Monday, August 19, 2019

What is Happiness?

The prophet David gives us an answer in Psalm 118:
I have inherited Thy testimonies for ever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. (Psalm 118:111)

Once one has faith in Jesus Christ, accepts His teaching, has committed to living by them, then he will have a spiritual joy that will never cease. These teachings, when accepted with faith, fill our heart, promising a future life that overcomes our physical death. When death is no longer something to be feared, we feel an inner peace. There is longer need for anxiety. This is the force behind a self-centered way of being and is destroyed. We can then enjoy true happiness. We become embraced in His love. 

What is happiness? Saint Theophan says,
A state that rejoices the heart. Happy is he who is gladdened by everything that is in him, with him, and near him.
And what is the means to this happiness, he continues:
Take God’s testimonies, the decrees of God’s will, attested to by God Himself, with all love and desire, and abide in them with the firm intention to be faithful to them forever—and this will pour into your heart a joy that will not depart from it forever, so that the transition from one life into the other will be for him nothing else but a change of the joy of this earth to a joy that is never ending and indescribable.
This is the full message of Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes. Saint Theophan offers this summary of Jesus’ most important talk:
If you want to be blessed, that is happy all around—be humble, contrite of heart, meek, loving righteousness, compassionate, pure of heart, peace-making, patient and good natured.
The path to true happiness is not pleasure seeking, acquiring greater material well being or wealth, making more friends, enhancing the way we look, having a grand vacation or a fine meal. All these things may bring a temporary sense of happiness, but do not last because we alway seek more and more. True happiness only comes as Prophet David says, when we accept as our inheritance all the testimonies of or Lord. Filling our life in following them, knowing we will overcome death, our heart is filled with His grace and unending joy.

This message is given not just by the prophets, but also by Jesus, His Apostles and the Church fathers. This message is at the foundation of the Church and her liturgies and teachings. They are all geared to help us overcome our present way of life and to instead embrace Christ and His testimonies. With humility and passionate love of Christ, we will be blessed with everlasting joy.

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p249

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dormition of the Theotokos

On August 15th we celebrate the fallen no asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos - The Dormition.

This feast commemorates the death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ's mother.

According to Orthodox Tradition, Mary died like all humanity, "falling asleep," so to speak, as the name of the feast indicates. She died as all people die, not "voluntarily" as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.

To help us in our preparation of this feast, it is preceded by a two week fast.

For complete story of this feast use this link
There you will find information on the following.
Preparations for Her Repose• Her Repose• Procession and Internment in Garden of Gethsemane• Translation of Her Body to Heaven
• Appearance to Apostles
• Hymns
• A Homily on the Dormition by Saint Gregory Palamas

Link to all articles on this blog about the dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How do we see noetically? The fruit of Prayer

What are the stages to this ability to see God in truth? Saint Theophan tells us that when this stage of our spiritual life comes, it comes without any effort or prior exercise, it will be like this:
A song to God will be born in the heart, pour out from your mouth, and fly towards heaven. That is a song of glorification, thanksgiving, and every kind of prayer. If this has begun to happen to you, then know that you are already in your place, in the rank of angels, continuously glorifying and hymning God Whom they see noetically.
As we reach the higher stages of prayer we will find there comes a time when the mind prays without any effort, without the use of our willpower. Saint Theophan explains this way,
This of course is mental prayer. Mental prayer little by little warms up the heart and ushers it into another prayer—prayer of the mind and heart. The heart, having become accustomed to prayer under the influence of the mind, and having warmed up, begins of itself to advance to prayer and to draw the mind into it. This is prayer of the heart—the true prayer, as it ought to be, a prayer which encompasses the whole nature of a man; for where the heart is, there is the whole person. This condition reveals itself by a drawing within, which occurs during prayer, reading, reflection, and, even without all of this, during any pursuit. 
For most of us reading this, including myself, this kind of prayer of the heart is something that we yearn for. But it is not something we can force. When we are properly prepared God will give us this gift. 

Saint Theophan,
But one ought to know that it is not the fruit of the labor of praying alone, but a consequence of the whole God-pleasing life, of all the labors of doing good and asceticism, and it comes to light when the heart begins to approach purity.
The Prophet David says to pray,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Ps 50:10)
My lips shall pour forth a hymn when Thou has taught me Thy statues. (Ps 118:171)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 335-336


Monday, August 5, 2019

How is Fear Related to Faith

Faith is a gift from God that has been planted is us like a seed. With faith everything is clear. There are no obstacles in the path to live according to God’s commandments. With faith in God we are free of fear.

When we have committed ourselves to walk the pathway in life according to God’s commandments based on faith, we receive grace and develop zeal to always carry our His word. With true faith we are like the martyrs in that nothing will push us off this path. When we come to branches in the path the right one to take is clear. 

Saint Theophan gives us a parable:
Imagine a person walking on a bent and shaking board over a deep ravine — what fear, what sinking of the heart, what danger of falling at any moment. A few steps and such a person either falls or turns back, unable to cross using such a board. Imagine again, that for some reason all the objects surrounding this person begin to spin, and the earth seems to move, he definitely will fall. But he who walks on a solid bridge and sees that all things surrounding him are in their proper places, in the usual order, will not experience anything of the sort. Such is the one who believes.’ As the eye sees all material objects, so faith sees spiritual objects, each in its place, in its order, and in its relationship to other things. That is why a walk in the light of such a faith, which fills the soul with a confidence that gives to the one who walks boldness to step unafraid upon the way ahead, is never accompanied by hesitations, fears, and the spinning of thoughts, and therefore is completed successfully. But on the contrary, the one who walks without faith cannot be free of fears; sometimes he walks also, but as if upon knives. For this reason he cannot continue; rather, having tried, he quits.
Faith is a gift: of grace, but its seed has been put into our nature. Our mind ought to clearly see the spiritual and to give it as a guide to the soul. Our mind is a natural window into the spiritual world. But since it has been closed by sin, and a person cannot live without knowledge of the spiritual, it has been the pleasure of the merciful Lord to give the external a revelation of concealed spiritual and divine things. When this word is received with a lively faith, then it turns out the same as if the mind sees these things itself. Faith wipes away the haziness from this window, which is turned towards the spiritual world. The walking of the path of faith cleanses the mind and returns to it, through the action of grace, the lost ability to see the spiritual and the divine. Then, mingled with faith, by the power of God’s Spirit, it again becomes a window into the divine world. There is no other way there. No matter how much vain philosophy has puzzled over that realm, it has engendered only illusory notions — sometimes very beautiful, but always false (See St. Isaac the Syrian, Word 55).

It is through faith that we can make this commitment to always follow the commandments. With faith we are able to do as the Prophet David’s writs, “I have sworn and resolved that I will keep the judgement of Thy righteousness.”

Saint Theophan says,
Thus, he who walks in the light of faith, having accepted without reflection all of the divinely revealed will of God, walks as if under the light of a brightly shining sun, and will never stumble over anything.

As I reflect on this it becomes clear that faith is linked with my ability to truly commit to always follow His commandments in all aspects of my life. It becomes an unshakable vow to God. I believe in You, I put must full trust in You, i will never allow myself to deviate from this pure pathway. I will call on you daily to help me do this and when I err I will with humility seek repentance. It involves the highest level of commitment to never chose to waver from this path. This is not a weekend endeavor but an every day, every hour, every minute commitment. It is faith that gives me hope that no matter how difficult the path is you will be with me and giving me strength to persevere.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Order Your Life Like Heaven

When we examine the nature of the physical world we see that it has a perfect order. We have discovered that there are laws of nature established by God from the beginning of creation. The moon follows its path around the earth, the earth maintains its path around the sun. The atoms and molecules that make up the solid elements we find in a table or chair keep their order. Likewise, God has given us laws so we can live an orderly life. This is the way of heaven, orderly. This should become the way of our life. If we can only seek God’s Grace, then with humility act in harmony with it, we will become like Christ, perfected. This is all God is asking of us. Be like the sun and the moon or the atoms or molecules. Find the path to earthly discipline so you can overcome all the passions residing in your heart and body, to become capable of following all the aspects of the law that God has shone us by the Incarnation of His Son.

Saint Ambrose writes the following:
You see, what abides in heaven should abide in you. Then keep God’s word in your heart, and keep it in such a way that it will not be forgotten. Keep God’s law and learn from it. If you want to find the power of this prophetic saying, [For ever, O Lord, Thy word abideth in heaven (Psalm 118:89)], raise yourself from the visible to the mental, and take from it moral lessons. If God’s word abides in heaven, let us imitate heaven where it is abiding. Follow the example of heaven in your life. Is there any breach of the law in the sun? Does it not always follow the usual path? And does not the moon always, in a similar order, decrease and increase its disk? And is not the relation and apparent movement of the stars in heaven always the same? Thus everything in the heavens keeps its law and abides in its order. Let the word of God abide in you just as immutably, determining your line of action.
Saint Hilary says, when we were baptized and chrismated we received the seal of the Holy Spirit. We learned God’s commandments. When we follow this law, draw on the Help of His grace, we can act like Christ,  exemplify the image in which we were created, and live in peace with everyone and in all things.  ”

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 213-214.

Ten Points for Living an Orthodox Life

Monday, July 29, 2019

Avoiding Vanity and Vainglory

Turn away mine eyes that I may not see vanity, quicken Thou me in Thy way.
Psalm 118:37

We have all suffered from vanity, vainglory or pride. Saint Theophan defines vanity as “everything that is contrived and done not out of necessity or for benefit, but for delight of one’s senses and desires.” Our world is filled with such temptations. We are bombarded with advertisements that play on our inclination toward vanity. In the Psalm verse Prophet David is saying that we must turn our eyes away. But unless we are in a desert this is impossible and still live in the world. Our challenge is a big one. We must develop a strong will to turn our attention away from these temptations. Not to let ourselves become attached to them by reminding ourselves that this desire for such worldly ways can lead to the death of our soul. That it is imperative to keep our eyes on the way of God’s commandments. This is where there we will find eternal life.

Apostle Paul writes,
Seek those things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:1-3)
We must pay attention to the purpose of everything we do. It not good enough to to think what is good, but also what is our purpose for what we intend. We should avoid all actions that can be considered vain. This means avoiding doing any thing that is for our self glory.

Saint Theophan singles out vainglory.
In this vanity, the first place is taken by human glory, for which many and great things have been done by men, called great in this world and much glorified by the public — people who have sought glory not from God, but from men; and, being vain, they received their vain reward.
Desiring to turn away the eyes of his disciples from vanity, the Lord urges them not to do any good in order to be seen by men, lest they have no reward from their heavenly Father. Later, when He began to give them commandments on good deeds in detail — about charity, prayer, fasting — He everywhere suggested that none of it be done for the praise of men, saying that those who act with such an aim have already received their reward (Matt 6:1-23) — not the eternal one, set aside by the heavenly Father for the saints, but the temporal one, which is sought by those who in their doings have on their mind the vain praise of men. And to do anything for this praise means to have ones eyes turned to vanity. Not human praise is to be blamed, for people cannot help but praise good deeds — but to be carried away by it and to do something for its sake is to be blamed.
Even when praise is bestowed upon a righteous person (without his seeking) by men, even then he should not dwell in it or delight in it, but ascribe it to God s glory, for which alone is everything good done by truly good people — for they are good through Him, and not on their own.

It may seem harsh, but to live a God pleasing life we need to challenge ourselves on all self centered activity. This is not an easy task as we tend to defend our ego strenuously. This is probably the main I’ll of our time. It began in earnest with the me generation. Now in everything we do we are tempted by business who seek to profit from our vanity.

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 103-105.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Development of a Moral Life is Progressive

The development of a moral life is progressive. It’s like our progression in life where we naturally progress from youth, to mature adult and then old age. The same is the development of our moral Christian life. First, in the youth of our spiritual life, one needs to come to know Jesus Christ and learn about living a life according to His teachings. Believing in the Gospel is a necessary first step. After being baptized, one begins to try to put all His commandments he has learned into practice and to continue learning in greater depth what Jesus has taught us. We do this with the hope in the promise that Jesus showed us, eternal life in His kingdom. 

To advance to a mature moral life, with the vision of Christ as the perfect human being, one strives to become like Him. One learns that Christ established the Church for our benefit. We learn the Orthodox way of life that includes fasting, daily prayer, repentance, regular participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and continuing study of Holy Scripture and the writings of the church fathers. 

To stay on this path requires the development of an unshakable faith in who He is and that His commandments will lead to what He has promised. Hope must be part of a mature Faith. As we progress and begin to live a moral life God sends His grace to help us. We cannot advance to old age in our spiritual life with only our own efforts. Most important is His Grace. This we must always seek.

Saint Theophan describes it like this:
The beginner tries to join the ranks of those who are making progress, those who are making progress in the ranks of the perfect. Here, the force that moves ahead is hope which, promising what is better, beckons further and further and calls for an all-out effort. Such an attainment is its own measure of recompense. One who enters the path of virtue at first does so from fear of God and a demand of the conscience. Although from the very beginning one expects from this a life of true well-being, this very expectation is held only through faith in God Who is true in His promises; from life itself he does not yet receive any corroboration. 'This corroboration becomes available when, after a few experiences of that sort in life, the soul begins to the fruits thereof. Feeling the fruits is the receiving of recompense; but this does not stop hope in the sense that if you have already received, why hope? For no matter how strong the feeling of well being from walking of the commandments, it will never enter to the extent of what is promised by hope, which as that feeling progresses elevates its own promises. That is the way in all degrees of spiritual perfection; and for one who has attained the very height of perfection, it opens the gates of eternity and inspires him with the expectation of the endless and indescribable good thing there. This is what a vivifier and comforter the Lord has given us in hope.

With faith come hope. This develops to a level of certainty as we begin to experience His grace. With this or love of God intensifies were we have fear that we could lose His love. This Hope, fear and love motivate us to continue toward a perfect moral life.

Saint Theophan,
Faith, encouraged by hope, teaches to walk faithfully in God’s commandments and justifications. This labor of walking is their immediate task; but from it finally emerges love — whole, pure, all-engulfing. Being a fire itself, it turns faith and hope into fire; then all of man’s spirit becomes fire. This serves as testimony that he has become pure; and God, worshipped in the Trinity, has begun to dwell in him, through the benevolence of the Father, holiness of the Spirit and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.

I have inclined my heart to perform Thy statutes for ever for a recompense. (Psalm 118:112)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 251.