Monday, December 21, 2020

The Jesus Prayer

Try to change the world by protesting or change ourselves by repentance/

 The Prophet Samuel was one of the holiest prophets of the Old Testament.  But what I find most interesting is that Samuel grew to be a holy prophet while living in the midst of a very corrupt religious and political context.  Samuel’s holy mother, Hannah, was barren.  But God heard her prayer after many years and much humiliation.  God gave her a son,  and at the age of three, Hannah gave her son to God.  She brought him to the priest of the Tabernacle in Shiloh.  This was before there was a Temple, and the Ark of God’s Presence was kept in a tent (Tabernacle) that moved from place to place depending on the tribal warfare of the day.  

However, the priest, Eli, and his sons were very corrupt.  And here I find several interesting things to ponder.  First, despite the corruption and poor parenting of the priest Eli, and the outrageously sinful and even predatory behaviour of his sons, God still spoke through Eli.  And Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, still prayed at the Tabernacle and offered their sacrificial gifts there, despite the obvious corruption of the priest and his family.

I must confess that this is a profound mystery to me: not only that God allows very sinful people to function in positions of hierarchy to which very holy people submit; but what is even more mysterious to me is that God’s Grace still functions through these very broken people in positions of spiritual authority, not, I think, because of their position, but because of the holiness and purity of heart of those who come to them.  While Hannah was praying at the Tabernacle for a child with anguish of soul, all that the priest Eli could think looking at her was that she was drunk.  When she protested that she was not drunk but was in anguish of soul and praying, Eli says dismissively, “may God grant your prayer.”  And God does!  God hears and answers righteous Hannah’s prayer through the sinful priest.

This is a deep mystery, but it is a mystery that gives me hope.  It gives me hope that even as I am a sinful and broken priest, God may still use me to help those who earnestly seek God.  It also gives me hope that even if my bishop or confessor were sinful or deficient in one way or another, God would still look at the anguish of my heart and hear my prayer.  But there is a mystery here that is even more profound than these, a mystery that may show us the way to grow in Christ in the “crooked and perverse generation” that we find ourselves living in today.  

With complete faith in God and a heart full of thanksgiving, Hannah gives her one child, the gift of God to her, back to God.  However, the only way for her to do this is to bring little Samuel to the corrupt priest Eli to be raised at the Tabernacle along with Eli’s corrupt and predatory sons.  Now if you ask anyone—If you ask me!—this is not good parenting.  And yet, doesn’t God do something very similar with most of His children, with you and me?

Look at the world we find ourselves in.  We are mentored by media that exploits and seduces us for its own profit, political leaders whom we know are lying, businesses that we know are cheating us and an educational system piloted by women, men and “others” who want to obliterate basic human nature.  It seems we find ourselves, like young prophet Samuel, being raised in a corrupt and predatory culture.  Yet nevertheless, like the prophet Samuel, we too can grow into very holy people, people who can learn to listen for God even as we are surrounded by innumerable sins and evil influences.  

How did Samuel do it?  Or rather, how did God save Samuel in such an evil and wicked context?  And how can we too be saved in such a broken world?  St. Paul gives some advice to the Philippians on this very thing.  He says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Keep in mind that the ancient pagan world of the Philippians was very corrupt, even by today’s corrupt standards.  Most of the people, the very people St. Paul is writing to, were slaves.  They couldn’t just change their world, they couldn’t just flee to the wilderness or find some less wicked place to live.  They were stuck where they were and had to become holy there, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”

Actually, many of us today find ourselves in situations that are somewhat similar.  We have to work for a living and we have little choice about the policies that are imposed on us or who we work with or how the companies we work for may be exploiting us or destroying the world.  Sure, we could quit, but quit and do what?  If we could afford to buy a farm, we could run off to the country, but farming is very technical work and if you don’t know what you are doing you can fail miserably at it.  Also, and this is something that we have to think deeply about, no matter where we go, there we are.  My inner struggles, perhaps exacerbated in the city, are still with me in the country.  I still have to struggle.

The advice St. Paul gives the Philippians, however, is not to run away (in fact he actually tells slaves not to run away).  Rather, he advises them to do all things without complaining and disputing.  Now by “all things”, he does not mean that we are to knowingly or intentionally sin.  Rather, he is saying that when we do our jobs, when we do whatever it is we do, we are to do it without complaining and disputing.  And if we don’t complain and dispute, at work, at home, at church and on the internet, then, St. Paul tells us, we will become blameless and harmless.  Thus we will be children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  

We really have to let that sink in.  “In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”  He does not say, “you will shine like lights standing outside of the crooked and perverse generation.”  Like the Prophet Samuel, it is in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation or culture or context or company or family or even a corrupt church that we “shine as lights in the world.”  

This is indeed a hard word for us to hear.  

I think 500 years of Protestant influence on western culture has made St. Paul’s advice and the example of Prophet Samuel very offensive to us.  We don’t really believe that God saves in the midst of the furnace, as He saved the three Holy Children in Babylon.  We think that it is our job, our calling from God, to put out the fire, to stamp out evil, to make the world a better place.  We don’t believe that it is God’s will for our righteous souls to be tormented day and night by seeing and hearing of the wicked deeds of those who live around us—even though this is exactly what St. Peter commends about Righteous Lot and gives as an example in his second epistle.  We don’t believe that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment”  Rather, we think it’s our job to right wrong and to fix what is broken, or to escape from the sinful world.  

And so the counsel of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers of the Church makes no sense to us.  It even offends us.  Consequently, we make no progress.  We fight and crusade against the evil around us, but we secretly indulge in our lusts and anger making no progress whatsoever in peace and stillness of soul.  We flee one sinful context and find that we bring our sinful passions to whatever new context we flee to.  We burn out (or become hypocrites) trying to heal others without healing ourselves.  It’s like we grind the gears of our soul trying to fight or escape the wickedness of others, but make no movement at all in acquiring peace in the transformation of our own souls.

We have to become like the child Samuel if we want to be saved.  The child Samuel saw the wickedness, but did not participate in it.  The child Samuel knew he could not change others, but he also knew the One for whom nothing is impossible.  The child Samuel prayed, obeyed, and waited.  And then one day, God spoke to him.  Then one day God changed his world: the wickedness of the wicked caught up with them and the fruit of their wicked lives came upon them.  Samuel remained pure.  Samuel remained quiet.  Samuel shone as a light in a corrupt and perverse generation.  

We too can shine as a light, St. Paul tells us, if we will do everything without complaining and disputing.  Or, we can do things the Protestant way: we can protest.  We can argue and fight and try to change others.  Instead of waiting for God to judge, we can demand what is right, now.  But then we will not be transformed by Grace, then we will not shine as lights.  I think the brightness of one little light will do more to bring salvation to the world than a thousand voices trying to fix it.

At least that’s what I think.



Thursday, December 17, 2020

 Every man of himself is so insignificant and helpless that he receives everything necessary to support his existence, not from himself, but from without; he himself is nothing. And as his body is supported by air, food, and drink, so his soul is supported by prayer, by reading God’s Word, and by the communion of the Holy Mysteries,.

Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt

My Life in Christ p.94

From Orthodox Quote of the Day

Ten points for an Orthodox Life

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

How we heal our brother

Βy quiet and gentle love we approach and heal the being of man. We never harp on to someone about his weaknesses and failings. We speak only well of others. While we see their faults, we keep silent and simply love. For when we behave towards a harsh and callous person as he “deserves,” we only make him worse. When, on the other hand, we treat him with consideration and love, we are able to make him better. A Christian does not detest anyone. What does he do? He only loves. He loves even his enemies. When St. Stephen the Protomartyr was being stoned, he gave no thought to the physical pain, but rather how to forgive his torturers. That is why he said: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” It is astounding to contemplate how far the love of a believer can go. This is a distinctive love, which brings you freedom and calmness. It enables the Light of the Resurrection to spring forth within you; it opens unto you spiritual horizons, causing you to participate in heavenly things while still on earth. 

Bishop Makarios of Christoupolis, “O Lord and Master of my life...”


Monday, December 14, 2020

How to live a genuine Christian life

 Saint Paul pleads with the Christians in Ephesus, “I, Paul, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Here are the ten points for living an Orthodox Christian life:

Free booklet available

1. Praying Daily 5 Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.

2. Worshiping and Participating in the Sacraments 7 Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy

Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.

3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle 9 Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and

feasts of the Church.

4. Using the Jesus Prayer 11 Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or


5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life 13 Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried


6. Being Watchful 15 Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.

7. Taming the Passions 17 Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and

learn to practice the virtues.

8. Putting Others First 19 Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.

9. Spiritual Fellowship 21

Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.

10. Reading Holy Scripture and writings of our Church Fathers

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

It's Time to Listen

It's time to listen.
It is close to impossible for us white privileged people to understand what black Americans feel and it is a reality that many Black Americans can feel justified in violent actions. I experienced a situation similar to what we are facing today many years ago in 1968 when I was living in Detroit, the scene of a massive uprising of Black Americans. I also participated in “synergy” groups as part of my PhD studies where a white group and a black tried to understand the perspective of the other. After questioning each other, each group tried to express the view of the other group. The black group had no difficulty expressing accurately the view of the white group but the white group could not express the view of the black group. This shows how difficult it is for a privilege group to grasp the view of the less privileged.
In today’s situation, we white privileged need to recognize how difficult it is for us to understand the actions of our black brothers sisters. We need to have compassion even for those who break the law, break windows and loot. We need to ask, what would motivate anyone to act in this way? How could they become so angry and disrespectful of law and order? If we can tap into the understanding what it is like to be continually harassed by the police and failing to see justice being carried out, then we might be able to begin to understand the anger that is being expressed. When our response is simply to call for law and order, to use military tactics, we need to recognize that many of these people never feel any reality of law and order. It seems biased toward those of privilege. Our justice is not their justice. So our actions often lead only to more anger and violence.
We need to try to listen. We need to engage in dialog. We need to open our hearts, filled the Christ’s love, if we are going to make any progress in our race relationships.
Our Lord Jesus Christ favors the poor snd oppressed. He has ultimate compassion. He recognizes every human being as being made in the image of God.
Please, try to listen to those who are demonstrating. Try your best, with an open heart of love, to understand their perspective. Only in this way will we find a productive way to create a more harmonious society where there is a shared idea of justice.
Please try to listen and not judge! Keep Christ in your heart.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Does It Mean When John Says, "Do Not Love the World?"

John the Theologian says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” What does he mean? Before answering this question let’s examine what it does not mean. It does not mean we should not love the people in the world; God clearly commands us to love everyone in the world, including our enemies (Mark 12:31; John 15:12; Matthew 5:44). Neither does it mean that we are not to enjoy or utilize the good gifts that God has given us in the world (James 1:17). God provides us with many good things to enjoy and we ought to receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)

Saint Symeon frames this issue by asking this question, “What is the world?" He answers giving us the meaning of John's instruction to not love the word. “It is sin and attachment to things and passions.”  

The referenced passage is in John’s 1st Epistle: 
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:14-17).
We see that John clearly specifies what we at not to love; namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All of these attitudes are sinful and rebellious against God and His will for us. 

The Orthodox Study Bible reminds us of the following: 
The world here is creation after the fall and under the dominion of Satan. It is creation no longer oriented toward God, but temporary and dominated by inordinate passions (see Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13; 1Co 7:29-31). The world distorts every realm of God's good creation. There are (1) sensual pleasures of the flesh (physical passions), (2) intellectual attainments and capacities of the eyes (the soul's passions), and (3) inordinate possessions, power, and honors of life (the pride of human spirit).
When John refers to “lust of the flesh” he is referring sins such as sexual immorality, gluttony, and other indulgences. When he says,   “lust of the eyes” is pointing to root of covetousness. This is the greedy desire for the material riches and possessions of this world. Finally, when he writes the “pride of life,” this is about the boasting of ambition and achievement, a thirst for the honor bestowed by and the applause received from the world.

Saint Symeon points out that this is not an impossible command. 
“I know well that many saints of old guarded themselves from this,  and those of the present still do. They spend their lives in the midst of the things of this life, it’s concerns and it’s care’s, and yet complete their lives in perfect holiness. Of them and their like Paul bears witness, when he says “The form of this world is passing away, so that those who have wives should be as if they had none, and those who buy as if they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as if they had no dealing with it (1Cor 7:29ff).
Symeon emphasize this is not a casual warning. If we are attached to the things of the world in this way then in reality we are an enemy of God. James says, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of The world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).” And John also says, “if anyone loves the world, love for the father is not in him (1John 2:15).

We must remember that Jesus in the great commandment says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your strength and with all your soul (Mk 12:30).”

Therefore if we are craving things of this world we are not following God’ commandment. This how Saint Symeon puts it: “Therefore he who craves or has an attachment to anything else’s transgresses this commandment.” He continues saying, “Let us hate everything, great and small, that endangers our souls.”  Christians are commanded to imitate Christ and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–14)

Saint Symeon warns us that we must pay attention to the smallest of transgressions.
He who willingly fails at small things, even though it keeps himself from greater offenses, will be more severely condemned because, while he kept the greater matters under control, he was overcome by the lesser. Even one single passion will be enough to destroy us...”
Our aim as a Christian is to become united with Christ, what we call theosis. To be united we must continually work with the help of God’s Grace to act wit a pure heart out of love for Hod as well as others this means Weill be following the ancient guidelines that involve ascetic practices which include prayer and fasting
And live a life of continual repentance.

Saint Symeon suggests that it is helpful to keep in mind the Judgment we will eventually face . He says, 
He who always keeps his own mind and constantly looks forward to the coming Judgment, and fervently repents and weeps, will overcome them all at the same time. As he is lifted up by repentance he “is more than a conqueror” (Rom 8:37).
Even though we ought to love the people in the world and enjoy the good gifts God bestows on us, we must always be careful not to elevate any of them to first place in our hearts and lives.

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourages, pp 109-111.