Thursday, August 10, 2017

Problem of Criticizing the Church

“I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Why did the Lord say this? Do you ever hear any dissension in our community? Are their doubters about various aspects of our faith? Are their some who are disgruntled by our clergy or some other member?

Of course there are and the next question is what is the consequence of this dissension? Isn't it a distraction from what we all seek? We seek to become united with Christ yet we too often focus on our disagreements with one another. When we expend our energy in this way we are unable to do what it is needed to do to be united with Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ and we are His Body. When our body's parts are not in harmony, we do not feel well. We are unable to function properly. The same is true with The Church, Christ. It is not able to perform what do it is supposed to very well. When we realize who we are in the Church we can have nothing but joy of love, of being one with everyone. We love each other and pray for each other, desiring that not one soul be lost, that we all together will be with Christ in Paradise when the time comes. This is the truth about the Church. Whoever becomes Baptized and Chrismated is on the path to be saved and have life eternal. For this to be realized we need to support each other in our struggles. 

Saint Porphyrios says, 
“ If we do not become one with the earthly Church here and now, we are in danger of losing the heavenly Church too.”
The saint says. 
“We should not give credence to those who make accusations against the clergy… The same is true for lay members. We are all the Church… We love the Church when we embrace with our prayers each of her members… We need to take care of ourselves as well by observing the formal aspects: to participate in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Holy Communion.” 
This is what the Church is all about. Christ offers Himself in the sacraments and above all in Holy Communion. We should never voluntarily turn away from this gift.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ 
By Father Zacharias Thornbury (08/06/2017) 
Many, many years ago, something incredible happened in the land of Egypt. A Hebrew, who had once been a slave of the Pharaoh but had fled, returned 40 years later. And when he returned he did so having been chosen by God to lead his people out of bondage, and into a relationship with God that would have repercussions on the world for the rest of time. 
Three months after their dramatic escape from the army of the Pharaoh, the Israelites reached the foot of Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. 
Here, Moses ascended the mountain and spoke to God, and God made a covenant, an agreement, with Moses and with all the Israelites, that they would be His people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, as they long as they lived in the manner which He desired, and which he related to Moses. 
And after Moses went down from the mountain and told these things to the people, God again called Moses up to the summit, And so Moses ascended the mountain again, and the glory of God covered the top of the mountain for six days, and after the six days God called to Moses and appeared to him there, and his appearance shone brightly, like a burning fire on top of the mountain. 
When Moses descended a second time to speak with the Israelites, his face was shining brightly also, radiating the divine light of God’s presence, so much so that the people were afraid, and he had to cover his face with a veil any time that he went out in public to speak with them. 
A third time, Moses climbed to the top of Mount Sinai and spoke with God, now as one would speak with his friend. And Moses pleads with God, asking that he show Himself to him, so that he could be certain that God would help him lead the Israelites through the desert. 
God answers Moses saying, “I will do this for you, I will pass by you in my full glory, but when I do you have to huddle behind this rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I pass by you, and only then, once I have passed by, will you be able to look at my back, for no man is able to handle seeing my face and live.” 
So great is the glory of God, my brothers and sisters, that not even Moses, whom God has chosen, was able to look directly at it.  
Centuries later this mountain would be visited by the divine presence again.
The kingdom of Israel has been divided, and the Northern Kingdom has fallen under the rule of a series of terrible kings. The current king, in an attempt at fostering domestic peace and uniting his people, has given support to the cult of the Canaanite god Baal (bay-el), going so far as to even marry Jezebel, one of the false god’s priestesses. 
It is at this time that the great prophet Elijah rises up and confronts the King and the whole nation of Israel, berating them for their fall into worship of a false God. Jezebel is infuriated by Elijah’s words, and promises to have him killed. 
And so we find Elijah, running for his life away from the wicked king of Israel and his wife, despondent, ready to give up and die, believing that he is the only follower of the True God left. But an angel comes to him and leads him to Mount Horeb. 
There, Elijah spends the night in a cave, and the Word of God comes to him, telling him to go stand at the top of the mountain, where God would visit. 
He obeys, and suddenly a strong wind blows, causing rocks to crash down around him. This is followed by a mighty earthquake, and after the earthquake a raging, roaring fire, and in all of these things, Elijah did not find God. It wasn’t until after these things that there comes a small voice on a gentle breeze. And when he hears it, Elijah knows that he is in the presence of God, and he covers his face with his cloak, remembering what it was that God had told Moses, that no one could see the face of God and live.  
This is a lot of history, my brothers and sisters, I know, but it is important that we, as Orthodox Christians, not forget, or - God forbid - never learn, the things that took place before the coming of Christ. What we find in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant that God made with his people, is a 
record of God’s revelation of Himself to the world, and the response of the people to whom He chose to reveal Himself, to this revelation. 
In it we can see the hand of God moving, that Master Craftsman who fashioned the entire created order, laying the foundation for a new temple where He will be worshipped; the ekklesia - we, the Church, the body of Christ. We can see Him laying the stones, which are the laws and commandments, holding them together with a mortar, that is the prophets, and beginning with the cornerstone of Christ, the Word of God, through which he made the world, and completing it with the keystone that is also Christ, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. 
You see, after another span of centuries, and roughly 390 miles northeast of Mount Sinai, an event would take place on another mountain, that would be the capstone of the experiences of both Moses and Elijah. 
On this day a certain Jesus, the son of Joseph, ascends mount Tabor with three of his disciples; Peter, James and John. Six days before Jesus had been conversing with his disciples and asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” He then asked the disciples directly, “But who do YOU say that I am?” It was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 
After this acknowledgement, Jesus revealed to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, where he would be killed, and rise on third day. Again, it was Peter who cried, “You cannot! This will never happen to you!” 
O Peter! You rock on which Jesus has said he will build His church! You, to whom the Word of God has promised the keys of the kingdom of heaven! How quickly you can fall from the heights of heaven back down to the depths of the earth! Rightly did your Christ say to you, “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” 
But on this day Jesus leads Peter back up to the heights, along with James and John, ascending Mount Tabor to pray. These same three will later accompany Jesus to pray in the Garden of Gethsemene, and as they will do there, here too they allow themselves to be overcome with sleep while they wait. 
But they are suddenly roused by a bright light, and as they open their eyes they are presented with an overwhelming sight: Jesus, the one they have professed to be the Christ, the promised Messiah, is standing within a blinding halo of light, his face shining brighter than the sun, his clothing having turned a brilliant white and sparkling brighter than the stars. And standing on either side of him, speaking with him, are Moses, the Law- bringer, and Elijah, who called down fire from the sky, and who was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. 
That great prophet Moses, who brought the people of Israel out of bondage and led them into the freedom of God, who delivered to them the Law from God himself, speaks to Jesus as a student speaks to his teacher. And Elijah, who rebuked kings, and who silenced false prophets, defers to Christ as a servant to his Master. 
In his rapture Peter calls out to Jesus, “Master, this time, this place... it is good for us to be here! Let me build three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah, so that we can stay here, and you will not have to die.” 
O Peter! Again you have been shown heaven, but again you have chosen earth! The one whom you have confessed to be the Messiah has told you that he must descend into death and rise back into life, but you still choose to plant your feet on the earth rather than give it up for heaven. It is right that the Physician commented in his Gospel that you knew not what it is that you have said! For this time, this place, this life is not the one in which we should remain, but Christ must die and rise again so that he can bring us new life, so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 
While Peter is still talking, the same cloud of glory that covered Sinai appears and covers now Tabor, and the Father speaks, his voice sounding like thunder: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 
On hearing the voice the disciples throw themselves down in fear and awe, covering their faces, like the face of Moses was covered, and like Elijah covered his face. But, my brothers and sisters, I want you to pay close attention to what happens next. 
The disciples have prostrated themselves on the ground, filled with fear and awe at the voice of God that has thundered around them, and they have covered their faces, remembering what God told Moses, that no one can look upon Him and live. 
And in this state, as the voice of God echoes away, suddenly a soft, gentle touch. Remember the experience of Elijah, how after the crashing and roaring it was in the soft, gentle breeze that he found God? Well, here, after the brightness of the divine light, and the thunder of the voice from the clouds, the disciples find God in the soft, gentle touch of Jesus, and Jesus says to them, “Rise, and have no fear.” 
As the disciples open their eyes they see only Jesus: Moses and Elijah have vanished, and the brilliant light that had enveloped Christ is gone. 
O Peter, do you understand now what has happened? Though you threw yourself down to the ground, Christ has risen you up once more. You have gone from looking at the earth to having seen the face God, and you lived. The light you saw shining from Jesus is the same light that was reflected in the face of Moses after his encounter on Mount Sinai, that uncreated light that is the glory of God! 
Moses and Elijah, the two people who best represent your Law and Prophets, stood by while it was of Jesus that God the Father proclaimed, “Listen to him!” Where at first you saw three people, now you see that Moses, the Law, and Elijah, the Prophets, have become one in the Gospel, in the person of Jesus, the Christ. 
Peter, James and John have seen with their own eyes their God. Jesus has revealed to them his divine glory and has signaled a new relationship between the Holy Trinity, and the world. Where before He warned Moses that to view his full glory would mean death, now the Word of God has taken the form of his creation, and walks among us. He lowered Himself, so that he might raise us up. 
He who created the world by speaking it into existence, now tells the world, “Rise, and have no fear.” He who reached up his hand to set the stars in the sky and divide the light from the darkness now extends his hand to lift us up from the ground. 
Today we celebrate this event, the Metamorphosis, the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. We are not just remembering an event that happened, but celebrating an event that we are experiencing right now, in this present day. 
When Christ was changed, and he shone with a dazzling light, we see what the Evangelist meant when he wrote that Christ is the light of men, the true light which gives light to every one coming into the world. And what the Psalmist meant when he sang, “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we shall see light,” and Isaiah, when he prophesied that, “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” 
Jesus, both fully human and also fully divine, is that light. He came to show us the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Paradise. To return us to that relationship that existed between humanity and God before the Fall. 
When Adam and Eve cast themselves out of Paradise we hear that God made for them tunics of leather to wear, since they had darkened the original glory in which they were created. But now Christ shines his light in the world, and when a person is baptized in the sacrament that is also known as Holy Illumination, we sing, “Grant me a new garment of light, you who clothe yourself with light as a robe, O most merciful Christ our God.” 
You see, brothers and sisters, if you have been baptized, then God has already clothed you in this robe of light, the garment of salvation. You now wear the same light that shone forth from the top of Mount Tabor 2,000 years ago, the same light that clothed humanity in Paradise at the beginning of our creation, that same light that we were created with when God made us in his image. 
Isaiah prophesied more than 2500 years ago, and we now sing his words today, during every Pascha, “Shine! Shine O New Jerusalem! For the glory of the Lord has a risen over you!” Φωτίζου, φωτίζου ἡ νέα Ἱερουσαλήμ· ἡ γὰρ δόξα Κυρίου ἐπὶ σὲ ἀνέτειλε! We, brothers and sisters, are the New Jerusalem! And these words we sing are not just words of celebration, but a command, a call to action! 
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”  
Now that we have been bathed in His light, we must continue to live in His light. We cannot sit idle and hope that God will somehow transport us into his Kingdom. We are told to “walk,” to move, to continue to progress towards the Kingdom by learning what it is that is acceptable to the Lord. 
God did not appear to Moses on the plains, to Elijah in the valley, to Peter, James and John in the fields. They had to walk, had to climb up the mountain. It took effort, but their effort was rewarded. Brothers and sisters, we too will be rewarded for our efforts, if we bother to make them. We too will be lifted up from the ground by Christ, be comforted from our fears, and be able to look into the face of God and live eternally with him. 
So let us get up, brothers and sisters, from our idleness, let us come out of our darkness, and listen to the prophet Isaiah when says, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”
We must seek after that relationship with God which we were created for. The path back to God can be found in the words of Christ, set down in writing by his followers, and taught for generations by the Church. In the writings known as the New Testament, God is telling us how to walk the path back to him. Read it, learn it, hear the voice of Christ. The Word of God made incarnate in the person of Jesus has shown us the way back to Paradise, as the Psalmist knew well when he sang, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.” 
In closing, let me repeat that last call of the Prophet Isaiah but in the words of a hymn for the vespers of this feast, to show you again hoeOld Testament echoes even now: “Come, let us ascend into the mountain of the Lord, even to the house of our God, and behold the glory of His Transfiguration, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father. Let us receive light from His Light, and with uplifted spirits let us for ever sing the praises of the consubstantial Trinity.” 
He who is worthy of all glory and honor and worship, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What is True Religion?



Today many Orthodox Christians call themselves religious but do not practice a true religion. What do I mean? Let me give two simple examples. One person comes to church periodically. When she comes she makes many prostrations, crosses herself many times, cries, venerates all the icons on the iconostasis, makes a generous donation to the church. Another comes most Sundays and often on a week day and sits quietly in the back. The first, when she leaves the church immediately begins to complain about her health and other problems she has. The other, even though she sufffers from several ailments always has a warm smile and the first thing she is asks in broken English is, "are you OK" . So who has the true religion?

Saint Porfyrios says that the true religion is based on our love of God, not on the form but on substance of this love. He calls it Eros or love with passion. He says when we have this kind of love for God we receive His grace. We live in His light. When we have this light there is no darkness. No matter what we face we find goodness.

He uses the example of ancient people who lived in a cave and blocked the entrance to keep the wind out. Inside it was dark and there was little oxygen. They were not healthy. When they would go outside they would receive the sunlight and fresh air and be rejuvenated. The same he says happens when we receive the light of Christ. Without this light we are like the cave dweller, in darkness. With Hia light we are changed and what was bad becomes good. Darkness becomes light. This is the nature of a True religion.

We can follow all the rules, fast, pray, do metanias, cross ourselves, come to church, read scripture and still not have a true religion.

Saint Porfyrios says,
Often neither labor, nor prostrations, nor crossing ourselves attract God's grace. There are the mysteries. The most important thing is to go beyond the formal aspects and go to the heart of the matter. Whatever is done must be done with love.
 ....
With Christ a person is filled with grace and so lives above evil. Evil does not exist for him. There is only good, which is God. Evil cannot exist. While there is light there cannot be darkness. Nor can darkness encompass him because he has the light. 
The true Christian religion transforms and heals. But this requires our humility. True religion is love. We long for God always and seek union with Him, to live in His light. Without this, religion is a struggle and leaves us confused and weak. We grasp for pious actions. We seek charitable activities, we make prostrations. We try many things but remain confused, quarrelsome or depressed.

The true religion is not a human one. It is one with the true knowledge of the Trinitarian God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Our aim is to be one with Him based on a passionate love for Him. This love extends to all members. Saint Porfyrios describes this love as enthusiasm, madness, an intense longing for the divine. In this way we attract His grace and are changed and find peace and love in Him.

Reference: Wounded by Love, pp 94 - 95.

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Should We Accept Sickness?


Saint Porphyrios gives us an important lesson about illness. His words may be difficult to understand but we must open our soul to receive them so we can follow what the great saint teaches.

When we are in pain we should not think of this as a punishment from God but as a gift. God allows sickness for our benefit. Remember, God is love and is always trying to lead us to become like him so we can enter into His kingdom. Accepting our pain and discomfort as a gift, we must think of it as an opportunity to share in a small way the Passion of Christ.  It is His grace working in us. When we see this in this way we will experience joy that He is with us and allowing us to participate in His passion. It is His Passion that lead to His Resurrection. So we too are being led to our Resurrection by His grace when we experience as pain.

Nor should not fear pain as a sign of death, but think that, if it is our time to die, death is the only door to heaven and eternal life with Him.

Saint Porphyrios says that we should not pray to be relieved of our pain as this can be self-centered. We should instead pray to be forgiven for our sinfulness. Usually our sickness and pain makes us aware of our sinfulness and we feel a need to call on God for help.  We should pray for God to help us become a good person capable of doing His will and follow His commandments.

Sickness humbles us. It makes us realize that we are not in control. It is like the hot fire that purifies gold. The fire heats up the gold metal and the impurities float to the top. Then they are skimmed off leaving pure gold. When we are sick and realize we cannot control the destiny of our life it is like the heat that purifies gold. Our sinfulness comes to the top and with our prayer of forgiveness God can skim off the impurities in our hearts. As we continually sincerely ask for his mercy we find that His grace is given to us in mysterious ways. This faith we have in God's goodness towards us and His saving grace must be pure and unconditional. We must without doubt believe that God is our creator and savior. Based on this faith we must have total love for Him, loving Him more than anyone we know.  With this love we can say like saint Porphyrios says, "Even if you want to put mey in Hell, do so as long as I do not lose your love." For Him God's love had no boundaries.

In sickness Saint Porphyrios teaches us to accept our condition knowing God loves us and that He allows this illness so we can come closer to Him. Remember your sinfulness, continually pray for His mercy and forgiveness, and ask that he make you a good person in His eyes. Do not ask for self-centered things like to make you well but instead ask only that He make you a better person.

Have patience, endurance, and love God with your whole heart.

Reference: Wounded by Love, pp 224 -231

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why do we say Christ is the only Way?


The unique aspect of Christianity is that it is Christ centered. Jesus Christ is the Way and the goal. Through the Church we become united with Christ retaining our individuality. Christianity teaches that any  other union with God is an illusion if it is not achieved through Christ. Christ was given to mankind as the ladder to heaven, to Him. It is through Him that we have access to the Father and Spirit. It is Christ who sends the Spirit. Jesus Christ is like a bridge between human nature and the divine. It is in Christ that both are united. There is no other Way.

To those who see other good people of other faiths often question this. But the Incarnation of the Son of God is a reality that cannot be denied. God sent His son as the Way to His kingdom for our benefit. Fr Staniloae says, Jesus Christ He came for us as "a voice" of love, ringing out with all the affection of a human being, so familiar to us. But this means that man himself was made capable of becoming the medium by which the Son of God is communicated to us..."

When we ascend to God we are "with Him and in Him." Our ascent is  not based on our individual efforts. It is only through Him that we are able to ascend. In the beginning our soul is "sensitized by the Holy Spirit." From this we are able to realize that there is a relationship with Jesus who is the one guiding and helping us along the Way. He is like a good friend, who is more advanced in wisdom and whom we trust, guiding us with love and understanding.

In the beginning Jesus is not visible to us but is hidden in His commandments. We see from the Gospel that He is a model of perfection. As Saint Maximus the Confessor writes, "To beginners he appears in the form of a servant."

As we advance along the Way our vision of Him changes. Initially His true glory is hidden but then it is revealed more and more like the disciples experienced at the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor. His glory is initially hidden in His commandments and as we strive to carry them out and begin to develop the virtues, the presence of Christ becomes clearer. By our cooperation with Him, our faith and commitment to carry out His commandments, we are given greater and greater power of the Spirit to carry them out. In the process the image of Jesus become clearer and clearer. As we make this ascent to higher levels of perfection we are aided by our ascetic efforts and we gain in our mystical contemplation of Christ.We find that Christ is a most intimate participant in every aspect of our life. He imprints "Himself spiritually in us."

He is there to help us in all our struggles of life in this world. He is there when we are tempted and when we sin. He is always at our side helping us along the Way leading us to our true nature. Because He became Man in His divinity we know that He knows our condition.  And because of His love for us that He has shown in His Crucifixion  and Resurrection we have great faith in His help.

The Mysteries of the Church are essential in our ascent. They are how Christ penetrates our inner being. This includes the purification of Baptism, anointing of Holy Chrism, and our partaking of Him in Holy Communion. Nicholas Cabasilas tells us that it is by the medium of the holy mysteries that "Christ comes to us and dwells in us; He is united to us and grows into one with us. He stifles sin in us and infuses into us His own life and merit..."

Our ascent to virtue that comes from faith and results in love is based on our acceptance of a hierarchy in the Church. Those who became saints have been helped by the angels. The church from the lay person, to the priests, bishops and then angles form a ecclesiastical hierarchy whose purpose is to help us grow in virtue and our closeness to God. This hierarchy is realized in degrees as we progress. Fr Staniloae says, "The work of the hierarchy for the salvation of the faithful is essentially exercised through the holy mysteries, especially through Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist." Even those at the hight levels of holiness gain from the holy mysteries and will have a greater vision of their content and profit even more by them.

While we are here on earth the Church is essential for us to make progress. We must accept the hierarchical and sacramental structure of the Church. if we do we will progress toward the heavenly hierarchy of the angels and saint in heaven. The Church is the body of Christ and is the ladder by which we climb.  It is the only ladder God has provided for us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Is the Church Behind the Times?



Recently, I ran across this post on Facebook: "If you say the Church is behind the times, the TIMES must change, not the Church!" While I understand the truth in this statement, as the TIMES do need to change and the Church does protect unchangeable truths, there is also a hidden untruth in this statement. The Church needs get ahead of the TIMES and become a more effective agent for change. The Orthodox Church is also bound by ancient traditions and practices that can make it appear to be out of step with the times and irrelevant. Some of these traditions have become no more than rituals and practices without the deeper meaning they once had. 

When you ask many why they baptize their child they have no answer other than its tradition, often putting more emphasis on the party that follows the sacrament itself. When you ask a couple about marriage they rarely will give you a spiritual answer, but yet insist that the wedding be held in the Church out of tradition, and focus most on planning a huge party, often with a professional planner. The celebrations that come with some of the major feast days are also bound by tradition. For example in Crete there is a huge celebration on the night before the celebration of the Dormition of the Theotokos. The life and meaning of her life is lost in the traditional music and abundance of food that is offered before the Church even celebrates the event with a Divine Liturgy the following morning. The party or meal becomes more significant than the event being celebrated. The platia around the Church is overflowing with people at such an event but on a Sunday there will be only a few inside to participate in the Sacrament. The True food of the Sacrament is secondary to the food and music of the celebration.

When the church still uses ancient Greek, requires its clergy to dress as in ancient times, allows clergy and hierarchs to stand above those they serve wearing crowns, sitting on thrones, holding staffs, acting like emperors of Byzantine times with their attendants, its services are seen no longer by many as a beacon of the Holy Spirit and no longer exuding the feeling of love. This is reinforced when continues with its rituals encouraging old traditions and practices no longer relevant, no longer communicating the message of Christ. Christ becomes lost in the secularized traditions and outdated practices. Instead of leading people to a deeper spirituality the Church can be perceived as preserving an ancient set of rituals and associated traditions that were maybe appropriate for the time and way of life in the Byzantine empire but out of touch today. The issue is that the central message of our Savior who came from heaven to transform and lead us to an eternal life in His kingdom becomes blocked, overtaken by outdated tradition. The Church is no longer seen by many as a spiritual hospital were we all can seek the healing of our souls that are troubled by the TIMES.

When you examine the current situation there is much in the modern Orthodox Church traditions and practices that have nothing to do with the Gospel teachings or with the sacramental duties of the church. I was in Crete for an extended stay and I saw this problem acutely. Talking with younger members there who have been brought up in the faith, seeing the many churches and villages built around the church building, where 90% or more profess to be Orthodox Christians, and serving as a clergyman in the services of a local church, I have became aware how distant the work of the church appears to many people, good people who have pure hearts and who should be the current workers in the church. Basically, it's mainly the old people (mostly women) who come to the churches there now. The younger generation tends to reject the Church as dead, lifeless. They seem to have little respect for the clergy who perpetuate the status quo. They see the Church as perpetuating cultural traditions and not a source for spiritual healing. 

One young lady in her twenties who lives in a small village and has a college degree, said to me, "why is the church so distant, separated from the people." At first I was surprised at her comment. It woke me up to think about this issue. I was encouraging her to talk with a priest about confession and spritual growth. She gently held her hand to her heart and humbly said this is what is important. God is here and not in the church. I try to live according to Christian principles but the Church does not seem to be an example for me. She said she had never been to confession and that the priests did not relate to the people. She did not feel they set an example that is any different than the TIMES. She saw them busily going from church to church in the villages doing services tied to local traditions, doing their job. She further said that when she goes into the church she does not have any feeling of the spirit, (again holding her hand to her heart), but she sees priests and chanters going through rituals, rambling in a language is not easily understood as it is an ancient form of Greek, and dressed in elaborate uniforms. She did not feel the services were helpful for her and that she attended only because of her family tradition. When I tried again to encourage her to talk with a priest, she said, "why don't they do something about changing the environment in the church and so it is a beacon of Spirit and try to better relate to the people so they will want to seek them out for guidance. They are too busy to talk with us." 

The Church does have and protects the Truth, but it is also is bound up in rituals and traditions, many of which may no longer communicate what Christ teaches. In fact, its clinging to the past may block many from learning the true Gospel message. Rather than being a source of Wisdom it can become a hinderance to learning the Wisdom She has.

Change is needed in my view. The clergy is trapped in tradition and they often argue about the details of the ritual or their dress, or politics of which church higher in rank. The emphasis of the church needs to be redirected toward spiritual healing and growth and not just on ritual and preservation of traditions that consist mainly of parties and no longer have spiritual value. There needs to be more emphasis on the Ten Points of an Orthodox Way of Life that have been presented many times in this blog. The Church needs to seek ways  to encouraged its members to participate in the sacraments as a way to help them in their spiritual struggle, not to fulfill ancient traditions or a family obligation. They need to hear the hymns in their native language and be allowed to express the church's beliefs inside the church in a modern language and not feel called to preserve a language only a few understand. They need to be encouraged to participate. They ought to be engaged to study the Scripture, to better understand the reality of the life of Christ and His teachings, to learn the wisdom of the Church fathers, and learn how to apply this wisdom to their current daily life. The church needs to reach out to those who suffer with anxiety and mild depression and help them see how this is related to a spiritual struggle we all face. As they discover the difficulty of their unchecked passions they should be encouraged to fast as a way to control them, not just to gain peace, but so they can have a personal relationship with God and grow in their ability to do His will instead of Christ's teachings being just another set of ancient obligations. The Church needs the capacity to instruct its members on the necessity to make time for personal prayers, how to pray and seek the joy of a peaceful inner life focused on the Holy Spirit and Christ who lives within each of them. It needs to provide a welcoming loving spiritual community so that when people come into the church service they see and relate to people who are seeking true communion with God. The clergy must be an shining example of persons who strive to live the Truths and who are always available to offer spiritual guidance as true spiritual fathers.

There are many Orthodox Churches who have changed from the traditional church found in the ancient Byzantine village, but there are still many where the spirit is not alive, where it is no longer a beacon of the Spirit, where tradition and ritual continue as part of our secular TIMES. Our younger generation senses this and is not encouraged to become active members.

The younger generations needs an Orthodox Church with its foundation of Wisdom and Truth, but with a way of communicating these truths that is relative to the TIMES. So yes, the Times need to change, but if we are going to change the TIMES, the Church also needs to change.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why is the Holy Trinity Essential in Orthodox Spirituality?



This is a difficult but important question. The foundation of our spiritual life is based on the nature of God, One God in Three Persons, The Holy Trinity. So why is this truth about God so important in the Orthodox understanding of Theosis, our aim to seek union with God? How can our unity with God in eternity be guaranteed? Only if the divinity has also taken on flesh. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His Son, shows the love God has for man. Why? Because for our union to be possible God cannot be some impersonal being. Because of the Triune nature of God, in our path to unity with God we will never lose our identity. It is because God has become man that we too will be assured of our identity in our eternal life. Like Christ related to the Father we too will have a personal relationship in heaven for eternity with Him nourished in His love. Since we know God to be trinitarian we know God can never be reduced to some infinite oneness but always exists as Three Persons. This is the true nature of God as found in Holy Scripture. The Orthodox Saints use the terms "life in Christ", Life in Spirit, and the "Spiritual life" to describe the nature of union with God.

The distinguishing feature of Christianity is this Triune nature of God. God became Man to transform us in Spirit. He communicates to us by the Spirit and His uncreated energies. God is never distant from us because His uncreated energies support our existence and nurture our spiritual growth.

Saint Simeon the New Theologian describes the union experienced by him as follows.
Even at night and in the midst of darkness I see, trembling, Christ opening the heaven for me and I behold how He himself beholds me from there and He sees me here and below together with the Father and the Spirit in the thrice holy light. Because this is one and the same nevertheless in three images, although it is only one. And it illuminates my soul brighter than the sun and floods my spirit covered with gloom.... And this miracle was even the more astonishing because it opened my eyes and helped me to see, and that which I saw is He himself. Because this light helped those who behold to know themselves in light of those who see in light see Him again. For they see the light of Spirit and in as much they see Him, they see the Son. Now he who has been made worthy to see the Son, sees also the Father.
Note how Saint Simeon sees God in distinct three persons. This is quite different from the way many western mystics like Eckhart see God. Eckhart only sees God as a unity of persons, one thing. While Simeon sees God in the differentiation of the three persons. Christians from the earliest times have seen Christ as the Son, something which is much greater than simply Christ the man. When we are blessed with divine insight in union with God we will find the living relationship between man and God like that which exists in the relationship among the Holy Trinity.

This relationship of the Three persons is also a demonstration of pure love of God. From this we know that God is truly love. Not only is He a God of love but our union with Him demands our love of Him.

Staniloae writes
Only a perfect community of supreme persons can nourish with its unending and perfect love, our thirst for love in relation to it and between ourselves. This relationship cannot be theory but must be lived too. This is so because love isn't satisfied with only being theory, but wants to give itself, to welcome and be welcomed...
The Trinity, radiated by this love which is proper to it, can't be lived and conceived without it uncreated energies in ever increasing levels. Love is characterized by this paradox. One the one hand it unites object who love each other, on the other hand, it doesn't confuse their identity...
God wants to gradually extend the gift of His infinite love to another order of conscious subjects and namely to created ones. He wants to extend this love in its paternal form as toward other sons united with His Son. 
So after the creation of man, He wanted His Son to become man so that His love for His Son, made man, would be a love which is directed toward any human face, like that of His Son. In the Son made flesh we are all adopted by the Father... God made man as an image of His Son so that His Son could become man too. The Father loves all of us in His Son, because the Son was made our brother....The Son's love for us isn't separated from the Father's love for us, but in His love as a brother He makes the Father's love and also His love for the Father, engulf us. In us the Father welcomes other loving and loved sons because His Son was made our beloved brother.
Also, with this love of the Father and our love for Him in Christ, love is poured on us in the form of the Holy Spirit, His uncreated energies.

Staniloae
If the Son had not become man we would not have received the love of the Father. It is in Christ as man that it reached us. It is by the incarnate Son that the Holy Spirit radiates within humanity and the world is the love of God for us of outs for God.
It is the Spirit that brings into creation Trinitarian love raising creation to the level of divine love and Theosis. This is why we invoke the Holy Spirit in all our sanctifying services. It is by the Holy Spirit that creation is raised up to the divine world and the divine realm penetrates us. With this we are changed. This is the nature of Orthodox spirituality. Our aim is to acquire his uncreated energy that comes though the love of God in the Holy Spirit. This much more than the understanding of God intellectual through the Scriptures. Man can be joined with God though His uncreated energies that we are blessed with by the Holy Spirit.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality by Fr, Dumitru Staniloae, pp 46-55.