Offer Yourself to God: Take Up Your Cross

“From this point of view, it would be appropriate to also quote an amazing third-century text by of the author of the most early Philokalia, Origen:

‘You are, all of you, a priestly people. Consequently, you have access to the sanctuary; each one of you has in himself his holocaust and he himself kindles the altar of sacrifice, so that it burns continually. If I renounce all my possessions, if I carry my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God.

If I deliver my body in order to burn with charity, if I acquire the glory of martyrdom, I offer myself as a holocaust on the altar of God. If I love my brothers to the point of giving up my soul for them, if I fight to the death for justice and truth, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I mortify my members of all carnal concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and I to the world, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God and I become the priest of my own sacrifice.’

(Boris Bobrinksoy, The Compassion of the Father, p. 111).

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Women Disciples of the Lord

3rd Century Christian theologian Origen commenting on Romans 16:1-2 notes that the Myrrhbearing women were not the only females to have served the Church.  Women continued serving in recognized offices in the Church throughout the early centuries of Christianity.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you  may receive her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may  require from you, for she has helped many and myself as well.’ [Romans 16:1-2]

This passage teaches us, with apostolic authority, that women were appointed to the ministry of the church. Paul describes Phoebe, who held office in the church of Cenchreae, with great praise and commendation.   He lists her outstanding deeds and says, she has helped many, ready whenever they were in difficulty, and myself as well, in my troubles and my apostolic labors, with full devotion.

I would compare her work to that of Lot; because he always offered hospitality, he merited to receive angels as guests. Similarly Abraham, who always went out to meet strangers, merited that the Lord and his angels would stop and rest in his tent. In the same way, Phoebe, since she offered and provided assistance to everyone, merited to become a benefactor of the Apostle. This passage provides two lessons: women served as ministers in the church and those appointed to the ministry of the church should be benefactors to many and through their good services merit the praise of the apostles. The passage also encourages Christians to honor those who commit themselves to good works in the church; whether they serve spiritual or fleshly needs, they should be held in honor.” (J. Patout Burns Jr., Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, Kindle Loc. 7510-18)

Praying (VII)

This is the 19th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Praying (VI).

Holy Father Abraham

The Tradition governing attitudes towards prayer and guiding how to pray is quite ancient in Christian history.  Very early on Christians saw themselves as men and women of prayer.  They believed that to be human was to be a person of prayer.  They believed humans were created to be priests of God: our task was to consecrate the earth to God.  That is the role Adam and Eve lost by choosing their own sinful way rather than living in love and obedience to God.  In Christ, humanity is restored to its role as microcosm and mediator of the universe.  We are again able to offer up to God our prayers as priests on behalf of the entire creation.

Here is a quote from Origen (d. ca 254AD).  Origen died as a Christian martyr.  He was arguably the greatest Christian biblical commentator of the 3rd Century.  He was a creative writer and his speculations were in later generations condemned as heretical.  But he also left volumes of insightful Christian teachings and his writings minus his speculations were influential in later generations of Patristic writers.   Here he comments on prayer:

Saint Joseph

“’Certainly there are countless attitudes of the body, but that in which we stretch out our hands and lift our eyes to heaven is to be preferred for expressing with the body the dispositions of the soul during prayer. 

That at least is the way we should act when there are no obstacles. 

But circumstances may lead us to pray sitting down, for example when we have a pain in the legs; or even in bed because of fever. 

For the same reason, if for example we are on board ship or if our business does not allow us to withdraw to perform our duty in regard to prayer, it is possible to pray without taking up any particular outward attitude. 

St. Andrew of Crete

In regard to kneeling for prayer, this is essential when we are accusing ourselves of our sins before God and entreating him to heal and absolve us. 

It symbolizes the prostration and humility of which Paul speaks when he writes: “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14) 

That is spiritual kneeling, so called because every creature adores God in the name of Jesus and prostrates itself humbly before him. 

The Apostle seems to be alluding to this when he says: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). 

As for the place, you should realize that every place is suitable for prayer . . .  

however, in order to pray undisturbed it is possible to choose a particular place in one’s house, if practicable, as a kind of hallowed spot, and to pray there.’  (Origen…)

(Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 196)

It is true that we are to pray without ceasing, but to achieve that we have to set aside time consciously and conscientiously to pray.

Next: Praying (VIII)

Origen: Discerning the Mystery in Scripture’s Treasury

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is The Orthodox reading of the Scriptural Treasury.  In this blog I am continuing to consider the comments of some modern biblical scholars on the 3rd Century biblical scholar known as Origen.

Origen acknowledge there is a literal sense to the scriptures, and he often felt that literal sense was most important to those who were just beginning their faith sojourn as disciples of Christ.   But Origen was most concerned about what St. Paul tells Timothy scripture is for:  “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   The literal truth of Scriptures is not so much their “factualness” but the truth they convey to us about God, His plan of Salvation, and how we should live in His world.  This was the deeper meaning, or hidden mystery, which Origen felt all Christians should strive to discover from the Bible.

What Origen acknowledged first was that a literal reading of the Scriptures will make the reader aware that the biblical narratives do have inconsistencies in them.   This is true of the Gospels as well as the Old Testament.

“Origen points out, there are so many discrepancies in the accounts presented by the Gospels, that one must admit that their truth does not lie in their literal sense.”   (John Behr,  THE WAY TO NICEA, p 177)

While some patristic writers went to great length to try to harmonize the varied biblical narratives and their apparent contradictions, Origen was willing to accept that since all Scripture is inspired by God, the inconsistencies must be put in the text for a purpose – to remind us that there are deeper mysteries and so we shouldn’t get stuck on the literal inconsistencies but rather should strive to discover the deeper truths that must be found by getting beyond the literal reading.   Origen understood that as the early church accepted four Gospel accounts, they didn’t accept those efforts that tried to harmonize all the inconsistencies into one problem free text (such as Tatian’s Diatessaron in the 2nd Century).  Harmonizing the text did not lend to the credibility of the text but rather made it an artificial construction.  The differing and even contradictory accounts of the Scriptures are part of what the men inspired by God recorded for the benefit of future believers to edify the Church.

“…Origin several times remarks that inconsistencies in the historical narrative presented in the Scriptures are there to alert us to the fact that the true meaning of Scripture is not to be found at the level of the historical narrative (or literal meaning) at all. … ‘he aimed not so much to depreciate the events of Biblical history as to proclaim that their significance was richer and fuller than an uncomprehending analysis would allow…”    (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY: AN ESSAY ON THE NATURE OF THEOLOGY, pp 112-113)

“…Origen did regard Adam as a historical figure, as the first man and the ancestor of the human race.  The story of the garden of Eden and the fall does include details which cannot be taken literally even on the narrative level, but it none the less really happened, while at the same time, like other Old Testament stories, pointing to hidden mysteries and containing deeper levels of meaning as well.”   (C. P. Bammel, in THE MAKING OF ORTHODOXY: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF HENRY CHADWICK,  p 63)

 “Origen, however, is continually waving his theological antennae over the literal sense of the biblical text.  And if a text fails to satisfy or make sense to him on a literal reading, Origen will employ the larger symbolic field he has culled from Scripture as a whole to discern a deeper, allegorical sense.  Greek philosophers had done so for years in studying Homer, and in what Heine calls ‘one of Origen’s most significant borrowings from Greek philosophy,’ Origen does the same with the Bible itself.”   (Christopher Hall, READING SCRIPTURE WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS, p 154)

It is because Origen and the Patristic writers understood the Scriptures to be God’s Word and not merely human composition and conjecture that they looked for greater meaning in the biblical texts.  They were searching to encounter the Divine, not merely human words and ideas.

Because they believed the Scriptures to be inspired, they believed they need to look beyond the mere literal meaning of the words, in order to encounter God Himself.  Especially in Origen’s thinking, the literal meaning was the human meaning of the text, but they believed the Scriptures also pointed beyond the mere human, beyond what human reason could conceive, to the divine revelation in which God revealed to us the mystery hidden from all eternity, namely, the Word become flesh, even Jesus the Christ (Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:26).

Next:  What is the Bible?

The Orthodox reading of the Scriptural Treasury.

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Patristic Literalism: Read for the Full Meaning.

There is little doubt that Christians shared with Jewish rabbis a strong belief that all Scriptures were inspired by God and that the reader of the biblical text needs to mine from the text all of the wisdom, power and knowledge which God has put into the text.  In the 3rd Century, the famous Christian biblical commentator, Origen, was a prolific exegete, commenting on a vast array of scriptural texts.  He certainly was part of that well established tradition which sought to discover all the wisdom and knowledge which God may have put in the Scriptures.  Origen was a brilliant expositor of the meaning hidden in the words of the scriptural texts.  Unfortunately he also held some beliefs which were not accepted by the Church as a whole, and those unconventional teachings were eventually condemned by the Church and the faithful were discouraged from reading his works.  Nevertheless, Origen’s methods and his prolific work to comment on the Christian Scriptures were imitated by others for generations in Christian history.  His influence in getting bishops and teachers to look beyond the mere literal reading of the text is seen in the number of modern biblical scholars who write about him.  For example, Peter Bouteneff in his BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES (pp 98-118) writes:

“For Origen, Scripture’s usefulness and importance are not primarily historical but moral, pastoral, and, finally, soteriological. … He states that the belief that Scripture ought to be interpreted according to the bare letter is tantamount to saying that it was composed by human beings alone, without inspiration. … The purpose of allegory, then, is to uncover Scripture’s latent sense, the embedded rule of faith.  As we will see again farther on, this rule, Scripture’s inner sense, is ultimately distilled in the person of Christ himself.  …  describing the pitfalls of a bare, literal reading of Scripture, for example, in the prophecies found in both Moses and the Prophets. (He calls such a reading Jewish because it fails to find Christ.)  The further hazard of an overly literal reading (or one unguided by good teachers) is that it will be insensitive to the awesome mystery behind the words and thus produce an anthropomorphic portraiture of God.”

In other words, for Origen, the importance of the Scriptures lies not in the factual recounting of past historical events, but how the Bible can and does speak to current believers about salvation, about how to live in this world morally, about how to guide us in our every day thinking and behavior, and in shaping our understanding of God.  Origen is concerned literally about what St. Paul tells Timothy scripture is for:  “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   The literal truth of Scriptures is not so much their “factualness” regarding history but rather the truth they convey to us about God, His plan of Salvation, and how we should live in His world.   Bouteneff continues with an example:

Creating the heavens

“The aim of the Holy Spirit is ‘to envelop [clothe] and hide secret mysteries in ordinary words under the pretext of narrative… [i.e.] an account of visible things.’  Origen’s example …is the biblical account of the creation of the world and the first human being…Origen believes that the Holy Spirit even inserts what he calls…stumbling blocks…things that could not possibly have occurred in history—in order to shake people out of an overly simplistic or literal reading. …  (Origen argues) The Genesis account “enshrines certain deeper truths than the mere historical narrative,…and contains a spiritual meaning almost throughout, using ‘the letter’ as a kind of veil to hide profound and mystical doctrines” …    (Origen writes:) “To what person of intelligence, I ask, will the account seem logically consistent that says there was a ‘first day’ and a ‘second’ and a ‘third,’ in which also ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ are named, without a sun, without a moon, and without stars, and even in the case of the first day without a heaven?  And who will be found simple enough to believe that like some farmer ‘God planted trees in the garden of Eden, in the east’ and that he planted ‘the tree of life’ in it, that is a visible tree that could be touched, so that someone could eat of this tree with corporeal teeth and gain life, and further, could eat of another tree and receive the knowledge of ‘good and evil?’  Moreover, we find that God is said to stroll in the garden in the afternoon and Adam to hide under a tree.  Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a figure… by which they point toward certain mysteries.”   …   [Origen] concluded that Scripture had indeed been dictated to Moses by the Holy Spirit, to the very last letter…Yet the Holy Spirit dictated not history but stories that contained complexities and difficulties, with the intention of inviting readers into the deepest and most serious engagement.” (pp 98-118)

Next:  Origen: Discerning the Mystery in Scripture’s Treasury