Praying for Everyone

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.   (1 John 2:1-2)

“I beg and beseech You, Lord, grant to all who have gone astray a true knowledge of You, so that each and everyone may come to know Your glory.

In the case of all who have passed from this world lacking a virtuous life and having had no faith, be an advocate for them, Lord, for the sake of the body which You took from them, so that from the single united body of the world we may offer up praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the kingdom of heaven, an unending source of eternal delight.”

(St Isaac the Syrian, Scriptores Syri, T. 225, p. 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.

A Divine Reward Before Doing the Labor

By the inexpressible providence of God some people have obtained divine rewards for their labors before doing them; others during their toil; others after; and some only at the time of their departure.   (St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2394-2395)

The above quote from St. John Climacus reminded me of an event that happened almost 50 years ago.  A friend of our family had an aging mother who was about 85.  She was having serious trouble walking, suffering a lot of pain in her legs.  Perhaps it was a circulatory problem, but I don’t remember that detail.   She kept telling her son, our family friend, that if she couldn’t walk anymore, she hoped God would take her.  She didn’t want to keep living if she couldn’t go to church and she was afraid that since she couldn’t walk they would put her in a nursing home and that would be the end of her church attendance. She had been several times doctors but they hadn’t so far found a solution to the problem.  Then, one day, the doctor called the man and told him they had a new medication for his mother which the doctor felt would help her be able to walk.  Our friend went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription and drove it to his mother’s house.  To his surprise, she was not home.   She didn’t drive, so he couldn’t imagine where she went.  He searched the house and began looking around the neighborhood.  A neighbor told him that he had seen his mom walking away from the home earlier in the day.  He became very alarmed knowing she wasn’t able to walk very well.  He drove around the neighborhood but didn’t see her.  He felt somewhat panicked about what might have happened to her.  He called the doctor and the hospital, but could not locate her.  After a considerable time, he drove to the church because it was the one place he knew she liked to be.  And sure enough there was his mom sitting on the front steps of the church.   She had walked nearly 2 miles to get there.  When he got out of the car, he felt a bit angry and said to his mother, “What are you doing here?”   She calmly replied that she had come to church to pray to God to ask him to help her so she could walk and come to church, but if that God wasn’t going to help her, then she hoped He would allow her to die in peace.

The son told her that the doctor had called that very morning with a new prescription for her and he had gotten the medication for her.  She replied, “See, God answered my prayer.”    He said later he felt a little amused by her simple faith, imagining as she did that God had answered her prayer, when he knew that in fact that medication was in production for years before she ever made that prayer.   His problem of course was his good Western mind with its linear view of history – as if God needed to wait for a prayer to be offered before God could  begin to act upon the petition.  Or as St. John Climacus noted in the quote above, some obtain their divine rewards before doing the labor.

Glorious Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul

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If, as we have said, we commemorate each of the saints with hymns and appropriate songs of praise, how much more should we celebrate the memory of Peter and Paul, the supreme leaders of the pre-eminent company of the apostles? They are the fathers and guides of all Christians: apostles, martyrs, holy ascetics, priests, hierarchs, pastors and teachers. As chief shepherds and master builders of our common godliness and virtue, they tend and teach us all, like lights in the world, holding forth the word of life (Phil. 2:15–16).

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Their brightness excels that of the other radiantly pious and virtuous saints as the sun outshines the stars, or as the heavens, which declare the sublime glory of God (cf. Ps. 19:1), transcend the skies. In their order and strength they are greater than the heavens, more beautiful than the stars, and swifter than both, and as regards what lies beyond the realm of the senses, it is they who reveal things which surpass the very heavens themselves and indeed the whole universe, and who make them bright with the light “in which there is no variableness neither shadow of turning” (cf. Jas. 1:17).

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Not only do they bring people out of darkness into this wonderful light, but by enlightening them they make them light, the offspring of the perfect light, that each of them may shine like the sun (Matt. 13:43), when the author of light, the God-man and Word, appears in glory.

(St Gregory Palamas, On the Saints, Kindle Location 672-682)

A blessed Feast of the Holy Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul!

The Way of Love is the Way of Co-suffering

Nicholas Kotar in his book, The Song of the Sirin (Raven Son Book 1), has one of his characters ask a thought provoking question – a thought experiment about human creativity.  We are capable of creativity and of making things beautiful, but we come into a world not of our making, and so we interact with that world.  Humans have a synergy with creation and with God.

“Tell me, Voran. What is the most beautiful thing a man can mold and form, though it is not of his own creation?”

Voran had already contemplated this question for a long time, and thoughtfully gives a reply which immediately suggests to  him a follow up question.

How many times had he pondered the same question while sitting half-frozen on the banks of their river of a morning?

“His own life,” he said.

The most beautiful thing that we can form which we did not create is our self!  This is why Christianity is not mostly about learning information, but it is about formation.  We are each in the process of forming our soul, our self.  We cooperate with God in creating our self – true synergy.

“His own life,” he said. “To make his own life beautiful, what must he do?”

It came to him like floodwaters, overwhelming.

The answer to this question is one which Orthodox Christianity has embraced, contemplated and attempted to live in its spirituality.  God has imbued us with the gifts necessary for and capable of making things beautiful.  It is truly a good that we can add to creation.

To love as God loves is to love to the point that one suffers with the other, for the other and even because of the other.

“A human being can only become truly human if he lives for others.  That way, the way of love, is by necessity the way of pain. Shared pain. Co-suffering.”  (page 82).

The way for us to become truly human – to make ourselves good and beautiful is the way of love, the self emptying love which God revealed in the incarnation.  For God to become human, God emptied himself.  For us to become fully human is to become as God is, which means we too must empty ourselves.

“The kind of co-suffering we are talking about is …  precisely in the ability to understand man, fathom the good qualities he possesses, and to appreciate him, freeing him from the admixture of falsehood.  What is required for this– in addition to humble love– are a power and broadness of mind.  Thus, co-suffering is the ability to come to an inner self-identification with a person, a joyous blending with all that is good in him, and sorrow about all that is negative.  This is precisely where a ‘fisher of men’ is revealed.  Such people somehow manage to penetrate a person completely, to appropriate all his thoughts, to become linked to his very heart and soul, to raise his whole being to truth and love.  All this requires spiritual knowledge, sincere love and the ability to know the innermost thoughts of a person without reacting in a negative manner.

Hieromartyr Gorazd of Prague

The prerequisite of this influence of one will upon another may be stated thus: By humbling oneself, loving and learning about people, a human being ascends or returns to a primordial mysterious union with everyone and, in pouring the holy content (acquired through communion with God) of his soul into the soul of his neighbor, he transfigures the inner nature of the latter in such a way that merely by the consent of his will, the difficult path of his rebirth is almost accomplished.”  (Anthony KhrapovitskyDOSTOYEVESKY’S CONCEPT OF REBIRTH, pp 37-38)

The Joy of Humility

Everything, absolutely everything in religion is ambiguous, and this ambiguity can be cleared only by humility, so that the whole spiritual life is or must be directed at seeking humility. The signs of humility: joy! Pride excludes joy. Then: simplicity, i.e., the absence of any turn into one’s self. Finally, trust, as the main directive in life, applied to everything (purity of heart, when man can see God). The signs of pride are: the absence of joy; complexity and fear.

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, p. 161)

 

 

 

Christian Asceticism

The tradition of our Fathers and the authority of Scripture teaches us that there are three kinds of renouncements which each of us must work to carry out with all his strength. The first is to reject all the pleasures and all the riches of this world. This second is to renounce ourselves, our vices, our wicked habits, and all the unruly affections of the spirit and of the flesh; and the third is to withdraw our heart from all things present and visible and apply it only to the eternal and invisible. God teaches us to make these three renounements all at once by what He said to Abraham first of all. “Go out!” he told him, “from your country, from your kindred, from the house of your father; that is, leave the goods of this world and all the riches of the earth. Go out from your ordinary life and from the wicked and vicious inclinations which, attaching themselves to us by our birth and the corruption of flesh and blood, are as it were naturalized and become one thing with ourselves. Go out from the house of your father, that is, lose the memory of all the things of this world and of everything that presents itself to your eyes…”

We shall then arrive at this third renouncement when our spirit, no longer weighed down by the contagion of this animal and earthly body, but purified from the affections of the earth, is raised to heaven by continual meditation on divine things, and is so taken up with the contemplation of the eternal truth that it forgets that it is still enclosed in fragile flesh and, ravished in God, it will find itself so absorbed in His presence that it has no longer ears to hear or eyes to see and it cannot even be struck by the greatest and most perceptible objects.” 

(St. John Cassian, in Louis Bouyer’s The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, p. 327)

We All Offer Sacrifice and Sacraments to God

We shall only understand the character of the world when we think of it as a gift or present.

The whole world ought to be regarded as the visible part of a universal and continuing sacrament, and all man’s activities as a sacramental, divine communion.

Because man is unable to give God anything except that which he has already received from God, man learns to perceive the world as gift and sacrament by sacrificing something in this world for God’s sake, as a sign of his grateful love, and as the vehicle of this love. God for his part returns to man what man has sacrificed in the form of fresh gifts, containing a new manifestation of His love, in a new and repeated blessing. “Grace for Grace.”  And so an unbroken interchange between God and man in man’s use of the world takes place, an ever-renewed and growing mutuality of love. The more man discovers the beauty and the higher use of created things, and the greater the gratitude and love with which he responds to God, the more God responds with still greater love and blessing, because man is in the position to receive it.

Man puts the seal of his understanding and of his intelligent work on to creation, thereby humanizing it and giving it humanized back to God. He actualizes the world’s potentialities. Thus the world is not only a gift but a task for man. Man is able to mark the world with his seal because the world as the gift of God’s love for man is not the fruit of necessity but the fruit of divine freedom. If it were the fruit of necessity there would be no freedom in it, and it would develop as an inexorable casual process. But it is SO constituted that divine freedom and human freedom can manifest themselves in an unbroken dialogue.

(Fr Dimitru Staniloae, The Time of the Spirit, p. 28)

Christian Spirituality

“Christian spirituality is centered in God; in fact, its very goal is communion with God, which is attainable through the accomplishment of His will. To be what God wants us to be and to do what God want us to do is the sole meaning of our human existence. The fulfillment of the prayer “Thy will be done” is the heart and soul of all spiritual effort and activity.”

(Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 16)

Pentecost: What It is to Be Human

About 3000 years ago, a man named David, King of Israel, was laying in a field at night, gazing at the stars.  He was awed by how vast the night sky was – more stars than he could count.  Yet, what came to his mind is that God’s love for humans exceeded God’s love for the vast expanse of the heavens.   However awesome the nighttime heavens are, God is more concerned about  humans than the infinite space of the cosmos.  David found the heavens awesome, God apparently finds humans more awesome than the cosmic universe.  Humans, tiny and frail and sinful were still God’s focus and God’s first love.  David sang:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have established; what is a human that You are mindful of him, and mortals that You care for them?

Yet You made him little less than God, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!   (Psalms 8:3-9)

What is a human?

3000 years ago, King David was humans as beings created to know and worship God, and to be crowned by God with glory and honor.  Humans were created to be faithful stewards of God’s creation, to work with God to co-create the world into God’s kingdom.

Humans were created to have continual communion with God.  We were meant to be God’s continual point of contact with all of creation. God was to live in our hearts (Deuteronomy 30:14).  We were created to have this inner spiritual lives – in our hearts (Luke 17:21, Romans 7:22) so that the entire creation would be blessed by God through us.  Humans are awesome to God, for humans were created with a heart large enough to be a home for God to dwell on earth.

It is this inner spiritual life –  the heart which is meant to be heaven – which makes us human, which makes us unique among all God’s creatures, which makes us unique in all the universe.  Our hearts were meant to be a temple for the Holy Spirit.

And because our hearts are capable of being such a vast expanse we often feel an emptiness in our hearts which we try to fill with things other than God.  But it doesn’t work and so our cravings create problems for us as we look in all the wrong places to find something to fill our hearts.   Some fill their hearts with everything or perhaps anything except God – with food, alcohol,  pornography, mindless entertainment, politics, internet debates, voyeuristic news about celebrities.  All those things we can’t seem to get enough of come to displace God in our hearts.  And then we wonder why we are spiritually ill!

If we want the Holy Spirit to abide in our hearts, we have to make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit.  We have to push out all these other things that compete in our hearts for space.  Sometimes the waste is so deep we need a  shovel to dig out even a little room for God’s Spirit

Our hearts are capable of being a temple for the Holy Spirit, which God readily gives to us.  As we celebrate Pentecost we realize God is offering completely of Himself to us – to abide in our hearts so that we can each make God present in our lives for the good of the entire cosmos.

And in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read for the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), we see God’s Spirit comes upon the apostles in the forms of fiery tongues. A flame which kindles divine illumination in us – a Light capable of driving out all darkness from our hearts.

Jesus use a vert different image in the Gospel lesson for Pentecost (John 7:37-52, 8:12) – not fire but water.  He speaks about a spring of living water that wells up in the heart.  This is flowing water, moving with vigor and vitality bringing life and power to all it touches.  Christ’s imagery brings to mind a passage from the Holy Prophet Ezekiel:

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.  . . .   And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”    (Ezekiel 47:1-12)

For Ezekiel, the spiritual water to which Christ refers begins flowing at the altar and flows out of the temple and away from the temple.  And the further Ezekiel gets away from the temple, the deeper the waters become.  And for us there is an image of the Holy Spirit moving through time and space, away from the original outpouring at Pentecost.   Low and behold the outpouring gets greater, deeper the further we move away from the temple and that original pouring forth of the Holy Spirit.

Almost  in every generation leaders have complained that things are worse now than in previous generations.  You can see that in almost every century Christians write that the earlier  Christians in previous centuries were more devout and faithful.  Yet the Church continues to grow, and Ezekiel’s vision is that instead of the water trickling down to nothing, it is getting ever deeper.  And these deep waters of the outpouring of God’s Spirit are giving life up and down the banks of the river.   Things aren’t getting worse – they are changing without a doubt, but the spiritual spring flowing from Christ is increasing not decreasing.

And it is we Christians who have to make our hearts capable of bearing this outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we can bring the divine life to all of creation.  We have a God-given role to fill in creation – we have a God-given obligation to fulfill our role.  The entire creation, not only all of the people of the world, but the entire created world and cosmos are waiting on us to make it possible for them to participate in God.