Sunday, June 19, 2016

Significance of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

Compared to most protestant churches the Orthodox Church relies on the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit that was sent to the empower the Apostles on this day. We receive the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and Chrismation. It is involved in all the sacramental activities of the Church like Holy Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Matrimony, Ordination and so forth. It is our aim as an Orthodox Christian to be united with the Holy Spirit, to become united with God, or Theosis. Because our Church is alive with the Holy Spirit ever since that day of Pentecost, we know that salvation involves more than just a mental affirmation of our faith. We understand that we must work in synergy with Spirit to perfect ourselves so the Spirit within us can carry out God’s will. The Church, as a good spiritual hospital, gives us exercises, practices, rituals, services, and sacraments for this purpose. It's important to be active in all of these to purify our hearts, cleansing it from all sinfulness, from the passions of the body, of all the temptations of the activities of this world, so with His mercy we will be accepted into His Kingdom with eternal life.

What are we expected to do? First we must regularly participate in the Divine Liturgies and be prepared to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. This is for our renewal each week and gives us strength to continue as a Christian. At the moment when we receive Communion we are in union with our God. With Christ alive in our heart and permeating our entire body we continue to nurture our inner Spirit with daily prayer, both morning and evening, in our homes where we have made a special place with our icons, a cross, an oil lamp, prayerbook and Bible. Because we are by nature animals, we have instincts that we have to tame with our Spirit. This is why the Church has prescribed for us regular times for fasting. This is an essential discipline to realize we have within us a power that is greater than our bodily desires. This strengthens our will aligned with Spirit. To help us remember all that Christ taught us about how to live in this world we must also read a little of the Scriptures each day, especially the Gospels. Of course, when we reflect on our activities of the day, we realize how hard it is to live up to the ideals He taught us, and we seek His forgiveness for our shortcomings. Periodically, or whenever our mind is clouded by our inability to follow in His steps, we go to the sacrament of Confession where we again call on the Holy Spirit to cleanse and renew us like in our Baptism. We also know we need a spiritual father to guide us and to give us practical advice so we can continue to improve our way of life. As we go about our daily life we learn to carry the Jesus prayer with us as we do all things. We know we must put the needs of other first, showing our love for our neighbors as much as we love ourselves and our God. All of this brings to life the Holy Spirit that was sent to empower the Apostles on this day of Pentecost. We too can be empowered like them but we must be co-active with the Spirit. Coming to the service, reciting the creed, and listening to the sermon is not sufficient according to our tradition. There is a way of life that we must also follow. When we do, we will be led by the Wisdom of the Church to grow in Spirit and become more and more able to do His will at all times.

Let’s celebrate this great event and receive the Holy Spirit into our lives each day and work tirelessly using the practices given to us by the Apostles as they set up the first Orthodox Churches. In this way the day of Pentecost become living event for us each day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Orthodox Christianity is an Integral Religion for Today and the Future

Orthodox Christianity integrates all forms of knowing. It has no conflict with scientific knowledge, it honors our emotions, it encourages intellectual understanding, and recognizes spiritual experience. It is historical and not based on mythical stories. It has a "yoga" or "way of life" that guides a follower to grow in their ways of knowing, seeking to live in dynamic presence of God. It recognizes the interior as well as the exterior reality of all things. It has a Tradition that is over 2000 years old. Yet it embraces the nature of our current world and the freedoms it espouses. It teaches universal values and  does not reject persons with differing values. It provides a shelter for those who seek to find peace and harmony in divine love. It provides a hospital for wounded souls. It's aim is integration of body, mind, soul, and Spirit without degrading the reality or importance of any of these dimensions. This is called Theosis, a union with God that does not require the loss of our individuality or personality.

We live in a historical time of transition. In ancient times there was no differentiation of the individual, society or community, and Spirit. Man was not free but constrained by mythical and pagan beliefs enforced by society, often under severe threat of punishment or even death. But our minds were opened to power of science, our hearts were freed for self expression, and we learned the importance of developing our intellect. Unfortunately we lost the power of Spirit in this transition as the power of intellect and power of scientific discoveries began to overpower and limit our full reality. Only what was observable in physical terms our demos treatable by clear logic became acceptable truth. This has led to much dysfunction and a loss of many universal values of Goodness.

Throughout this long historical period Orthodox Church survived with its holistic and integral world view. It is now is a position to lead mankind to a greater level of development where we retain our individuality, our freedom, but find peace and harmony though a realization of Spirit.

The Orthodox Church teaches that our world is the Creation of God and maintained by Spirit. When the time was right He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us this integral way of life. Jesus is not a mythical figure but his life has been recorded by four different witnesses to His life and time. His life is also validated by both Roman and Jewish historians, as well as recent archeological findings. Unfortunately many of the lessons He taught us have been misinterpreted by many who accept His realty leaving some with a flattened view of His lessons. The Orthodox Church never lost the integral nature of His life. It was defended by Seven Ecumenical Councils with the last one being held 1200 years ago. While for about 1000 years there was only one Church, today you can find more than a thousand versions. But the Orthodox Churh has stayed true to the origin teachings about the nature of Chrust and what He had to teach.

Jesus was both fully man and fully God and he taught us how to become like Himself. He struggled to convince people of His time that there is a greater realm than the physical. They wanted a powerful king but He was king of a greater realm. It was through His cruel and painful unjust death, followed by His resurrection witnessed by many, His teaching of disciples that followed and His empowerment of them by the Spirit that He still lives among us in the Orthodox Church.

He established a sacramental Church filled with the work of the Holy Spirit where peoples of all nations could be healed, nurtured by the Spirit, and lifted in their ways of knowing to experience the dynamic presence of God in their lives. He did not give them a book but a "way of life", a set of practices and disciplines along with sacraments where the Holy Spirit is fully engaged in a way that we are renewed.

To learn more about this integral way of life Jesus gave to us you will find Ten Points that will serve as a beginning guide to this way of life. The way begins with a belief, an acceptance of the realty of Jesus as a historical person as presented in the four Gospels and his dual nature as both God and man as defended by the Ecumenical Councils. With this belief the Ten Points will guide you along an ever growing path. The Spirit is enlivened in you, and you can develop a life grounded in an experienced knowledge of the mystical energies of God.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Is the Orthodox Church Biblical or Something More?

Orthodox Christianity is without a doubt more than Biblical. It is a living embodiment of Christ Himself.  It leads us to become joined in Union with God.  The Bible was given to us by the Church to make sure we clearly understand the nature of God as shown to us by the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. But our religion is not just about understanding a book. Of course we must understand the realty recorded by the eyewitness of the time of Jesus and recorded int the New Testament Gospels, but we need much more to be united with Him and to become capable of doing His will.

The Church was founded by the disciples of Jesus after He had first taught them about the sacramental nature of the Church. This He did after His resurrection and then left this world and directed them to wait in prayer and fasting for the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost He empowered them with the Holy Spirit to carry the Good News about His life, death, resurrection, and the way to become renewed, to people throughout the world. 

Our faith often begins with an acceptance of the Biblical story told about Jesus by the writers of the Gospels written while there were still many eyewitnesses to the miraculous events that took place. But this mental effort only opens the door to a deeper spiritual life that goes beyond our intellectual understanding of these writings. 

In the Church we have more than the Sacred writings. We are given a way to live, a yoga, a set of practices that lead us to a personal experience of the energies of God. We are led to participate in His presence. Baptized with the water infused with the Holy Spirit, and receiving the seal of the Holy Spirit in our Chrismation with Holy Oil, we join other faithful Christians to participate regularly in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments that are offered regularly. After Baptism we are then able to partake in the actual spiritualized Body and Blood of Christ and in Holy Confession that continually cleanses our inner being renewing our Baptism. We are taught to develop a daily prayer life and to practice fasting to help us tame the physical and psychological passions we are tempted with. As we develop our love for God we strive to follow His directions. We find that this involves a struggle to overcome the many temptations presented to us though our physical nature and the ways of the world. This is why we have the Church. The Church provides us with a way to overcome our deficiencies and a way to nurture our souls. This way of life, striving always to live by God's commandments, is aided by these practices and guided by a spiritual father. This is the nature of the Church established by the Apostles.

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlahos writes about how we differ from Protestants.
Protestants do not have a "therapeutic treatment" tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person's transformation and divinisation by grace. This transformation is effected by the analogous "treatment" of one's personality... In the Holy Scripture it appears that faith comes by hearing the Word and by experiencing "theoria" (the vision of God). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that the acceptance of the truths of faith, the theoretical acceptance of God's Revelation, i.e. faith by hearing saves man, do not have a "therapeutic tradition." It could be said that such a conception of salvation is very naive.
The Church was established by Christ as a hospital for our souls. It provides the means for healing the angst of our soul's silent yearning for unity with God, continually renewing the power of Spirit within each of us. Because of this the Orthodox Church is much more than a Book, more than Biblical. Christ did not come to give us a Book. In fact He did not write anything. What He gave to us was a way to participate in His presence, to become united with Him and to attain eternal life with Him.

See Ten Points For Living an Orthodox Way of Life