Archive for August, 2010

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …”

We face our own martyrdom and become confessors at least in a small but significant way each day. Each day we stand before the powers of the world in our daily life and face opportunities and choices in confessing the truth or not. All of us have probably felt ourselves shrink back before the pressure of displeasure of others if we confess Christ before family, friends or colleagues.

Pleasing people and pleasing God is not always simultaneously possible. We can agree with a snide remark about another mutually disrespected person and unite in judgment against them, so pleasing a man but displeasing God. We can condone something we know is wrong and not blessed by God through our silence or participation, and end up pleasing a person but not the Lord.

Is God so abstract to us and objectified that we don’t think of His pleasure? Is our image in front of men so important to us that we will bend to avoid their displeasure at all costs? When the Truth stands before us in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, do we ask with Pilate: “What is Truth?” missing The Truth Who is before us?

Living the Truth is linked to knowing the Lord and our relationship with Him. When the Truth is known as a Person and not as a series of facts, then obeying the Truth or disobeying has consequence as far as our intimate relation with the Lord is concerned. Our life in Christ is in the balance. Though He is truly merciful, He is not a liar.

So let us all pray that in everything we do, think or say, that it all may be pleasing unto God. We can even make this prayer before we write a difficult e-mail or have a tough conversation: “Lord, I ask that the words that I write/say may be pleasing unto Thee.” If we begin to think about pleasing the Lord first, our life will be clear and we will find real peace within, though it might cause a few other outward problems …Well, we should get used to the fact that we can’t always have it both ways!


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Twirling Around the Lord

Our lives are not so much random acts of kindness but acts that are focused around something or other of what we hold important or necessary: our work, our family, our selves, or the Church–serving God and others. When we are able to overcome self-centeredness we can begin to manifest  love for the Lord and begin to follow Him. Throwing ourselves into God’s hands and living for Him and with Him isn’t easy, but it is essential to our lives.

The wonderful thing about being in Church … everything is focused on Christ. Our life and attention is twirling around Him as the central focus. We are worshiping Him. We are actually learning how to worship Him as an event and as a pattern for all our life. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” but as Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos says, it also means the right order of life. To love God and our neighbor is the right order of life. If we can take the Liturgy on the road, order our daily life around the Lord then we are living the Liturgy in the true sense. Consider that we are most fulfilled, most human and most alive when the Lord is the center, when our life is focused on Him and lived in relationship to Him. “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live,” says saint Paul, “but not I but Christ lives in me …”

The Church teaches us in so many ways how to accomplish this, how to live a life with Christ, focused on Him. It’s wonderful!

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The Unity of Education

“The Light of Christ Illumines All!” Above the doorway of the pre-revoluationary Moscow Theological Academy was this sign. The foundation of education and study should be based on this understanding. We have a special relationship with all things and a unique perception that comes from being in the Church, and through the illumination of the Light of Christ. T.S. Eliot asked an important question along these lines: “With all your facts, where is your knowledge? With all your knowledge where is your wisdom?” It begs the question: how do we understand the world, ourselves, the present life and life beyond the grave, history and nature?

Education has the ability to show either the underlying unity of all things or a fragmented mess. St. John of Kronstadt insists that an Orthodox curriculum must be an integrated whole, not fragmented. He shows us how this reflects a Trinitarian view, where the Holy Trinity corresponds, in the human dimension, to thoughts (the Father), words (the Son or Logos), and deeds (the Holy Spirit). This applies to how one seeks meaning in academic studies, the importance of words, and finally activity.

I want to share with you how, at our school, we have developed the understanding of study. Perhaps there are better ways, but the point is that we must unite ourselves with Christ, even in our understanding and study of His creation, of language arts, art, words, penmanship, and all that we do.

In the structure of the day, the manner of approaching course material, the sensitivity of the teachers to the task of teaching, all contribute to the uniqueness of Orthodox Christian education.

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How hard it is!

A friend of mine was giving a talk to a group of elderly men and  women at a nursing home.   The truth be told, he was very discouraged week after week speaking to a very willing, but sleepy audience. This week he talked about how hard the spiritual life was. “It is hard,” he said and then an old man in the back echoed: “It is hard!”  With a sense that he was communicating to someone he reiterated his point. “The spiritual life is hard, isn’t it sir?” “No, no,” the man said, “… my chair … it is hard.”

Communicating what we mean is hard enough, but even harder is living as we intend and are commanded by Christ to live. It is one thing to hear it, to agree with it, to tell others about it. But changing and living it is a struggle of the meanest kind. We fight against principalities and powers, against habits and passions. We are not used to the type of battle and effort needed. It is a relief to remember that others have walked the path before us. With humility, consultation and  prayer all things are made possible … slowly, slowly, we progress up the mountain.

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Pulling on mercy

St. Gregroy of Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas says there are two kinds of mercy: mercy that gives shelter, clothing and food and mercy that is patient and forgiving. The first type the Lord relates to Himself. As you do to the least of these my little one you do to Me. This makes our reactions and response to these opportunities incredible. We can serve our Lord through those we meet. St. Silouan tells us that our salvation is through our brother.

The second type of mercy is different. We really need to forgive and be patient. Will any of us enter into the kingdom of heaven if we don’t forgive and if we are impatient with our brothers and sisters? Do we want to be forgiven our sins? Have we been forgiven? Then how can we not forgive? If we don’t, we are like the unjust servant who, owing an amount beyond measure, was forgiven and then wouldn’t forgive his own fellow servant. I always remember how startling it is to hear this account. How can this be? Doesn’t he realize what he is doing? He was just forgiven, doesn’t he have a heart? But think about it. Don’t we do the same? We beg for clemency for our failings and then we are too hard on others. We need to remember to have mercy. We need the remembrance, the feeling, the determination. Lord have mercy!

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Two kinds of Faith

Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God.

What is faith? From the glossary of The Philokalia: “faith … is an all-embracing relationship, an attitude of love and total trust in God. As such it involves a transformation of man’s entire life. Faith is a gift from God, the means whereby we are taken up into the whole theanthropic activity of God in Christ and of man in Christ through which man attains salvation” (The Philokalia, Vol. II, 382).

Fr. John Romanides distinguishes two types of faith: one that is intellectual and rational, the other due to grace. This second type is an inner faith. This distinction is expressed by the father of the lunatic when he says: Lord, I believe. Help with my unbelief. I believe intellectually but not deeply.

How does this inner faith come about? By grace, Fr. John tells us. When someone by grace has noetic prayer in his heart then he has inner faith. Inner faith is noetic prayer which comes from the Holy Spirit speaking in us or through theosis. Without grace none of this can happen. We know that there are three virtues: faith, hope, and love. With theosis, which is perfection, hope is no longer needed, and faith is no longer needed. Only love remains, as Fr. John says. This is the fuel for deep inner faith (See Protppresbyter John S. Romanides, Patristic Theology, Uncut Mt. Press).

The Lord, with the Apostles Peter, James and John, came to the crowd and the other Apostles, having just been on the mountain and experienced the transfiguration of the Lord. How faithless and perverse this generation showed itself to be especially in light of the recent event.

“The Apostle gives us the following definition of faith: Faith makes real for us things hoped for, gives assurance of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). One may also justly define it as engrained blessing or as true knowledge disclosing unutterable blessings.”

Faith is relational power or a relationship which brings about the immediate, perfect and supernatural union of the believer with the God in whom he believes.

Suppose there is someone who does not doubt in his heart (cf. Mk 11: 23)—that is to say, who does not dispute in his intellect—and through such doubt sever that immediate union with God which has been brought about by faith, but who is dispassionate or, rather, has already become god through union with God by faith: then it is quite natural that if such a person says to a mountain, ‘Go to another place’, it will go (cf. Mt 17:20). The mountain here indicates the will and the law of the flesh, which is ponderous and hard to shift, and in fact, so far as our natural powers are concerned, is totally immovable and unshakeable.

“Faith is knowledge that cannot be rationally demonstrated. If such knowledge cannot be rationally demonstrated, then faith is a supernatural relationship through which, in an unknowable and so undemonstrable manner, we are united with God in a union which is beyond intellection” (St. Maximus the Confessor, The Philokalia, Vol. II, 189-90).

All of this indicates that faith is of a different order. Though we are blessed with thinking, thinking can and often severs our bond with God and we sink, when before we were walking on water.

Don’t always try to make God fit into your thoughts. Don’t try to figure Him out. In obedience to Christ’s commandments, and when your heart has faith, it is enough. Everything is possible for those that believe.

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