Wednesday, June 3, 2020

It's Time to Listen

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

Thursday, May 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 4, 2020

Symeon the New Theologian on Repentance

Why is repentance so central to a Christian way of life? It is because the aim of Christian life is to be perfected in virtue through God’s grace so we can return to Paradise with eternal life in His kingdom. Repentance is the path to perfection. We need to remember that there will a Judgment that must be faced. Saint Symeon points out what Paul writes, “We must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2Cor 5:10).”

Saint Symeon says, 
Let us repent with all our heart and castaway not only our evil deeds, but also the wicked and unclean thoughts of our hearts and obliterate them in accordance with that which is written: ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13).’ Tell me: what use is it if we distribute all our goods to the poor, but fail to make a break with evil and to hate sin? What [use is it] if, while we do not actively commit bodily sin, we mentally engage in shameful and unclean thoughts and invisibly commit sin and are governed controlled by restrained passions of the soul?
Saint Symeon knows there are many who ignore the teachings of Jesus. There are those who do not want to be bothered by clergy or anyone who reminds them what a Christian way of life requires. Some will even say, “I did not want the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly we have to have a desire to be united with God, to do as God commands, and to prepare now for the Judgment and life in Paradise. But the reality is that there are many who reject the teaching of the Incarnate and Triune God. They see no need for repentance or any ascetic practices.

There are others who try discredit the teachings of Christ and see the ways taught by the Church as foolish. Saint Symeon says, 
How will they defend themselves? Will they say, we have not heard? Or nobody warned us?  Or we did not know the name, O Master, nor Thy might, Thy strength, Thy power? He might then justly say to us, “How often have I told you beforehand and exhorted you, O miserable ones, through prophets, through apostles, through all my servants, even through Myself.
Saint Symeon then gives a list of teachings we have received from the Lord. It makes a good list for our own review:
Have you not heard Me say, “blessed are those who weep now, for they shall laugh (Lk 6:21).  Have you not heard Me cry aloud, "blessed are those who mourn (Mt 5:4)?” But you have laughed unrestrainedly as you discussed among yourselves and prolonged your idle conversations, inviting each other to dinner and ministering to your stomachs. 
As Jesus says, “I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment (Mt 12:36).”
Have you not heard Me say, “How narrow the gate and how hard is the way that leads to life” (Mt 7:14) and “The kingdom of God suffers violence, and men of violence take it by force (Mt 11:12).” Yet you lie on soft beds and seek comfort by any means.
While Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mk 9:35),” you have chosen “the best seats and the places of honor (Mk 13:39).” Have you not chosen positions of power and leadership and offices and high honors, and been unwilling to be subordinate and to serve in humility of spirit...
While Jesus said, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt 7:12)” have you not been concerned solely with your own comfort and lusts?
Have you not been covetous, rapacious, and unjust  and served no one but your selves? Think about what Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9)?” 
When I told you Jesus said, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Mt 5:39)”, have not some of you laughed and others even refused to listen to this? Did you not say that I commanded you something bad and unjust?
When Jesus told you, “whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two (Mt 5:41),” not only have you not done so but most of you have not even instructed others.
When I told you, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake (Mt 5:11f),” did you not welcome praises and honor and glory to the extent the other would make you weary of life itself.
When I mentioned, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3),” did you ever heartily wish to be poor.
When I said, “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5),” did you not act angrily towards those who did not do at once what you wanted?
When I said to you pray for those who ill treat you, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you (Mt 5:44),” have you not said, ‘This is fine for the apostles?”
There are many more. We need to study Scripture and examine our lives always seeking ways to improve our way of life. When we realize how difficult this is we will find humility and then seek His grace, the Holy Spirit, to help us. 

The lesson is, if we love God and want to be united with Him, we need to listen carefully to what He has taught us. We need to be aware of the Judgment that will come. Knowing what is necessary through His teachings, and accepting that the gate is narrow to Paradise, we will seek repentance always. As Jesus taught as He began His public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4:17).”

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, pp 103-104.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Discernment of Thoughts - Saint Symeon the New Theologian

Saint Symeon gives advice on how to properly discern which thoughts are good for us to act on and which ones will lead us away from God. For him it is very clear: Check to see if your thoughts are in agreement with Holy Scripture, the teachers of the Church fathers, and other holy persons. Those that are in agreement go ahead and act on them. Those that are not, aggressively discard them. Here is how he says it.
“We must carefully discern the thoughts that come on us and set against them the testimonies from the divinely inspired Scriptures and from the teaching of the spiritual teachers, the holy father‘s, so that if we find them to agree with these witnesses and correspond to them we may all with all our might hold fast these thoughts and boldly act on them. But if they are not in harmony with the “word of truth” we must expel them from us with much anger, as it is written, “Be angry and not sin.” 
Holy Scripture tells us where we can find truth we can rely on. Saint Paul says,
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:13-14)
Saint Paul further emphasizes how important this is. He says because of our hope of eternal life we need to carefully discern the thoughts we should pay attention to. The words that we need to pay attention to are found in the Gospel which is Truth. He writes,
“Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (Col 1:5-6)
Then in Psalms we see that we must have anger and remorse in what we make up in our hearts, that which is not I accordance with Scripture.
“Be angry, and do not sin; Have remorse upon your beds For what you say in your hearts.” (Ps  4:5)
Saint Symeon points out that it is Jesus who has told us to place our Trust in the Scriptures. We read in John’s Gospel,
Accordingly we need great soberness, great zeal, much searching of the divine Scriptures. The Saviour has shown us their usefulness by saying, “search the Scriptures.“ (John 3:38-39) 
We find recorded in John where Jesus is rebuking those who do not believe in Him. Those who do not heed or properly read the Scriptures, will not find the eternal life He promises. He says,
“But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 3:38-39)
Saint Symeon encourages us study the Scriptures and pay attention to what they say about what we are to believe and what we are to do. It is only in this way that we will understand God’s will and know the difference between good and evil. This is the way we can recognize the thoughts we are to honor and those we must reject. He says,
“Search them and hold fast to what they say with great exactitude and faith, in order that you may know God’s will clearly from the divine Scriptures and be able infallibly to distinguish good from evil and not obey every spirit nor be carried away with harmful thoughts.”
Saint John warns us about the many voices who proclaim falshoods, who misinterpret Scripture or have no belief in Jesus Christ as our savior. He writes,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”  (1 John 4:1-3)
Paul, too, reminds us to learn from those who have faith in Jesus and have been called to teach us.  If we are not careful we can be manipulated like children and lead down a path that takes us away from God. He says,
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,† for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Eph 4:11-14)
Saint Symeon looks at the word of God as a two edged sword. It helps us to recognize and cut off our bodily desires that can dominate our thoughts and lead us astray, and it can also give us the needed zeal that motivates us to make changes in our lives by only giving credence to the thoughts that lead is closer to Him. He says,
“For the word of God is “like a two edged sword“, which cuts off and separates the soul from every bodily lust and feeling. Even more, it becomes like a burning fire in that it kindles the zeal of the soul. 
We find this teaching also in the writing of Paul.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
How well we are able to control our thoughts, only allowing those that are good for our relationship with God to influence our actions, determines not only our salvation but also the quality of our life. Saint Symeon says,
“It causes us to despair all life’s painful experiences and to count as joy every trial that assails, and to desire and embrace death, which is so frightening to other men as life and the cause of life.”
This discernment of thoughts is the front line in spiritual warfare. It is our thoughts that always come before our actions. If we can win the battle in the mind we can take actions that are pleasing to God, that lead us toward a union with Him. They way to do it is to compare them with Scripture and the teaching of our Church fathers. We must remember that our aim is to realize our hope of eternal life with Him. Saint Symeon reminds us that this is a never ending battle. We must be ever vigilant of our thoughts, ever discerning between those that are good and those that are evil.
“Warfare goes on constantly, and the soldiers of Christ must at all times be armed with their weapons.”

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, Chapter 3, pp 67-68.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Living in the Light of Christ: Lessons from Saint Simeon the New Theologian from his discourse on the Beatitudes

Saint Symeon the New Theologian offers us important lessons about how one can be united with Christ and have a life lived in His light. In my Lenten meditation on His Discourses, especially the one on the Beatitudes, there were three elements that moved my heart. They are: 1. Seek Christ unceasingly; 2. Develop poverty of Spirit; 3. Separate from attachment to things of this world. 

1.Seek Christ unceasingly
All spiritual life begins with faith and continually seeks to be united with Christ.  Instead of having our attention directed to earthly things and matters, “have one’s mind wholly set on Christ,” says Saint Symeon. 
“Think of the unutterably glory of the Godhead, which is beyond thought thought and understanding. Think of God’s unutterable power, His immeasurable mercy, His inconceivable riches, which He generously and bountifully gives to men. “
To seek union with God we must be able to change our life so it can become totally Christ centered. He says, 
“Flee from the deceit of life and it’s supposed happiness and run to Christ alone, who is the Savior of souls. ...who is everywhere present...let us hold Him fast and fall at His feet.” 
Just like the women who went to the tomb and fount it empty and then encountered the Risen Christ and “held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Mt 28:9).

To have this zeal that is essential to make changes in our life so we are able to continually seek God, we must be able to separate from attachment to all things of this world that are not essential for our living. This requires that we gain poverty of spirit. Let’s now examine this idea of spiritual poverty.

2. Develop poverty of Spirit
Spiritual poverty is the true meaning of humility. When we have tried to follow all of God’s commandments, we find that we cannot do this by our own will alone. We realize our efforts are insufficient and that we lack what is needed to become like Christ. When we realize that it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to carry out His commandments fully, and that we are not able to accomplish what we desire, to become one with Christ, we realize our poverty of Spirit. The lack we feel is what is meant by poverty of spirit. It is true humility where we realize our need of God’s help, our dependence on Him, and we become willing to give up our own idea of self-sufficiency.  

Saint Symeon says, 
“When the faithful man, who always pays strict attention to the commandment of God, performs all that the divine commandments enjoin...He will find he is weak and lacks power to attain to the height of the commandments, indeed that he is very poor, unworthy to receive God and give Him thanks an glory, since he has yet failed to attain any good on his own...he will mourn with that sorrow which is truly most blessed which  will receive comfort and make the soul meek.”
Note how poverty of spirit is a precondition for mourning, another Beattitude. When we find we are lacking what is needed for us to follow all His commandments we find ourselves mourning over our poor condition. We mourn as we begin to beg God to open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit.

In the Psalm or repentance, one we read in most of our services, tells us that what is needed is, “a humble and contrite heart.” It reads: “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, A broken and humbled heart God will not despise.” (Ps 50:19 (51:19)) The greatest and most important sacrifice we can offer God is a contrite heart. In other words, to have the feeling of spiritual poverty.

Saint Symeon says, spiritual poverty “is the means of obtaining the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus puts it this way: 
“Do not worry about your life... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Mt 6:25ff) 
“The poor in spirit are those who know their need of God.” (Mt 5:3)
John in his epistle affirms the necessity to have the Spirit in us if we are to keep His commandments. He says, 
“Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”  (1 John 3:24, 2:27)
Poverty of spirit is what is meant by humility. “With unfeigned humiliation there is depth of humility.” Saint Symeon says, 
“With humility there is enlightenment of the Spirit. With enlightenment of the Spirit there is the outpouring of the light of God. With the outpouring of the light of God there is the wisdom and knowledge of His mysteries. Where these mysteries are found there is the kingdom of heaven and experience of the kingdom and the hidden treasures of the knowledge of God  which is manifestation of the poverty of spirit.”
Poverty of spirit is like a necessary steppingstone that enables us to come closer to God and know His mysteries. Paul says, 
This is needed so “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:3)
Saint Symeon says,
“Let us long with all our soul for the things God commands us to embrace: spiritual poverty, which the world calls humiliation; constant mourning by night and by day, from which there wells forth the joy of the soul and the hourly consolation for those who love God."

3.Separate from attachment to things of this world
The second attribute we need is possibly the most difficult for us who live a life immersed in the modern consumer driven way of life.  What is called for is detachment, to not be enslaved by our desires for the things of this world. Our sight must always be focused on His eternal kingdom. Our focus on our worldly desires detracts our attention away from God. Our attachment to worldly things separates us from God.

How do we know that we have gained this spiritual poverty and are in mourning over what we do not yet spiritually have? What actions demonstrate this?
Saint Symeon says, 
“They consist in not desiring anything that is visible and subject to corruption, by which I mean the affairs and pleasures of the world, wealth, fame, pleasure, or any other worldly or bodily enjoyment.”
Why is this so critical in our spiritual journey? He says that,
when we “have the world alive in us just as we are living in it," and have “our minds set on earthly things” we “no longer posses Christ in ourselves."
Paul also says something similar:
"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil 4:18-19)
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2)
Our enslavement to all the things of the world and our neglect of a desire for heavenly things, is to be hostile, to be an enemy of God. Symeon says,
 “Attachment to the world is “enmity toward God.” Do not love the world or the things in the world” Flee from the world and “the things that are in the world “
We find this instruction also in the epistle of James. He says,
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas 4:4)
John also gives us the same direction. He says, 
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
Saint Symeon says
“There is nothing better in the world than to have nothing that belongs to the world and to desire nothing beyond the bare needs of the body.”
As Paul says, 
“If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim 6:8) ...since He gives things yet greater and “fills every living thing with plenteousness.” (Ps 145:16) 
Saint Symeon instructs,
"Let us forsake all the other things that belong to this transitory life, such as vain glory, envy, mutual strife, deceit, complaining, intrigue, all things that turn us away from God and imperil the soul.Flee from the deceit of life and it’s supposed happiness and run to Christ alone, who is the Savior of souls. ...who is everywhere present...let us hold Him fast and fall at His feet.”
We must develop a way of life where our focus is always on Christ and seeking heavenly rewards. Paul says,
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:1-2)
Jesus told us that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world. He put it this way,
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt 6:24)

4. We will be united with His light
Saint Symeon writes,
“He however, who is united to God by faith and recognizes Him by action is indeed enabled to see him by contemplation. He sees things of which I am not able to write. His mind sees strange visions and is holy illuminated and becomes like light, yet he is unable to conceive of them or describe them. His mind is itself light and sees all things as light, and the light has life and imparts light to him who sees it. He sees himself all united to the light, and as he sees he concentrates on the vision and is as he was. He perceives the light in his soul and is in ecstasy. In his ecstasy he sees it from a far, but as he returns to himself he finds himself again in the midst of the light. He is thus altogether at a loss for words and concepts to describe what he has perceived in his vision.”
As Jesus says, 
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Or as we sing in our Paschal service, 
“Come, receive the light from the Unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, who has risen from the dead.”
Seeking Christ with our whole heart and mind, having true humility as shown by our feeling of spiritual poverty, mourning over our condition, and having overcome our passions, our attachments to the things of this world, we are able to gain true knowledge of God through our experience of His light. This is what we aim for, theosis. Knowing God in this way we can have confidence in the hope of the eternal life He promises.  

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses; Chapter 2: To Christ Through the Beatitudes, pp 47-59; Paulist Press, NY 1980

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

To Find God

Saint Symeon the New Theologian tells us that to find God we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by those promoting the pleasures of this world, to discipline ourselves, and become totally focused only on Christ.

Who ever desires to find God let him ‘deny himself,’” says Saint Symeon. This is what Jesus told His disciples if the wanted to follow Him (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34). This involves a practice of self-sacrifice to overcome our self-centered orientation. We impose self-discipline, denying our personal desires out of our love for God and our desire to do His will. Paul affirms this, “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).”

“‘Set enmity’ between himself and all who walk according to the flesh.” Here he references the curse God gave to the snake who deceived Eve. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed.(Gen 3:15). Paul tells us, “He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:3-4).” We must creat a separation between us and those who are driven by worldly desires so we will not be misled.

Let him not turn back, misled by any of their so called comforting words, nor let him ‘sit in their seat.’” In Psalms we find,  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the troublesome (Ps 1:1).” Jesus says, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62).” Once we have committed ourself to God and dedicated our life to Him we cannot turn back under the influence of those who only see the pleasures of the worldly life.

Let him not cultivate bad associations.”  Paul instructs us, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits (1 Cor 15:33).” Again Saint Symeon emphasizes this idea of being careful in the kind of relationships we develop and nurture.

Decide in your own mind, and permit it not to err by listening to vain things.”

Do not delay or be weighed down by sloth! Give not sleep to your eyes. in The Psalms it reads, “I shall not recline on my bed, I shall not close my eyes in sleepNor my eyelids for dozing, Nor give any rest to my temples,Until I find a place for the Lord,:A tabernacle for the God of Jacob (Ps 132:3-5).” We can’t be lazy in our efforts to find God.

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, p 47

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

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)

Monday, February 24, 2020

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”

In Psalm 37 (38) we experience the nature of the true repentance King David offers to God. He is able to see the depths of His sinfulness and how awful it must look in the eyes of God. He even compares it to a pus filled festering wound. He is not referring to a physical wound but the wound in his soul. Seeing the loving nature of God David holds nothing back in his examination of his fallen condition. He pleads with humility for God’s help.

Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos offers us an outstanding commentary this Psalm (Psalms and the Life of Faith, p 223). Here are a couple of quotes from His commentary:

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”
"No one can comprehend his sinfulness, no matter how great it might be, unless he has glimpsed the holiness of God.”

As you think about these two comments you can see how sin, in his eyes and those of the great king David, are quite different from our normal view of sin. Mostly we think of sin as breaking a commandment of God, like breaking a law. But David is giving us an example, along with the the commentary of Aimianos, that there is much more to understanding sin.

What does it mean when we say, "sin is the point of contact with God?” Doesn’t this imply a personal relationship with Him? Our true sinfulness is normally suppressed deep in our subconsciousness because most of us think of ourselves as “good” people. But, no! Deep down inside there is a festering sore in our soul. When we uncover this we do so in relationship with our God. Bringing us into contact with Him, we see Him as a loving God who will forgive and heal. Because of His love, we can see the level of perfection that is in God Himself. We realize that we are far from our potential. We are humbled in front of God. We eagerly seek mercy and healing.

The second quote says that no one can comprehend their sinfulness unless they have "glimpsed the holiness of God." What does this imply? To know our sinfulness we cannot simply go down a check list of sins and identify our sins and expect God to heal us. We need to have our inner heart enlightened by God. Only when we have known the nature of His holiness can we truly see how sinful we are. This is not a negative thing that will throw us into despair, because, as we see His holiness, we will also see His infinite mercy, His unconditional love that never wavers. It is this love that enables us to see what we have hidden deep in our subconscious mind.

So what are we to do to come closer to God? We must seek to know His holiness so our true sinfulness can be revealed to us. It takes more than a surface self-reflection to get to the root of our fallen nature. This is why the saints are always talking about how sinful they are. As we come closer to God, we come to  know our potential and what is necessary to be united with Him in eternal life. The Orthodox Way of life will lead us to this deeper understanding if we follow it out of obedience at first and then out of our love for God.

Saint Theophan says, ”The awakening of the sinner is that act of divine grace in his heart, the consequence of which he, as one awakened from sleep, sees his sinfulness, senses the danger of the situation, begins to fear for Himself and to care about deliverance from his misfortune and salvation….
The door to conversion may be opened only under the condition that the spiritual way of life be revealed to the sinner’s consciousness in its full light, and not merely revealed, but that it touch the heart. (Path to Salvation, pp 102 & 103 )

Saint Poprhyrios says, “The love of God transforms everything; it sanctifies, amends and changes that nature of everything.” (Wounded by Love, p100)