Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What does it mean when we say, “Our Father Who Art In Heaven”?

Commentary on the Second Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Gregory of Nyssa

To address God as “Our Father who art in heaven” is an awesome statement. Gregory of Nyssa says about addressing God in this way, “I need to leave the whole earth behind. I must traverse all the intermediary air and come to that ethereal beauty, reaching the stars and beholding their lovely order,” This is not enough as we must “go beyond all material things that change and that are in flux.” He reminds us that all things ”exist and are dependent on the ineffable will of the Divine Wisdom.” To lift ourselves to such heights in such a prayer, we need to still our mind and attain an “unchanging and unwavering disposition of the soul.” To address God our father who is in heaven of necessity takes us beyond all that is of this world embracing Him as our creator and recognizing ourselves as His son or daughter. Gregory begins this discourse by asking us to think about how wondrous this is.

Gregory raises the question, “What quality of the soul must the speaker possess to speak of God as “Our Father!” To address God in this way we must fully appreciate and comprehend the mystery of God and His divine nature of “goodness, holiness, joy, glory, purity and eternity.” So, how is that we would even dare to to refer to God as our own father? What are the implications of our saying this?

Gregory suggests that we would not dare address God in this way unless we perceived a reflection of His attributes in ourselves. How is it possible for God who is good in His essence to be the Father to anyone engaged in evil activities? Would it not be like accusing God of being the Father of our evil tendencies? Would it not be a mockery of God? What does the word fatherhood imply? Calling God our Father implies that He is the source and cause of our existence. Gregory warns that “whoever invokes God as Father and still possesses a wicked conscience, he in fact accuses God of nothing less than being the source and cause of his own evils… If someone is possessed, as Scripture puts it, by hardness of heart and dares to utter the words of the Lord’s Prayer, he pursues falsehood.” We don’t dare infer that God is the father of our sin.

When Jesus instructed us to say this Prayer he assumed that were were already committed to live the life he taught. A vow had preceded our prayer. As Gregory puts it, “I believe He is doing nothing less than ordaining an exalted and sublime way of life.” He surely does not want us to lie and make false statements about ourselves. To call God “Father” implies the greatest potential for ourselves. It reflects our understanding that we are destined to become like God because we are His children made in His image. This we must believe to say this prayer. When we call Him “Our Father” we are obligated to show our kinship with Him through our way of life.

Clearly there is much preparation that is needed “in order that our conscience rise to the level of confidence to dare address God as ‘Father.’ If you are concerned about money, or preoccupied with deceits of life, or chase after human glory, or are enslaved by the most wicked desires, and then take this exalted prayer to your lips, what do you think the Lord would say,…?”

When we approach God to say the Lord’s Prayer we must examine our way of life and to see if we inwardly possess a quality that is worthy of divine kinship. Then we can be courageous and recite these beginning words of this Prayer. Gregory says, “For the Lord who has directed us to say ‘Father’ did not permit us to speak a lie. Therefore, whoever conducts himself worthily of God, it is he who rightly gazes toward the heavenly city. It is he who rightly names the King of heaven ‘Father’ and calls heavenly blessedness his own homeland.” To call God “Our Father” we must think of the things above where God is. It is heaven where we need to build the foundation of our home. This is where we should lay our treasures. “For where the treasure is, there is also the heart.” (Mt 6:21)

Gregory says, “Do not be spotted by evil passions: neither envy, nor conceit, not anything else that defiles the godly beauty.” If you desire such purity and are committed to gaining it above all else, then have the courage to call out to God and call Him your “Father.” Gregory says, “He will look upon you with fatherly eyes. He will cover you with a divine robe and will adorn you with a ring. He will equip you with the sandals of the gospel,” just like the father of the prodigal son. “He will restore you to the heavenly homeland in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Link to full text of Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s Second Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.
Homily 2 - Our Father Who Are In Heaven

More on Prayer

Monday, April 20, 2009

Christos Anesti - Christ is risen!

Christos Anesti - Greek Chant
Christos Anesti - Irene Papas & Vangelis
"Christos Anesti (Resurrection)" performed by Vangelis and sung by actress Irene Papas. Released as part of the 1986 Vangelis CD "Rapsodies".

Christ, the central figure of the icon, is robed in white to show His divinity. The aureole (elongated halo) around Him also symbolizes this brilliant Light. At His feet are the demolished gates of Hades (in some icons these gates are the coffin lids of Adam and Eve and are depicted as a Cross on which Christ stands), with their broken keys and locks. Christ holds the hands of Adam (Heb: man) and Eve (Heb. Life), depicted to his right and left, as he pulls them from their tombs. Adam is in old man, recalled to his primordial innocence; Eve is also depicted as elderly, and is set free from her sin in Eden by the Incarnation. Behind Christ are aligned the Righteous of the Old Testament (to the left, including Solomon and David) and the New Testament (to the right, including John the Baptist and Joseph the Guardian).

The aureole depicts that this icon is a dogmatic icon. There were no eyewitnesses to the resurrection. The only “proof” as such was an empty tomb. How one sees the tomb depends on more than the brute physical fact. Some said, “They stole His body.” Others said, “He is Risen.” How one sees the tomb in other words depends on more, in our case the encounter with the Risen Christ — just as the Apostles experienced and testify to us.
Source: http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/04/christos-anesti-greek-chant/

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mindfulness: A Tool to Break Bad Habits and Troubling Emotions

All of us have experienced at some point in our lives how automatic some bad habits and troubling emotions can be. It is almost like they occur without our thinking about them. Many 'mindlessly' reach for a cigarette, a piece of candy or something else that can endanger us. Many without being watchful react almost reflexively with anger when someone intrude on us, or respond with impulsive anxiety if we suddenly feel threatened.

The behavioral research literature has found support for a clinical tool called mindfulness which can be used to break bad habits and troubling emotions. One psychologist Kabat-Zinn (2003) defined mindfulness as "the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmental to the unfolding of experience moment by moment." The 'patient' can focus on the sensory and physical aspects of the present moment, recognize thought patterns, feelings and physical sensations that are occurring and learn to tell the difference between sensation, thoughts and feelings. The 'patient' then practices making decisions based on the choices they really want and feel right.

Not immediately recognized is the early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about nepsis which is vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart. This is similar to the cognitive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be mindful and thus learn to control their thoughts and feelings. These early Christian spiritual teachers taught their disciples to develop nepsis that is to be wakeful and attentive, (from the Greek verb nepho (to be vigilant, mindful.) to that which was inside and around them. Thus, we have to be completely "present" to our thoughts and surroundings. This is not dissimilar to a military scout at the head of a column, or a busy parent "attending" to their newborn infant (Morelli, 2009).

The goal of these early Christian teachers was to bring about Godly inclinations, thoughts, feelings and behavior among their students. This can be seen in the words of St John Cassian (Philokalia I) who wrote about St. Antony the Great's understanding of Jesus' Gospel teaching: "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Mt 6: 22-23). St. Anthony said: "…and this is just what we find; for the power of discrimination, scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, distinguishes and set aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, and keeps him free from delusion." This is still a righteous goal for all and the purpose in life for all Christians.

This advice, however, can be applied to all bad habits and feelings. Once we detect a habit that we have that is harmful or an emotional reaction we have which is damaging to ourselves or others we can take the step to place ourselves at the head of the column, be mindful, watchful vigilant and prepare a counteraction: a alternative competing response, an different interpretation of the events around us and a different feeling about the whole incident. This would be applying the words of St. Peter in his first epistle (5:8) "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour." This is would be applying mindfulness.


Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based Interventions In Context: Past, Present And Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

Morelli, G. (2009 January 09). Suicide: Christ His Church and Modern Medicine. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Morelli-Suicide-Christ-His-Church-And-Modern-Medicine.php

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds). (1979). The Philokalia, The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol 1) . London: Faber and Faber.

By Fr. George Morelli
Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Source: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Morelli-Mindfullness-A-Tool-To-Break-Bad-Habits-And-Troubling-Emotions.php



From the Holy and Great Sunday of Pascha until the Saturday of Renewal Week, in place of the usual Morning and Evening Prayers, Nocturns, the Hours, Compline, and the Prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, the following is read:

After the exclamation by the priest, we say:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! (3)

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection, for Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee: we call on Thy name. Come, all you faithful, let us venerate Christ's holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever bless the Lord, praising His Resurrection, for by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death. (3)

Before the dawn, Mary and the women came and found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They heard the angelic voice: Why do you seek among the dead, as a man, the One who is everlasting Light? Behold the clothes in the grave! Go and proclaim to the world: the Lord is risen! He has slain death, as He is the Son of God, saving the race of man.

O Christ our God, though Thou didst descend into the grave, yet didst Thou overthrow the power of Hades, and rise as an immortal conqueror: Thou didst greet with joy the myrrh-bearing women, and to Thine Apostles hast sent Thy peace, and to the fallen, O Lord, didst bring resurrection.

In the grave bodily; in Hades with Thy soul, though Thou wast God; in Paradise with the thief; and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou who fillest all things, O Christ the Uncircumscribable.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

How life-giving, how much more beautiful than paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace proved Thy grave, the source of our resurrection, O Christ.

Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Rejoice, O sanctified and divine tabernacle of the Most High; for through Thee, O Theotokos, joy is given to them that cry: Blessed art thou among women, O allimmaculate Lady.

Lord, have mercy. (40)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thou who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos thee do we magnify.

At Compline we also say this prayer; otherwise, we proceed with Christ is risen... as set forth below.

A Compline Prayer of St. Basil the Great

Blessed art Thou, 0 Almighty Master, Who hast enlightened the day with the light of the sun and hast illumined the night by the rays of fire, Who hast deemed us worthy to pass through the length of the day and draw nigh to the beginning of the night. Hearken unto Our supplication, and that of all Thy people. Forgive all of us our sins, voluntary and involuntary, accept our evening entreaties, and send down the multitude of Thy mercy and compassions upon Thine inheritance. Encompass us with Thy holy Angels; arm us with the armour of Thy righteousness; surround us with Thy truth; protect us by Thy might; deliver us from every grievous circumstance and from every conspiracy of the adversary. And grant unto us that this evening together with the coming night and all the days of our life may be perfect, holy, peaceful, sinless, without stumbling and vain imaginings; by the intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the Saints who, from ages past, have been well-pleasing unto Thee. Amen.

And likewise again: Christ is risen ... (3).

Glory; both now. Lord, have mercy. (3)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

Know that from the Holy and Great Sunday of Pascha until the Feast of Pentecost, the introductory prayers, Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. Heavenly King, O Comforter … are not said.

And from the Holy and Great Sunday of Pascha until the giving up of Pascha on the eve of the Feast of the Ascension, in place of Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal … and a come, let us worship … we say, Christ is risen from the dead … (3).

Source: http://holycrossonline.org/daily_bread/daily_prayers/paschal_hours/

Friday, April 17, 2009

High Priestly Prayer - John 17

After the end of the farewell discourse, immediately following it, when, according to the suggestion of some interpreters, the Lord and His disciples, on their to Gethsemane, had already reached the Kidron Valley, but not yet crossed it, the Lord spoke out loud before His disciples His triumphant prayer to God the Father. This prayer is normally called the High Priestly Prayer, inasmuch as in it the Lord prays to God the Father as the Great High Priest, offering Himself as a sacrifice that has a great and inexplicable significance for the entire world.

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” — it is with this solemn exclamation that the Lord begins His prayer. The hour of My sufferings has arrived: allow Me to demonstrate in this hour all My love for Thee and for the world created by Thee, so that through My forthcoming deed [podvig] of redeeming mankind Thy glory may be revealed. “As Thou hast given Him authority over all flesh...” The Father entrusted the whole human race to His Son, so that He might undertake its salvation and grant eternal life to humanity. The Lord defines eternal life as the knowledge of God and the Redeemer of the world sent by Him. In the Lord’s spiritual vision, all His work appears already accomplished, and therefore He says: “I have glorified Thee on earth…” Now it remains for Him to enter the Divine glory in His humanity, for which He prays: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Thyself, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” This first part of the Lord’s prayer concerns Himself (verses 1-5).

Having finished the prayer about Himself, the Lord prays further for His disciples (verses 6-19), for those to whom He is now entrusting the mission of spreading and affirming on earth His Kingdom. The Lord, as it were, gives an account to God the Father of what He had achieved: He has revealed to His disciples the full and correct understanding of God, and they have become God’s elected, having received the Divine teaching, brought from the Father by His Son, and they have also comprehended the mystery of the Divine dispensation. The Lord further prays for His disciples, that the Heavenly Father would take them under His special protection in this hostile world, where they will remain alone after the Lord’s departure, that He would preserve them pure and holy in spiritual unity of faith and love among themselves, in the unity that is akin to the unity of God the Father and God the Son. The Lord states further that He, being in the world, protected them from downfall, and “none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Judas the betrayer), that is, according to the prophesy of Psalm 40:10. Praying to His Father for the preservation of His disciples from all the evil in this world that hates them, the Lord asks that they be enlightened with the Word of Divine truth, that is, to grant them unique gifts of grace for their successful service of spreading the true teaching throughout the entire world. The Lord states further that He consecrates Himself for their sake – offering Himself as a sacrifice, that they might follow in His footsteps and become His witnesses and sacrifices for the truth.

The third part of the Lord’s Prayer — concerning the faithful — begins from verse 20. The Lord prays for them: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” — the union of the faithful in Christ must be similar to the unity of God the Father with God the Son. This means, of course, a moral union [нравственное единение]. Such a union of all Christians in faith and love would assist to bring the whole world to belief in Christ as the Messiah. We can see this in the first centuries of Christianity when – apart from those who were completely spiritually blind and hard-hearted – the elevated beauty of Christ’s teaching captured both Jews and pagans, who became Christians themselves. The Lord further defines this union of all the faithful as unity in the glory of God and Christ. In the following verses (22-24), the Lord, as it were, contemplates His Church in heavenly glory and in the union with God in the Messianic Kingdom, saying that this glory will bring even the world hostile to Christ, against its will, to the acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus is the true Messiah. The words: "Father, I desire that they also whom Thou has given Me may be with Me where I am" are akin to the last will of the Dying One, which should undoubtedly be carried out, especially since the will of the Son of God is inseparable from the will of God the Father: here giving His life for the world’s salvation, the Son of God is appealing to God the Father, asking for all the faithful those Heavenly mansions about which He spoke to His Apostles at the beginning of His farewell discourse (John 14:2).

Verses 25 and 26 represent the conclusion of the High Priestly Prayer, where the Lord addresses God the Father as the All-righteous Rewarder. The Lord points out the superiority of the faithful over the rest of the world, in that they "have known God" and consequently are capable of receiving the gifts of Divine love. The Lord asks that God the Father make them known to the world by His generosity and make them communicants of the love that He has for His Son: "That the love with which Thou hast loved Me may be in them." For this, the Lord Jesus Himself promises to "be in them," so that the love of the Father that continuously dwells in the Son might extend, from the Son and for the sake of the Son, onto those in whom the Son abides. Thus this all-uniting and all-enveloping love will be all-perfecting in the eternal glory of the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop Averky †1976 (ROCA)

More on prayer

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Listen to Moving Hymn sung during the procession the Cross on Thursday Evening By Metropolitan Alexios

"Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection."

Link to above hymn chanted by Metropolitan Alexios at the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral 2007 - Very moving

During this service all the Passion Gospels are read:
1) Jn. 13:31-18:1 (Farewell conversation of the Savior with His disciples and His high-priestly prayer for them).5
2) Jn. 18:1-28 (the Seizure of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and His suffering at the hands of the high priest Annas).
3) Mt. 26:57-75. (Suffering of the Savior at the hands of the high priest Caiaphas and Peter's denial of Christ).
4) Jn. 18:28-19:16 (Suffering of the Lord in the court of Pilate).
5) Mt. 27:3-32 (The despair of Judas by the new suffering of the Lord by Pilate and the judgment for His crucifixion).
6) Mk. 15:16-32 (Leading the Lord to Golgotha and his suffering on the cross).
7) Mt. 27:33-54 (The continuation of the narrative about the Lord's suffering on the cross,
the wonderful signs accompanying His death).
8) Lk. 23:32-49 (The Prayer of the Savior on the cross for His enemies and the repentance of the wise thief).
9) Jn. 19:25-37 (Words of the Savior from the cross to the Theotokos and Apostle John
and the repetition of the narrative of His death and perforation).
10) Mk. 15:43-47 (Removal of the body of the Lord from the cross).
11) Jn. 19:38-42 (Participation of Nicodemus and Joseph in the burial of the Savior).
12) Mt. 27:62-66 (Posting of the guards at the tomb of the Savior and the sealing of the tomb).

After the 5th Gospel there is a procession where the priest carries the cross around the Nave and places it on the solea where the figure of Christ is nailed to it. The above hymn is what is chanted by the Priest.

During the Procession, Orthodox Christians kneel and venerate the Cross and pray for their spiritual well-being, imitating the thief on the Cross who confessed his faith and devotion to Christ. The faithful then approach and reverently kiss the Crucifix which has been placed at the front of the church.

Hymn of Cassiane

The beautiful hymn written by Saint Cassianne who give voice to the sinful woman described in Luke's Gospel (7:36-50) who anointed Christ's feet with oil after washing them with her tears in repentance is sung by the Saint George Choir.

Hymn of Cassiane - Tone 8: Link to audio of hymn sung by Saint George Choir followed by commentary by Father Tom Pistolis.

The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Your divinity, O Lord, Received the dignity of a myrrh-bearer, For with lamentation she brought fragrant myrrh to You before Your burial. And she cried: Woe is me, for love of sin and stings of lustful passion envelop me as the night, dark and moonless. As You cause the clouds to drop down the waters of the sea, accept the fountain of my tears. As by Your indescribable condescension You bowed down the heavens, so incline to the groaning of my heart. I shall kiss Your most pure feet and wipe them with the hair of my head, Those same feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise when she hid herself in fear. Who can count the multitude of my sins? Who can measure the depths of Your judgements, O Saviour of my soul? Do not turn away from me, Your servant, for You have immeasurable mercy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bridegroom Services

The Gospel of the ten virgins provides the theme for the Bridegroom Services.

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Mt. 25:1-13).

St Seraphim of Sarov's interprets the parable of the ten virgins:
"In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, when the foolish ones ran short of oil, they were told: "Go and buy in the market." But when they had bought it, the door of the bride-chamber was already shut and they could not get in. Some say that the lack of oil in the lamps of the foolish virgins means a lack of good deeds in their lifetime. Such an interpretation is not quite correct. Why should they be lacking in good deeds, if they are called virgins, even though foolish ones? Virginity is the supreme virtue, an angelic state, and it could take the place of all other good works.

"I think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God. These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works. By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they cared little whether they acquired the grace of God's Spirit. These ways of life, based merely on doing good, without carefully testing whether they bring the grace of the Spirit of God, are mentioned in the patristic books: "There is another way which is deemed good in the beginning, but ends at the bottom of hell."

"Anthony the Great in his letters to monks says of such virgins: "Many monks and virgins have no idea of the different kinds of will which act in man, and they do not know that we are influenced by three wills: the first is God's all-perfect and all-saving will; the second is our own human will which, if not destructive, neither is it saving; and the third will is the devil's will - wholly destructive." This third will of the enemy prompts man to do any no good deeds, or to do them good out of vanity, or merely for virtue's sake rather than for Christ's sake. The second, our own will, prompts us to do everything to flatter our passions, or else it teaches us like the enemy, to do good for the sake of good and not care for the grace which is acquired by it. But the first, God's all-saving will, consists in doing good solely to acquire the Holy Spirit, as an eternal, inexhaustible treasure which is priceless. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, the oil, which the foolish virgins lacked. They were called foolish just because they had forgotten the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, , without which no one is or can be saved, for: "Through the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened and through purification is exalted and illumined by the Triune Unity in a Holy mystery."

"The oil in the lamps of the wise virgins could burn brightly for a long time. So these virgins, with their bright lamps were able to meet the Bridegroom, who came at midnight. With Him, they could enter the bridal chamber of joy. But the foolish ones, though they went to market to buy more oil, when their lamps were going out, were unable to return in time, for the door was already shut. The market is our life; the door of the bridal chamber, which was shut and barred the way to the Bridegroom is human death; the wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not the good deeds, but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through good deeds and which changes souls from one state to another - such as, from a corruptible state to incorruptible state, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from darkness to light, from the stable of our being (where the passions are tied up like dumb animals and wild beasts) into a temple of the Divinity, the shining bridal chamber of eternal joy in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Creator, Redeemer and eternal Bridegroom of our souls.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pray for Spiritual Blessings

Gregory of Nyssa raises the question about how it it that some have earned a high position, wealth and so forth by the use of prayer? It seems as if they are beloved by God because f their good fortune. Should we not ask for such tings? He responds by saying, "The present life is ordered from above. This is obvious to all... However, ... success in such material things through prayer has other causes. God in no way dispenses these things as good gifts to those who ask, but rather grants them as a means of strengthening the faith of the more shallow. Thus engaged with the smallest of requests and learning by experience that God hears our supplications, God wants us to rise to the desire for gifts which are both higher and worthy of Him. In other words he is helping us along in our spiritual growth step by step just as we observe in the way in which our own children grow.

He points our that it is indeed foolish to ask God for material benefits that are only temporary as they are not related to our destiny. Any enjoyment of things of this world are only temporary and in the end, at death, are all taken away. Gregory sternly says, "Looking upon the present life in the manner of grazing animal, they classify as good whatever gratifies their palate, their belly, or another carnal pleasure. They strive to be ahead of others and to be regarded preeminent. Or they find security in their abundant money or anything else in this deceitful life." But this is all folly he points out. Too often we think that by asking God for such things we can gain God's favor for our own benefits. Gregory says that, "it is characteristic of those who are without hope to cling to the present life."

Now he says we are ready to hear about the kind of prayer that is approprate to offer to God.
Gregory of Nyssa Sermons on the Lords Prayer; Discourse One.
Visit Cathedral prayer web pages for articles on prayer .

Babbling in Prayer

Before beginning his discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, Gregory of Nyssa warns us about babbling in prayer. He challenges us to consider that we my have the habit of praying like a child, praying for things that are not practical, mere fantasies - great success, wealth, fame and so forth. He warns that these kind of prayers are the the result of our vanity and all we are doing is asking God to join us in our foolish passions. He says, “These and similar soap bubbles and vain inventions rise up in the hearts of the most foolish.” He points out that many of us fail to attend to the benefit of our soul, but instead seek to feed the self-centered passionate movements of our minds. He says, “That person is truly a sort of fool and babbler because he prays to make God the coworker and servant of his own vanities.”

Gregory uses the image of a poor person who regards common clay pots as precious and who approaches the all powerful king of his place who can grant many benefits, asking the king to shape a clay pot that he fancies for himself instead of the kind of benefits a king could provide. This is the same as one who comes to prayer without fully understanding the power of God and the benefits he can bestow and presents him with his own desires based on his passions. One may even ask God to defeat an enemy or even something as foolish as to win a sports contest. Do we not often fail to ask to be forgiven of our sinfulness, for help to overcome our slavery to this condition, but instead to ask Him to support our sinful tendencies. Praying for benefits of this world that go beyond our basic survival needs, that our fantasies come true, while neglecting the health of our soul and our critical need to be healed, to seek union with God so He can help us become capable to do His will is what Gregory calls babbling in prayer.

Jesus says, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases...” (Mat 6:7). Let us not engage in our vanities when we pray to God and not try and make God a coworker and servant of our vanities.

Gregory of Nyssa Sermons on the Lords Prayer; Discourse One.
Visit Cathedral prayer web pages for articles on prayer