Monday, May 15, 2017

My Current Project

Christ is Risen!

I am currently working on a paper concerning Liberation Theology, in which I will make the argument that not only does the Tradition of the Orthodox Church allow for the development of such a theology, but also that a truly faithful living out of that Tradition along one's path to Theosis necessitates it.


First of all, that Orthodoxy is a profoundly Trinitarian faith means that it is a relational faith, emphasizing that persons are only persons when they are in positive relationships to other persons. Such positive relationships include not only good and right feelings towards others but also good and right actions on behalf of and directed for the advancement of the well-being of others. Secondly, Orthodoxy has always emphasized the essential goodness and positivity of the created things of this world and their use as means by which Christians can progress along the path to salvation and deification eg iconography, the material of the Eucharist, etc. It will be argued that political activism can be understood as a created “thing” of this world and hence also able to be used for religious advancement. It will be argued that, as people are suffering the real and material effects of economic and social injustice, that material means – political activism and its results – must be used for the betterment of their well-being in accordance with Christ’s injunction in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Orthodox Panentheism


God is not an impersonal force... however, God's *energies* are a force permeating and infusing all of creation. Orthodox theology insists on the energies' being uncreated... I like the way Lossky expresses it in Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: "The energies might be described as that mode of existence of the Trinity which is outside of its inaccesible essence. God thus exists both in His essence and outside of His essence."

Looking at it that way makes it possible, I think, to affirm panentheism in an Orthodox sense. Which is why I was warmly struck by a statement from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Dioklia I came across recently: "I cannot accept any worldview that identifies God with the universe, and for that reason I cannot be a pantheist. But I find no difficulty in endorsing panentheism -- that is to say, the position that affirms not 'God is everything and everything is God' but 'God is in everything and everything is in God.' God, in other words, is both immanent and transcendent: present in all things."*

This is what the world today, and especially young people in the world today, need to hear: that there is a real way that we inhere in God and God inheres in us, a real way of realizing intimate communion with God and with each other and with all of creation... since as we co-inhere in God we likewise co-inhere in each other as in one body, as St. Paul says: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (I Corinthians 12:27) Communion, the knowing that we are intimately connected to others and they to us, and the living of that insofar as each person is able, gives meaning to life. Communion with God, the knowing that we are called to become gods through inhering in God in the energies and sharing those energies to others in love and life, that gives purpose to life.

* In "Through Creation to the Creator," TOWARD AN ECOLOGY OF TRANSFIGURATION: ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES ON ENVIRONMENT, NATURE, AND CREATION, Edited by John Chryssavgis and Bruce V. Foltz

Monday, April 6, 2015

Proceeding to Pascha


I have to admit one of the very physical things (and Orthodoxy is nothing if not a very physical and incarnational faith) that I love about our parish life during Holy Week is using the Papadeas Greek Orthodox Holy Week-Easter Service Book. It contains all the services used (and in the way they are served) in contemporary parish practice in the Greek Orthodox Church in America. It's a pretty thick book, but as we go through each day's service the bookmark gets pushed further and further towards the back of the book.. a very real exemplification that we participate in the prayers and hymns of these services, taking them and their teachings to heart and being assisted by them in our journey proceeding to Pascha and the Resurrection of our God and participation in Holy Communion on the Feast of Feasts.

LINK - Greek Orthodox Holy Week-Easter

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Becoming Relational gods

We are called to be like God, becoming gods by grace in Theosis. What is God? The Trinity... persons in relationships, who are what they are themselves by virtue of what they are to the others. So it should be with us and our fellows... We are called to be like God.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Food From Parents in the Faith


"Your Lord is Love: love Him and in Him all human beings as His children in Christ. Your Lord is a fire: do not let your heart be cold, but burn with faith and love. Your Lord is light: do not walk in darkness of mind, without reasoning or understanding, or without faith."

--- St. John the Priest

 
"Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of children, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all 'fullness of blessing,' both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof, through faith, beholding the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, we await the full enjoyment."

--- St. Basil the Great


"Christ did not know measure in His love for people, -- and in this love He lowered Himself in His Divinity to the point of being incarnated as Man and took upon Himself the sufferings of all. In this sense He teaches us by His example not of a measured limit in love, but rather an absolute and immeasurable surrendering away of oneself, by definition a laying down of one's soul for others."

- St. Maria Skobtsova


"Faith causes prayer to grow, and when prayer grows our faith is strengthened."

--- St. Augustine


"Do good when you remember, and what you forget will be revealed to you; and do not surrender your mind to blind forgetfulness."

--- St. Mark the Ascetic


"Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you."

--- St. Isaac the Syrian


"Theology without praxis is the theology of demons."

--- St. Maximos the Confessor


"There is a new wonder in Heaven and on Earth: God is on Earth, and Humanity is in Heaven."

--- St. Thalassios the Libyan
 
 
 


 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

FOOD FROM THE MOTHERS AND FATHERS


A layman who had a son came to see Abba Sisoes on Abba Anthony's mountain.  On the way, it happened that his son died.  He was not troubled by this but brought him with confidence to the old man and bowed down with his son, as though making a prostration, so that he would be blessed by the old man.  Then the father stood up, left the child at the old man's feet and went outside.  The old man, thinking that the little boy was bowing to him, said, "Get up, go outside."  For he did not know that he was dead.  Immediately, the boy stood up and went out.  When he saw it, his father was filled with amazement and went back inside.  He bowed before the old man and told him the whole story. When he heard it, Abba Sisoes was filled with regret, for he had not intended that to happen.  So the old man's disciple asked the father of the child not to speak of it to anyone before the old man's death.

--- From the Desert Dwellers

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Result of Superstition

"When these gross superstitions are taught instead of a living Faith, in place of the hope in the grace of the Holy Spirit and the hope in Jesus Christ, then people are more alienated, more pushed away, more driven away from the faith than they ever had been before."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America



Saturday, May 18, 2013

On Fables Impacting Lives

"Now I realize that in the *Manichean* system, there originated the story that Adam and Eve didn't have any sexual relations in Eden, and wouldn't have, and that God would have provided another means of procreation without sex if they had not fallen. There's no possible way to sustain such an argument."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Every Heart is Jerusalem

"But [there will be] not destruction at the end of the world, but a purification, a transfiguration, a metamorphosis of the whole universe."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America



Monday, April 22, 2013

Approaching The Educated Person in the Post Christian Era

"Our gift is to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to govern the world or dictate the behaviour of others. Our gift is to join that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us and seek to nurture the world, society and culture, and offer the healing of Christ's words and presence to a world which we love and cherish, not one which we consider to be an enemy or adversary. If we can accomplish this, then we may glimpse the energy of creation with an increased capacity to love God and minister in co-suffering love to His creation. We may then be able to heal the wounds of perception, the broken images of life which skew our regard for creation and for each other."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America


Read  the full article HERE.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Crucifying our Malice


"Fear has no place for Orthodox Christians. ... Through fear we hate other people who are not like us. Through fear we are afraid of so many things in this life. And through fear we actually do some cruel and terrible things to other human beings."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Paradise of the Heart

Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian: "When we make metanias, the prostrations, to stop and think about what the prostration actually means. Remember, this is not just some kind of calisthenics, and it’s not just a kowtow to show our humility; it’s a type of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, a type of our dying to sin to rise to life.”

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America




 

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Astronomical Icon to Pascha

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

It is worth thinking about that since the Orthodox Faith absolutely stresses the importance of the *physical* to salvation (the physical Incarnation of God the Word) and to worshipful living (the physical icons the restoration of which we just celebrated, the physical actions of prostrating and fasting) it makes absolutely *no* sense at all to divorce the calculation of Pascha from the actual physical events used for that calculation. There was a reason the Church chose the very physical Spring Equinox and the very physical Full Moon as physical icons to be used in the determination of the yearly day for the most-holy Feast of the Resurrection.

It is always important to stress the significant fact that our Orthodox Faith is an incarnational faith, where physical things point to and connect us with divine realities... wood and paint and art in icons, sound and motion in the hymns and services, and *also* the natural physical processes of the world that God created Good. As St. John of Damascus has said, "The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God."

It is always important to show how this is true *also* in those cases where people may not have particularly thought about it before ie where the physical astronomical events of the Spring Equinox and the Full Moon point to and connect us with the divine reality of the Resurrection... as the Church recognized them to do, even though the Orthodox Church no longer really (but only docetically) follows the Council of Nicaea anymore.

The physical world is important in connecting us with our salvation and deification. Contemplating and living the physical astronomical events which the Church chose to point to the Resurrection is a veneration of the Resurrection, acknowledgment of how "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Eden & Nature of Sin


"And this is what the Fall of humankind is really all about: the fall from unselfish love and the experience of unselfish love, into self-centeredness, a self-love, an egotism that made it seek its own, therefore making them unable to love their neighbor as themselves, and unable to love our Lord God and Savior with all their heart and with all their might and with all their strength."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Food from the Mothers and Fathers


"Some people read books in order to find God. Yet there is a great book, the very appearance of created things. Look above you, look below you! Note it, read it! God whom you wish to find, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? Why, heaven and earth cry out to you, 'God made me'."  --- St. Augustine

"God is glorified not by mere words, but by works of righteousness, which proclaim the majesty of God far more effectively than words."  --- St. Maximos the Confessor

"Christianity is not 'an ideology', an abstract doctrine or a fixed system of rituals. The Good News entered the world as a dynamic force, encompassing all sides of life, open to everything created by God in nature and in human beings. It is not just a religion which has existed for the past twenty centuries, but a Way focused on the future (John 14.6; Acts 16.17; 18.26)."  --- Fr. Alexander Men, martyred Russian Orthodox priest

"A Christian guards against authoritarianism and paternalism, which are rooted not in the spirit of faith but in characteristics inherent to the fallen nature of humanity. (Matt. 20.25-27; 23.8-12)"  --- Fr. Alexander Men, martyred Russian Orthodox priest 

“Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your mattress,/And you shall sleep restful nights”  --- St. Ephraim the Syrian 

"If someone makes a display of wisdom and instead of applying it talks at length, that person has a spurious wealth and that one's labors 'come into the houses of strangers' (Prov. 5:10. LXX)."   --- St. Mark the Ascetic 

"To be Orthodox means to have the God-man Christ constantly in your soul, to live in Him, think in Him, feel in Him, act in Him. In other words, to be Orthodox means to be a Christ-bearer and a Spirit-bearer."  --- St. Justin Popovich 

"Go with Him, as His inseparable companion, to the wedding feast of Cana, and drink of the wine of His blessing. Let you have ever before you the Face of the Lord, and look upon His beauty, and let your earnest gaze turn nowhere away from His most sweet countenance. Go before Him into a desert place and see the wonder of His works, where He multiplied in His own Holy Hands the bread that sufficed to feed a great multitude. Go, my brother, go forward, and with all the love of your soul follow Christ wherever He may go... "And lovingly behold Him as taking bread into His hands, He blesses it, and breaks it, as the outward form of His own Immaculate Body; and the chalice which He blessed as the outward form of His Precious Blood, and gave to His Disciples; and be you also a partaker of His sacraments,"  --- St. Ephraim of Syria 

 "A Christian must be courteous to all. That person's words and deeds should breath with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in one's soul, so that in this way one might glorify the name of God. The one who regulates all of one's speech also regulates all of one's actions. The one who keeps watch over the words one is about say also keeps watch over the deeds one intends to do, and one never goes out of the bounds of good and benevolent conduct. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy. On the other hand, boorishness gives birth to hatred, enmity, affliction, competitiveness, disorder and wars."  --- St. Nektarios of Aegina

“'I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.' What does this last phrase from the Creed mean? We can only bear the idea of eternal life if this eternity has already entered into our life."  --- Archimandrite Sophrony, +1993

"Through the fall our nature was stripped of divine illumination and resplendence. But the Logos of God had pity upon our disfigurement, and in His compassion He took our nature upon Himself. On Tabor He manifested it to His elect disciples clothed once again most brilliantly. He showed what we once were and what we shall become through Him in the age to come -- if we choose to live our present life, as far as possible, in accordance with His ways."  --- St. Gregory Palamas 

"Understand others, and help them, calmly and with a kindly spirit, to understand you. And in this way live with them in mutual understanding, in love and in calmness"  --- Pope Shenouda, Coptic Orthodox Church 

"When we pray for someone, we take upon ourselves that one's suffering."   --- Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica 

"I hear no one boast, that he or she hath a knowledge of the Scriptures, but that they own a Bible written in golden characters. And tell me then, what profiteth this? The Holy Scriptures were not given to us that we should enclose them in books, but that we should engrave them upon our hearts."  --- Saint John Chrysostom 

"The good attained by our diligence is none other than the one implanted in our nature at the beginning. When persons have their sword girded upon their thigh by devoting their life to virtue, they have rejected passions, they become children undisturbed by passion; for the state of infancy is not subject to passion."  --- St. Gregory of Nyssa, *The Song of Songs* 

"I pray you, my siblings, understand this great dispensation, that He was made like unto us, apart from sin (Heb. 4:15). And each of the rational natures, for which principally the Savior came, ought to examine their pattern, and know their mind, and discern between bad and good, to that they may be set free by His advent. For as many as are set free by His dispensation, are called the servants of God. And this is not yet perfection, but in its own time it is righteousness, and it leads to the adoption of children."  --- St. Anthony the Great 

"Nor should it astound anyone that the Devil is reported in this Book as having first spoken the Name of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Lk. 4:32-34). But Christ did not receive from him the Name which the Angel brought down from Heaven to the Virgin (cf. Lk. 1:31): it is a mark of the Devil's impudence that he first usurps something among humanity and brings it down to humanity as if new, in order to instill terror of his power. Then, in Genesis, too, he is the first to proclaim God to humanity, for thus ye have: "And he said to the woman, 'Why hath God commanded that ye should not eat of every tree'" (Gen. 3:1)? So each is deceived by the Devil, but healed by Christ."  --- St. Ambrose of Milan  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Theology Made Simple: Energy


"Energy, in both Orthodox Christianity and physics, is about relationships. Energy communicates something between people, and conveys relationships."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America




(His Eminence is broadcasting from the seminary I went to and where I had a blessed time!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Martyr Fr. Alexander Men, "Between Past and Future"

"Christianity is not 'an ideology', an abstract doctrine or a fixed system of rituals. The Good News entered the world as a dynamic force, encompassing all sides of life, open to everything created by God in nature and in human beings. It is not just a religion which has existed for the past twenty centuries, but a Way focused on the future (John 14.6; Acts 16.17; 18.26)."

--- Fr. Alexander Men, martyred Russian Orthodox priest





Find out more about the holy martyr at Who is Father Alexander Men?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Consumerism and Prosperity Gospel


"Consumer capitalism is about excess, about great excess... not only the excess of the very wealthy and the very powerful, but the excess of society as a whole."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), Orthodox Church in America

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

FOOD FROM PARENTS IN THE FAITH


"When God wants to have mercy on someone, He inspires someone else to pray for him, and He helps in this prayer." --- St. Silouan the Athonite
 
"Divine determination depends on the life of a human being, and not the person's life upon the determination." --- Saint Theophan the Recluse

"Make an effort , then, to meet more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to offer praise. For, when you meet frequently in the same place, the forces of Satan are overthrown, and his baneful influence is neutralized by the unanimity of your faith. Peace is a precious thing: it puts an end to every war waged by heavenly or earthly enemies." --- St. Ignatius of Antioch, *Letter to the Ephesians*

“Since with all my soul I behold the face of my Beloved, therefore all the beauty of His form is seen in me.” --- St. Gregory of Nyssa

"Will not God, who has commanded human beings to act thus, do as much Himself and even more? For God commanded Peter to forgive till seventy times seven." --- St. Poemen

“And the creation, in the world and above the world, that once was at variance with itself, is knit together in friendship: and we ... are made to join in the angels' song, offering the worship of their praise.” --- St. Gregory of Nyssa

“When I gaze in meditation and with faith upon the holy icons in church, and upon all its appurtenances, then I am lost in wonderful contemplation; the whole temple appears to me to be sacred history in action, a wonderful scripture of the works of God, accomplished in the human race. Here I see the history in action of our fall and of our restoration by God's wonderful ordering...” --- St. John of Kronstadt, from *My Life in Christ* 

"God is fire, warming and igniting the heart and inward parts. So, if we feel coldness in our hearts, which is from the devil (for the devil is cold), then let us call the Lord: He, in coming, will warm our heart with perfect love, not only towards Himself, but to our neighbors as well. And the coldness of the despiser of good will run from the face of His warmth." --- St Seraphim of Sarov 

“Let us then, my sisters and brothers, endure in hope. Let us devote ourselves, side-by-side with our hoping, so that the God of all the universe, as He beholds our intention, may cleanse us from all sins, fill us with high hopes from what we have in hand, and grant us the change of heart that saves. God has called you, and you have your calling.” --- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

"It is always a good thing to devote ourselves to seeking God, as we have been commanded. For although in the present life we are unable to arrive at the limit of God's depth, yet at least by reaching in some small way His depth we would see the holier among holy things and the more spiritual among spiritual things. This is clearly indicated in the figure of the high priest who from the holy place which is more sacred than the courtyard enters into the Holy of Holies which is more sacred than the holy place." --- St. Maximus the Confessor

"When people say that it is impossible to attain perfection, to be once and for all free from the passions, or to participate fully in the Holy Spirit, we should cite Holy Scripture against them, showing them that they are ignorant and speak falsely and dangerously. For the Lord said: 'Become perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Matt. 5:48)..." --- St. Makarios of Egypt, *The Homilies, II: Prayer nos. 29*

"The Woman sinned, and so did Adam. The serpent deceived them both; and one was not found to be the stronger and the other weaker. But do you consider the better? Christ saves both by His Passion. Was He made flesh for the Man? So He was also for the Woman. Did He die for the Man? The Woman also is saved by His death. He is called of the seed of David; and so perhaps you think the man is honored; but He is born of a Virgin, and this is on the woman's side. The two, He says, shall be one flesh; so let the one flesh have equal honor." --- St. Gregory the Theologian






"'A faithful friend is a strong defense' [Ecclesiasticus 6:14]; for when a person is faring well, that one is a good counselor and wholehearted supporter, and when the person is faring badly, that one is a most genuine helper and a most sympathetic defender." --- St. Maximos the Confessor

“I prefer a sinful person who knows he or she has sinned and repents, to one who has not sinned and considers oneself to be righteous.” --- Abba Sarmatas 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Truly Christian Life

"A good conscience comes from a living relationship with God and with other human beings. ... The truly Christian life is not just doing things according to rules and regulations, but it's living a life of compassion, of mercy, of trusting one another with our weaknesses. That instead of condemning us, our brothers and sisters in Christ will lift us up again."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, Orthodox Church in America

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas: Inception of the Transfigured Cosmos


CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!

"For Orthodox Christians, we have to realize that first of all the heavens and the earth are not going to be destroyed but transfigured. We look for the transfigured cosmos. There's no reason for God to destroy the works of His own hands, which he said were very good."

--- Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, Orthodox Church in America


Sunday, November 25, 2012

This is the Hour of Theology

"In spite of what too many Orthodox people think today, this is the hour of theology. Only a deep, fearless, and constructive evaluation of this situation in the light of the genuine Tradition of the Church, only a creative return to the very springs of our dogma, canons and worship, only a total commitment to the Truth of the Church can help us overcome the crisis and transform it into a revival of Orthodoxy. I know that this task is difficult and that a long tradition has taught theologians to avoid hot issues and not to 'get involved.' I know also that a certain traditionalism which has nothing to do with Tradition has made self-criticism and spiritual freedom a crime against the Church in the eyes of many. I know that too many 'power-structures' have a vested interest in not allowing any question, any search, any encounter with Truth. The forces of inertia, pseudo-conservatism, and plain cynicism are formidable. But the same was true of the time of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Maximus the Confessor. As for the issues we face today, they are not lesser than those they had to deal with. And it depends on us to choose between pleasant prestige and the responses to the Will of God."

--- Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in Saint Vladimir's Theological Quarterly [Vol. 10.4]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NB - FFT: Food from Parents in the Faith

"Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same that said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls."  --- St. John Chrysostom 

"It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion?"  --- St. Gregory Palamas

“At the Last Judgment, I will not be asked whether I satisfactorily practiced asceticism, or how many bows I have made before the divine altar. I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all I will be asked.”  --- St. Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris

"The purer the heart is, the larger it is, and the more able it is to find room within it for a greater number of beloved ones; whilst the more sinful it is, the more contracted it becomes, and the less number of beloved can it find room for, because it is limited by self-love, and that love is a false one; we love ourselves in objects unworthy of the immortal soul — in silver and gold, in adultery, in drunkenness, and such like." 
--- St John of Kronstadt

"Love calms and agreeably expands the heart and vivifies it, whilst hatred painfully contracts and disturbs it. Those who hate others torture and tyrannize themselves."  --- St John of Kronstadt

"Just as a tempered metal can sharpen soft or rusty metal, so can a zealous brother set a tepid one on the right track."  --- St. John Climacus

"You carefully collect the tears of the righteous, and with them You rejuvenate worlds."  --- St. Nikolai of Ochrid and Zica

"Remember that God, during your prayers, is watching for your affirmative answer to the question which He is inwardly asking you: 'Do you believe I am able to do this?' To which question you must from the depth of your heart reply, 'Yes, Lord' (Mt. 9:28)."  --- St. John of Kronstadt

"Let’s have love, meekness and peace. In that way, we help our sister or brother when they are possessed by evil. Our example radiates mystically, and not only when the person is present, but also when the person is not. Let us strive to radiate our good will. Even when we say something about a person whose way of life does not meet with our approval, the person is aware of it and we repel them. Whereas, if we are compassionate and forgive them, then we influence them—just as evil influences them—even if she or he does not see us."  --- Elder Porphyrios

 "You have heard, my siblings, wheat great things faith in God can bring about when it is confirmed by actions. You will have realized that youth is not to be despised and that without understanding and fear of God old age is useless. You have learnt that the heart of a city cannot prevent us from practising God's commandments so long as we are diligent and watchful, nor can stillness or withdrawal from the world be of any benefit if we are lazy and negligent."  --- St. Syneon the New Theologian, On Faith, Philokalia, Vol. 4

"Beauty is one way to God. It should never be separated from goodness and truth. Beauty without goodness is not beauty; so love for the poor has to be cultivated together with love for beauty... and, of course, with love for the truth."   --- Archbishop Christoph Schonborn of Vienna

"Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature; but if every other thing is nature, He is not a nature, just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being, then all other things are not beings. And if you accept this as true also for wisdom, goodness, and in general all things that pertain to God or are ascribed to Him, then your theology will be correct and in accordance with the saints."  --- St. Gregory Palamas

"Knowledge is an excellent thing; it helps prayer, inciting the power of the mind to the contemplation of Divine knowledge."  --- St. Nilus of Sinai
 
"Help me Lord to lead a holy life and to do good works, so that those who see me may praise Your Name."
--- St. John Chrysostom

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NB: FFT - Food from the Parents in the Faith

"Blessed is the person who consumes the bread of love, which is Jesus! The one who eats of love eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness, saying, 'God is love.'" --- St Isaac of Syria
 
"Enter eagerly into the treasure-house that lies within you, and so you will see the treasure-house of heaven: for the two are the same, and there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within you, and is found in your own soul. Dive into yourself and in your soul you will discover the rungs by which to ascent." --- St. Isaac the Syrian

"The Eucharist reveals the Church as community--love for Christ, love in Christ--as a mission to turn each and all to Christ. The Church has no other purpose, no 'religious life' separate from the world. Otherwise the Church would become an idol...Only this presence can give meaning and value to everything in life, can refer everything to that experience and make it full. 'The image of this world is passing away.' But only by passing away does the world finally become the 'World': a gift of God, a happiness that comes from being in communion with the content, the form, the image of that 'World.'" --- Fr. Alexander Schmemann
 
"Prayer does not consist merely in standing and bowing with your body or in reading written prayers: it is possible to pray at all times, in all places, by the mind and spirit. You can lift up your mind and heart to God while walking, sitting, working, in the crowd and in solitude. His door is always open, unlike humanity's. We can always say to Him in our hearts: 'Lord have mercy! Lord have mercy!'" --- St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

"Teach us to look on those who think differently from us, who have different religious beliefs or no belief at all, as brothers and sisters." --- Fr. Alexander Men, *Prayer of Christ's Disciples*

'Hell is ignorance, for both are dark; and perdition is forgetfulness, for both involve extinction.' --- St. Mark the Ascetic

"There is a new wonder in heaven and on earth: God is on earth and humanity is in heaven.'  --- St. Thalassios the Libyan 
  
"Hence, it is right for us to strengthen our spirits, raise our minds, and thrust cowardly fears from our hearts, since, as you see, the Son of God laid down His life for us and took it up again whilst remaining God in every way. God victoriously celebrated a triumph over our death and conveyed our human body with Him to the stars. He considered it insufficient to have drained the entire cup of mortal life for us, so as to remove our wounds by means of His own; He also rose again with the body in which He fell, so that the troubled anxiety of a hesitant mind should not keep me in incertainty. He appeared after His death just as He was before it, and thus the evidence was made crystal-clear to humanity's eyes; for He showed Himself of His own accord to His doubting disciples to be inspected by their eyes and hands." --- St. Paulinus of Nola, *The Poems*
 
"It is our duty, therefore, to be faithful to God, pure in heart, merciful and kind, just and holy; for these things imprint in us the outlines of the Divine likeness, and perfect us as heirs of eternal life." --- St. Cyril of Alexandria

"Thus the deifying gift of the Spirit is a mysterious light, and transforms into light those who receive its richness; He does not only fill them with eternal light, but grants them a knowledge and a life appropriate to God. Thus, as St. Maximus teaches, St. Paul lived no longer a created life, but 'the eternal life of Him Who indwelt him.' Similarly, the prophets contemplated the future as if it were the present." --- St. Gregory Palamas, *The Triads*
 
 "The grace of charity is greater than the grace of resurrecting from the dead…No one is saved if she or he does not help others to be saved also." --- St. John Chrysostom
 
 "...when we say to him: 'Hallowed be thy name,' we are saying in other words: Make us such, Father, that we may deserve to understand and grasp how great your hallowing is and, of course, that you may appear as hallowed in our spiritual way of life. This is effectively fulfilled in us when 'people see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.'" --- St. John Cassian

"God does not only pay attention to the small ones, but also to those who pay attention to the small ones. Do you want Him to love you? Love the small ones. Love the poor. Love the humble." --- Archimandrite Joel Giannakopoulos
 
"When the intellect turns its attention to the visible world, it perceives things through the medium of the senses in a way that accords with nature. And the intellect is not evil, nor is its natural capacity to form conceptual images of things, nor are the things themselves, nor are the senses, for all are the work of God. What, then, is evil? Clearly it is the passion that enters into the conceptual images formed in accordance with nature by the intellect; and this need not happen if the intellect keeps watch." --- St. Maximos the Confessor
 
"We do not need to get God’s attention. His attention is immediate and unavoidable."--- Archimandrite Meletios Webber
 
"Just as the sun's rays are sometimes hidden from the earth by thick cloud, so for a while a person may be deprived of spiritual comfort and of grace's brightness. This is caused by the cloud of the passions. Then, all of a sudden, without that person being aware, it is all given back. Just as the surface of the earth rejoices at the rays of the sun when they break through the clouds, so the words of prayer are able to break through to drive the thick cloud of the passions away from the soul." --- St. Isaac the Syrian
 
"With regard to self-control in eating, we must never feel loathing for any kind of food, for to do so is abominable and utterly demonic. It is emphatically not because any kind of food is bad in itself that we refrain from it. But by not eating too much or too richly we can to some extent keep in check the excitable parts of our body. In addition we can give to the poor what remains over, for this is the mark of sincere love." --- St. Diadochos of Photiki  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NB - FFT: Food from the Parents in the Faith

"...cold obedience to the rules of the Church, legalistic action based on calculated reason, even punctuality, sobriety, and honest behavior, are not in themselves absolute evidence that our life has a truly Christian quality... All of these things are good, but as long as they are not informed by the spirit of life in Christ, they have no value in the eyes of God." --- St. Theophan the Recluse

 "Indeed every person of sense knows well that most of the charisms of the Spirit are granted to those worthy of them at the time of prayer. 'Ask and it shall be given,' the Lord says. This applies not only to being ravished 'even to the third heaven,' but to all the gifts of the Spirit." --- St. Gregory Palamas

"With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." --- Ephesians 4:2-3

"A bound person cannot run. Nor can the mind, which works like a slave for a certain passion, be able to offer a true prayer, because it is dragged around and wanders here and there on account of impassioned thoughts and cannot remain undisturbed." --- St Nilus

'Blessed the one who has become a good spiritual net and caught many for the good Lord, such a one will greatly praised by the Lord.' --- St. Ephrem of Syria

"Let us too imitate these men [Prophet David, Apostles Paul & Silas], building a wall around our life with the habit of prayer and letting nothing ever prove an obstacle to us. There is, in fact, nothing that can be an obstacle to us provided we are on the alert. Listen, after all, once more the words of the world's teacher: 'In every place raising pure hands in prayer, without anger or conflict' (1 Tim. 2:8). If you keep your mind purified of improper passions you can, whether you are in the market place, at home, on a journey, appearing in court, at sea, at the hotel or in the workplace - wherever you are, you can call on God and obtain your request." --- St. John Chrysostom

"Emmanuel is interpreted `God is with us.' And so, test yourselves, whether in truth God be with us. If we have removed ourselves from evils and become strangers to their inventor, the devil, then in truth God is with us. And if the sweetness of evil deeds has become bitter to us, and we take sweet enjoyment of the desire for good deeds and of having forever a dwelling in the heavens, then in truth God is with us. If we look on all Human beings alike, and if all days (sorrowful and successful) are equal for us, then in truth God is with us. If we love those who hate us, who insult, reproach, despise, oppress us, and cause us detriment just like those who love us, praise us, furnish us gain, and give us repose - then in truth God is with us." --- St. Barsanuphius the Great

"The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge." --- Psalms 46:6-11

"The lever which controls all our activities is the heart. Here are formed the convictions and sympathies which determine the will and give it strength." --- St. Theophan the Recluse, *The Art of Prayer*

"Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature; but if every other thing is nature, He is not a nature, just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being, then all other things are not beings. And if you accept this as true also for wisdom, goodness, and in general all things that pertain to God or are ascribed to Him, then your theology will be correct and in accordance with the saints." --- St. Gregory Palamas 

"Happy is the person who finds wisdom, and the one who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold." --- Proverbs 3:13-14

"It is evident, therefore, that He called human beings gods because they were deified by His grace, and not because they were born of His substance. For He justifies, being just of Himself and not from another; and He deifies, being God of Himself and not by participation in another. But He that justifies does also deify, because by justifying He makes children of God. For, “He has given them the power to become children of God.” If we are made children of God, we are also made gods; but this is by grace adopting, and not by nature begetting." --- St. Augustine  

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." --- I John 3:18

"Since love grows within you, so does beauty grow. For love is the beauty of the soul." --- St. Augustine

"For the person who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between one's own or another's, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because that person has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed one's attention on the single nature of humanity, that one looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in that person there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who 'is all, and in all' (Col. 3:11; cf. Gal. 3:28)." --- St. Maximos the Confessor 

"Keep the Feast of the Resurrection. Be a Peter or a John; hasten to the Sepulchre, running together, running against one another, vying in the noble race (cf. Jn. 20:3-4). And even if you be beaten in speed, win the victory of zeal; not looking into the tomb, but going in." --- St. Gregory the Theologian 

"Justifications for us to not do charity are an easy cause for greed." --- Saint Basil the Great

"...God in His wisdom, power and compassion knows how to change for the better the lapses we suffer as a result of our freely-willed perversion." --- St. Gregory Palamas

"Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted." --- Psalms 80:14-15 

"The Goodness of God is so rich in graces, that it seeks a cause to have mercy on a person."  --- St. Anthimos of Chios 

"O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again; but our imitation was in a figure, and our salvation in reality. Christ was actually crucified, and actually buried, and truly rose again. And all these things He has freely bestowed upon us, that we, sharing His sufferings by imitation, might gain salvation in reality. O surpassing loving-kindness! Christ received nails in His undefiled hands and feet, and suffered anguish; while on me without pain or toil by the fellowship of His suffering He freely bestows salvation!" --- St. Cyril of Jerusalem

"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." --- James 1:13  

"And then at last He for His part lays His hand upon them, saying, 'According to your faith be it unto you.' And this He does to confirm their faith, and to show that they are participators in the good work, and to witness that their words were not words of flattery. For neither did He say, 'Let your eyes be opened,' but, 'According to your faith be it unto you;' which He says to many of them that came unto Him; before the healing of their bodies, hastening to proclaim the faith in their soul; so as both to make them more approved, and to render others more serious. (Mt. 9:30)" --- St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew 

"Let mercy outweigh all else in you. Let our compassion be a mirror where we may see in ourselves that likeness and that true image, which belong to the divine nature and divine essence. A hard and unmerciful heart will never be pure." ---St. Isaac the Syrian

“Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.” --- Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica  

"Grace is not merely faith, but also active prayer. For the latter shows in practice true faith, made living by Jesus, for it comes from the Spirit through love. And so faith is dead and lifeless in one who does not see it active in oneself. More than that - a person has no right to be called faithful, if that one's faith is a bare word and if the person has not in the self a faith made active by love or the Spirit. Thus faith must be made evident by progress in works, or it must act in the light and shine in works, as the divine Apostle says: 'Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).'" --- St. Gregory of Sinai 

"'For He made us, and not we ourselves. The Lord Himself,' I say, 'made us' (Ps. 98:3). And He also renews us, for in all that He has done and said through His saints from the beginning, He has strained to achieve the mystery of our salvation, which is the renewal of humanity." --- St. Paulinus of Nola 

"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" --- Matthew 25:40

"A person is perfect in this life when as a pledge of what is to come that one receives the grace to assimilate the self to the various stages of Christ's life. In the life to come perfection is made manifest through the power of deification." --- St. Gregory of Sinai 

"Save Your people, And bless Your inheritance; Shepherd them also, And bear them up forever." --- Psalms 28:9 

"The Cross of the Lord is the monument to His Victory. O marvel of the love of the Word of God for humanity, for it is on our account that He is dishonored so that we may be brought to honor." --- St. Athanasius the Great 

"Through mindfulness of God, you will always reflect on 'whatever is true, whatever is modest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, whatever is holy and deserving praise' (Phil. 4:8); and in this way you will banish from yourself the pernicious evil of forgetfulness." --- St. Mark the Ascetic 

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." --- Jeremiah 29:11

"In her belly came and dwelt He Who is uncontainable. And by her breasts was nourished God Who sustains the whole creation. On her hand she carried God Who is carried by the Seraphim. And her knees became His throne." --- St. John of Damascus  

"In order to receive the Lord, one must have a well-ordered way of thinking that is capable of it; in order to receive the Lord, one must have a heartfelt will towards it, one must have humble feelings. This did the Archangel Gabriel explain to righteous Zachary, the father of the Forerunner, the Forerunner's service, when he announced his conception and birth. 'Many of the children of Israel,' said the Archangel, 'shall he turn to the Lord their God' (cf. Lk. 1:16-17)" --- St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

"What is desired in a man is kindness." --- Proverbs 19:2 

"It is love that shows who is the true shepherd, for by reason of love the Great Shepherd was crucified." --- St. John Climacus, ad Pastorem 5

 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Animals, yet More than Animals

"As the most dominant and influential animals on earth, humans have a responsibility to all other animals."

Human beings are indeed animals and yet more at the same time, having been fashioned into the image of God, to grow into God's likeness. Doesn't make the statement above any less true. Growing into that likeness involves precisely our understanding and living the responsibility we have towards others, our fellow human beings and also our fellow animals with whom we have genetic and material commonality.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

NB: FFT - Food from the Parents in the Faith

"Religion cannot and should never be a basis for war and conflict, nor should it be used as an instrument of fundamentalism and fanaticism for purely political motives and ends." --- Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

"The great plan of God the Father is the secret and unknown mystery of the dispensation which the only-begotten Son revealed by fulfilling in the incarnation, thus becoming a messenger of the great plan of God the eternal Father. The one who knows the meaning of the mystery and who is so incessantly lifted up both in work and in word through all things until he or she acquires what is sent down to them is likewise a messenger of the great plan of God." --- St. Maximus the Confessor

"Invocation of the Name of God the Saviour, uttered in the fear of God, together with constant effort to live in accordance with the commandments, little by little leads to a blessed fusion of all our powers. We must never seek to hurry in our ascetic striving. It is essential to discard any idea of achieving the maximum in the shortest possible time. God does not force us but neither can we compel Him to do anything whatsoever. Results obtained by artificial means do not last long and, more importantly, do not unite our spirit with the Spirit of the Living God." --- Archimandrite Sophrony

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Venerating the Verbal Icon

The Eucharistic Mystery of the Orthodox Church lies not in keeping the Anaphora - the Eucharistic Canon containing the account of salvation history (especially in St. Basil's Liturgy), the institution of the Holy Supper and culminating in the change of the elements - something secret, said only by the celebrating priest for himself, but rather in the wholeness of that change of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ and our becoming fully intimate communicants in them. Intimacy and communion implies true knowledge of those with whom we are in intimate communion, and the Holy Anaphora imparts to us that knowledge. By hearing it we take it into ourselves, preparing us to bring ourselves into union with God and with each other.

We all have heard icons referred to as "windows into heaven". By seeing them with the physical eyes and contemplating them, we are drawn into communion with Christ and the Saints and the events depicted upon them. How then should it not be the same with the prayers of the Anaphora which are verbal icons, that by hearing them with the physical ears and contemplating them, we enter into communion and participate in God's oikonomia of salvation history which is depicted in words?

Truly, we should no more think of doing the Holy Anaphora silently than we would of covering up icons with a curtain.

Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver publishes his liturgical encyclicals on the Metropolis website. In one of these, dated 2 August 2008, can be found the following, beginning at the top of page 3:

k. In accordance with the decision of the Eparchial Synod, all prayers are designated to be "Recited by the Priest." The distinctions of "Silently," "Quietly," and "In a low voice," have been suppressed. By directing the Priest to "Recite" the prayers, it is understood that he is allowed the pastoral freedom to say them loud enough so that the faithful can hear them if he deems this to be appropriate in his own parish. He may likewise, also for pastoral reasons, recite certain prayers "Inaudibly."

Speaking the Anaphora aloud is one way to help make the Church truly the place where theosis is made possible, human beings going along the journey to becoming gods by grace, doing so by *actively participating* in the iconic theology of hearing the Holy Anaphora aloud and of seeing the actions of the Offering, just as they see the Saints and the Feasts in the painted icons with which we are all very familiar.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NB: FFT - Food from Parents in the Faith

"We have nothing to fear unless we are afraid of love." --- Fr. Antony Hughes

"Hope, transcending servile fear, binds us to the love of God, since 'hope does not disappoint' (Rom. 5:5), containing as it does the seed of that twofold love on which hang 'the law and the prophets' (Matt. 22:40). And 'love never fails' (I Cor. 13:8), once it has become to the person who shares in it the motive for fulfilling the divine law both in the present life and in the life to be." --- St. Philotheos of Sinai

"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit." --- Psalms 34:18

"‘But I say to you,’ says the Lord, ‘love your enemies... do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5: 44). Why did He command this? To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancour, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love. And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (I Tim. 2: 4)." --- St. Maximos the Confessor

"In the beginning of creation the Creator created humanity in the image of God, while now He has united humanity to God. Then the human race was given authority to rule over the fish and the animals. Now God has raised our new beginning above the heavens. Since the ascended Christ with His holy flesh has become, like the first fruits, the beginning of those who had fallen asleep, He has caused our
entire human race to be blessed through that one flesh and beginning. Before because of sin , nothing was more debased than humanity, while now nothing has become more honored than humanity. Through the resurrected and ascended Christ humanity conquers corruption and acquires incorruption. Humanity conquers death, because death has been entirely defeated and abolished and appears nowhere, while humanity acquires immortality and is deified. Now, indeed, God and humankind have become one race." --- St. John Chrysostom, *On the Ascension*
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Called to be Happy

We hear so much about how happiness is tangential to the Christian life; one eminent Russian Orthodox priest has gone record to say, "It is not correct to say that Our Lord was born to make anyone 'happy.'"

Why ever not??? Certainly He was born to make us happy, something which is part of our theosis, becoming gods by grace. He was born to make us happy and joyful, because that is Who He Is of Whose divine nature we are called to partake... as we sang tonight at the Vesperal Liturgy for the Feast of the Dormition:

"O Joyful Light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, the heavenly, holy,  blessed, O Jesus Christ. Now that we have reached the setting of the sun and behold the evening light, we sing to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is fitting at all times to praise you with happy voices, O Son of God, the Giver of life. Behold, the world sings your glory."

NB: FFT - Food from the Fathers and Mothers

"The one who receives Communion is made holy and Divinized in soul and body in the same way that water, set over a fire, becomes boiling... Communion works like yeast that has been mixed into dough so that it leavens the whole lump; ...Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with Him by this Communion, and the person finds that she or he is in Christ and Christ is in them." --- St. Cyril of Alexandria

"If, therefore, we are lovers of learning, we shall also be learned in many things. For by care and toil and the grace of God the Giver, all things are accomplished. `For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the person who knocks it will be opened' (Lk. 11:10). Wherefore let us knock at that very fair garden of the Scriptures, so fragrant and sweet and blooming... Let us not know carelessly but rather zealously and constantly, lest knocking we grow weary. For in this way it will be opened to us. If we read once or twice and do not understand what we read, let us not grow weary, but let us persist, let us talk much, let us inquire." --- St. John of Damascus

"Let brotherly and sisterly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." --- Hebrews 13:1-2

"God is glorified not by mere words, but by works of righteousness, which proclaim the majesty of God far more effectively than words." --- St. Maximos the Confessor

"Feed the needy now or be ready to forever feed the fires of hell, because there is no love in you unless you do it." --- St. John Chrysostom

'For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways.' --- Psalm 90:11

"Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy that one. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." --- 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

"The Inward Temple. There is no need to weep much over the destruction of a church; after all, each of us, according to God's mercy, has or should have his own church—the heart; go in there and pray, as much as you have strength and time. If this church is not well made and is abandoned (without inward prayer), then the visible church will be of little benefit." — Archbishop Barlaam to Abbess M., Russia's Catacomb Saints, p. 281

"Now the voice of the Word is ever a voice of power. At the creation. light shone forth at His command, and again at His order the firmament arose; and similarly all the rest of creation came into being at His creative Word. So too now, when the Word calls a person that has advanced to come unto Him, it is immediately empowered at His command and becomes what the Bridegroom wishes. It is transformed into something divine, and it is transformed from the glory in which it exists to a higher glory by a perfect kind of alteration." --- St. Gregory of Nyssa, *From Glory to Glory*

Monday, August 23, 2010

Physically Significant - Sermon for the Afterfeast of Dormition

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m going to begin this sermon with a statement that will probably surprise most of you, because it is a statement that appears to be true, yet it is not. And that statement is this: We celebrated the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos last Sunday.

Why is this an untrue statement? Because it is put in the past tense, as something that is over and done with. The majority of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, however, are not events that are commemorated and celebrated on one single day, then put on the shelf again until the following year. Rather, they are followed by a period - of varying length, depending on which Feast it is - called the Afterfeast, culminating on the day known as the Leavetaking (Apodosis) of the Feast. During the period of the Afterfeast, hymns for the Feast continue to be sung at the services: Vespers, Matins, and Liturgy. On the Apodosis, pretty much all of the hymns which were sung on the day of the Feast itself - with a few exceptions - are repeated, causing the commemoration of the saint who is set in the calendar for that day to be bumped to another.

The Feast of the Dormition has a particularly long period of Afterfeast... not counting the day of the Feast itself, it is a period of eight days, so that the Church will be celebrating the Leavetaking tomorrow. In a very real sense, then, we are still celebrating the Dormition of the Theotokos even now.

This is an especially long period of Afterfeast, over a week, and particularly so when it is measured against the preparatory period which preceded it. There must be meaning in this, something especially significant about this Feast which has much importance for us.

There are several significant points that can be discerned from this, but one of the most significant lies in what was found, or rather not found, in the grave of the Mother of God. At the time of her death, all the apostles were gathered on clouds from all the ends of the earth where they were preaching the gospel and evangelizing the nations. All, that is, save Thomas. He arrived a week late and, sorrowful at having missed her funeral, asked to see the body. When they opened the tomb, however, there was no body. It was gone, taken up from the earth into heaven. That this is an extremely significant point is made by the fact that the following hymn is repeated on three separate occasions during the Afterfeast: In the aposticha for Vespers on August 17th and August 21st, and in the aposticha for Matins for August 22, that is, today. And this hymn goes: “Your body was not touched by the dust of the tomb; although it was buried in keeping with nature and its laws, nevertheless it remains incorruptible.”

When we all recite the Creed we confess that we believe “in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.” That her body was taken up from the grave is an assurance of this. It shows that she partakes of the first-fruits of theosis, of deification which encompasses the whole human person, both soul and body. In the Feast of the Transfiguration we are shown the reality of the hypostatic – that is, personal - union of the divine nature and the human nature in the one Christ which makes this possible, the glorification of our human nature and bodies through intimate communion with the divine. The post-Resurrection appearances of our Savior Christ recounted in the Matins gospels show us what our glorified bodies will be like, that is, truly physical... He could eat fish, could be touched... “A spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see I have.” He said.

The absence of her physical body from the tomb, then, is a great sign to us, the promise to us that this selfsame physical flesh and bone and body which we have now will not remain dead; we too will have such glorified physical bodies, in the transfigured New Creation after the final judgment, that we may live the life humanity was intended to live in Eden, ever growing into the likeness of God as human persons, soul-body unities. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Understanding the Miracle of Euphemia and the Fourth Oecumenical Synod

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“On the eleventh of this month we commemorate the holy Great Martyr, the all-famed Euphemia, who through a supernatural wonder upheld the Orthodox Tome of faith at the Holy Fourth Oecumenical Council..”

As the Wikipedia article for the holy one relates, “Eupehemia lived in the 3rd century and was the daughter of a senator named Philophronos and his wife Theodosia who lived in Chalcedon. From her youth she was consecrated to virginity. The governor of Chakcedon, Priscus, had made a decree that all of the inhabitants of the city take part in sacrifices to the pagan deity Ares. Euphemia was discovered with other Christians who were hiding in a house and worshipping the Christian God, in defiance of the governor’s orders. Because of their refusal to sacrifice, they were tortured for a number of days, and then handed over to the Emperor for further torture. Euphemia, the youngest among them, was separated from her companions and subjected to particularly harsh torments, including the wheel, in hopes of breaking her spirit. It is believed that she died of wounds from a wild bear in the arena under Emperor Diocletian, between 304 and 307. Eventually a cathedral was built over her grave.”

The Fourth Oecumenical Council of the Eastern Orthodox Church took place in that city in the year 451, and met in the cathedral dedicated to her. It was called to combat the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism, which said the Christ’s humanity was swallowed up by His divinity. The council repudiated that, and set forth the Chalcedonian Decree (in Greek, Oros), which affirms “...one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood, ... recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person...”

The council’s sessions were very contentious, and it was hard to reach a consensus… so it was decided to appeal to God through the saint. One of the stichera sung at the service of Vespers for this day succinctly describes the “supernatural wonder”: “O wondrous Euphemia, the assembly of the holy fathers placed at the head of your coffin the Symbol of the Faith; you took the document into your hand, having faultlessly kept the faith, thus overthrowing all false doctrine and confounding the defenders of heresy. Thus, we glorify you and call you blessed.” According to the story, the members of the council put the stated beliefs of both parties into the coffin with the saint’s relics, and three days later the Chalcedonian Definition was found in her right hand while that of monophysitism was found under her feet.

The hymnography paints a rosy picture… heresy defeated and the truth wins out. But the reality was a whole lot messier. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Dioklea in his book *The Orthodox Church* remarks that the Council was “a rock of offence.” Sizable portions of the ancient Christian world – honest, devout Christians – refused to accept the decision of Chalcedon, nor recognize it as ecumenical. These are the Churches known today as the Non-Chalcedonians or the Oriental Orthodox, including the Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian Churches. The situation, however, has changed for the better, owing to – as Fr. John Erickson, retired professor and dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary notes in his article “Beyond Dialogue: The Quest for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Unity Today”, which is well worth reading and available on the St. Vladimir's website – the modern ecumenical movement and modern historical scholarship. Unofficial consultations between the two church families were held in Aarhus (Denmark) in 1964 and in Bristol (England) in 1967, attended by leading theologians from the two sides; there were further meetings in Geneva (1970) and Addis Abbaba (1971). The results were unexpectedly positive. It became clear that on the basic question which had led historically to the division—the doctrine of the person of Christ—there is in fact no real disagreement. The divergence, it was stated in Aarhus, lies only on the level of phraseology. The delegates concluded, “We recognize in each other the one Orthodox faith of the Church... On the essence of the Christological dogma we found ourselves in full agreement.' In the words of the Bristol consultation, 'Some of us affirm two natures, wills and energies hypostatically united in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us affirm one united divine-human nature, will and energy in the same Christ. But both sides speak of a union without confusion, without change, without divisions, without separation.' The four adverbs belong to our common tradition. Both affirm the dynamic permanence of the Godhead and the Manhood, with all their natural properties and faculties, in the one Christ.” In other words, what was held to be a refusal to accept the Orthodox Faith actually was not… rather, both sides failed to hear that the same Faith was being expressed in different ways.

The two church families are not yet in communion; there remain practical considerations which must be addressed. We heard some of these in the stichera for Orthros this morning, when Dioscoros and Severus – considered by the Oriental Orthodox to be saints – are condemned and anathematized by Chalcedonians. Another can very well be the event we commemorate today, an event strategically placed in the church calendar since next Sunday we celebrate the Fathers of the first six Oecumenical Councils, but especially the Fourth.

The question for us, then, is how we understand the miracle of St. Euphemia in light of the movement, guided by the Holy Spirit, towards the reconciliation and reunion of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches? Do we have to reject the miracle of St. Euphemia?

No, we do not. Instead, we need to understand it more inclusively.

First of all, we have to remember that for us Orthodox, stories and myths – whether in the Bible, as for example the two Genesis accounts of Creation, or in hagiography or the service books – can convey absolute truth without necessarily being completely literally or historically true. Metropolitan Kallistos makes this point in his introduction to the Festal Menaion, when speaking of the stories that are recounted concerning the Nativity of the Theotokos. Christ Himself spoke in parables… stories which were quite obviously made up, yet presented truths by which men and women should live. In this way we can understand that the story we remember today need not be a literal historical recounting, nor that its interpretation need be set in stone. It can be saying that the Holy Spirit indeed affirms the central tenets of the *same* Christology that is shared by both families, the four common adverbs found in the saints hand, rejecting Eutychianism (which the Non-Chalcedonians also reject) while not necessarily excluding diverse but legitimate ways of expressing those tenets.

Another thing to remember, and I will close with this, is that the stories of hagiography are not meant to be bludgeons with which to attack other Christians, whether in the Church or outside of the Church. They are not proof-texts to use as weapons to score points in debates, as fundamentalists are wont to do with scripture. They are meant to edify and upbuild Christians in their daily lives and struggles, that every human person soul and body united may be saved and deified. Amen.