Blessing the Lord


Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—

(Psalms 103:1-2)

We believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  Yet, what that means is not clear in the text itself.  For the Scriptures are made up of many kinds of literature – poetry, history, prophecy,  wisdom, liturgical direction, narratives, fictional stories (parables for example), rules, regulations, stories of exemplary behavior and of  sin.  Some of the words of the Bible are directed to God, and some are from God directed to us.  Some are prescriptive and some descriptive.  The verse quoted above from Psalm 103 is the Psalmist talking to himself, and in turn when we appropriate the text, it is our own giving direction to our self, and is not directed to God.

In that Psalm, I am reminding and commanding myself to bless the Lord.  And I am to do it “with all that is within me.”  ALL that is within me – with my heart, soul, mind, body.  With my lungs, brain, stomach, kidneys, muscles and joints.  With my thoughts and yes with my temptations, my feelings, my pains, sorrows, drowsiness and my boredom.  The cobwebs in my brain are to bless the Lord, so too my addictions, my doubts, my fears, my joys, my passions, my energies.  Everything within me is called to bless the Lord.

And if we could direct everything within us to bless the Lord, our life indeed would be changed!  Nothing then would separate us from God, for we would be directing everything within us toward the Lord God.  We would become unified and whole, single-hearted, with our entire being directed toward our Creator, Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Nothing would separate us from God and nothing would be moving us away from God.

I would indeed in that moment call to mind every blessing God had ever given me, and not only me but everyone I knew, and had given the entire creation.   This complete change of heart, mind, direction, a true metanoia, all resulting from blessing the Lord, and simply doing what one verse of the Scriptures tells me to do.

And how long am I to continue this blessing God?  For as long as I am alive.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

(Psalms 104:33-34)

I am to bless the Lord with all that is within me, and to do it as long as I am still alive.  The praising of God is not dependent on how I feel, or whether things are going well or badly, or whether I’m successful or failing, or whether I’m rich or poor, whether or not my prayers have been answered, whether things are happening as I believe they should or not.  As long as I live I am to sing this praise to God, to bless God, and to think about things that are pleasing to Him.

And, I can also ask, and just where am I to bless the Lord?

Bless the Lord, all you His works,

in every place of His dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

(Psalm 103:22)

I am to bless the Lord in every place of His dominion, which turns out to be everywhere and anywhere.  I do not need to go to a special place to bless the Lord for the earth is the Lord’s, and everywhere I am is the place of His dominion, and so I should be blessing the Lord wherever I am.  I don’t need to wait until I am in church, nor do I need to go to a monastery to bless the Lord.  As St Nikitas Stethatos remarks:

“I have heard people say that one cannot achieve a persistent state of virtue without retreating far into the desert, and I was amazed that they should think that the unconfinable could be confined to a particular locality… the desert is in fact superfluous, since we can enter the kingdom simply through repentance and the strict keeping of God’s commandments.  Entry into the kingdom can occur, as David states, in all places of His dominion, for he says, in all places of His dominion bless the Lord, O my soul (Psalm 103:22).”  (quoted in PSALMS AND THE LIFE OF FAITH, p 293)

How different the world would be if we Christians blessed God with all that is within us, in every place and in each moment that we are alive.  It would be as we pray: On earth as it is in heaven.

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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What is the Truth?

“The claim of religion is to reveal Truth, to bear witness to Truth. It is the first and fundamental claim. Its aim is not primarily to bring comfort to souls – by preaching beautiful, edifying ideas and hopes…

The reason it is necessary to believe in God, the only reason which embraces all others is that this is Truth. We have to believe in God because this is Reality, the decisive, fundamental Reality – and life-giving Truth. Only the Truth that really exists, the Divine Truth, can be truly life-giving, truly fructifying, comforting, restoring and truly creative. But this Truth cannot be proved by man. It reveals itself by taking hold of man. It is self-revealing, there is no other way to it. The spontaneous Self-Revelation of a living God who is Truth and Life is the basis of every authentic religious experience…

…there must be a change, we must be transformed by the power of Truth.”

(Nicholas Arseniev, Revelation of Life Eternal, pp. 13-15)

What is the Truth?  Jesus Christ.  All truth leads us to Him, reveals Him and is revealed by Him.

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)

 

We are Made into Icons of Christ

With unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are all being transformed into the same image [Greek: icon], from glory to glory, and this is from the Lord, the Spirit.  . . . Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish, as the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, so that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ who is the image [Greek: icon] of God should not dawn on them.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:3-4, EOB)

This transformation of all believers into the likeness of Christ (cf. “the same image” [2 Corinthians 3:18] and “Christ who is the image of God [4:4] – the key word eikon is used in both places) should be understood as a further clarification of the senses in which Paul can claim that the Corinthians are a letter from Christ that can be known and read by everyone. Because they are being changed into the likeness of Christ, they manifest the life of Jesus in their mortal flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 4:11). Consequently, the deepest paradox of the passage emerges: Paul’s reading of the sacred text (Exodus 34) reveals that revelation occurs not primarily in the sacred text but in the transformed community of readers.  

(Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 144)

As St. Paul states it Jesus Christ is the image (icon) of God the Father and we believers are being transformed into that same image!  We believers are becoming Christ.  We are the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Church is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), and so we together are becoming Christ.  We are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ – not individually, but collectively as part of the Church which is Christ’s body.  In as much as we become the image of God, in as much as we become Christ, we become the Word of God to the world.  To read and understand Scripture, we need to be able to see Christ manifested in the world – we need to see the Church.  The Church is to be light to the world thus fulfilling Christ’s own teaching.  We are to be the fullness of Christ in the world.  As Richard Hayes notes above for people to understand a passage such as Exodus 34 they need to see Christ, visible to them in His Body, the Church.

Show Paradise Through What You Say & Do

Archimandrite Amilianos teaches:

In conclusion, I would like to read a few lines from a discourse by St. Basil the Great: “Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech, confirming your love for your neighbor.” You who are in the monastery, when you approach your brother; you who are married, when you approach your spouse; you who are a father or a mother, when you approach your child: “Let words of consolation leap forward before the rest of your speech.” Whatever you say, whatever you think of saying, say it only after you’ve said a word or two which will give the others joy, consolation, a breath of life. Make them say “I feel relief, I feel joy.” Make others proud of you, love you, dance for joy when they see you. Because everybody in their life, in their home, in their body, and in their soul, has pain, illness, difficulties, torments, and everybody hides them within the secret purse of his heart and home, so that others won’t know about it. I don’t know what sort pain you’re in, and you don’t know what pain I’m in. I may laugh, shout, and appear happy, but deep down I’m in pain, and I laugh to cover up by sorrow. And so before anything else, greet the other person with a smile.

And St. Basil adds this: “Let your face be bright, in order to give joy to him who speaks with you.” Once you’ve made the other person smile, don’t stop smiling. This is what it means to have a “bright face.” Let your face be a radiant sun, so that throughout the conversation the other will continue to feel the same happiness. “Take delight in every achievement of your neighbor.” With respect to whatever achievement your neighbor has, rejoice along with him. “For his achievements are yours, and yours are his.” Let the one share in the joy of the other.

In this way there can be a meeting, a true social relation, of monks and married people, of all people, saints and sinners, giving us all the right and the ability to pray. And when we say: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” everybody is included: my husband, my wife, my brothers and sisters, my children, the whole world. When God sees such love, when he sees the paradise in my heart, that my heart has room in it for everybody, then it will be impossible for him not to find room in his paradise for me and for you.

(The Church at Prayer, p. 88)

Let us Lift Up Our Hearts

Let us lift up our hearts.

We lift them up unto the Lord.

(From the Divine Liturgy)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in the 4th Century describes a portion of the Divine Liturgy which is basically the same as we Orthodox are still doing today.

After the priest cries out, “Lift up your hearts.”

For truly that awe-filled hour it is necessary to have our hearts up toward the Lord, and not below with regard to the earth and earthly activities. For this reason the priest exhorts you with authority in that hour to leave behind all everyday cares and household worries and to have your hearts in heaven with the God who is the lover of humanity. Next, you answer, “We have lifted them to the Lord,” having made by this your agreement with him according to what you confessed. But let not such a one enter who with the mouth says, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” but whose thoughts in the mind are focused on everyday cares. Always, then, keep God in mind! But if, on account of human weakness, you are not able to do this, try to do it especially in that hour. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 123)

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim … now lay aside all earthly cares as we receive the King of All who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.  (Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy)

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)

Weapons in the Church?

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

In 431AD, Emperor Theodosius II the Younger, issued an edict regarding imperial dignity, rights and security which acknowledged that being Christian also meant belonging to a kingdom not of this world.   It was normative for the Emperor to be protected by armed guards which also was a show of imperial power.  Even as the Byzantines thought that their Empire could accomplish God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven“, they accepted that life on earth still required the use of he sword at times.  They were not Utopian or Pollyanna-ish in their view of a Christian empire.  However, Theodosius decreed at the Ecumenical Council in Ephesus that when entering a church, all weapons were to be left outside the church.  Not only weapons, but even his crown, another sign of imperial power, was not to be brought into the church.  Before God we stand stripped of outward signs of imperial power or weaponry, acknowledging our own submission to the will of God. 

Although we are always surrounded by the lawful imperial weaponry, and it is not fitting for us to be without weapon-bearers and guards; when, however, entering the churches of God, we shall leave our weapons outside and take off the very diadem, emblem of our imperial dignity. (at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, 431. From For the Peace from Above, p 111)

For Emperor Theodosius, even the “good guys” were not to bring weapons into the church.  We all stand before God as sinners without defense and in need of God’s mercy.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6:17)

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)