Sunday, December 31, 2017

Faith and the "Light"

Through the grace of God we are blessed with the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. Now we are able to have the fulness of the faith through Him. In our Baptism and Chrismation we are united with Him and become joined with His Body, the Church. This faith needs to be continually developed and nurtured through the sacramental life in the church and our own efforts guided by Grace seeking always Grace and our union with Him.

This faith is dynamic and ever growing. It is a continual process. As it increases we receive more Grace and powers. But we cannot just sit back in our own glory or comfort of our faith but we must also show it through our actions. These actions exemplify Christ Himself as we act according to His will, submitting our own will to His. This demands a complete cooperation, synergy, of our will with His.

As our faith matures and we are able though His grace to act like Him, experiencing our union with Him, there will be a loving presence that we acquire. This is the light that Jesus is talking about when He says, 
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We do not seek to gain attention through our enlightened works but glorify the Father who is in heaven. Nurture your faith and let your light shine.

Ten Points of an Orthodox Way of Life

Monday, December 18, 2017

Seeking His Mercy

"Have mercy on us.”

This is most common prayer in the Orthodox Church. Most of us have come to know it as the Jesus Prayer, ”Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” In Orthodox teaching God is not looking to punish us for our sins but He wants to help us overcome our sinful tendencies. He sent His Son because of His love for Mankind so we could be healed and learn to love God as He loves us. This love is best expressed in this prayer, He is all merciful. He will forgive us our sinfulness as He knows our condition and wants us to be perfected so that we can have eternal life in His kingdom forever. This is His plan for all of us.

Many people in the Church will practice this prayer daily by repeating it over and over in quiet in the morning and evening. It is a powerful discipline when we engage in it prayerfully and with love of our merciful God. We are not always aware of how sinful we are but any action that is not taken to glorify God is an error and misses the mark for what we are intended. If we engage in this regular practice of saying the Jesus prayer daily over and over we will eventually have it in our mind all the time and will be repeating it continually. 

How does  this help us you ask? How can we sin when we continually have God in our mind and are seeking His mercy. It is only through His mercy that we can be healed of this infirmary of sinfulness. We should not despair in our condition but recognize it and seek His love and Grace so we can continually grow to become closer to His image. 

More on the Jesus Prayer

Monday, December 11, 2017

What are the Major Steps of the Spiritual Life?

Fr Staniloae gives us a clear view to answer this question  He says there are two phases. The first is the practical phase and the second is the contemplative phase.

The practical phase involves taking actions that help a believer overcome their attachment to passions and progressively learning to practice the virtues leading to love. The purpose of this phase is to become liberated from the passions. The mind must be cleansed and become dispassionate so it can go onto the last phase of contemplation undisturbed by passions. 
He says, 
"Only a clean shinny mirror, unspotted by passionate attachment to things of the world, is capable of receiving divine knowledge."
The contemplative phase is an exclusive focus on God. It is a "reintegration, unity and simplicity." The mind becomes empty, cleansed of passions, quiet with peace and tranquility, now able to receive and accept divine knowledge.

There is a final stage which he calls the theological or mystical contemplation of God.

In the beginning our aim is purification. We must first strive to become able to live the virtues as tough by Jesus Christ. It is the virtues that combat the passions. So it is like a two dimension struggle. Pursue a virtue and eliminate a passion.

When we move towards contemplation we begin to see the reality of the universe. Our object is the "logo" of created things. This is the true meaning of them in eyes of God. One begins to see everything from a spiritual perspective.

Once the inner nature of things is known, then one enters into the understanding of mystical knowledge of God Himself. He says this is "an ecstasy of love, which persists unmoved in a concentration on God."

These steps are similar to the idea of purification, illumination and perfection which was used by Dionysius the Areopagite.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 69-73

Monday, December 4, 2017

Build Faith and Overcome Anxiety

We all know that faith is the foundation we need to be united with God. It's important to examine our faith and become clear about how true it is. As the Scripture asks, “Are you anxious about your life?” As you reflect on all your worries remember God knows all your needs. Worry will bring you no relief but remembering God, giving thanks, and seeking comfort and His grace, there is nothing that can cause us to worry.

We develop our faith by participating in the sacramental life of the church, especially regular participation in Holy Communion and Holy Confession. Also, we need a daily prayer life, in fact a life of prayer. The church fathers teach us the Jesus Prayer, which after repeating it over and over with our love of God and sincere desire to be united with Him, becomes a way to connect with God instantly in our most difficult moment.
Of course, if we have a heart clouded by bodily passions and self-centered desires, we cannot see God. Therefore, we seek His grace, the Holy Spirit, to help us. To strengthen our own will so we can cooperate with His will we must fast as is shown on our Church Calendar, especially on Wednesday and Friday. Fasting is an important means to gain greater self-control and humility.

As we gain spiritual strength, our faith becomes strong. Then God allows His grace to flow through us and we become more able to do His will, not out of sense of obligation, but because we love God so much and have an unquenchable desire to be united with Him.

John Cassin writes,
Unless the grace of God comes to the help of our frailty, to protect and defend it, no man can withstand the insidious onslaughts of the enemy nor can he damp down or hold in check the fevers which burn in our flesh with nature's fire.

Conferences, Conference Two: On Discernment, Paulist Press pg. 74, 5th century
Ten Points for Orthodox Way of Life

Friday, November 24, 2017

How do you show a martyr's spirit in daily life?t

When we read about the martyrs of our faith don't we wonder how this virtuous action applies to us in our daily life?

As an example of martyrdom in our daily life, Elder Aimilianos told the following story :
Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn't be late. On the way, I asked the driver:
"Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?"
You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home.
"Every day" he told me, "both lunch and dinner."
"How do you manage it? What time do you eat?"
"Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning."
Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn't this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love.
Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one's own selfish needs for the benefit of another.

Think of some ways you show the spirit of martyrdom in your life. 

Reference: The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, pg 160 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Modern frustrations

Why do so many people think everything is on the wrong track? It has nothing to do with the economy or the government. The problem today is that society as a whole has moved away from a spiritual grounding. Now everyone expects happiness and well being to come from material benefits. Also strangers are no longer God's children but soulless individuals, objects, and many are seen as a threat to our material way of life. To think that a government leader can make us feel better is misguided thinking. Politics has become too important! Let's focus on the message of Christ and our individual spiritual growth. This must be our aim, to become united with Him.

Our problem has nothing to do with our physical or material well being. Our problem is a sickness of the soul. Our soul is clouded and distorted by our earthly passions and desires. The soul longs for its reunion with God, its natural state. The healing of this spiritual illness is what will lead us to peace and joy no matter what difficulties we face. This healing has nothing to do with governmental action. It requires sincere prayer and worship with a spirit of humility with continual repentance.

What we seek can be found in the Church and it's sacramental life where we are nurtured by the a Holy Spirit. When we know God we see all our shortcomings and begin to recognize the yearning of our soul to be perfected to be reunited with Christ. We begin to seek repentance and to eagerly come to worship and receive Christ Himself through our regular participation in Holy a Communion. We learn how to pray seeking the gift of His Grace instead of earthly benefits. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.

If you seek true happiness, joy and peace, practice the Orthodox way of life.

Ten points for an Orthodox way of Life

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer Is About Silence

When we begin to pray we experience prayer as a struggle. Because of our love and intense desire to be in communion with God we cry out to Him. This is a cry that comes from the depth of our heart. But when we find that our cry is not being heard what do we do?

Elder Aimilianos says the following:
It has to be transformed, reversed—into silence within an atmosphere of silence. God is the God of those who live in tranquility and silence.
This may seem contradictory. First we cry our from our depths with intense desire but then we change our direction to silence. But this is not a contradiction. It is a transformation. We must transform from trying to speak, to intent listening. This requires silence. It’s a sequence of successive steps.

The Elder says,
Everybody’s got to stop, including you, if you want to hear the other person. And if they are talking, the first thing you’ll say is “Shh!” and then you’ll speak, to make yourself heard. It’s this experience and this reality that we’ll go through when our soul has recourse to God, too.
What he is talking about is a progression in our prayer. We are making a monvement toward God. This happens in silence.

He says,
When prayer is about to leave from inside us, to become, truly, a movement towards God, then we will see a “silence within silence”. Absolute silence, in other words.
This means we have to learn to learn how to pray in silence while surrounded with noise. It helps to find a quiet place to pray as Jesus instructed His followers. He used to go away from the crowd to pray where it was quiet. This why it is best to pray at night or early in the morning when your surrounding are quieter.

If we are following our breath while saying the Jesus prayer there is a cycle of crying out and silence. When we breath we inhale and then exhale. There is a midway point where we make a transition, an interval between these two movements. It is in the interval that we can find silence and listen for God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
I have to learn to keep this interval, this tuning, this setting of the ear, and then I’ll see that this is a fundamental thing in prayer, not the sound of my own voice... I have to learn to be silent, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God.
Resource: The Authentic Seal, pp 205-206
More on Prayer

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Needed: A Renewed Approach for Orthodox Sunday School

I am greatly saddened at the lack of understanding of our Orthodox faith by many of our members. We are not teaching the faith to our children and they are becoming lukewarm Christians from observing their parents and then become Nones, not attached to a church, when they go off to college. Change is needed - Change in the curriculum and in our teaching methods. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.

In our secular schools teachers have learned how to deal with the short attention spans of our youth. They know the class has to be entertaining and interactive and the parents involved. They have been learning to use new technologies to assist them. In our Orthodox Sunday Schools we need to learn from them and adopt their methods.

First, we must learn to integrate video interactive smart boards and smart phone/tablets into our lessons. We can now link our efforts with smart phones all kids have now days for further interaction in the classroom (some schools
have tablets like iPads as a part of classroom equipment). But more is needed. In addition to engaging our children in the classroom we need to engage them in learning throughout the week along with their parents. Today we have the tools to do this with texting, email, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, YouTube and others. Our Archdiocese has developed many short and entertaining videos in series like Be the Bee that should be integrated into or lesson plans as well as those created by teachers and students. A teacher who cares will learn to not just engage our kids in the short time on Sunday but also during the week as well. Interaction between classmates and parents can nowadays occur anytime, not just in the classroom. There are platforms that allow for sharing of all forms of media and all types of interaction. Videos can be shared to be viewed before coming to class and class time can then be used for more interactive activities like skits, role playing, making videos and so forth. 

In addition we need to rethink our curriculum. There are three stages that need to be taught: 1. The Orthodox way of life; 2. the history of the Church and how the truth of the work of the Apostles has been preserved; and finally, how our Orthodox faith differs from what other Christian Churches teach. The Orthodox way of life, which includes participation in the Sacraments, daily prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and lives of the saints, and being aware of the liturgical cycle and seasons, can be taught in the lower grades along with the motivation of the Lords Prayer and the Creed. In the intermediary grades a comprehensive study of the history of the Church beginning with the life of Christ, the book of Acts and then the early Christian life, the Councils, the Byzantine Church up to our present day Church. In the 11&12th grade the focus can be on a deeper discussion of our faith and how it differs from other Western Churches. (There is an excellent book by Fr Andrew Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, that can be used to help build specific lessons) in this way our children will have the “tools” of a sound practice of the Orthodox Way of life, an assurance of the continuity of Truth received from Christ and His Apostles by understanding Christian history, and knowledge to effectively interact with those of other Christian Churches knowing how to counteract their misguided teaching after they graduate from High School and leave the shelter of home. Of course all this needs to be done using the teaching methods stated in the beginning and keeping the parents involved.

We cannot sit by and blame the inattentiveness of the students or lack of involvement by the parents. We need to recognize the forces of Protestantism, atheism, and relativism found in our modern world and proactively take counter measures. Salvation is at stake in our efforts. The aim of theosis must be made clear and the power of the Church, the Body of Christ, understood so our youth can surrender their self-centeredness to His teachings and fully utilize the means He has made available to us in the teachings of the Church through the Orthodox way of life.

Ten Points for Orthodox Way of life
Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Does Prayer Begin?

Once we realize how great is the gap between our earthly being and the transcendent and all powerful God, we begin to appreciate how little we know about God. We come to terms with the limitations of our intellect and our rational powers.

Edlder Aimilians says,
We don't know God. We live in total ignorance, in what is essentially total oblivion. I neither remember God nor know Him. This is why I cry all the time, so that He can feel sorry for me and can answer me. And when God answers I can strike up a conversation. That is how prayer starts!

The beginning of prayer is a movement from the deepest part of our being. It's a humble cry for help. In the beginning prayer can be expressed in many ways. It can begin with the words we express with our mouths, reading the prayers of the psalms or the Church. This can be an outward verbal expression or one that is said silently from inside ourselves. What is important is that the prayer is sincere, based on our faith and coming from our inner depth. The key is for us to pray with this depth so that we eventually become aware that it is the spirit within us that speaks.

Elder Aimilianos says,
What matters is that there should issue forth a cry from the depths, which is like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake, should shake the heavens and make God answer, in the end, and say to us: Are you shouting to me? Why?
The beginning of prayer involves this intense longing to communicate with God. It is an urgent cry and a persistent one. Always based on a humble view of our reality in relationship with Him. It makes no difference how we try to express this, whether standing, sitting, or lying prostrate on our belly. It must be a cry that God cannot ignore.

The Elder says,
We should learn to seek Him. Because if God were to surrender to us immediately, before we did any of these things... we'd cast Him off as easily as we'd won Him, because we would not know His true value... God wants us to sense Him first from the depths of our beings which we raise up to Him.
The first thing is to experience prayer as a struggle. The second is a cry from the depths.

Reference:  The Authenic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 203-205.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What is Prayer?

We all assume we know what prayer is, but do we really know? How do we feel in prayer? What does it mean to live prayer?

Elder Aimilianos says prayer is the vehicle of the soul. "It is the atmosphere the soul lives in." He compares it to our breathing, that it is the breath of the soul.
It is only when the Spirit prays within us that our prayer is able to ascend to heaven. Prayer is in the Spirit and the Spirit comprehends Spirit and is united with that, not with flesh.
We should ask ourselves if we are still holding on to a child's way of prayer. Prayer is much more than asking for something good in this life for others or ourselves. The Elder says "that prayer is a journey towards God." For an Orthodox Christian, prayer must become a way of life, a key part of their journey to knowing and being united with God.

The Elder reminds us of the incredible task we are engaged it when we pray. We are so different than God. He is in heaven but we live in a physical world here on earth. His essence is beyond what we can comprehend. The Elder says "God is light and we are darkness," emphasizing the difference. Because of the large difference we should expect to experience a struggle with prayer. In relation to God the soul is very small and is also clouded with all our earthly desires and passions. God is so great and perfect that our attempt at prayer only makes us aware of our smallness and weakness. The closer we come to God the more we realize our condition.

This means that prayer is naturally a struggle. The Elder says, 
It follows that we experience prayer initially - when we start to pray - as a wrestling-match, as a struggle... not in the sense that it is difficult to pray,  that I have to struggle to gather my thoughts or overcome my sleepiness, ... this is ascetic struggle... [but] the struggle we have with God. 
This means the feeling we can have is a feeling of this great gap, so large it appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. We are reminded  of the transcendence of God. Bridging this great difference between us is the nature of the struggle we should feel in prayer.

The Elder makes an important point, 
When I do not have this sense of this struggle with God... I have not even begun to pray.

Reference: The Authentic Seal, by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 199-201.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Prayer is Connected to Liturgical Life

Often we think of prayer as an independent action, saying a few words addressing God. But true prayer is much more and dependent on our participation in the liturgical life of the church.

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says
Prayer is linked with our worship, and especially with Holy Communion. If there is no worship and no Holy Communion, it is not possible for there to be prayer.
Why is this so? When I pray I pray to somebody. This somebody must exist. I have to know to whom I am praying. It is through Holy Communion that we become familiar with His existence.

The elder says,
I have to become familiar with His presence and existence. Christ the in-dwelling, Who is everywhere present, becomes present for me in my life through my participation in Holy Communion.
What happens in the sacrament of Holy Communion? When I participate I become an active member of the body of Christ. Taking Him in, allowing Him to permeate my whole being, united and in Him, I now have to participate in His properties. I am being united with His divinity.

The elder says,
Worship and Holy Communion are indissolubly united... They make God present and alive for me... He, through worship, tends toward me and I, through petition, tend towards Him.
To have a life of prayer it is essential to go to church and participate in the sacramental life of the church. Also, I must be praying to attend the Liturgy,

The elder says,
I cannot say I will go to church if I have not been praying. It is superfluous for me to go to church to attend Liturgy and useless for me to take Holy Communion if I am not continuously at prayer.
Prayer and the sacramental life depend on each other. They are interdependent.

Next we will address "what is prayer?"

From "Catechism on Prayer" in Spiritual Instruction and Discourses: The Authentic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 196-198

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Problem of Criticizing the Church

“I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Why did the Lord say this? Do you ever hear any dissension in our community? Are their doubters about various aspects of our faith? Are their some who are disgruntled by our clergy or some other member?

Of course there are and the next question is what is the consequence of this dissension? Isn't it a distraction from what we all seek? We seek to become united with Christ yet we too often focus on our disagreements with one another. When we expend our energy in this way we are unable to do what it is needed to do to be united with Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ and we are His Body. When our body's parts are not in harmony, we do not feel well. We are unable to function properly. The same is true with The Church, Christ. It is not able to perform what do it is supposed to very well. When we realize who we are in the Church we can have nothing but joy of love, of being one with everyone. We love each other and pray for each other, desiring that not one soul be lost, that we all together will be with Christ in Paradise when the time comes. This is the truth about the Church. Whoever becomes Baptized and Chrismated is on the path to be saved and have life eternal. For this to be realized we need to support each other in our struggles. 

Saint Porphyrios says, 
“ If we do not become one with the earthly Church here and now, we are in danger of losing the heavenly Church too.”
The saint says. 
“We should not give credence to those who make accusations against the clergy… The same is true for lay members. We are all the Church… We love the Church when we embrace with our prayers each of her members… We need to take care of ourselves as well by observing the formal aspects: to participate in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Holy Communion.” 
This is what the Church is all about. Christ offers Himself in the sacraments and above all in Holy Communion. We should never voluntarily turn away from this gift.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ 
By Father Zacharias Thornbury (08/06/2017) 
Many, many years ago, something incredible happened in the land of Egypt. A Hebrew, who had once been a slave of the Pharaoh but had fled, returned 40 years later. And when he returned he did so having been chosen by God to lead his people out of bondage, and into a relationship with God that would have repercussions on the world for the rest of time. 
Three months after their dramatic escape from the army of the Pharaoh, the Israelites reached the foot of Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. 
Here, Moses ascended the mountain and spoke to God, and God made a covenant, an agreement, with Moses and with all the Israelites, that they would be His people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, as they long as they lived in the manner which He desired, and which he related to Moses. 
And after Moses went down from the mountain and told these things to the people, God again called Moses up to the summit, And so Moses ascended the mountain again, and the glory of God covered the top of the mountain for six days, and after the six days God called to Moses and appeared to him there, and his appearance shone brightly, like a burning fire on top of the mountain. 
When Moses descended a second time to speak with the Israelites, his face was shining brightly also, radiating the divine light of God’s presence, so much so that the people were afraid, and he had to cover his face with a veil any time that he went out in public to speak with them. 
A third time, Moses climbed to the top of Mount Sinai and spoke with God, now as one would speak with his friend. And Moses pleads with God, asking that he show Himself to him, so that he could be certain that God would help him lead the Israelites through the desert. 
God answers Moses saying, “I will do this for you, I will pass by you in my full glory, but when I do you have to huddle behind this rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I pass by you, and only then, once I have passed by, will you be able to look at my back, for no man is able to handle seeing my face and live.” 
So great is the glory of God, my brothers and sisters, that not even Moses, whom God has chosen, was able to look directly at it.  
Centuries later this mountain would be visited by the divine presence again.
The kingdom of Israel has been divided, and the Northern Kingdom has fallen under the rule of a series of terrible kings. The current king, in an attempt at fostering domestic peace and uniting his people, has given support to the cult of the Canaanite god Baal (bay-el), going so far as to even marry Jezebel, one of the false god’s priestesses. 
It is at this time that the great prophet Elijah rises up and confronts the King and the whole nation of Israel, berating them for their fall into worship of a false God. Jezebel is infuriated by Elijah’s words, and promises to have him killed. 
And so we find Elijah, running for his life away from the wicked king of Israel and his wife, despondent, ready to give up and die, believing that he is the only follower of the True God left. But an angel comes to him and leads him to Mount Horeb. 
There, Elijah spends the night in a cave, and the Word of God comes to him, telling him to go stand at the top of the mountain, where God would visit. 
He obeys, and suddenly a strong wind blows, causing rocks to crash down around him. This is followed by a mighty earthquake, and after the earthquake a raging, roaring fire, and in all of these things, Elijah did not find God. It wasn’t until after these things that there comes a small voice on a gentle breeze. And when he hears it, Elijah knows that he is in the presence of God, and he covers his face with his cloak, remembering what it was that God had told Moses, that no one could see the face of God and live.  
This is a lot of history, my brothers and sisters, I know, but it is important that we, as Orthodox Christians, not forget, or - God forbid - never learn, the things that took place before the coming of Christ. What we find in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant that God made with his people, is a 
record of God’s revelation of Himself to the world, and the response of the people to whom He chose to reveal Himself, to this revelation. 
In it we can see the hand of God moving, that Master Craftsman who fashioned the entire created order, laying the foundation for a new temple where He will be worshipped; the ekklesia - we, the Church, the body of Christ. We can see Him laying the stones, which are the laws and commandments, holding them together with a mortar, that is the prophets, and beginning with the cornerstone of Christ, the Word of God, through which he made the world, and completing it with the keystone that is also Christ, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. 
You see, after another span of centuries, and roughly 390 miles northeast of Mount Sinai, an event would take place on another mountain, that would be the capstone of the experiences of both Moses and Elijah. 
On this day a certain Jesus, the son of Joseph, ascends mount Tabor with three of his disciples; Peter, James and John. Six days before Jesus had been conversing with his disciples and asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” He then asked the disciples directly, “But who do YOU say that I am?” It was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 
After this acknowledgement, Jesus revealed to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, where he would be killed, and rise on third day. Again, it was Peter who cried, “You cannot! This will never happen to you!” 
O Peter! You rock on which Jesus has said he will build His church! You, to whom the Word of God has promised the keys of the kingdom of heaven! How quickly you can fall from the heights of heaven back down to the depths of the earth! Rightly did your Christ say to you, “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” 
But on this day Jesus leads Peter back up to the heights, along with James and John, ascending Mount Tabor to pray. These same three will later accompany Jesus to pray in the Garden of Gethsemene, and as they will do there, here too they allow themselves to be overcome with sleep while they wait. 
But they are suddenly roused by a bright light, and as they open their eyes they are presented with an overwhelming sight: Jesus, the one they have professed to be the Christ, the promised Messiah, is standing within a blinding halo of light, his face shining brighter than the sun, his clothing having turned a brilliant white and sparkling brighter than the stars. And standing on either side of him, speaking with him, are Moses, the Law- bringer, and Elijah, who called down fire from the sky, and who was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. 
That great prophet Moses, who brought the people of Israel out of bondage and led them into the freedom of God, who delivered to them the Law from God himself, speaks to Jesus as a student speaks to his teacher. And Elijah, who rebuked kings, and who silenced false prophets, defers to Christ as a servant to his Master. 
In his rapture Peter calls out to Jesus, “Master, this time, this place... it is good for us to be here! Let me build three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah, so that we can stay here, and you will not have to die.” 
O Peter! Again you have been shown heaven, but again you have chosen earth! The one whom you have confessed to be the Messiah has told you that he must descend into death and rise back into life, but you still choose to plant your feet on the earth rather than give it up for heaven. It is right that the Physician commented in his Gospel that you knew not what it is that you have said! For this time, this place, this life is not the one in which we should remain, but Christ must die and rise again so that he can bring us new life, so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 
While Peter is still talking, the same cloud of glory that covered Sinai appears and covers now Tabor, and the Father speaks, his voice sounding like thunder: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 
On hearing the voice the disciples throw themselves down in fear and awe, covering their faces, like the face of Moses was covered, and like Elijah covered his face. But, my brothers and sisters, I want you to pay close attention to what happens next. 
The disciples have prostrated themselves on the ground, filled with fear and awe at the voice of God that has thundered around them, and they have covered their faces, remembering what God told Moses, that no one can look upon Him and live. 
And in this state, as the voice of God echoes away, suddenly a soft, gentle touch. Remember the experience of Elijah, how after the crashing and roaring it was in the soft, gentle breeze that he found God? Well, here, after the brightness of the divine light, and the thunder of the voice from the clouds, the disciples find God in the soft, gentle touch of Jesus, and Jesus says to them, “Rise, and have no fear.” 
As the disciples open their eyes they see only Jesus: Moses and Elijah have vanished, and the brilliant light that had enveloped Christ is gone. 
O Peter, do you understand now what has happened? Though you threw yourself down to the ground, Christ has risen you up once more. You have gone from looking at the earth to having seen the face God, and you lived. The light you saw shining from Jesus is the same light that was reflected in the face of Moses after his encounter on Mount Sinai, that uncreated light that is the glory of God! 
Moses and Elijah, the two people who best represent your Law and Prophets, stood by while it was of Jesus that God the Father proclaimed, “Listen to him!” Where at first you saw three people, now you see that Moses, the Law, and Elijah, the Prophets, have become one in the Gospel, in the person of Jesus, the Christ. 
Peter, James and John have seen with their own eyes their God. Jesus has revealed to them his divine glory and has signaled a new relationship between the Holy Trinity, and the world. Where before He warned Moses that to view his full glory would mean death, now the Word of God has taken the form of his creation, and walks among us. He lowered Himself, so that he might raise us up. 
He who created the world by speaking it into existence, now tells the world, “Rise, and have no fear.” He who reached up his hand to set the stars in the sky and divide the light from the darkness now extends his hand to lift us up from the ground. 
Today we celebrate this event, the Metamorphosis, the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. We are not just remembering an event that happened, but celebrating an event that we are experiencing right now, in this present day. 
When Christ was changed, and he shone with a dazzling light, we see what the Evangelist meant when he wrote that Christ is the light of men, the true light which gives light to every one coming into the world. And what the Psalmist meant when he sang, “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we shall see light,” and Isaiah, when he prophesied that, “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” 
Jesus, both fully human and also fully divine, is that light. He came to show us the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Paradise. To return us to that relationship that existed between humanity and God before the Fall. 
When Adam and Eve cast themselves out of Paradise we hear that God made for them tunics of leather to wear, since they had darkened the original glory in which they were created. But now Christ shines his light in the world, and when a person is baptized in the sacrament that is also known as Holy Illumination, we sing, “Grant me a new garment of light, you who clothe yourself with light as a robe, O most merciful Christ our God.” 
You see, brothers and sisters, if you have been baptized, then God has already clothed you in this robe of light, the garment of salvation. You now wear the same light that shone forth from the top of Mount Tabor 2,000 years ago, the same light that clothed humanity in Paradise at the beginning of our creation, that same light that we were created with when God made us in his image. 
Isaiah prophesied more than 2500 years ago, and we now sing his words today, during every Pascha, “Shine! Shine O New Jerusalem! For the glory of the Lord has a risen over you!” Φωτίζου, φωτίζου ἡ νέα Ἱερουσαλήμ· ἡ γὰρ δόξα Κυρίου ἐπὶ σὲ ἀνέτειλε! We, brothers and sisters, are the New Jerusalem! And these words we sing are not just words of celebration, but a command, a call to action! 
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”  
Now that we have been bathed in His light, we must continue to live in His light. We cannot sit idle and hope that God will somehow transport us into his Kingdom. We are told to “walk,” to move, to continue to progress towards the Kingdom by learning what it is that is acceptable to the Lord. 
God did not appear to Moses on the plains, to Elijah in the valley, to Peter, James and John in the fields. They had to walk, had to climb up the mountain. It took effort, but their effort was rewarded. Brothers and sisters, we too will be rewarded for our efforts, if we bother to make them. We too will be lifted up from the ground by Christ, be comforted from our fears, and be able to look into the face of God and live eternally with him. 
So let us get up, brothers and sisters, from our idleness, let us come out of our darkness, and listen to the prophet Isaiah when says, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”
We must seek after that relationship with God which we were created for. The path back to God can be found in the words of Christ, set down in writing by his followers, and taught for generations by the Church. In the writings known as the New Testament, God is telling us how to walk the path back to him. Read it, learn it, hear the voice of Christ. The Word of God made incarnate in the person of Jesus has shown us the way back to Paradise, as the Psalmist knew well when he sang, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.” 
In closing, let me repeat that last call of the Prophet Isaiah but in the words of a hymn for the vespers of this feast, to show you again hoeOld Testament echoes even now: “Come, let us ascend into the mountain of the Lord, even to the house of our God, and behold the glory of His Transfiguration, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father. Let us receive light from His Light, and with uplifted spirits let us for ever sing the praises of the consubstantial Trinity.” 
He who is worthy of all glory and honor and worship, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What is True Religion?

Today many Orthodox Christians call themselves religious but do not practice a true religion. What do I mean? Let me give two simple examples. One person comes to church periodically. When she comes she makes many prostrations, crosses herself many times, cries, venerates all the icons on the iconostasis, makes a generous donation to the church. Another comes most Sundays and often on a week day and sits quietly in the back. The first, when she leaves the church immediately begins to complain about her health and other problems she has. The other, even though she sufffers from several ailments always has a warm smile and the first thing she is asks in broken English is, "are you OK" . So who has the true religion?

Saint Porfyrios says that the true religion is based on our love of God, not on the form but on substance of this love. He calls it Eros or love with passion. He says when we have this kind of love for God we receive His grace. We live in His light. When we have this light there is no darkness. No matter what we face we find goodness.

He uses the example of ancient people who lived in a cave and blocked the entrance to keep the wind out. Inside it was dark and there was little oxygen. They were not healthy. When they would go outside they would receive the sunlight and fresh air and be rejuvenated. The same he says happens when we receive the light of Christ. Without this light we are like the cave dweller, in darkness. With Hia light we are changed and what was bad becomes good. Darkness becomes light. This is the nature of a True religion.

We can follow all the rules, fast, pray, do metanias, cross ourselves, come to church, read scripture and still not have a true religion.

Saint Porfyrios says,
Often neither labor, nor prostrations, nor crossing ourselves attract God's grace. There are the mysteries. The most important thing is to go beyond the formal aspects and go to the heart of the matter. Whatever is done must be done with love.
With Christ a person is filled with grace and so lives above evil. Evil does not exist for him. There is only good, which is God. Evil cannot exist. While there is light there cannot be darkness. Nor can darkness encompass him because he has the light. 
The true Christian religion transforms and heals. But this requires our humility. True religion is love. We long for God always and seek union with Him, to live in His light. Without this, religion is a struggle and leaves us confused and weak. We grasp for pious actions. We seek charitable activities, we make prostrations. We try many things but remain confused, quarrelsome or depressed.

The true religion is not a human one. It is one with the true knowledge of the Trinitarian God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Our aim is to be one with Him based on a passionate love for Him. This love extends to all members. Saint Porfyrios describes this love as enthusiasm, madness, an intense longing for the divine. In this way we attract His grace and are changed and find peace and love in Him.

Reference: Wounded by Love, pp 94 - 95.