Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Theosis 8 & St Symeon's Use of Parables and teaching of St Paul

 


In our final session on Theosis and the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, we explored his use of Jesus’s Parables and the spiritual support from the writings of Saint Paul. Our discussions delved into three biblical parables—the Pearl of Great Value, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven—along with the symbol of an oil lamp, each rich in spiritual meaning.

In the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value, Saint Symeon illustrates the profound treasure of the Spirit within, symbolized by a pearl hidden within an oyster deep in the sea. This pearl represents the divine presence within us, obscured yet invaluable. The merchant, who sells all he has for this pearl, exemplifies the soul’s quest for union with Christ, a journey marked by sacrifice and devotion.

The Mustard Seed parable reflects the transformative power of faith, which, though initially small, grows to an immense stature, expanding our spiritual awareness and fostering encounters with the divine light.

In the Parable of the Leaven, Saint Symeon likens leaven mixed into dough to faith within us. This faith, though concealed, is potent, facilitating a complete spiritual transformation as it grows and matures.

The oil lamp is used as a metaphor for the soul, with virtues as the oil and the mind as the wick. When ignited by divine grace, this lamp illuminates the soul, demonstrating how spiritual experiences of divine light lead to Christ-like actions that radiate outward.

Saint Paul's teachings reinforce the theme of transformation, highlighting his own conversion from a persecutor to an apostle through a divine encounter on the road to Damascus. This experience echoes that of Saint Symeon. Paul , like Symeon, struggled to explain in the nature of such profound spiritual encounters. Saint Paul discusses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and its vital role in our spiritual life, as seen in his epistles (2 Corinthians 13:3, 4:6; Romans 8:9-11; Galatians 3:27, 2:20). He stresses the integration of the Spirit within us, a theme that resonates deeply with the teachings of Saint Symeon.

Our series underscored several critical themes: the significance of the Incarnation and the Fall, the transformative experience of the Divine Light, the alignment of Saint Symeon's parables with Holy Scripture, and their agreement with Saint Paul's teachings. We discussed the distinction between God’s energies and essence, allowing us to know God while He remains unknowable in essence, and the essential nature of the Sacraments, particularly Holy Communion.Also this importance of Spiritual discipline as taught by the Church such as prayer and fasting.

Through these lessons, Saint Symeon's hymns inspire us to seek transformative encounters with the divine, to strive for union with God through Theosis, and to embrace a life of spiritual practice and virtue. His profound insights serve as a source of spiritual guidance and inspiration for those who seek divine communion and holiness. This series has not only deepened our understanding of these spiritual processes but also emphasized the necessity of maintaining alignment with Scriptural and Church traditions to safeguard against misinterpretations that could lead one astray.


Link to videos of entire series: https://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/theosis

Theosis 2 - Lessons from the Life of Saint Symeon


 https://youtu.be/P-x_unflGgo?si=xKKAh_wu1skxf8Gj

Brief Summary
The life of Saint Symeon not only exemplifies the profound connection one can have with God but also illuminates the path we are all called to follow—a journey toward theosis, living and acting with the mind of Christ.

Through his lived experience, Saint Symeon demonstrates and reminds us that we are each created in the image of God, endowed with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and drawn closer to Christ with every participation in Holy Communion. These truths underline the essence of our existence: the pursuit of theosis, an aspiration for deification, and union with God, achievable in this life for some and hopefully for all in the life hereafter. This divine calling, however, acknowledges our differing gifts and the distinct paths we tread, shaped by the individual challenges we face. Remember always that the aim of our life is Theosis.

To follow this path Christ opened for us, requires that we embrace obedience, repentance, and a deep mystical understanding of the Eucharist as the true Body and Blood of Christ. We will hear more later on St. Symeon’s view on this sacrament. Cultivating a daily prayer routine, seeking moments of silence to experience God's love is important in this journey. Engaging in the Jesus Prayer can help us over come our sinful tendencies and significantly enrich our spiritual lives. God speaks to us in silence.

Saint Symeon's journey offers invaluable lessons beyond his exemplary life. He was first instructed by his spiritual father while working in a secular job to delve into the writings of the Church Fathers which instructed him to heed the voice of his conscience, suggesting that we too should become aware of His voice within us and learn to follow it. Importantly, he revealed that ascetic practices like fasting, while beneficial, will not bring us to a knowledge of God. This only comes as a gift from Him depending on a pure and humble heart. Saint Symeon's most profound revelation was the potential existing within us all to perceive God directly, through His energies, not His essence, as demonstrated in his experience of divine light he experienced amid secular duties, while actively participating in worldly affairs. Being in a monastery in definitely not a requirement.

As we delve deeper into Saint Symeon's teachings in our upcoming sessions, we will explore the insights gleaned from his hymns and discourses. I can't begin to explain how beautiful and inspiring they are.
His writings, emanating from a place of spiritual enlightenment, offer simple yet profound guidance on heavenly matters. I encourage you to engage with his works, such as the "Hymns of Love" or "Divine Eros."

Reading just one hymn daily during Lent can profoundly impact your Lenten contemplation of your life's purpose, theosis, the cultivation of an inner awareness of the Spirit, and your need for repentance. He will teach you how you can become guided your conscience in everyday decisions.

Here is a link to a PDF of the slides that were used. 

I apologize for the off angle of the video.

Theosis 3 - Saint Symeon Teaching on Theosis

 


Brief Summary:
We further learned in this third session that another crucial step towards Theosis and salvation is obedience to God's commandments. Scripture underscores this, reminding us that it was Adam and Eve's failure to adhere to a single commandment that resulted in their expulsion from Paradise. Thus, St. Symeon reminds us that we are called to obey all of God's commands. At the final judgment, those who have lived in accordance with God's will be granted entrance into Paradise, while those who have not will remain in darkness, separated from God. This obedience is a path to receiving abundant grace and, for some, the experience
of knowing God through His energies usually experienced as a divine light.

A significant aspect of this journey is zeal based on our desire to both
understand His commandments and to recognize our weaknesses through self-examination, particularly during the Church's season of Great Lent designated for this purpose. Identifying a weakness leads to a state of joyful sorrow and propels us towards repentance. This repentance encourages us to have humility and courage to call a priest for an appointment for the sacrament of Confession.

We are also to regularly participate in Communion with sincerity, which
continually purifies us.

Saint Symeon provides a clear understanding for the needed spiritual path:prayer, a spiritual guide, repentance, obedience to God's commandments, and a life nurtured by the sacraments.



Theosis 6 - On Prayer on Journey to Theosis

 


Brief Summary:
In this session, we delve into the teachings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, exploring how it is possible to experience God within the context of a busy secular life. Saint Symeon, despite being immersed in the affairs of the world as a layperson, encountered God in a profound and direct manner. This experience did not stem from extraordinary ascetic practices but emerged from his earnest yearning to know God, his humility in endeavoring to fulfill God's commands, and his dedication to prayer. Saint Symeon's life exemplifies how each of us can directly experience God.

This principle, deeply rooted in Orthodox Christianity since its early days, was robustly defended by Saint Gregory Palamas in the 14th century during his debates with Barlaam. A council vindicated Gregory's stance, acknowledging the paradox that while God is intrinsically unknowable, He is also accessible through His uncreated energies. This affirmation is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, immediately following the Sunday of Orthodoxy, reinforcing the truth of our Apostolic faith. Saint Symeon along with numerous other preceding him, living four centuries prior to Gregory, had illuminated this truth through his own encounters with the divine and recording theses experiences in subsequent hymns.

From a tender age, Saint Symeon was nurtured under the guidance of a spiritual mentor and was presented with a book by Saint Mark the Ascetic, which imparted three pivotal lessons:
Guard Your Conscience: To heal your soul, vigilantly protect your conscience so it remains pure.
Be Obedient to It: Act upon the virtuous impulses of your conscience without delay or weariness for your spiritual benefit.
Fulfill His Commandments: Seeking the gifts of the Holy Spirit without first adhering to God's commandments is akin to a bondman seeking emancipation at the moment of purchase.

Additionally, Saint Symeon was counseled to devoutly practice the Jesus Prayer each evening for thirty minutes. This discipline, initially challenging, gradually, led him to deepen his prayer life, culminating in the grace-filled experience of the Divine Light.

In essence, Saint Symeon's early teachings revolve around:
Guarding the conscience,
Obedience to it,
Observance of the Commandments,
Prayer.
These practices are attainable for everyone, even within the demands of an active life.

The session further elaborates on the Jesus Prayer, a spiritual exercise widely advocated by the Fathers of the Church: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Embracing this prayer requires humility, an acknowledgment of one's sinfulness, faith, and a genuine desire to encounter God. Starting this journey involves setting aside specific times for prayer, either in the morning or evening. Initially, distractions will arise, but with perseverance in focusing on the prayer's words, one's ability to concentrate enhances. Following Saint Symeon's example, we can gradually extend our prayer time.
Symeon also teaches us about tears and how they indicate our humility. These are not like emotional tears but come as we approach God in our prayer recognizing our insignificant and sinfulness desiring his help and love. He says once we receive this gift we not have sufficient humility to gain the benefit of our prayer or even our participation in the sacrmants. He warns thesis not something we can force but only comes as a gift from God.

Engaging Symeon’s approach sincerely, with a humble heart open to God's unconditional love and mercy, can lead to an encounter with God’s Divine Light through His uncreated energies. This encounter fosters an unwavering faith and a renewed zeal for spiritual purification, enabling us to fulfill His commandments more fully and preparing us for entry into His Kingdom. In this way we can experience Theosis, gain spiritual wisdom and a foretaste of the life to come.

Theosis 4 - On Conscious Awareness of Holy Spirit - Saint Symeon on Theosis

 


Brief Summary
In our fourth session, we delved into the crucial need to become acutely aware of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us during Baptism and Chrismation. After Baptism we continue to grapple with sinful inclinations and acts, which obscure our perception of the Spirit and alienate us from God, increasingly leading us to prioritize our will as we navigate the myriad challenges of worldly existence.

Previously, we explored St. Symeon's insights on creation, aligning with the scriptural understanding that we are made in the Image of God. The fall of Adam and Eve, precipitated by their failure to adhere to a single commandment, resulted in their exile from Paradise, condemned to a life of labor and mortality. This, according to divine plan, set the stage for our eventual perfection. In the fullness of time, God incarnated, merging His divinity with human nature, both becoming man and remaining fully divine. Through the establishment of His Church and the institution of the sacraments, humanity was offered the opportunity to reunite with Him via Baptism, thus receiving the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. This act signifies a rebirth, our humanity fused with divinity. However, St. Symeon emphasizes that further preparation is necessary for each individual to re-enter the Kingdom of Heaven and attain eternal life, necessitating a baptism of the Spirit—a revival to a conscious awareness of the divine presence within us.

Symeon’s idea of “Baptism in Spirit” does not invalidate the sacramental baptism through which we unquestionably received the Holy Spirit. However, due to our sinful tendencies and disobedience, we often become self-absorbed, diminishing our consciousness of the Spirit within us, as it is overshadowed by our desires and will. It is akin to a spiritual slumber, living a life directed by self-will rather than in harmony with God's will. Hence, we require a renewed awakening to this inner power, embarking on a life marked by repentance and prayer.

If we have the desire to be united with Christ like young Symeon did when he was a working man engaged in worldly affairs, we must choose like him to seek, ask and pray, to find a spiritual guide, striving to do all God commands. Then we too can be awakened and become aware of the divine power within us. This enables us to find that His yoke is easy and the burden is light (Matt. 11:30) to do all He commands, Jesus assures us. Yet, this requires a conscious recognition of His presence within us. Through our collaboration with His guidance, we are empowered to make better choices and navigate life's trials more effortlessly, aligning with His will.

The main theme discussed in this lesson is the necessity of a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit within us. This enables us to live a life of repentance. This underscores the Church’s rationale for this Lenten season—a period for profound introspection on our true essence, recognizing the divine force within us, understanding our spiritual blindness, and confronting the sinfulness we might neglect. It encourages us to bravely confess and schedule a meeting with a priest for the Sacrament of Confession—not merely as a practice of admitting sins but as a profound sacrament of reconciliation with God and the Church, through which we receive forgiveness and grace to continue our spiritual journey.

St. Symeon's teachings illuminate the spiritual journey toward Theosis, illustrating that an initial desire for union with God and adopting the mindset of Christ are pivotal. With this longing, we must actively seek and ask in our prayers for awareness of the Holy Spirit, under the guidance of a spiritual father. As we strive to execute God's will, acknowledging our frequent shortcomings necessitates repentance, a renewed mindset, and an intensification of our prayer life, examination of our fasting practices, and participation in Holy Communion, driven by our love and yearning for union with Him.

Theosis is not merely for monastics; it is the goal for every Orthodox Christian, vital for our salvation. Theosis is the process of becoming more like God through cooperation with His grace, applicable in the daily lives of all believers, regardless of their state in life. We are all called to revive our true spiritual nature, dulled by a rationalistic and materialistic culture.

Embracing a spiritual life, fully engaged with our loved ones and responsibilities, yet through the lens of Christ's mindset, epitomizes the journey to Theosis, with a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit's activity within us.

In our next session, we will discuss the significance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion and further explore St. Symeon's teachings on daily prayer.In our fourth session, we delved into the crucial need to become acutely aware of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us during Baptism and Chrismation. After Baptism we continue to grapple with sinful inclinations and acts, which obscure our perception of the Spirit and alienate us from God, increasingly leading us to prioritize our will as we navigate the myriad challenges of worldly existence.

Previously, we explored St. Symeon's insights on creation, aligning with the scriptural understanding that we are made in the Image of God. The fall of Adam and Eve, precipitated by their failure to adhere to a single commandment, resulted in their exile from Paradise, condemned to a life of labor and mortality. This, according to divine plan, set the stage for our eventual perfection. In the fullness of time, God incarnated, merging His divinity with human nature, both becoming man and remaining fully divine. Through the establishment of His Church and the institution of the sacraments, humanity was offered the opportunity to reunite with Him via Baptism, thus receiving the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. This act signifies a rebirth, our humanity fused with divinity. However, St. Symeon emphasizes that further preparation is necessary for each individual to re-enter the Kingdom of Heaven and attain eternal life, necessitating a baptism of the Spirit—a revival to a conscious awareness of the divine presence within us.

Symeon’s idea of “Baptism in Spirit” does not invalidate the sacramental baptism through which we unquestionably received the Holy Spirit. However, due to our sinful tendencies and disobedience, we often become self-absorbed, diminishing our consciousness of the Spirit within us, as it is overshadowed by our desires and will. It is akin to a spiritual slumber, living a life directed by self-will rather than in harmony with God's will. Hence, we require a renewed awakening to this inner power, embarking on a life marked by repentance and prayer.

If we have the desire to be united with Christ like young Symeon did when he was a working man engaged in worldly affairs, we must choose like him to seek, ask and pray, to find a spiritual guide, striving to do all God commands. Then we too can be awakened and become aware of the divine power within us. This enables us to find that His yoke is easy and the burden is light (Matt. 11:30) to do all He commands, Jesus assures us. Yet, this requires a conscious recognition of His presence within us. Through our collaboration with His guidance, we are empowered to make better choices and navigate life's trials more effortlessly, aligning with His will.

The main theme discussed in this lesson is the necessity of a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit within us. This enables us to live a life of repentance. This underscores the Church’s rationale for this Lenten season—a period for profound introspection on our true essence, recognizing the divine force within us, understanding our spiritual blindness, and confronting the sinfulness we might neglect. It encourages us to bravely confess and schedule a meeting with a priest for the Sacrament of Confession—not merely as a practice of admitting sins but as a profound sacrament of reconciliation with God and the Church, through which we receive forgiveness and grace to continue our spiritual journey.

St. Symeon's teachings illuminate the spiritual journey toward Theosis, illustrating that an initial desire for union with God and adopting the mindset of Christ are pivotal. With this longing, we must actively seek and ask in our prayers for awareness of the Holy Spirit, under the guidance of a spiritual father. As we strive to execute God's will, acknowledging our frequent shortcomings necessitates repentance, a renewed mindset, and an intensification of our prayer life, examination of our fasting practices, and participation in Holy Communion, driven by our love and yearning for union with Him.

Theosis is not merely for monastics; it is the goal for every Orthodox Christian, vital for our salvation. Theosis is the process of becoming more like God through cooperation with His grace, applicable in the daily lives of all believers, regardless of their state in life. We are all called to revive our true spiritual nature, dulled by a rationalistic and materialistic culture.

Embracing a spiritual life, fully engaged with our loved ones and responsibilities, yet through the lens of Christ's mindset, epitomizes the journey to Theosis, with a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit's activity within us.

In our next session, we will discuss the significance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion and further explore St. Symeon's teachings on daily prayer.

Link to Pdf of slides used

Theosis 5 - Participation in the Eucharist on Journey to Theosis

 


Brief Summary
Partaking in Holy Communion should transcend mere obligation; it should not be viewed as a formal requirement imposed by parents or clergy. Instead, our souls should leap with joy at the opportunity to commune, to be united with our God, yet tempered with a sense of contrition for our sinful nature. This acknowledgment of our sinfulness, coupled with the understanding that communion with Christ purifies and fortifies the soul, aids us in gradually conforming more closely to His likeness.

Merely attending church for the enjoyment of music and fellowship, while abstaining from participation in the Eucharist, constitutes a tangible rebuff of God. True love for God and the aspiration to emulate Him manifest in an Orthodox lifestyle encompassing daily prayer, fasting, adherence to His teachings, and repentance upon faltering. Such a life of devotion prepares us for the reception of the Holy Spirit's guidance. Embracing this way of life cultivates an awareness that in the Eucharist, God Himself is presented to us—His true Body and Blood.

This recognition should dispel any hesitation to partake in communion with Him who lives us unconditionally.

Saint Symeon exhorts us not to trivialize this sacrament as a casual or obligatory act but to approach it as a genuine encounter with God.

Link for PDF on Slides used

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Is the Jesus Prayer "Vane Repetition"?


The Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner," is a profound expression of faith among many Orthodox Christians. Far from being vain repetition, the prayer becomes deeply meaningful when one prays with a sincere heart, recognizing oneself as a sinner in need of God's mercy—much like the tax collector in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9114), or the blind man who sought Jesus's healing (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). This prayer is a call from the depths of one's being, in recognition of God as both Creator and Savior, and expresses a longing to be purified of sin, to become united with God, and to attain eternal life in His kingdom. It reflects the humility and repentance of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), acknowledging one's sinfulness and separation from God and seeking His great mercy.

Contrasting this with mantra practice in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, where mantras are sacred utterances for meditation, concentration, and spiritual development, it's important to recognize the distinct theological and philosophical frameworks. While both the Jesus Prayer and mantras involve repetition, their purposes and contexts differ markedly. The Jesus Prayer seeks God’s mercy, aims for theosis, or union with God, a concept foreign to the goals of Eastern mantra practices, which might focus on concentration, peaceful mind, enlightenment or spiritual qualities.

Addressing concerns of vain repetition, especially from a perspective that prioritizes Scripture, it's helpful to examine Matthew 6:7, where the term “βατταλογήσητε” often translated as "vain repetitions" (in older translations) is better understood as "babbling." Many contemporary translations and the Orthodox Study Bible offer insights that clarify Jesus's teaching is against mindless repetition, not against repetition itself. Jesus's admonition in Matthew 6:7 against babbling—empty, meaningless prayer—underscores the importance of the heart's intention in prayer, not the quantity of words.

This perspective is supported by Orthodox teachings which emphasize prayer as an intimate communion with God, leading to the vision of His glory. Prayer, to be genuine, should be humble, personal, and sincere, avoiding hypocrisy and the pretense of piety. The repeated use of the Jesus Prayer, when done with the awareness of one's need for God's mercy, is not vain but a deep spiritual practice encouraging continuous communion with God.

In essence, if the Jesus Prayer is approached with a sincere heart, recognizing one's sinfulness and seeking God's mercy and transformation, it transcends mere repetition and becomes a vital spiritual discipline. It aligns with Paul's exhortation to pray without ceasing, inviting believers into a deeper relationship with God through constant, heartfelt prayer.