Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Pray For the Dead?

When you die you will face what is known as the partial judgment. This will include a complete examination of your life.  With a good account you will be led by angels to a mystical place where we will anticipate the joys of Paradise awaiting the final judgment and your resurrection.  If you do not know God at this point and have not lead a life of repentance you will be controlled by the demons who will lead you to a place where you anticipate the torments of Hell or an eternal life separated from God.  
Elder Cleopa tells us this about those who are destined for eternal torments,
"If someone at the partial judgment is destined for eternal torments and is a Christian and servant of Christ, he has but one hope.  His hope is in the intercession of living Christians who are able to pray to Christ for him to be rescued from the torments of hell or at least to find some relief from them."
Paul tells us, "we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10)  but Elder Cleopa points out that Paul also said to Timothy, "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men." (1 Tim 2:1)  Also James says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16)

Elder Cleopa says,
Consequently, if our prayers are able to benefit the living for what reason are they powerless to benefit the dead, granted that they also live by their souls? God is everywhere present and hears both the prayers for the living and for the dead.

We can see in the Old Testament witness to prayers for the dead (2 Mac 12:442-45, Bar 3:4-5).  We also see in Holy Tradition and in the Divine Liturgy prayers for the dead.

Praying for the dead does not place our hope of salvation in the hands of humans. Those who are separated from God will not be saved, but those who have their hope additionally in the prayers of men of faith may be helped through their prayers much like Paul depended on the prayers of his followers.  We must remember that God is all powerful with unlimited goodness. He is surely able to rescind the eternal anguish of man.  He asks for our love and our love of each other.  When we pray for each other this is an act of love. We know the Theotokos and the angels and all the saints are always praying for us especially when we join with them in our services, such as a memorial for the dead or the Divine Liturgy.  Jesus told us, "Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mk 11:24)  Elder Cleopa says, "Consequently, prayer for the reposed is not only a sign and strengthening of the love we share between us, but also proof of our faith. Thus the Savior says, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mk 9:23)

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) we are told of a great chasm that exist between heaven and hell.  
Elder Cleopa tells us, 
"Yet, this chasm does not have the power to impede the mercy of our great God, Who hears our prayers for the reposed. We do not suppose, as do the Roman Catholics that there exists a purgatorial fire, but we say that only for those who sinned very severely and did not confess their sin is the passage from Hades to Paradise impossible.  For those who sinned more lightly this pathway is not definitely closed, given that in the future judgment each one's place, either in heaven or hell, will be decided definitely, inasmuch as after his judgment someone whose orientation was Hades can no longer pass over into Paradise. For those who sinned unto death, our prayers are completely futile...
God looks down from the heavens with attentiveness upon that which springs from love, for love is in its entirely the sum of His commandments."

Reference: The Truth of our Faith, 123-133

Friday, April 27, 2012

Do Christians Still Honor the Sabbath?

From Scripture we know that's Christ did not abide by the Fourth Commandment according to Jewish Law. It was on the Sabbath that Christ did most of His miracles. Neither did the Appostles abide by this Law as we know they plucked and ate ears of corn on this day. Christ made a new covenant though His Crucifixion and the example of His life, instructing us to no longer observe the day of the Sabbath as a religious observance. If you examine the New Testament you will find that all the commandments of the Decalogue are taught by Jesus or His Apostles except for the fourth one regarding the observation of the Sabbath. You cannot find one reference to the fourth commandment in the New Testament. In addition we know that Jesus condensed all the commandments into two, love of God and love of our neighbor saying, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets." (Mt 22:40) Paul we know taught day and night every day toiling in his work for the benefit of souls.
From the earliest days Christians honored the eighth day as the Lord's day, not the Sabbath. This was seen as the day of the Resurrection, a day where it was declared that we have been freed from the chains of sin and death and promised that we too will rise from bodily death into eternal life.

Elder Clopas reports the following:
On the first day of the week the event of the Resurrection took place, and on the first day of the week in Emmaus He performed the first Liturgy with the breaking of bread before His disciples. It was on the evening of the first day of the week, "when the doors wre shut where the disciples we assembled for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst of His disciples and said to them, "Peace be unto you." It was on the first day of the week (Sunday) that the Savior breathed on His disciples giving them the power to bind and loose the sins of men. On the same day of the week, as well, He appeared to His disciples again, with Thomas present, for whom He fortified his faith in His Resurrection. In addition, it was on this day that the Apostles celebrated the breaking of bread, in other words, the Divine Liturgy. On the same day the gathering of economic aid and preaching as organized by the Apostles took place in order to assist the impoverished Christians.
In this way the Resurrection day (Kyriaki - Sunday) became from the earliest times the day of the Divine Liturgy. We can see this in the writings of early Church Fathers.
Saint Ignatius writes,
Those who we brought up in the ancient order of things have come to possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observation of the Lord's Day...
Saint Justin Martyr writes,
Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.
Elder Cleopas tell us,
"We can find similar testimonies in the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), in the canons and the multitude of the holy Fathers and writers of the Church from the second to the fourth century, as for example Tertullian, Saint Irenaeus, Saint Ambrose, Saint John Chrysostom and many others. In fifth century, Sunday became a secular day of rest by a decree of Constantine the Great which affirmed the general practice of Chrstians at that time.

Reference: The Truth of Faith, pp 169 - 191

Monday, April 23, 2012

What is Necessary for Salvation?

In the Orthodox Tradition our salvation is not a simple matter. It is not a matter of being chosen or simply the work of Divine Grace through faith. Our salvation is a long process that is part of a spiritual maturing with the full cooperation of both God and man. We must cooperate with God based on faith, receiving His grace to do righteous deeds.

Here is how Elder Cleopa puts it:
Our Church, however, teaches that our personal salvation is neither a gift, nor a simple work, but rather a process and an undertaking that matures or develops gradually and is realized in the co-operation of two persons: God and man. On the part of God, Divine Grace (His uncreated Divine Energy) is offered to us, while for man's part, faith and righteous deeds are necessary. Consequentually, the prerequisites for our personal salvation are the following: the Divine Grace or uncreated Divine Energy of God and the faith and virtuous deeds of man.... Holy Scripture is filled with passages which refer to good deeds as a necessary prerequisite for our salvation.
Central to this issue is the question of free-will. Does man have free-will? On this question Holy Scripture is very clear. Here are some passages identified by Elder Cleopa:
O Lord as with a shield of Thy good pleasure hast Thou crowned us. (Ps 5:13)
He Himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of His council. (Eclus 15:14)
He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto which ever thou wilt. (Eclus 15:16)
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God. (Dt 11:26-27)
See, I have set befor thee this day life and death, good and evil... I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefor choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live. (Dt 30:15,19)
Jesus said to the rich man, If you would enter into Life, keep the commandments. (Mat 19:17)
God says through mouth of Isaiah: If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword. (Is 1:19-20)
If you will be perfect go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me. (Mat 19:21)

All the above show that it is obvious that God gave man free-will. Therefore, we must use it to cooperate with God's grace which we receive though faith.
Remember what Paul wrote: For we all must appeared before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad. (Cor 5:10)
we must remember to be humble when reading Scripture. The True Wisdom of God cannot be gained through intellectual means. We first must purify our minds and hearts from all passions.
Elder Cleopa says,
Christ has brought salvation to everyone, something the theologians have labeled general salvation. And yet, everyone does not actualize this objective salvation, only those who seek and peruse it... Those who desire to be saved and work toward this goal receive divine Grace as their aid and guide. This Grace does not work in us violently; rather it abides with us perennially as a specific offering for the work of our salvation....
Grace does not compel anyone. Men have the God-given freedom to accept it and to work with it or to reject it. Those who embrace it are saved and those who withdraw from it are lost.

Reference: The Truth of Our Faith, pp 153-166

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Zen for High Schoolers? Why Not the Jesus Prayer?

Reading the paper this morning I was awakened by an article titled "Zen for Highschoolers." The subtitle was , "Notice the Anxiety. Notice the Fear." Here was an article in a major national publication, The New York Times, with large photograph of students meditating and almost a full page dedicated to this topic. I wondered why is that we do not have such publicity about the Christain traditions that truly lead us to life that relives us of anxiety and fear? Why do we not teach the ascetic practices of fasting and prayer that lead us to an ability to know God and to control our passions, anxieties and fears?

Why not have programs for Highschoolers who are given detention and suspension for fighting and othe disruptive behaviors to teach them the ancient Christian truths and how to pray using the Jesus Prayer? How is it that a religious practice like Buddhist Zen meditation is OK in public schools but a Christian practice like the Jesus Prayer is not?

Here are some guidelines for the price of the Jesus Prayer:

The Jesus Prayer is very simple:

"Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,"
(For different languages)

The Jesus Prayer according to numerous Church Fathers is "essential" to our spiritual growth. The Jesus Prayer proclaims our faith and humbles us by asking mercy for our sinfulness. The Jesus Prayer is thought to be as old as the Church itself.

The Jesus Prayer, says Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, “more than any other,” helps us to be able to “stand in God’s presence.” This means that the Jesus Prayer helps us to focus our mind exclusively on God with “no other thought” occupying our mind but the thought of God. At this moment when our mind is totally concentrated on God, we discover a very personal and direct relationship with Him.

Jesus Christ - the Power In the Name
The Jesus Prayer's power comes from the use of our Lord's Name, Jesus Christ, Son of God. It is a confession of our faith. more about the power of the name Jesus Christ

Jesus Prayer requires Humility
The Jesus Prayer in its practice assumes you are a regular participant in the worship services of the Church, in her Sacraments and aware of your sinfulness. Be sure to consult with and follow the advice of your spiritual Father. Humility is a prerequisite for all prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. more about role of humility in practicing the Jesus Prayer

Jesus Prayer Has Two Functions
The Jesus Prayer has two important purposes. The first is worship as with all prayer. The second is a discipline to help our soul gain control our overactive brains and create stillness so the Holy Spirit can work through us and help us live the virtues in union with God. more about the two functions of the Jesus Prayer

Jesus Prayer Has Three Stages in Practice
The Jesus Prayer involves three stages of progress in its practice. You begin praying the Jesus Prayer by repeating the words of the prayer out loud or at least moving the lips. This is called verbal prayer. After some time saying of the Jesus Prayer becomes silent or mental and is repeated only in the mind. This is mental prayer. Finally, the Jesus Prayer becomes a continuous prayer in the heart, the inner core of our being. We begin with vocal prayer and do not force the move to mental prayer. This will happen naturally when you are ready.
... read more about the three stages of the Jesus Prayer

Jesus Prayer in Practice
In praying the Jesus Prayer, our holy Fathers tell us, we say it over and over hundreds of times as part of our daily prayer rule. It is best to add the Jesus Prayer to your morning prayers as this is when the mind is the quietest. Begin by saying the Jesus Prayer verbally focusing on each word. Repeat the Jesus Prayer continually for 15 minutes at first and then expand to 30 minutes. You will experience the challenge of dealing with your thoughts, the tendency for you mind to wander. Attention when praying the Jesus Prayer is important. Be sincere in your prayer and repeat it with contrition. Praying the Jesus Prayer is that simple!
... read more about how to practice the Jesus Prayer

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Living a Peaceful Life with Purpose

I found the following statistics from the Center of Disease Control to be quite thought provoking: only 15% felt calm and peaceful during the last 30 days; only 19% say they are satisfied with their life; 21% say their life has a clear purpose;13% felt full of life during the last 30 days.
My guess is that this may not be startling news to most of you who read this blog. So, what is needed to improve our appreciation of this short life we have been granted on this earth? Do we need better health care? Do we need better working environments? Do we need a change in government? Or, is there a spiritual need that is not being met?

Is our fundamental problem such that that we are so involved with the activities of this world, that we have lost much of our sense of our true needs which are spiritual? Has our practice of our Christian faith become this worldly and we have forgotten the teachings of Jesus and our Church Fathers about how we must struggle to overcome our passions and connections to the demands and desires of things of this world? So, what is our aim? Saint Seraphim of Sarov says that it is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is what the Church calls Theosis or a union with God.

What kind of effort do we make to nurture our spiritual needs? Are they getting equal priority to our efforts to meet our earthly needs? If not, why not? Do we know what to do to acquire the Holy Spirit? If so, why don't we do them? When we do, we know we will be able to meet all the challenges and difficulties of this world without despair because we will always find comfort and direction in the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit. A full life is one lived in the hope of our own resurrection, joyfully preparing now in great anticipation for a life in union with God in His kingdom.

As we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during this Bright Week, let's reflect on our life and how we are living it. Let us ask ourselves if we are truly giving a priority to our spiritual needs. As an reminder of what is essential for a life in Christ, below are the elements of an Orthodox Way of Life that can nurture our spiritual growth, leading us to a more full and satisfying life, where our purpose is clear, where we will be able to find peace in all situations, and we will always be giving thanks to our Lord for all he sends in our way. If with faith we follow them, we will feel full of life knowing that we are preparing for an eternal life with our God in Paradise.

Here are the elements of the Orthodox Way of Life:

1. Praying Daily
Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.

2. Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments
Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.

3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church
Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.

4. Using the Jesus Prayer
Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.

5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.

6. Being Watchful
Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.

7. Taming the Passions
Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues.

8. Putting Others First
Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.

9. Spiritual Fellowship
Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.

10. Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers
Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.

Here is a link where you can find more information on these critical ten points.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What is Holy Tradition and Why is It Important?

We often tell our Protestant friends that one of the differences in the Orthodox faith is that we rely on Holy Tradition and not solely on Scripture.  But what do we mean by this?  Is Scripture the foundation of Holy Tradition or is Holy Tradition the foundation for Holy Scripture?
Elder Cleopa says.
 "Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church with a living voice, from which a portion was written down later." 
Holy Tradition contains Holy Revelation and is essential for our salvation.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit and has the same authority as Holy Scripture.

Moses was the first to recorded Holy Tradition, including the Creation story. This recording began 1400 years before Christ. Prior to this there was no Scripture. Just like the time before the Old Testament was written there was also a period of time for Christians before anything was written that they considered Holy Scripture.  Jesus taught for over three years without writing anything down.  He sent His Apostles out to teach, not write documents. It wasn't until some 30+ years later that we have the first writings of the New Testament.  Common sense tells us that what was written then could not have possibly included all that had taken place.  The reality is that Scripture, both New and Old, are born out of Holy Tradition.

Evangelist John tells us there is much more than what is written.
There are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. ( Jn 21:25)
Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. (2Jn 1:12)
 We can see from this that the Apostles taught their followers much more from the knowledge of Tradition.  Not everything was written that was passed on through their instruction.

Elder Cleopa explains how the Church has maintained the truth of the faith.  He says,
"The Church of Christ determined the truths of the faith, according to the long course of Tradition, through the teachings and canons of the holy Ecumenical Councils, decrees and the Symbol of Faith [The Creed], and with confessions [of Faith] by holy and wonderworking hierarchs such as were made at the many local synods which have been held continuously since the days of old.
He outlines the following conditions to safeguard Holy Tradition:
Do not sanction conceptions that contain inconsistencies among themselves or contradictions with the Apostolic Tradition and Holy Scripture.
Honor the Tradition is that which has been safeguarded from the Apostolic Church and has an uninterrupted continuity until today.
Protect Tradition that is confessed and practiced by the entire Orthodox Church.
Carry forward Tradition that is harmony with the greatest portion of the Fathers and ecclesiastical writers.
Paul in Corinth commends the Christians there because they obeyed his oral teachings and not simply written teachings. Paul writes "I Praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and even as I delivered to You, ye are holding fast the traditions." (1 Cor 11:2) Clearly, much of what the apostles taught is not recorded in Holy Scripture.

Teachings that were errant to those of the Apostles were always hotly defended by early Church Fathers such as Saint Ignatius and Saint Polycarp.
 Saint Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria say: "Those who explain Scripture without the help of the church's Tradition cut asunder the significant of the truth."
Saint John Chrysostom says, "Hence it is clear that the Holy Apostles did not deliver everything by epistle; rather many things they handed down via the spoken word which is also trustworthy."
Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes: "We have the Tradition set out for us from the Fathers like an inheritance by apostolic succession and transmitted through the saints."
Saint Basil the Great says: "Among the dogmas and kerygma (evangelical truths) that are safeguarded in the Church, some we have from written teachings while others we've received orally from the Tradition of the Apostles by a concealed succession. The latter hold the same legitimacy and force as the written texts."

Elder Cleopa writes:
"Holy Scripture instructs us to do many things; however it does not make manifest to us the light. For example, it instructs us to be baptized, but it does not explain to us the method. Likewise, it guides us to  confess our sins, receive communion, be crowned (married) - but nowhere does it specify the rite of carrying-out these mysteries (sacraments).  Furthermore it tells us to pray, but doesn't  tell us how and where and when.  It tells us to make the sign of the Cross in front of our chest... but doesn't show us how." He continues with many other examples.
Finally he says:
"Whatever is of Apostolic descent and is practiced by the Fathers receives the validity of Tradition and has the power of law in the Church of Christ. Accordingly therefore, it must be safeguarded since its importance and benefit spring from the relationship that exists between it and Holy Scripture.... Holy Scripture possess its unique witness of the scriptural canon and its dogmatic character (its divine inspiration) only in and with Holy Tradition, while Holy Tradition is able to prove the authenticity of its truth only together with Holy Scripture.

Reference: The Truth of Our Faith, pp 53-65