Love for Another and the Effects of Sin

“…we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:42)

“Your own, of Your own, we offer to You, on behalf of all and for all.”

“And all mankind.”   (From the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom)

Anyone who does not want the same things for his fellow human beings or pass the same judgement on them as he wishes for himself, is certainly foolish, particularly as this judgement and this wish are an inherent part of our nature. For it is a natural impulse in all of us to want to be loved and well treated by others as much as by ourselves. The will to do good and to be as well disposed towards all as we are towards ourselves is therefore also inborn in us. We were all made in the image of Him who is good. Then when sin entered and multiplied, it did not extinguish our self-love, since it was not at all opposed to that, but it cooled down love for one another, the crown the virtues, changed it and rendered it useless. As a result, He who renews our nature, recalling it to the grace of His own image and putting His laws, as the prophet tells us, in our hearts (Jer. 31:33), says “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), and “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again” (Luke 6:32, 34).

In this passage, He refers to those who are not called by His name and those who do not order their lives according to the gospel, as sinners, including them all in the same category, for it is of no benefit to us to be called Christians if we act no differently from the heathen. Just as the great Paul told the Jews, “Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” (Rom 2:35), so now Christ tells us through the Gospel, “You who are Mine will find grace in My presence if you keep my Commandments, but if you do nothing more than sinners do, loving those who love you and doing good to those who do the same to you, you will have no confidence towards Me on that account.” He does not speak like this to deter people from loving or doing good or lending to those who will repay them, but He shows that such acts do not earn a reward, so they have their recompense here and now, and do not bring any grace to the soul, nor cleanse it from the ingrained defilement of sin.” (St Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp. 355-356).

Be An Example

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:8-12)

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘I am living with some brothers. Do you want me to be in charge of them?’ The elder said to him, ‘No. Do your own work first, and if they want to survive they will provide what is needed themselves.’ The brother said to him, ‘But it is they themselves who want me to be in charge of them.’ The elder said to him, ‘No. You must become their example, not their legislator.’”

An example like that does not draw attention to himself. Only those who wish will follow.

“A young man came to see an old ascetic to be instructed in the way of perfection. But the old man said not a word to him.

The other asked him the reason for his silence. ‘Am I your superior to give you orders? Do what you see me doing if you like.’ From then on the young man imitated the ascetic in everything and learned the meaning of silence.” (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 145-146).

 

St. Photius: On the Essence of Icons

St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, preached a sermon on the day the icon of the Theotokos was dedicated in Hagia Sophia, 29 March 867.  In the notes introducing the English translation of the sermon, we find this comment:

“In the eyes of Photius, painting is the most direct form of instruction, for a picture that is in agreement with religious truth contains the eidos, or essence, of the prototype, which is in turn apprehended by the faculty of sight and indelibly imprinted upon the mind. A painter is guided by divine inspiration, so that his work is not merely mimetic, but contains an actual share of the prototype. One would look in vain for a better expression of Byzantine art theory.”  (Cyril Mango, THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, pp 282-283)

For the Byzantine Christians, the icon was even more powerful/truthful than the written texts because the icon shares in the prototype.  It is hard for us to imagine a time when the presuppositions and perspective of the people are different than our own.  There was a time when people heard the phrase, “the word of God”, it was not the Bible that came to mind,  instead they would have thought, Jesus Christ.

Living in the literary culture of the 21st Century, and being shaped by the literary tradition of recent centuries, it is hard to imagine that at one time Christians, like Photius, thought the pictured icon to be “truer” than the written text – a more certain witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Our modern penchant for scholarship has increased this idolization of the text, which, when combined with cultural literalism, proves to be deadly, as St. Paul says. Just read 2 Corinthians 3 in the light of Photius’ idea that the painted text shares in the prototype. Christian don’t have to rely only on a printed text, we have icons – we are icons of God, created in God’s image!

2 Corinthians 3 –

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  . . .  God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

St. Paul says the Christian, the disciple is the true scripture because God’s Holy Spirit has written on our hearts.  In the beginning, humans were created in God’s image and likeness – we were created in the image and likeness of the Word of God.  Now God’s spirit writes on our heart, making us visible images of the Word.

Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?  . . .  Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

When we turn to the Lord . . . . which we can really do when we turn to look at an icon, we see the splendor of God.  Most miraculous of all is that we can look upon Christ in an icon and we do not have to put on a veil, as Moses did to protect the Israelites from the glory of God shining forth in his face.  And, we are changed by looking at the icon of Christ into His likeness.  This is how the icon serves a better purpose than the scriptures themselves.  The incarnation of Christ our God has changed the very nature of the world.

Nature As Images of Spirituality

There are many images and metaphors of the spiritual life, some more poetic than others.  Sometimes we find even among non-Christians descriptions of the spiritual life that show that indeed God distributes His words to all people on earth.

Mevlana, who lived in the thirteenth century writes:

“Become like the sun in your compassion and generosity;

Like the night, cover up the shortcomings of others;

As the rushing waters, reach out to the entire world;

During moments of anger, at times of rage, become like a dead man;

Become like the earth (humus) so people can stand firm on your foundation;

And either become that whom you manifest, or manifest who you really are.”

(Mevlana Rumi, from Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, p. 95).

Purity of Heart: Not Just Skin Deep

“What is more, because purity is a means to be like God, it is a matter of internal disposition rather than of external ritual observance. It must rule a person’s language precisely because, as the Lord says, speech reveals the person within, the heart (Matt . 5:22; 15:18; Paed. 2.6.49). The language of the Christian is free of impurity (Eph. 4:29; 5:3ff; Paed. 2.6.50). It is wrong to be preoccupied with external propriety if the person within is impure. The Scribes and the Pharisees are whitewashed sepulchres.  They washed the outside of the cup, but left the inside dirty. It is the impurity of the soul that must be cleansed…

St. John the Forerunner

External beauty is very misleading: it does not lead to the love and beauty which are imperishable (Sir. 9:8; Paed. 3.11.83). For Clement, purity is above all a reasonable virtue, which prevents human beings from becoming like beasts and renders them capable of seeing God (Ps. 49:12, 20 [48:13, 21, LXX]; Sir. 33:6; Paed. 1.13.101ff). Many times Clement insists on the fact that only the pure of heart see God (Matt. 5:8; Strom. 2.10.50) The vision of God face to face is the vision of the Truth, and only a small number can attain to it, for only the pure of heart see God. The Savior came down in order to lead us to this purty and definitive vision.”    (Matt. 5:8; Strom. 5.1.7) (Paul M. Blowers, The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity, pp. 120-121)

Saints of North America

Expressing the Holy Trinity in Ourselves

The aim of the Christian life, which Seraphim described as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God, can equally well be defined in terms of deification. Basil described the human person as a creature who has received the order to become a god; and Athanasius, as we know, said that God became human that we humans might become god.

The saints, as Maximus the Confessor put it, are those who express the Holy Trinity in themselves. This idea of a personal and organic union between God and humans — God dwelling in us, and we in Him — is a constant theme in the Epistles of St Paul, who sees the Christian life above all else as a life ‘in Christ’. The same idea recurs in the famous text of 2 Peter: ‘Through these promises you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (i,4).

(Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 225)

First Among Sinners

The conversion of St. Paul
The conversion of St. Paul

 St. Paul the Apostle writes to his spiritual son, Timothy (who is one of the 70 Apostles):

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
  (1 Timothy 1:15-17)
St. Isaac the Syrian says:
“Love sinners, but hate their works; and do not despise them for their faults, lest you be tempted by the same.”  (Orthodox Prayer Life, p. 160)

Faith is to Be Happy

“…Faith in the trust that forms friendship, hope in the vision of a future where God will finally prevail, and love in the forgiveness that is a human possibility only because it is first a divine reality. Working together to complete and perfect the classical virtues, these new virtues enable us to ‘become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4). When St. Paul declares that ‘[h]e who through faith is righteous shall live’ (Rom. 1:17) and that ‘by grace you have been saved by faith’ (Eph. 2:8), he is not speaking of an abstract doctrine that we are called to affirm as a bare intellectual proposition. To have faith is not to credit a set of ideas that await either proof or disproof. Certainly it is true that faith has real cognitive content – namely, the articles of belief set forth in the various creeds and confessions. Summarily stated, these statements of faith affirm that the triune God has acted in Israel and Christ to create his unique people called the church and, through it, to redeem the world.

Even so, faith is not the same thing as knowledge. Nor is faith something that we are required morally to do – to perform meritorious acts, for example, that win the favor of God. Surely Christian faith issues in a distinctive way of life; indeed, it is a set of habits and practices – of worship and devotion, of preaching and the sacraments. Faith is always made active and complete in good works, says the Epistle of James; in fact, ‘faith apart from works is dead’ (Jas. 2:22,26). Yet faith is not first of all to be understood as exemplary action. At its root and core, faith is always an act of trust if it is to possess true knowledge and to produce true works. People having simple minds and accomplishing small deeds can have profound faith. Whether old or young, bright or dim, mighty or weak, we are all called to be childlike before God. Faith is the total entrustment of ourselves to the God who has trustworthily revealed himself in Israel and Christ. It is the confidence that this true God will dispose of our lives graciously, whereas we ourselves would make wretchedly ill use of them. This means that faith entails a radical risk, for God both commands and grants faith without offering material threat of punishment or earthly promise of reward. To be sure, the life of disobedience incurs divine wrath, just as the life of faith springs from divine mercy. The right relation between God’s anger and pity is defined in the fine phrase of Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth-century Anglican divine: ‘God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.’ To have faith is to have the life of true felicity already within us, as we learn gladly to participate in God’s own Trinitarian life of trusting self-surrender. Because God’s communal life centers upon the perfect and unconditional self-giving of each person of the Trinity to the other, so does the life of faith entail the complete offering of ourselves to God and our neighbors. Such an astounding act could never be a human achievement: it is a miraculous divine gift. There is nothing within our human abilities that could produce faith. On the contrary, it is our free and trusting response to the desire for God that God himself has planted within us.

LordofRingsGod is utterly unlike Melkor and Sauron because he never coerces. We are never forced but always drawn to faith, as God grants us freedom from sin’s compulsion. We are invited and persuaded to this act of total entrustment through the witness to the Gospel made by the church. Even when faith is an act of knee-bent confession alone in one’s own room, it is not a solitary and individual and private thing: faith is both enabled and sustained by the body of Christ called the church, the community of God’s own people.” (Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp 117-119)

The Unexpected Causes of Love: Necessity, Commerce and Treasties

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) says that God has ordered the world to encourage us to love one another.  As Chrysostom sees it, our needs and mutual dependencies bind humans together to encourage cooperation.  Human life is ordered by God not to encourage rugged individualism but rather mutual interdependence.   This is the lesson taught to us from birth by our birth:  we don’t bring ourselves into the world, nor do we create the world into which we are born.  Rather we share the earth with others and are to value others because they can provide us things we cannot provide for ourselves.   Society itself exists as a means for humans to serve one another and help meet the needs of all.

“All good works are the fruit of charity…Now charity teaches us not only by words but also by deeds. In the first place, we ought to keep in mind the way in which we have been created. Indeed, after he had created the one man, God ordained that we should be born from him, so that we all should consider ourselves as one and try to practice charity for one another. In the second place, God in his wisdom fostered our mutual love through our treaties and commerce. Look how God has filled the universe with many goods, but to each part of the earth he has given its particular fruits. In this way, impelled by our needs we communicate with one another, give to others what we have overmuch and receive what we lack.

Thus we increase our love for our brethren. The same thing God has done with each human life. He has not given to all of us to know everything, rather to one medicine, to another architecture, yet to another, art, so that we may love one another by necessity. The same thing is to be seen in the spiritual order, as St. Paul says: ‘To one the Spirit gives wisdom in discourse, to another the power to express knowledge; by the same Spirit another is given the gift of healing, and still another miraculous powers….’ ”(Daily Readings from the Writing of St. John Chrysostom, pp 105-106)