Kindness

Kindness does not mean overlooking people’s sins; it means forgiving them. Kindness also does not mean “being nice” to everyone whoever they are and whatever they do. It does not mean “going along” with others in every way. A kind person will correct others, if need be, and his very kindness will be shown by his care and concern for the well-being of his fellow creature “for whom Christ died” (Rom 14.15).

(Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith Vol. 4 Spirituality, p. 85)

Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving Day

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”   (Luke 17:12-19)

In this Gospel lesson we learn about something that Jesus values.  Something He expects to find in us.  What is it?

Gratitude

Jesus values a heart that is grateful for the blessings it has received.

St. Paul exhorts us to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Yet, we often wonder how that is possible.  The ancients believed it possible because they saw gratitude as well as happiness as a choice we make in life, not a response to circumstances.  They cultivated happiness and gratitude in their inner selves so that they could have them no matter what circumstance they found themselves in.  For us on the other hand, we seem to think that happiness and thankfulness come to us from outside ourselves.  Thus we blame friends, family, spouses, neighbors, and country when we aren’t happy.  We somehow imagine it the job of everyone else to make us happy.  In the ancient world, they knew better than that.  They knew the truth that happiness and gratitude were a chosen way of life, not dependent on circumstances.  Despite all our advances is science and technology, the ancients still knew things we do not.  No wonder drug abuse and addiction are so prevalent in our culture.  We are demanding the external world make us happy and thankful.  We see ourselves as the victim of circumstances, rather than doing the hard work to chose happiness and gratitude as how we want to live and be.

Our God wants us to have an inner disposition of thankfulness.  That is one of of our tasks in life.  Be people who chose gratitude and happiness as your perspective on the world rather than a reaction to what is happening.

Gratitude means to be thankful for what we have received.  In Luke 17:12-19, 9 of the 10 lepers who were healed did not stop and give thanks to Christ.  All ten found their voice when they wanted to request something, but only one thought it right to come back and give thanks.

They lacked the virtue of gratitude.

Sadly, giving thanks does not occur automatically even when we receive what we want.  All day long most of us are receiving some things that we want, yet we are not thankful for these things.  We don’t thank everyone who gives us what we want.  We fail to be thankful if we have any food to eat, or a bed to sleep on  or clothes to wear.   We take it for granted that there should be heat in the buildings and running water and paved roads and the trash removed.   We want these things, and when we get them, we feel no gratitude.  Thankfulness is not an automatic human response, we have to cultivate it.

Disciples of Christ are to be thankful people. We are to be thankful for everything, even for the things we pay for and  also in the times when things fail us.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus Himself giving thanks:

Just before feeding the thousands when He multiplied the loaves and fishes in    Matthew 15:36:

he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Just before raising His friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11:41-42:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.”

Christ gave thanks to His Father for the things His Father had hidden and for the things He had revealed in Matthew 11:25-26:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

And of course, and perhaps most famously, Jesus gave thanks at the Last supper, Matthew 26:27:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus knew he was going to be murdered.  And on that very night in which he knew he was to be betrayed, arrested, denied, tortured and executed, he still sat with His disciples and gave thanks to God!

In imitation of Christ we too give thanks for everything.  “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, we thank God for that night in which Jesus was tortured and executed.  We join in with the disciples in receiving Christ’s Eucharist at each and every Divine Liturgy.  We participate in Christ’s thanksgiving.

Sixty-seven times some form of the word “thanks” appears in the New Testament.

Did the apostles only give thanks only because things were going good for them?  NO, they gave thanks in times of suffering as well.

In Acts 5:41, we read:

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Think of St. Paul and how often he gives thanks to God even though constantly suffering.  In Every single letter of St Paul, he offers thanks.

Acts 27:35-36 in the midst of shipwreck and sea disaster St Paul takes time to offer thanks:

And when he had said this, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Let your hearts and minds be filled not with complaints, criticisms and accusations against one another but rather be filled with thanksgiving, always for everyone and everything.    We should embrace the attitude expressed in the AKATHIST: Glory to God for All Things.   And we should remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Learning the Skill of Charity

One person has the skill to hammer brass into the most exquisite shapes and to engrave elaborate patterns on to it.

Another has the skill to make furniture, joining together different pieces of wood so firmly that no one can break them apart. A third person can spin the finest yarn, while a fourth weaves it into cloth.

A fifth craftsperson can lay stones one on top of the other to build walls, while a sixth puts a roof on top of the walls to make a house. Indeed there are so many different skills, each one requiring many years to attain, that it would be impossible to list them all.

So what is the skill that rich people should acquire? They do not need to fashion brass or wood, or to build houses. Rather, they must learn how to use their wealth well, to the good of all the people around them. The ordinary craftsperson may think that that is an easy skill to learn. On the contrary, it is the hardest skill of all. It requires both great wisdom and great moral strength. Look at how many rich people fail to acquire it, and how few practice it to perfection.

(St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply, p. 14)

The Door Through Which Christ Passed

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.   (Revelation 3:20)

“The door through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was his love for man.  It is this divine love that St Symeon the New Theologian addresses, asking that it may be for us too a door bringing Christ close to us:

‘O divine love, where are you holding Christ?  Where are you hiding Him? …  Open even to us, unworthy though we are, a little door, that we may see Christ who suffered for us…  Open to us, since you have become the Door to His manifestation in the flesh; you have constrained the abundant and unforced compassion of our Master to bear the sins of us all…  Make your home in us, that for you the Master may come and visit us in our lowliness, as you go before us to meet Him.’

The door of love through which Christ passed in order to come into the world was opened by the Mother of God.  Her holiness attracted divine mercy to the human race.  Through her ministry in the mystery of the divine economy, the Mother of God became the ‘Gate that faces east’ (cf Ezek 46:1, 12); the ‘Gate that looks towards the east’  from which life dawned for men and scattered the darkness of death.”

(Hieromonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY , p 36)

Counsels on Confession

The person who possesses knowledge and knows the truth confesses to God not by reminding himself of things he has done, but by patiently enduring what happens to him.  (St. Mark the MonkCounsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 2664-2666)

As we move into the Nativity Fast, it is a good time for us to examine our consciences to see what is in our hearts, and to know of what we need to repent in order to follow Christ.  For basically repentance is removing all those obstacles from our hearts and lives that prevent us from being faithful disciples of Christ.  Confession occurs not just when we go to the sacrament, but daily when we admit our faults and failures to our Lord.  As St Mark the Monk notes above confession occurs daily when we realize that much of what happens to us is the result of our own choices and because we live in a fallen world.  When we recognize the effects of the Fall on our daily lives, we are admitting that the power of sin in the world is noticeable – both in how we behave and how others behave toward us.  The fact that life is not fair, that sin abounds, tells us this is the world of the Fall.  There is a reality that the only person we can change in the world is our self.   [This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for justice.  It does mean that we must never cease struggling against the sin which is in our own hearts.]

St. Basil  the Great rejected any idea of predestination or pre-determination based on the inescapable power of original sin.  If everything is predetermined by original sin or by genetic makeup then indeed even efforts for justice, correction and reform are worthless since we would only be struggling against an all-powerful fate over which we can never win.  We are to wrestle with those parts of our self over which we actually have control – the only sins we commit occur in those things over which we have control.  Some in the Patristic age thought even doing something once did not constitute sin.  It is sin only if we repeat the action knowing it is wrong – doing it once is a mistake, repeating it is sin.   As St. Basil notes, it really doesn’t do any good for legislators to pass laws forbidding something over which a person has no control anyway.  St. Basil is speaking rhetorically, for he believes people do make choice, at least some.  Not everything we do is predetermined in us.

“If the origin of our virtues and of our vices is not in ourselves, but in the fatal consequence of our birth, it is useless for legislators to prescribe for us what we ought to do, and what we ought to avoid; it is useless for judges to honor virtue and to punish vice. The guilt is not in the robber, not in the assassin: it was willed for him; it was impossible for him to hold back his hand, urged to evil by inevitable necessity. Those who laboriously cultivate the arts are the maddest of people. The laborer will make an abundant harvest without sowing seed and without sharpening his sickle. Whether he wishes it or not, the merchant will make his fortune, and will be flooded with riches by fate. As for us Christians, we shall see our great hopes vanish, since from the moment that one does not act with freedom, there is neither reward for justice nor punishment for sin. Under the reign of necessity and of fate there is no place for merit, the first condition of all righteous judgment.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 3624-31)

For St Basil the failure of predestination thinking is that it tells us nothing matters.  Not only can we incapable of  resisting sin – we also are incapable of change so repentance is impossible. Predestination means even goodness and success will only happen by fate, so no use trying to do good either.  No use planting crops or working hard since fate determines everything including whether there is food to eat.  Might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens.  But at this point even many predestination believers can see that it does matter if you try – there is food to eat only because people work hard to make it so.  There are roads, bridges, stores, internet and electricity only because people make the effort to make it happen.  Everything is not just unfolding by fate, people are making decisions and acting on them.  What we do matters and changes the course of human history.  The same is true about our behavior good and bad.

It is because our behavior matters and does affect both others as well as our self, that the examination of conscience and the confession of sins is important.  We are by nature relational beings, we need to consider how our behavior, thoughts and even our attitude is a reflection of whether or not we are guided by the Gospel commandment to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34).  Admitting our sins, faults and foibles is not failure but rather how we show that we recognize Christ’s lordship over our daily lives.  Confession is acknowledgment of reality, of what is in our hearts, as shameful as it might be, as reluctant as we are to admit it.

Do not conceal your sin because of the idea that you must not scandalize your neighbor. Of course this injunction must not be adhered to blindly. It will depend on the nature of one’s sinfulness.”   ( St.  John Climacus, Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle Loc. 1624-25)

St John Climacus recognizes that admitting one’s sins is a good thing, and yet it has to be practiced with wisdom and discretion.  Just a fear of scandalizing others is not in itself justification for concealing one’s sin (note he said sin, he didn’t say every thought that comes into your head, just your sins.  The behavioral sin might be obvious to others, but we don’t need to discuss with everyone every errant idea that passes through our minds).  However, as he also notes, he is not putting down an unbreakable rule – one has to use wisdom in knowing when to openly admit to one’s sins.  There are some things we do which it is not wise to tell everyone.  We need to confess those to our father confessors, to those who are better prepared to deal with humans as fallen sinners.  If we are honest to our self about our sins, we recognize also how our sins impact our lives and the lives of those around us – especially the ones we love.  Instead of becoming bitter for sin or blaming others regarding sin, when we recognize its power in our life, we can make an effort to correct it and to find the better way to love others or at least to own it and repent of it.

 

Clothe Yourself With Christ

“‘As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them…But love ye your enemies and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again and your reward shall be great and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father is also merciful.’ (Luke 6:30-36)

These words of Christ describe two ways. On the one hand, the ‘natural’ way is to do good to them that do good to us, to love them that love us. The other way, the way of the Gospel, takes us far beyond the natural way. Christ leads us to a deeper, supernatural way of life, a reflection of the perfect life of God: ‘Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful.’ This commandment raises the human soul to great heights, for by it we are made children of the Heavenly Father and become like unto God.

The Lord’s commandment does not have a negative character. He does not say, ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you’ but ‘Do unto others that which is precious to you, which so fills your soul that you would wish to receive it from them.’ Christian asceticism is ultimately meaningless unless it has a positive character. It is not simply a matter of ‘don’t do this or that’ but rather ‘do this, and be perfect’. We struggle not merely – to divest ourselves of the passions of the old man, but to clothe ourselves with the new man, the New Adam, that is, with Christ Himself.”

(Archimandrite Zacharaias, Remember Thy First Love, p. 316-317)

Receive the Body of Christ

“When Christ comes into us, he does not sanctify our soul alone but our whole being. For by Holy Communion, ‘Body [is mingled] with body, Blood with blood…What great mysteries are these! What a miracle, that the mind of Christ should become one with our mind, that His will should be amalgamated with our will, His Body with our body, His Blood with our blood! What is our mind like when the divine mind prevails over it; what is our will like when the divine will predominates; and what becomes of the dust [our body] once the fire [of the Godhead] overcomes it!’ (St. Nicholas Cabasilas).    The distribution of the pure Mysteries ‘makes those who partake worthily to be similar – by grace and by participation – to Him who is the causal Good’ (St Maximus the Confessor).

. . .  St. Symeon the New Theologian extols the Lord after Holy Communion:

‘What is this measureless compassion of Yours, O Savior?

How have You accounted me worthy to become one of Your members

– I who am impure, a prodigal, a harlot?

How have You dressed me in a garment most bright,

glistering with the radiance of immortality

and making all my members into light?

For your Body, pure and divine,

is wholly radiant, wholly intermixed

and commingled ineffably with the fire of Your Divinity…

I have been united, I know, also with Your Divinity

and have become Your most pure Body,

a member shining forth, a member truly holy,

a member glittering from afar, and radiant, and shining.'”

(Hireomonk Gregorious, The Divine Liturgy, p. 297-298)

Jesus Proclaimed

Jesus Christ whether as the historical person or the one proclaimed through the centuries by the Church is the same, yesterday, today, forever (Hebrews 13:8).  The Gospel is not about Jesus, Jesus is the Gospel.

Who Jesus really was, what Jesus really thought of himself, and who really were included among Jesus’ closest associates – such titillating questions have in recent years occupied the front covers of national news magazines and prompted television documentaries. This is fascinating since the church looks to the Gospels as authoritative witnesses to the one gospel, who is Jesus Christ, and not to the Jesus reconstructed by even our best historians.

(Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth, p. 109)

From, Through and to God

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

For from him

and through him

and to him

are all things.

To him be glory for ever.

Amen.

(Romans 11:33-36)

God’s Love Means Our Salvation

“If a genuine righteousness were required of human beings, then only one in ten thousand would be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, continues Isaac. This is why God gave people repentance as a remedy, for it can heal a person from sin in a short time. Not wishing human beings to perish, God forgives everyone who repents with his whole heart. God is good by nature, and he ‘wishes to save everyone by all sorts of means’.

Isaac resented the widespread opinion that the majority of human beings will be punished in hell, while only a small group of the chosen will delight in paradise. He was convinced that, quite the contrary, the majority of people will find themselves in the kingdom of heaven, and only a few sinners will go to Gehenna, and even they only for the period of time necessary for their repentance and remission of sins:

By the device of grace the majority of humankind will enter the kingdom of heaven without the experience of Gehenna. But this is apart from those who, because of their hardness of heart and utter abandonment to wickedness and the lusts, fail to show remorse in suffering for their faults and their sins, and because these people have not been disciplined at all. For God’s holy nature is so good and so compassionate that it is always seeking to find some small means of putting us in the right: how he can forgive human beings their sins—like the case of the tax collector who was put in the right by the intensity of his prayer or like the case of a woman with two small coins or the man who received forgiveness on the cross. For God wishes our salvation, and not reasons to torment us.

Earthly life is given to everyone as a time of repentance. It is enough for a person to turn to God to ask forgiveness for his sins immediately to be forgiven. The token of this forgiveness is the Incarnation of the Word of God, who, when all creation had abandoned and forgotten God, came down to earth in order to redeem humankind and the whole universe by his death on the cross.”

(Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, pp. 294-295)