Mother of All the Living Ones

The man called his wife’s name Zoe (Life), because she was the mother of all the living.  (Genesis 3:20)

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As we in America honor our mothers today, we remember that it is through women that we come into the world.  Women have a unique role to play in the life of the world and are involved in God’s life-giving nature in a way that men cannot be.  Even the life-giving incarnation of God, required a woman for our salvation.  Males had no direct role in the incarnation itself, except to be in need of it for salvation.  So motherhood itself is a necessary part of the salvation of every human being.  Males cannot be saved without a woman, which is why all Christians should also honor, Mary, the Theotokos.  As St Elizabeth shows in her own praise of Mary as  “she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?   (Luke 1:42-43)   Elizabeth was overwhelmed that the Mother of the Lord should visit her.

30107253080_7ee0ce7d69_nHowever unique and great the role of motherhood is in the continuation of the human race and in the salvation of all humans, motherhood is not the only role women play in the life of the church.  The ability to give birth is a unique role for women, but not the only role for women in the Church.  Obviously the entire history of women monastics shows us that child birth is not essential for the salvation of women.  There are many women who are saints in our Church, who were never mothers, nor even tried to be.

Women, including mothers, have the same path to salvation as men: through holiness.  There are women Disciples of the Lord such as the Myrrhbearing Women.  There are women who are proclaimed Equal to the Apostles (such Photini the Samaritan Woman and Helen the mother of Constanine).  There are women who are titled Evangelizers   (such as Nina of Georgia  but also God chose women to serve as the first Evangelists – the Myrrhbearing Women carried the message to the male Apostles).   In the Church calendar of saints there are women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers and monastics.

So while motherhood is a unique role for women in God’s creation and in the Church, it is not the only role for women.  And few women are glorified as saints just for being mothers. The women saints of the Church are generally recognized for all the other roles they played in the life of the Church.

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Mothers like all women can know the Lord.  They can be saints and disciples because they can be imitators of Christ.  Mothers give us life, but they can also be examples of how to love and live for eternal life.   Giving birth is a natural thing, which may be why it is not always the way to holiness.  We are a pro-life Church, and we honor our mothers because they show the sanctity of life in their pregnancies, in giving birth and in their rearing of children.  Mothers reveal a unique relationship between themselves and the infants to whom they are giving life as well as to the life-givingness itself.   Mothers are the human element in the birthing process.   Mothers can be examples not only to their children, but to all women and men of how to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-4), to be His disciple, to experience His presence every day in the most mundane circumstances, in the most natural way.  Jesus in fact says everyone who does the will of God becomes His mother (Mark 3:33-34).  The holiness of motherhood lies in doing God’s will.    And the children of believing mothers are considered to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14) based on the mother’s faith.

Be blessed like Rebekah

In giving birth to us, in giving life to us, our mothers make it possible for us to experience God, to be in God’s presence.  For this alone, we should thank and honor our mothers.

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To Be Human is to Love Others

We humans were created in the image of God.  One of the main implications of this for Christians is that we are created in the image of a Trinitarian God, a God who is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and the three share a communal love for each other.   We humans were created as communal or relational beings, to live in love and harmony with each other, to share the common human life.  To live in relationship to God, creation and one another is the Paradise God made for us.  We were never created to be isolated, alienated individuals.  We share a common nature, we share the same planet, we all have the same Creator.

But that Paradise was shattered because people did not value love and community, but wanted to assert their individual life as more important than anything else including more important than one’s relationship with others.  In Gen 3:6  we get a glimpse into Eve’s mind –  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”  From her  individual point of view, Eve could see nothing wrong with eating of the forbidden fruit.  What she ignored was that her life was lived in relationship with God and Adam and creation.  Her sin shattered the relationships which existed leading us to the broken, fallen world in which we find ourselves.

We humans were created by God to share in the divine love shared by the Father, and the son and the Holy Spirit.  We were created to participate in the Divine Life and Love, but we humans chose to rather assert our individualism over and against all else that exists.  And that is why the world we live in is not Paradise.  By sin we break the mutual bonds of love which were meant to bind us together in life.

But the God who is Love shows us in the event of the Annunciation that Divine Love is still available to us, for God’s love is not only relational and communal – a love and life to be shared by all – but it is also incarnational.  God became human, entering the human condition in Mary’s womb, revealing to us that we humans still have the capacity for loving as God loves.

Christianity is that putting on ourselves the divine love and life.  Christianity is not something like clothes which we can put on and take off, but rather Christianity is about our human nature, who and what we are.  It is about our participating in the divine life.

The Virgin Mary at the Annunciation is a human person who becomes infused with  and inseparable from the Holiness of God.   She is the model human person.  And so she says to God:  Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

Mary says to God, “not my will, but your will be done”.  Mary is not interested in asserting her individualism, but rather is willing to embrace the divine love for humanity and do what is good and necessary for all the people of the world, indeed for all creation.

The Feast of the Annunciation – in which the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary tells us that sacred people or sacred places are a sign that holiness – that God Himself – can be experienced in life.  We receive not only what is God’s, but we receive God into our own lives.

Icons, the Holy Communion, saints, the church building are the signs of God’s mysterious presence in our world and in our life.  We are striving to make God’s presence personal to ourselves.    Mary and all the saints tell us that we can share in the life of the Holy Trinity.

But to do so, we need to be willing to deny ourselves in order to love as God loves us.

The Sanctity of Human Life (2018)

A number of Church Fathers thought that the main human problem is not that we sin, for if sin had been our main problem, God had already appointed repentance for sin.   The Law of the Old Covenant would have been good enough for dealing with sin.  Humans could repent, perhaps offer the appropriate sacrifice and be done with the problem.  For many Fathers, the real human problem was corruption – death, we had become mortal beings as a result of sin. This was something that repentance could not undo or fix. Repentance itself was not enough to overcome the corruption – the fact that we died as a result of sin.  And they understood that it was not sin that we inherited, for sin was something committed by the will and not by our nature.  Corruption, mortality had entered into human nature and now was passed on from one generation to the next.

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It was that our nature had been corrupted which required salvation.  That humanity had become corrupt, mortal, made God’s own incarnation necessary.  God took on human flesh in order to heal it.  And God took on death in the flesh in order to overcome death/corruption/mortality.  The death of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, meant the defeat of death and the salvation of the human race.

In baptism, we humans die and rise with Christ, thus baptism was our way to participate in the salvation which Christ offered humanity.  We “put on Christ” as St. Paul says – we put on Christ’s resurrected humanity so that we too can defeat death and rise from the dead.

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This is also why we baptize infants. Baptism is not only for the remission of sins. We die with Christ in baptism in order to rise with Christ in the resurrection. Baptism is to overcome death and corruption.   St. John Chrysostom said those who think baptism is just for the remission of sins misunderstand baptism.  As we read in Acts 19:3-6, baptism only for the remission of sins was what John the Forerunner offered, but Jesus offered something more in baptism:

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  

The baptism in Christ gives us salvation from corruption, it offers us eternal life.  As Chrysostom notes, Infants have not sinned, they are sinless. We baptize them not because they have sinned but because they are subject to death and corruption. We baptize them so they too can rise to life after death.  Even if they haven’t sinned, they will die, for they have inherited human corruption.

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Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:14-17)

It is our understanding of death, corruption, as being the real enemy of humanity that causes us to oppose abortion. Abortion is inflicting death and corruption on a human being who has not sinned – an innocent, sinless human whom we by abortion condemn to an unrighteous death.

Again, we can think about Chrysostom’s comment in which he says, our warfare doesn’t make the living dead, but makes the dead to live.

A human is a composite being consisting of soul, body and spirit. The body is also part of who I am, or who you are.  The corruption of the body, death, is destroying “me” – you and I.  God brought us from non-existence into being and death wants to return a human to non-existence by destroying the human body.

It is this thinking that leads us to oppose abortion, but also tells us why we should not use our body for sin.  The body is part of who you are. If you sin, you unite yourself, your body to that which is ungodly, to death itself.  We should never do that because our bodies were meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit.

If we Christians over focus on “sin” as being the main or only human problem, we can easily miss why we consider human life to be sacred.  God is at work in us to save us from death and to give us life in abundance.

A Person is Present from the Moment of Conception

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“Needless to say, it is a value that applies to our entire being; for our soul and body belong to our person, which they express and manifest each in their own way.  Thus, since the body is a dimension of the person, it too possesses specific characteristics, a unique character, and likewise a value that is absolute.  This is the basis for the respect we owe to our own body as well as to that of every other person.  It also confers on the body a spiritual dimension and value, which means that it can no longer be seen as a purely physical substance nor be separated from the man or woman whose body it is.  By the same token, the body shares in the spiritual development of the person as a whole.

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In the eyes of the Fathers, then, the body is an integral part of the person, participating in its spiritual value from the moment of conception and beyond its life on earth.  This, together with the fact that the soul and body are inseparable elements of the human composite, is the basis for asserting that it is possible for a person to reacquire– albeit according to another mode of existence–the same body that had been provisionally separated from the soul by death.  It also justifies Christianity’s rejection of abortion, as well as the doctrine of metempsychosis or reincarnation.  Indeed, abortion is considered by the Fathers to be an attack on the life of an actual person since, as seen, they consider the person to be inseparably present from the moment of conception–we humans not being able to exist as such other than as persons.”  (Jean-Claude Larchet, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, pp 23-24)

Nothing is as Sacred as a Human Being

“There is nothing as sacred as a human being, whose nature God Himself has shared.”  (St. Nicholas Cabasilas)

“The glory of God is a living human being.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

Christmas focuses on the incarnation of our God.  And the incarnation is the most amazing act of God – for God sees in humanity something so sacred that God desires to be united to humanity.  The Holy God wishes to share in human nature because God sees in humanity something lovely and holy and blessed.  God chooses to share in human nature.  This is the mystery of the God of love which results in the incarnation – results in the Nativity of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom describes it this way in a homily:

And in what manner was the almighty with her, Who in a little while came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the loveliness of our nature. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what he Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

As Chrysostom envisions Christmas, Christ Himself as Creator fashions the body in the Virgin’s womb that He Himself will take for Himself.  God is able to see in humanity something so holy that God wishes to be united to the holiness of humanity.  God chooses to share His natural holiness with the humans created in God’s image and likeness.

Chrysostom goes on:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.”   (St. John Chrysostom)

The mystery and the amazement continues.  For God chooses to unite Himself to humanity while human nature is still subject to the power of sin and death.  God doesn’t choose perfect and sinless human nature before the Fall, but accepts human nature as it is in the world.  God enters into the human condition and does not create a special humanity and a special world free of sin, temptation, violence, evil, suffering, sorrow or death.  God enters into the world that we experience with all of its suffering and sorrow and accepts our human nature.  God enters into our lives and embraces the same life that we all share.  God is not distant and transcendent, but near you where you are .

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.  (Hebrews 2:14-18)

There is nothing as sacred as a human being.  Even an imperfect human, a sinner, a flawed person, one beset with temptation.  For God every human being is sacred – no matter who I am, no matter what I think about myself, or what others think about me.  In God’s eyes, I am still sacred, holy.  I am to be what God is.  “Be holy for I am holy, ” says the Lord (1 Peter 1:16).  This is why God became incarnate.  God became human because God sees humans as having a holiness to which God wishes to unit Himself.  God did not avoid the fallen, sinful world, but entered into and shared our life in this world.

From Icon to Idol

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-28)

According to the Scriptures, God created humans in God’s own image and likeness.  In the Greek text, it says God made us as icons (Greek for image) of God.  We are living icons – we breathe, we move, we see, we sense, we hear, we think, we create, we reproduce, we have dominion over other creatures.

“… then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  (Genesis 2:7)

Though we are in God’s image and even are said by the Word of God to be “gods” (John 10:34 quoting Psalm 82:6), we are not idols.   Psalm 115:3-8 describes exactly what an idol is:

Our God is in the heavens;
he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.

Idols show no sign of life, but are lifeless works of human hands.  The ancient idol makers had no technology to add animation to their creations as today’s media animators could.

When one thinks about the description of an idol – mouths but cannot speak, ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see, feet but cannot walk and incapable of speaking – one realizes that in the New Testament, the result of sin and evil in the world is that humans have been reduced from icons of God to mere idols.  Sickness and disease have turned us into idols.  Those that make idols will become like them.  So many of the Church Fathers thought idolatry was the main human sin that brought the downfall of humanity.

We can take a quick glance at a few Gospel passages to see how humans, as a result of sin, have become exactly like idols:

“Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”  (Mark 8:18)

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.  (Matthew 13:13-17)

Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.   (John 12:37-41)

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.”  (Romans 11:8-10)

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (Matthew 11:4-5)

All the healing miracles of Christ – sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the dumb, walking to the lame – undo the effects of the fall.  They turn us from being like idols into being in God’s image to restore us to being icons of God.

 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”  (John 9:15)

In Genesis 2 God takes the clay of the earth to form the first human, but doesn’t form a lifeless idol.  Rather, God breathes into the clay and the human becomes a living soul.  In John 9, Christ again takes the clay of the earth, which an idol-maker could form into the lifeless idol, and grants sight to the blind, restoring the image and likeness of God to the created human.

 

 

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2016)

Sanctity of LifeToday the Orthodox Church in America recognizes the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  I want to mention a quote from President Obama’s 11 January 2016 State of the Union speech.   It’s not easy to find something from him to quote for this Sunday, but he said something which caught my ears:

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

The President called upon us to stand up especially for the weak and vulnerable, and to remember “that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”  That is exactly the sentiment we who are pro-life and who believe in the sanctity of human life are doing for the babies in their mother’s wombs.  President Obama said we should speak up and vote.  We do that, and we also pray.

Christ  Blessing the Children

 Here is the prayer that the Orthodox Church in America offers for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It is a prayer for all, including the unborn babies and also for all politicians, even those who don’t respect the sanctity of human life in the womb.

O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it: You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit. O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish, and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Your divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the life of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Rachel Lamenting the Loss of Her Children

The Churching of Life

“We like it when the ‘churching’ of life is discussed, but few people understand what it means. Indeed, must we attend all the church services in order to ‘church’ our life? Or hang an icon in every room and burn an icon-lamp in front of it? No, the ‘churching of life’ is the realization of the whole world as one great church, adorned with icons – persons who should be venerated, honored, and loved, because these icons are true images of God that have the holiness of the Living God within them.” (Michael Plekon in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly:Vol. 49, Nov. 3, 2005, p 313)

The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2015)

Each year in January in the USA, we Orthodox join all other Americans who believe in the sanctity of human life to reaffirm our commitment to proclaiming all human life as being a sacred gift from God and thus deserving our protection.   We hold this truth to be self evident, that all humans are created equal even from their mother’s wombs.  All are deserving of a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We consider this a fundamental American vision for humanity.

As we remember that even in the womb, a human being is formed and loved by God, we can think about some words from St. Isaac  the Syrian who contemplates the mystery of God’s love.  God knows even before  a human being is born that that person will sin in their life time.  Nevertheless God’s desire for that person’s existence and God’s love for that person is not diminished.  God loves us even in the womb, even though we have never yet done any good thing, and even though He knows we will eventually sin against Him.  God’s love is not a reaction toward us, but rather what He wills for each of us when He calls us into being.   St. Isaac says:

“I kneel before Your Majesty and prostrate myself on the ground before You, O God, for without my having requested You or even having existed, You brought me into existence; and before You fashioned me in the womb You knew that (I would live) a full (life of) tumult and backsliding, yet You did not refrain from creating me and granting me all the attributes with which You have honored (human) nature, even though You knew beforehand my evils.  You are aware of my requests even before they become known to me, and of my prayers even before they have been prayed before You: grant to me, O my God at this hour whatever You are aware that my wretched nature needs in its present peril.  You are aware of my soul’s affliction, and in Your hands lies its healing.”   (ISAAC OF NINEVEH, THE SECOND PART, p 11)

Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America offers these words for this The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2015)

Dearly beloved,

Today has been designated by the Orthodox Church in America as “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day on which we re-affirm our faithfulness to the eternal value of human life and re-commit ourselves to the defense of the lives of the unborn, the infirm, the terminally ill and the condemned.

Our proclamation of life is offered in the context of a world in dismay at the terrorist attacks that recently shook Paris, the latest in a series of seemingly endless tragedies throughout the world that unnecessarily claim many innocent lives. Following this latest tragedy, Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-believers have engaged in discussion and debate about a range of issues, from human dignity to the responsibilities of political cartoonists, from freedom of expression to humanity’s capacity for tolerance. Unfortunately, much of this debate is framed in an atmosphere of ideological violence, whether this be a “war on infidels” or “war on terrorism.” In such divisive engagements, there are rarely any victors but only more victims.

As Orthodox Christians, who hold dear the revealed truth that the life of “all mankind” is sacred, we might reflect, along with St. Nikolai of Zhicha, on the paschal victory of Christ over death and corruption:

“Christ’s victory is the only victory in which all humanity can rejoice, from the first-created to the last. Every other victory on earth has divided, and still divides, men from one another. When an earthly king gains the victory over an another earthly king, one of them rejoices and the other laments. When a man is victorious over his neighbor, there is singing under one roof and weeping under the other. There is no joyful victory on earth that is not poisoned by malice: the ordinary, earthly victor rejoices both in his laughter and in the tears of his conquered enemy. He does not even notice how evil cuts through joy.”

Our world is so full of these joyless and dark victories that we might despair of being able to put forward the hope and light of the Gospel message. We would do well to heed the words of St. Nikolai and keep our hearts and minds focused on our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, in Whom alone can solace, hope and joy be found in any meaningful and lasting way.

Indeed, Christ did not say: “I offer one of many complimentary paths”; He said: I am the Way. Christ did no say: “I hold to the correct philosophical principles;” He said: I am the Truth. Christ did not say: “I subscribe to the only viable political agenda;” He said: I am the Life.

It is only possible to attain to this Way, this Truth and this Life through Christ and through the light that He bestows to those who strive to allow even a small beam of that light to enter their hearts and illumine their path. As St. Nikolai writes: “Christ’s victory alone is like a sun that sheds bright rays on all that are beneath it. Christ’s victory alone fills all the souls of men with invincible joy. It alone is without malice or evil.”

Let us therefore make every effort to offer this “victory of light and life” to those who are surrounded by darkness and death. Let us be bold in our adding our Orthodox voices in support of the value of every human person, born or unborn; let us offer consolation to the mothers who have undergone abortions and offer our prayers to them and to all who have been affected by this tragedy; let us affirm our Orthodox understanding of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God and yet in need of healing in Christ.

Let us, together with St. Nikolai, proclaim the great victory of Christ:

A mysterious victory, you will say? It is; but it is at the same time revealed to the whole human race, the living and the dead.

A generous victory, you will say? It is, and more than generous. Is not a mother more than generous when she, not once or twice, saves her children from snakes but, in order to save them for all time, goes bravely into the snakes’ very nest and burns them out?

A healing victory, you will say? It is, healing and saving for ever and ever. This gentle victory saves men from every evil and makes them sinless and immortal. Immortality without sinlessness would mean only the extending of evil’s reign, and of that of malice and wickedness, but immortality with sinlessness gives birth to unconfined joy, and makes men the brethren of God’s resplendent angels.”

With love in the Lord,

+TIKHON
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal (II)

This is the 17th  blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is The Human Being: A Spiritual Animal.  With this blog we will conclude our look at the human as being an animal as well as being spiritual.  I will remind the readers, that this blog series is offering a collection of quotes that I came across in a life time of reading which are related to the theme of being and becoming human.  The blog series is not a research paper, but truly a collection of quotes which I have brought together as I continue to reflect on this topic.

“Man is a mystery.  We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present.  All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction.  If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity.  This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism.”  (Elder PorphyriosWOUNDED BY LOVE, p 134)

In speaking about “our ancestral humanity”, Saint Porphyrios is describing humanity bereft of union with God, in other words, fallen humanity.   Despite being fallen creatures and living in the world of the Fall, we humans still and always have an innate connection with God.  We are created in God’s image and likeness,and we breathe God’s holy breath.   Despite the Fall, we still have the potential to be so much more than merely ancestral humanity – theosis is a possibility for us.  We can aspire to something beyond our animal nature.

 “Everyone must bear in mind that every man possesses, besides his animal nature, a spiritual nature also; that as the animal nature has it requirements, the spiritual one has its own requirements too.   The requirements of the animal nature are:  drink, food, sleep, breath, light, clothing, warmth; whilst those of the spiritual nature are meditation, feeling, speaking, communion with God through prayer, Divine Service, the sacraments, instruction in the Word of God, and fellowship with our neighbor through mutual conversation, charitable help, mutual instruction and teaching.  We must also bear in mind that our animal nature is temporal, transitory, perishable, whilst the spiritual one is eternal, not transitory and indestructible; that we must despise the flesh as perishable, and care for the soul, which is immortal, for its salvation, its enlightenment, its cleansing from sins, passions, and vices from its adornment with such virtues as meekness, humility, gentleness, courage, patience, submission, and obedience to God and men, purity and abstinence.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 244)

If we live only to care for our animal desires and instincts, we will live as animals.  If however we aspire for that divine life beyond our animal nature, God blesses that desire and unites us to divinity.  The Christian life consists in living in such a way as to care more for our relationship with God than with our animal nature, to nurture the soul, not just the body.  Our goal is not to abandon the body but to unite the body to God, to be God’s temple, to partake of the divine nature.

“How strange it is!  I, a Christian, a heavenly man, am occupied with everything earthly, and care but little for heavenly things.  I am transplanted in Christ into heaven, but meanwhile I cling with all my  heart to earth, and apparently would never desire to be in heaven, but would prefer to always remain on earth, although earthly things, notwithstanding their delights, oppress and torment me; although I see that everything earthly is uncertain, corruptible, and soon passes away; although I  know, and feel that nothing earthly can satisfy my spirit, can appease and rejoice my heart, which is constantly disturbed and grieved by earthly vanity.  How long, therefore, shall I, a heavenly man remain earthly?”   (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 9-10)

We remain merely earthly, as long as we live only according to our animal nature, the flesh.  We are however more than our bodies.  As the mind is more than the brain, so the self is more than a body.   It is our ability to aspire for the divine life that gives sanctity to human life.  We value the unborn as well as the aged because each is loved by God.

“Who utterly low and brutish is the level to which a human mind has to sink before it can look at an old lady in a nursing home bed suffering some incurable disease and call this life and this suffering ‘meaningless’, lacking in ‘quality of life’.  To call this the ‘quality of life ethic’ is like calling a cannibal a chef.

If this sneeringly snobbish judgment is true of the old lady, it is true a fortiori of Christ.  If her cross of suffering, her deathbed, lacks ‘quality’, then his Cross and death-tree also lack ‘quality’.

‘Quality’ is thus used as a professional euphemism for sex and money. “    (Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 58)

Human life is not measured purely in a utilitarian fashion, for what a person can produce, or consume.   Human life is measured only by the Creator God’s love for each of us.  God bestows upon us a life which is more than our bodies.  The human is not completely defined by his or her physical existence, nor is a human life coterminous with its body.   Each human being is not only body but also spiritual.  Roman Catholic Professor Peter Kreeft offers the following analogy of the difference between a driver and the car to explain the relationship of a person (soul) to the body.

“Here is empirical proof of our doubleness, proof of an immaterial and thus immortal soul, and refutation of materialism.  It is a fact that wise men are not driven by their animal passions as a car is driven by a driver; but they control them.   They are the drivers.  The materialist wants us to believe that the body is a car that drives itself, or that the driver is just another one of the parts of the engine; that the mind is merely the brain.  How absurd!  How could a mere machine negate its own drives and overcome its passions?  Only a double being can oppose itself—something like a ‘thinking reed’.  A cannot oppose A.  Only A in AB can oppose B in AB.”    (Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 59)

Professor Kreeft continues with his criticism of materialism:

“We are metaphysically very good because we are created in the image of the absolutely good God.  But we are morally very bad because we have despised our Creator.  Modern paganism says we are not metaphysically very good at all, because we are merely trousered apes; and not morally very bad at all because there is no divine law to judge us as very bad.  There is only man-made societal law, that is, our own pagan society’s expectations, and these are quite low, negotiable and revisable.  ‘Here, kid.  Take a condom.  We know you’re incapable of free choice and self-control.  We expect you to play Russian roulette with AIDS, so we’re giving you a gun with twelve chambers instead of six.”  (Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans,  p 62)

We are not merely bodies, nor do we have bodies over which we have no control.  We are capable of exercising control over our bodies, as our bodies are not separate from our minds, hearts or souls.  We are a whole being with free will, conscious awareness and consciences.  We are normally and naturally able to exert control over our bodies, desires and thoughts.  Thought it is obvious in the world that some will not control themselves, and some due to the fall have lost the ability to control themselves.  This is not natural to humans, but is part of our struggle of living in the  world of the Fall.

angrycrowd“Thus our love of pleasure took its beginning from our likeness to the irrational creation, but was increased by human transgressions, begetting such a variety of sinning flowing from pleasure, as is not to be found among the animals. Thus the rising of anger is indeed akin to the impulse of the animals, but it is increased by the alliance with our processes of thought. For thence come resentment, envy, deceit, conspiracy, hypocrisy: all these are the result of the evil husbandry of the intellect. For if the passion is stripped of this alliance with the processes of thought, the anger that is left behind is short-lived and feeble – like a bubble, bursting as soon as it comes into being.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology), Kindle Loc. 1496-1501)

As stated earlier in this blog series, humans can be more damaging and dangerous than any wild animal for we can use our intellects, wills and desires to choose evil.  God become human in Jesus Christ in order to show us how to be human so that we can become like God.

Next:  The Angelic Human: An Angel in the Flesh?