Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Church in the Public and Political Sphere



The Church has recently completed and published a very important document: FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church. In a series of posts I will provide the highlights of this very important document and encourage you to study the full document. I have tried not to editorialize but only to emphasize some of the main points in each section. We begin with, “The Church in the Public Sphere.”

The foundation of the Church’s position on its role in the public sphere is Love.  This is the first and great commandment of the Law, to love God with one’s whole heart and one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:37–39). We are created to serve God and are made in His image. This means we are “called into loving communion with our neighbors and the cosmos.” ”It is only through our participation in the community of Christ’s body that any of us, as a unique object of divine love, can enter into full union with God. Our spiritual lives, therefore, cannot fail also to be social lives.” 

We live in a fallen world that is “broken and darkened, enslaved to death and sin, tormented by violence and injustice.” Because we are servants of God we must “strive against evil, however invincible it may at times appear, and to work for the love and justice.” In this obligation it may require “self-sacrifice.” Jesus Christ is our model, how he gave His life for us. We must follow Hm. To be a good servant we must rid ourselves of the “obstinate selfishness of our own sinful inclinations, and to undertake a constant effort to cultivate in ourselves the eye of charity.” We must see the face of Christ in others.

We need to have an attitude of compassion when it comes to dealing with those who are “the poor and disenfranchised, the abused and neglected, the imprisoned, the hungry, the weary and heavy-laden, the despairing.” We always need to remember how Christ condemned the wealthy and a luxurious way of life at the expense of caring for those in need. We must have concern about “indifference to the plight of the oppressed, and of exploitation of the destitute.”

Concerning our political sphere we must always remain Christ centered. For a Christian our “hope lies in the Kingdom of God and not in the kingdoms of this world.” We are not to put our trust “in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146[145]:3). There is no form of government that is perfect. “The Orthodox Church cannot judge all forms of human government as equivalent with one another, even though all fall far short of the Kingdom.” The Church “condemns every kind of institutional corruption and totalitarianism.” We are to obey authorities because this is needed for social order, but “When the commands of even a legally established political authority contradict our responsibilities as Christians, ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).” We should not “seek to advance the Christian faith through the use of political power or legal coercion.” Neither should we “surrender to a debilitating and in many respects fantastical nostalgia for some long-vanished golden era, and to imagine that it constituted something like the sole ideal Orthodox polity.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Fear of Coronavirus


Do you know what is scary to most of us over 70? That there are silent carriers of the virus and that the health care system will soon be overwhelmed. When you get sick, even if you are a pretty healthy 70+ person, that you will be sent to a hospital with inadequate facilities, being unable to breath. Not one of your loved ones will be able to visit you, no one to hold your hand, to give you a caring smile, not even a priest. Then if you die after suffocating, lying on a mattress in the hallway, there will be no church funeral and possibly sent to a mass grave.  No normal grieving by loving family and friends.

This image is terrifying to many. But there are a few who have a very strong faith, who are not presently attached to activities of this world, who have a personal experience with God, who know first hand His love, who will welcome the call to death as the opportunity to enter into His Kingdom as promised in Scripture. They will not have fear.

If you are one who is fearful, then now is the time to intensify you search for union with Christ, to seek the Holy Spirit, to have a complete confession, even if it has to be done over the phone with a priest. You may not have the opportunity for Holy Communion, but Confession with a priest will suffice.
Read Scripture, not spicy novels, watch videos by spiritual people on YouTube, say the Jesus prayer throughout the day. Never forget that God is a loving God and Christ is ever present. He is within each of us who have been Baptized and Chrismated. He will not leave us. Call on Him like David in the Psalms. Let Him embrace you like Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Remember His suffering on the Cross to defeat death and show the way through resurrection. He is eternal, He is Love. He wants you in His Kingdom forever. Trust in Him. Be humble and surrender to Him. Seek forgiveness for all the ways you have not lived up to His teachings. Seek His mercy. He is all merciful. Reach out for Him with your whole heart. He will bring you comfort and joy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Seeking a Spiritual Union with God? — Basics of Orthodox Christian Prayer

How you pray affects the reality of your relationship with God. In the attached presentation is a summary of the principles of Orthodox Christian prayer that aid you in an ascent to a spiritual union with Christ. It is the 7th session in our series, Path to Salvation.


For more on prayer go to www.orthodox prayer.org


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A psalm to pray in this difficult time

Psalm 91
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers,
and under his wings shalt thou trust:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side,
and ten thousand at thy right hand;
but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge,
even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and shew him my salvation.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Brief History of the Orthodox Church



The Orthodox faith is about a Christ centered way of life. With faith and knowledge of Christ we begin to see our sinful condition. We learn that we have in our subconscious self many desires the church fathers call passions. We can also think of these as habits. It because of these that we find it so difficult to live all the things Christ has taught us. 
An Orthodox life, therefor, involves a struggle against these passions. To succeed in this struggle we need more than our self effort. We need divine grace. This is why Jesus taught His disciples the sacraments and empowered them with the Holy Spirit to establish Churches, ecclesias. The Church is for our healing
If we are to become Christ like, we need to surrender our will to engage in  the teachings He gave us through the Church. This involves regular participation in the sacraments, daily prayer an fasting and many others. 
To do this we must have confidence that the Orthodox Church is the true church, one that has His teachings undistorted by innovations. This is the role that history plays. By understanding the History of the Eastern Orthodox Church we learn how His truth was kept pure.
This video gives you a basic overview of this history.


Monday, March 9, 2020

Struggle with the Passions

Struggle with the Passions


The way of Life for an Orthodox Christian involves overcoming our passions. This is a struggle requiring our effort in cooperation with divine grace. In our fallen condition our brain is stronger than our soul. It operates based on patterns we call habits. 47% of our actions are based on automatic responses. Living a life of repentance we have to break these habits and develop God pleasing habits. This is difficult and why Christ gave us the Church with its sacramental life, guidelines for daly prayer, fasting, reading of Scripture and the Church Fathers, participation in spiritual fellowship like Bible study groups, and a spiritual father to guide us.



Monday, March 2, 2020

When Attacked, Respond with Love and Humility

Psalm 37 (38) verses 14 & 15 say in response to slander and personal attacks described in previous verses:
But I like a deaf man do not hear, And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth. I am like a man who does not hear, And who has no reproofs in his mouth
David demonstrates this in the story of Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-13). It is about an man who cursed and threw stones at David, but David did not respond or retaliate. Instead he accused himself of being worthy of such reproof. He responded in this way even though he had soldiers with him who could have killed Shimei who was from an enemy camp. 
Reflecting on this story we are reminded how we too are called to act in this way. But we realize how difficult it is to act similarly when we are attacked in anyway. 
The commentary of St. Ambrose on this Psalm reminds us of how Christ similarly responded as He was being falsely accused by Pilot.  As Elder Aimilianos says, “To be sure, it is no small thing to be patient, to act as if nothing were happening, when others are slandering you”
David shows how when we trust in God, we can recognize our own sinfulness when attacked by others and respond only with love. With love we will be like one who does not hear and is like a mute with no reproofs in his mouth.

From Saint Porphyrios says:
When someone injures us in whatever way, whether with slanders or with insults, we should think of him as our brother who has been taken hold of by the enemy. He has fallen victim to the enemy. Accordingly we need to have compassion for him and entreat God to have mercy both on us and on him, and God will help both. If, however, we are filled with anger against him, then the enemy will jump from him to us and make a mockery of us both. A person who condemns others does not love Christ. Our egotism is at fault. This is where condemnation of others stems from. (Wounded by Love, p 18)