become extremely clear as to what God has done for us personally. We need to rid ourselves of fuzzy thinking about God in our lives.

St. Mark the Ascetic, a 4th Century Christian said:

“Can any man consciously call these things to mind and not be moved always to contrition of heart?  Having so many pledges from the past blessings, will he not always have firm hope, in spite of the fact that he himself has so far done nothing good?  He will say to himself: ‘Though I have done nothing good and have committed many sins before Him, living in uncleanness of the flesh and indulging in may other vices, yet He did not deal with me according to my sins, or reward me according to my iniquities (Ps 103:10), but gave me all these gifts of grace for my salvation.”  (Philokalia, Vol. I, pp 148-149).

Certainly, I am one person who know’s the love and patience of God. There was a time when I refused to go to church, when I openly opposed Christians and even God Himself. Yet God in His patient love waited for my conversion from an evil lifestyle. It is that great love which God showed me personally, the love which He has for the Prodigal child, always waiting for us to return, which moved me to become a priest. It is that message which I want to share with you and to have you share with others.

In Saturday’s newspaper there also appeared an article on the new pagan church of Pantheism. It consisted mostly of an interview with one former Roman Catholic man who had abandoned Christianity for paganism. He said there was a spiritual void in his life which the Catholic Church was not meeting.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be very clear about the activity and love of God in our hearts and lives. We need to share with each other the stories about how God has effected us. We need to have a very clear understanding of who God is and how He relates to us. We must consciously tend to the spiritual needs of the other members of our parish family. Then and only then will we fulfill the commandments of Christ to let the light of the Gospel shine in our lives and to be able to tell others what great things God has done for us.

As was clear to me in yesterday’s workshop in Columbus, we all need to spend more time with each other sharing our spiritual stories, and encouraging each other to be faithful to the Lord God. Our battle in this world is not against armies and the flesh, but rather it is a warfare against the spiritual powers of darkness which are obviously at work right now in our world. In America, we have to be tolerant of the existence of those who want the New Age religion of paganism, spirit forces and magick. As Christians, we have to kindle in our hearts the flame of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

Out of Darkness Light Will Shine

2 Corinthians 4:6  –  “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (St. Paul)

Saint John of Kronstadt wrote:

“Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them – hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depth of his heart cries unto God: ‘Why have You turned Your face from me, You the everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me, the darkness of the accursed evil Satan, and has obscured all my soul. It is very grievous for the soul to be in his torturing darkness, which gives a presentiment of the torments and darkness of hell. Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Your commandments and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray You.’ “ (My Life in Christ, pg.41)

The Word, The Information and the Bit (I)

I did like James Gleick’s book THE INFORMATION: A HISTORY, A THEORY, A FLOOD.   It’s all about something essential to my own life, but which I hardly understand at all:  information.   I hope to share in this Blog Series some things I learned, and also to share information about what I don’t understand.   Much of this latter part has to do with the science of how voluminous information is converted mathematically to signs and symbols which can then be readily transferred to distant points.  Thus huge files – photographs I send over the internet – can be converted to a format that enables their wireless transfer from one destination to another.

As Gleick says, it is probably nigh unto impossible for us to understand what it is to live in a pre-literate culture.  Our lives are so shaped by words and the logic which words allow, even for the illiterate among us.  Even pre-schooled three-year olds recognize the signs and symbols of their favorite fast food restaurant.

Symbols additionally allow increasingly abstract thinking, and greater analysis of the data and ideas they represent.

“Logic might be imagined to exist independent of writing—syllogisms can be spoken as well as written—but it did not.  Speech is too fleeting to allow for analysis.  Logic descended from the written word…   Only with writing does narrative structure come to embody sustained rational argument.”  (pp 37-38)

Cuneiform

As Gleick points out in pre-literate culture, the spoken word has no permanency.  It dissipates quickly and can’t be analyzed very well.  The meaning of the spoken word is also not completely fixed and though ideas can be shared with those who speak the same language, between languages there is even more difficulties in communication.   Words are understood in context; the spoken word has no text to contextualize.

John’s Gospel introduces the idea of information with: “In the beginning was the word…”  (John 1:1).  Yet at that beginning point spelling did not exist, an alphabet did not exist, so the Word is nothing like what we moderns imagine, shaped by our literate culture.  “The Word” in that context of “the beginning” denotes something completely different than we imagine: more idea or reason than printed letters.  That original “Word” did not have form – letters, a beginning letter and a last letter with other letters between in a particular order.  It had no beginning or end, it was a divine spoken word: a Word to be vocalized and heard, more like music to the ear than a score upon a page.

God said, “Let there be light…”   (Genesis 1:3), and the miracle occurs that the spoken word – a sound produces light which is something to be seen.   Words still do that in our minds when we hear someone say something, we understand because ideas and images form in our minds from what we hear.   They do become “incarnate” in the synapses of our brain, but still they are not printed letters.

Of course in Genesis 1 there were no hearers, no seers, to give form to the Word.  The “Word” – “let there be…” – simply IS  the Greek  “o On.”

The Word was eventually translated into writing, the Scriptures.  Now the message became less ethereal and more material.  Writing became the first “artificial memory” which enabled words and meaning to be studied and observed and restructured.   The ancients worried about this.

Plato ( channeling the nonwriter Socrates) warned that this technology (writing – my note) meant impoverishment:

‘For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory.  Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them.  You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.’”  (p30)

Next:  The Word, The Information and the Bit (II)