Monday, September 16, 2019

Understanding the Lord’s Prayer (3) - Hallowed Be Thy Name

To be hallowed means to be holy. Saint John Chrysostom says the prayer “commands him who prays to seek that He [God] may be glorified also by our life.” We as God’s children, those who dare to call Him Father, to Hallow Him we too must become holy. In this way He is glorified through us. 

God is perfect, all holy. The meaning therefore cannot be to make God more holy. Saint Cyril says, “We say then, that men do not supplicate for any addition of holiness to accrue unto God over all: for who is greater than He, and able to give Him any increase?” It is we who must become like God. God must be glorified through our way of life.

Saint Theophylact says similarly,
This means, make us Holy, so that Thou mightiest be glorified through us. For just as God is blasphemed through me, so also He is hallowed through me, He is glorified as the Holy One.Theophylact on Matthew p 58
Saint Cyril of Alexandria puts it this way,
For when it is our settled conviction and belief, that He Who by nature is God over all, is Holy of the Holies, then we confess His glory and supreme majesty; then we receive His fear into our mind, and lead upright and blameless lives, that by thus becoming ourselves holy, we may be able to be near unto the holy God.
The prayer, therefore, is "May Thy Name be kept holy in us, in our minds and wills." For this is the signification of the word, "hallowed."

Again we are reminded and committing ourselves to perfecting ourselves in God’s image and likeness. We are asking for help to understand all He has commanded of us and to guide us in our daily life so we can glorify Him by the way we live. God is not requesting any addition be made to His holiness. He wants us to pray that we posses a holy mind, true faith, and develop the feeling that His name is most holy.

Saint John Cassian says,
The hallowing of God is our perfection.... We are saying in other words: Make us such, Father that we may deserve to understand and grasp how great your hallowing is and, of course, that you may appear as hallowed in our spiritual life... when people see in us our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.Cassian 9th Conference, p 342
Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes,
I think, we should pray and regard it as the sum of prayer, that the Name of God should not be blasphemed but rather be glorified and be hallowed through our way of life.
We say this prayer with the understanding that our aim in our life here on earth is to actualize in all our actions His perfection, His love, His humility. We are paying that we will in fact glorify Him by our actions. When we believe He is holy then we will have fear for Him and we will accept that His will is our means to holiness.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa puts it this way,
the meaning of these words apply to me actualizing God's blessings. Lord, through the cooperation of Your help, may I become blameless, just and pious. Abstaining from every evil, may I speak the truth, practicing righteousness and walking on the straight path. May I shine with prudence, be adorned with incorruption, and be beautified with wisdom and discernment.
One way we hallow His name is to pray for the whole world. We must pray for the believers and non-believers, for those with strong faith and those with weak faith. 

Saint Cyril writes,
Following the footsteps of Christ, Who according to the words of John is the "Advocate with the Father... for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1 Jn. 2: 1). Therefore He Who is the Intercessor for the saints, and for the whole world, wills that His disciples be like Himself.
It is as Saint Cassian so simply says,
We testify that our desire and our joy is the glory of our Father, since we have become imitators of him who said: “The one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is no righteousness in him.   Cassian 9th Conference p 341

References: Saint Cyril of Alexandria’s Homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, Saint Theophylact’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint Gregory of Nyssa discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Understanding the Lord’s Prayer (2): Who art in heaven

When we choose to call God our Father and add, “Who art in heaven,” we acknowledge that God’s homeland is in heaven. What does this imply for us? That being His Children, we too see our homeland in heaven.

Saint Theophylact says,
By saying  “in the heavens” He has revealed to you your fatherland and your paternal home. For if you desire to have God as your father, then look toward heaven and not toward earth. Theophylact on Matthew p 58
We now live on earth and it seems far removed from heaven. We may feel like our Father is a long way away. Honoring His abode in Heaven we must have a great desire to be united with Him. Our aim becomes having a place in Heaven. Wanting to be good children of His, we want to do what is necessary to be worthy of a life in His homeland.

Saint Cassian says,
We sojourn on this earth as on a journey and are kept at a far distance from our Father, we may instead hasten with great desire to that region in which we say that our Father dwells and do nothing that would make us unworthy of this profession of ours and of the nobility of so great an adoption... Cassian 9th Conference p341
This prayer reminds us where we as humans have fallen from. When God created man and women they were in Paradise, But, unable to follow his direction, they were cast out to toil and suffer a mortal life on earth. We also know that we were created in His image and likeness and belong with Him there. We have no choice when we choose to recite this prayer to commit ourselves to a way of life that is like heaven.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes,
They remind us of the homeland from which we have fallen and of the noble status from which we have been exiled... by directing you to address God as your own Father in prayer, commands nothing less than that you become like the heavenly.
References: Saint Cyril of Alexandria’s Homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, Saint Theophylact’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint Gregory of Nyssa discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Understanding the Lord’s Prayer (1): Our Father

Most of us memorized the Lord’s Prayer when we were very young. We continue to repeat it, often without much feeling. For many, we recite it out of habit. We should not be lulled to sleep in this way. This is a prayer given to us by God Himself. It has great meaning and teaches us how we are to pray.

Most Church Fathers commenting on this prayer begin with an exclamation and question, “How can we dare call God our father?” When the priest calls us to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the Divine Liturgy as we prepare to receive Holy Communion he says,  “And grant us, Master, with boldness and without condemnation, to dare call You, the heavenly God, Father, and to say...” Why does he say it takes boldness that we would dare to say this prayer?
Have you thought about why you are willing to call God, “Our Father”? 

This prayer was taught to His disciples. It wasn’t a general prayer given to all mankind. It is a prayer for Christians who have a devotion to Christ and consider themselves a disciple. The first phrase of the prayer, “Our Father”, is a bold assertion because it means we assume we are like him. We have many traits that are like our biological father, so using the same word, it must mean that we think we are God’s children and also share in His attributes. So from the first two words of this prayer we are affirming that we are children of the Triune God, accept that we are created in His image, desire to become like Him, and are willing to be instructed by Him. How can we dare call Him “Our Father”?

Saint Gregory of Nyssa says;
One thing is very clear. If we had any sense, we would not dare address God with such a name and say "Father," unless we perceived a reflection of the same attributes in ourselves. For it is impossible that God who is good in His very essence should be the Father of anyone engaged in evil activities. 
God sent His only begotten Son to take on flesh and become fully human while remaining fully God. He came to rescue us from the slavery to sin. In Scripture it reads, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1: 11-13). Giving to us the destiny to become like Him, one of His children, he commands us to call Him Father.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria says;
He commands us, therefore, to take boldness and say in our prayers, "Our Father." We children of earth and slaves, and subject by the law of nature to Him Who created us, call Him Who is in heaven "Father."
Saint Theophylact says;
By saying “Father”, the Lord shows you of what good things you have been deemed worthy, having become son of God.
Theophylact on Matthew p 57
Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that when we dare to call God our father we must demonstrate our kinship with Him. How? By our way of life. Knowing the perfect nature of God we are attesting to the fact that we too can become perfect. We also know that He loves us and will help us grow into this perfection as good children. We have committed ourselves to be like Him. We do this because we love him dearly. He is the one who gave us life.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria says;
if we call God "Father," and have been counted worthy of so distinguished an honor, must we now necessarily lead holy and thoroughly blameless lives, and so behave as is pleasing to our Father, and neither think nor say anything unworthy or unfit for the freedom that has been bestowed upon us?
What is a primary attribute of God? He is unchangeable and eternal. This implies that if we are so bold to call him Father, then we acknowledge that we have a soul that is eternal and desires to be unchangeable. But we know that at present we are filled with worldly passions, desires, happiness and sadness. It seems to be ever changing. How can we be a child of Him who is perfect and unchangeable? The recitation of this prayer commits ourselves to a path of perfection, to rid ourselves of these passions so our soul can become unchangeable and always filled with love just like our father.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa puts it this way;
I would have to remove my mind far from all things that change and are in flux. By attaining to an unchanging and unwavering disposition of the soul, I would first earnestly make Him my friend who is eternal and unchangeable. Only then would I invoke that most intimate Name and say, "Father!"
Next time you recite this prayer try and remember what you are committing yourself too when you call God your father.

Saint Cyril says;
You call God "Father"; honor Him with ready obedience; yield submission as that which is His due; live so as He pleases; show not yourself harsh or proud, but, on the contrary, yielding and submissive, and ready without delay to follow His directions, so that He may honor you in return and appoint you fellow-heir with Him Who is the Son by nature. 

References: Saint Cyril of Alexandria’s Homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, Saint Theophylact’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint Gregory of Nyssa discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Patience is needful and a product of Faith

In our daily life we encounter many temptations and difficulties. Sometimes it is difficult to think about God and acknowledge His never ending  love. All these trials and tribulations seek to divert us from a God-pleasing life following His commandments. Because of this, the path is described as narrow and difficult. The only way a faithful person can remain on this path is to have patience.

Saint Theophan says,
Patience overcomes misfortunes and patience withstands temptations. It is the foundation of a life that is unquestioning and always faithful to God’s commandments. Without patience not a step can be taken on that path.
The mother of patience, he says, is faith. This is a faith that firmly believes that everything we encounter comes from God or is allowed by Him. He has promised that He will not give us more than we are capable of handling if we only trust in Him. Everything we encounter is part of the path necessary for our perfection in Him.

Saint Theophan says,
If with God’s permission some temptations do occur, this is only to let us overcome that which draws us towards sin and receive the crown of righteousness for our strong devotion to the Lord’s commandments. Therefore, just endure this time of temptations, and that which seems so heavy will bring joy here, and prepare the ointment for eternal joy there, Believers have this kind of patience.
This kind of patience demonstrates our true faith and shows that it is God’s power working actively in our heart. 

Saint Theophan says,
Patience gives steadiness in goodness; and this steadiness makes faultless all the efforts of the enemies, and tears all their nets. Steadiness itself is a fruit of God’s power, which has settled in the heart for its dedication to God.
Prophet David demonstrates the faith and patience. He writes,
Sinners have set a snare for me, yet from Thy commandment have I not strayed (Psalm 118:110).

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p248.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

What does it mean to love His commandments with a whole heart?

Prophet David says in Psalm 118, “Behold, how I have loved thy commandments...” What is meant by this? Blessed Theophylact points out that David “does not simply say, I observed the commandments, but rather I loved them, although, nothing forced me to fulfill them.”

Most of us can’t really say we love His commandments. We may say we love God, but His commandments seem like something difficult, a burden, something we must force ourselves to follow. Perhaps this is only an indication of a weak faith and a limited love of God. David is teaching us that to really love God with our whole heart we also must learn to love His commandments.

Saint Theophan clarifies David’s view. Speaking as David he writes:
The commandments lie at the bottom of my heart, at the very sources of life, and are involved in all its manifestations. I love not only deeds according to the commandments, but the very moral purity required by them, the very perfection of life expressed by them. I love not only the deeds of humility, but humility itself, not only abstention from bursts of anger and impurity, but meekness itself and chastity, not only the deeds of mercy, but mercifulness itself—and so forth.
To love His commandments we must love the "very moral purity required of them." We also must love path to purification of our heart that enables us to live them. It’s more than the values that result from a God-pleasing life. We love the order and perfection they bring, the “moral purity,” the “humility”, the “meekness” that is necessary to live by them. This love develops when the commandments are contained in our heart and we are able to live them without effort. They are no longer forced. They become our natural habit, our way of life. Granted it takes a struggle to reach this state, but as we learn humility and to trust  in God we find this struggle results in love of the commandments themselves, the purity they entail, and the path essential to gain them in our life. 

This love of commandments is possible because the virtues they teach are already in our being. Saint Theophan explains,
Created in God’s image, we carry in ourselves the seeds of all God’s qualities of goodness. And they alone would have shone in our hearts, if the passions that darken, enshroud and distort them had not been grafted on to us by the Fall. The passions are the reason that there is in us a coldness towards virtues, an opposition to, and finally a turning away from them. Perhaps if there had not been God’s commandments, the passions would have led us so far as to drive every virtue from the face of the earth.
This need for love of God' commandments is key to our understanding the spiritual life. We find living by the commandments is difficult because our hearts are filled with passions. It’s not because we are inherently incapable, but that we let our heart be darkened and overtaken by them. The virtues needed to love the commandments are in us, We just have to give them the freedom to become our normal behavior. When we say the commandments are in our heart, it means they become the object of our love and we cannot think of being without them. We love the way of life they bring, and the virtues that make them natural in us. 

When we are able to purify the heart by taming the passions then the commandments stir up in us a life of virtue without effort. 
Saint Theophan puts it this way:
The commandments having been heard, enter in by the hearing, and there they stir up the remembrance of virtues, and of the brightness of the state into which they put a person, in contrast to the darkness of the passions. This remembrance disposes us to submit to the commandments, for the power  contained in them to return us to the lost but desired and bright spiritual state—and we do submit. At first, this submission is both called forth and supported only by the expectation of spiritual good from the commandments, and is effected by an effort of the will. But steadfastness in filling them, the slaying of the passions, quickens in the heart the virtues suppressed by them, returns the quickened ones, and allows the sweetness of those returned to be tasted. This is experienced sweetness of virtues draws the heart to it and makes it inalienable, because it is not coming from the outside, but radiates from the inside and envelopes the heart. From this comes love.
The path to a God-pleasing life based on following God’s commandments dose not happen all at once, but gradually. We submit to them and with Gods help we are purified. When we act through the synergistic efforts of our own effort and God’s grace, participate in the sacramental life in His Church, we step-by-step attain the perfection that Jesus came to show us by His example. When perfected we too will loudly proclaim how we love His commandments,

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 319-320.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Can we be certain of salvation?

God has promised us eternal life in His kingdom, But how can we be certain of our salvation? He said, “I am with him, I will rescue him, and glorify him: I will show him my salvation” (Psalm 90:15-16). Jesus Christ came to rescue, to save us and reunite us with Him in Paradise. We have heard the Gospel message and believe. We know that God loves us because He gave His life for us. We have committed ourselves to follow His teachings, to live by His commandments. We struggle with all kinds of issues, face many trials and tribulations, always standing firm in our belief in Him. But how can we be certain? 

The reality is that our hope of our salvation is never ending. We hear His call that says to us, “follow the pathway I have shown you and you will be here with Me.” We hope that we will be able to finish this path and be with Him forever, overcoming death like Him.

The question always remains, no matter how deep our faith, how pure our heart is, how well we have followed His commandments, how many times we have repented, how frequently we have participated in the holy mysteries He gave for us, can we finish the course. When the time of our physical death comes, will we know Him and be accepted by Him? The Lord tells us not to fear. He is always on our side, waiting to help no matter what difficulties we may face.

Saint Theophan tells us there one thing that can keep us from finishing the course, our self-confidence. 
He says,
Self-confidence in the hope of salvation is ruinous; but he who is sure that God, Who wants all to be saved, will save the one who seeks salvation, who does not lie down, but with effort acts according to God’s direction, and will save through means known only to Him, both pointing out the paths and supplying the strength—in that person, such confidence is holy, and serves as a sign not only of walking straight on the path, but also of great success in running according to the spirit, since it appears in consequence of consistent labors, through purification of the heart, and a tangible experience of God’s protection and defense.
We must have humility. Our path must include a surrender of our will to His. Our trust must become total. Then as we struggle we will overcome the passions that cloud our heart and experience His grace as it guides and give us strength. Our hope is validated in this way. It increases as we give up our self-confidence in our own efforts. God through His grace makes Himself known to us. Our struggle is no longer a struggle, but becomes a life filled with joy as we gain ever greater hope. With humility, complete trust is God, we must persevere and never give up. 

We must have a burning zeal for salvation. This is the gift we receive from God to help us fulfill His commandments and finish. This longing for salvation and out never relenting effort to follow Him in fulfilling the commandments is the force behind a God-pleasing life.

Sain Issac the Syrian affirms that the necessary motivating force is zeal:
It is called zeal because from time to time it moves, arouses, makes burning hot, and gives strength to a person to disregard the flesh in afflictions...
Look into yourself and see if you have this zeal, advises Saint Theophan. If you find in you this force, which is beyond self-will, then he says, you are alive; if not, “then you are dead or have fallen asleep.”

The Prophet David says, 
I have longed for Thy salvation, O Lord, and Thy law is my meditation .
My soul shall praise Thee, and Thy judgments will help me. 
.(Psalm 118:174, 175)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 339-341.

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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

“The One Thing Needful” - Meditate on Our Lord’s Teaching.

In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, Mary gave her priority of listening to the divine words of Jesus sitting at His feet while Martha was too busy with other things,
Jesus said to Martha,
Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled by many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chose that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk 10:41)
Jesus also says,
Seek He first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt 6:33).
To meditate on God’s commandments means taking time to study them, to fully understand them and know how to fulfill them. We must do this because we love God and love His commandments.  He has taught us that a God-pleasing life gives us the certain hope of our salvation and eternal life.

Taking the time to meditate on God’s commandments includes in addition to the study of Scripture, time for personal prayer, attending worship services. To follow the example of Mary does not mean we ignore the necessities of daily life of this world. We all need time for our work, to prepare meals and care for our household. But, It is important to give the right priority to the use of our time and to give top priority to meditate on His commandments so we are able to live them in our daily life.

Saint Theophan puts it this way:
When it is said that we must choose “the one thing needful,” It is not suggested that we drop everything—but only to keep our efforts in line with the merits of the undertaking: to dedicate the primary effort for what is most important, and only a secondary or even tenth-degree attention and effort upon things of secondary or subordinate importance. Put into first place pleasing God and salvation through fulfillment of the commandments, and in second, third and fourth place all other things related to sustaining life. Adhere to the first with all your heart, and to the latter casually, touching them as it were with the tips of your fingers, and you will be a true performer of what the Lord has said about “the one thing needful” and about the choosing the good part.
The grand mistake of our times is that everyone one is busied with many things so that no time is left for meditation on His commandments learning how to incorporate into our lives all the elements of an Orthodox way of life. When we’re so busy with all the cares of the temporal world, when it comes time for prayer, meditation or reading the Scriptures or even attending worship services, what do we do? We act just like Martha. We only make time for these higher activities as much time as all the other things leave for us. Our priority is misplaced because we choose to give those things which lead us to unity with God a lower priority, and only give our effort that is left over from everything else. As Jesus tells Martha, “thou art busy and troubled by many things.

Saint Theophan puts it this way:
Applying this saying and generalizing it, we get the following: When all cares in a person are about temporal needs only, and the matter of salvation and pleasing God is always pushed towards the rear on account of them, and what is related to it is fulfilled only inasmuch as those cares allow, and at that carelessly, hastily, by halves, then with him the principal concern is not where it should be, and subordinate things are not in their proper place.
This is why our society is in such turmoil. This is why we have difficulties in our closest relationships and in our family. Taking time for meditation, prayer and worship is not wasting our time. It is what we must learn to give the highest priority. Our choices need to change. We need to have concern for our salvation and put our emphasis on doing what is essential to be able to live a God pleasing life. Only in this way will we find peace, harmony and true joy.

Prophet David records the following in Psalm 118.

I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved. (Psalm 118:47)

Reference: Psalm 118: A commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp132-134.