Thursday, August 29, 2019

What does it mean to love His commandments with a whole heart?

Prophet David says in Psalm 118, “Behold, how I have loved thy commandments...” What is meant by this? Blessed Theophylact points out that David “does not simply say, I observed the commandments, but rather I loved them, although, nothing forced me to fulfill them.”

Most of us can’t really say we love His commandments. We may say we love God, but His commandments seem like something difficult, a burden, something we must force ourselves to follow. Perhaps this is only an indication of a weak faith and a limited love of God. David is teaching us that to really love God with our whole heart we also must learn to love His commandments.

Saint Theophan clarifies David’s view. Speaking as David he writes:
The commandments lie at the bottom of my heart, at the very sources of life, and are involved in all its manifestations. I love not only deeds according to the commandments, but the very moral purity required by them, the very perfection of life expressed by them. I love not only the deeds of humility, but humility itself, not only abstention from bursts of anger and impurity, but meekness itself and chastity, not only the deeds of mercy, but mercifulness itself—and so forth.
To love His commandments we must love the "very moral purity required of them." We also must love path to purification of our heart that enables us to live them. It’s more than the values that result from a God-pleasing life. We love the order and perfection they bring, the “moral purity,” the “humility”, the “meekness” that is necessary to live by them. This love develops when the commandments are contained in our heart and we are able to live them without effort. They are no longer forced. They become our natural habit, our way of life. Granted it takes a struggle to reach this state, but as we learn humility and to trust  in God we find this struggle results in love of the commandments themselves, the purity they entail, and the path essential to gain them in our life. 

This love of commandments is possible because the virtues they teach are already in our being. Saint Theophan explains,
Created in God’s image, we carry in ourselves the seeds of all God’s qualities of goodness. And they alone would have shone in our hearts, if the passions that darken, enshroud and distort them had not been grafted on to us by the Fall. The passions are the reason that there is in us a coldness towards virtues, an opposition to, and finally a turning away from them. Perhaps if there had not been God’s commandments, the passions would have led us so far as to drive every virtue from the face of the earth.
This need for love of God' commandments is key to our understanding the spiritual life. We find living by the commandments is difficult because our hearts are filled with passions. It’s not because we are inherently incapable, but that we let our heart be darkened and overtaken by them. The virtues needed to love the commandments are in us, We just have to give them the freedom to become our normal behavior. When we say the commandments are in our heart, it means they become the object of our love and we cannot think of being without them. We love the way of life they bring, and the virtues that make them natural in us. 

When we are able to purify the heart by taming the passions then the commandments stir up in us a life of virtue without effort. 
Saint Theophan puts it this way:
The commandments having been heard, enter in by the hearing, and there they stir up the remembrance of virtues, and of the brightness of the state into which they put a person, in contrast to the darkness of the passions. This remembrance disposes us to submit to the commandments, for the power  contained in them to return us to the lost but desired and bright spiritual state—and we do submit. At first, this submission is both called forth and supported only by the expectation of spiritual good from the commandments, and is effected by an effort of the will. But steadfastness in filling them, the slaying of the passions, quickens in the heart the virtues suppressed by them, returns the quickened ones, and allows the sweetness of those returned to be tasted. This is experienced sweetness of virtues draws the heart to it and makes it inalienable, because it is not coming from the outside, but radiates from the inside and envelopes the heart. From this comes love.
The path to a God-pleasing life based on following God’s commandments dose not happen all at once, but gradually. We submit to them and with Gods help we are purified. When we act through the synergistic efforts of our own effort and God’s grace, participate in the sacramental life in His Church, we step-by-step attain the perfection that Jesus came to show us by His example. When perfected we too will loudly proclaim how we love His commandments,

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 319-320.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Can we be certain of salvation?

God has promised us eternal life in His kingdom, But how can we be certain of our salvation? He said, “I am with him, I will rescue him, and glorify him: I will show him my salvation” (Psalm 90:15-16). Jesus Christ came to rescue, to save us and reunite us with Him in Paradise. We have heard the Gospel message and believe. We know that God loves us because He gave His life for us. We have committed ourselves to follow His teachings, to live by His commandments. We struggle with all kinds of issues, face many trials and tribulations, always standing firm in our belief in Him. But how can we be certain? 

The reality is that our hope of our salvation is never ending. We hear His call that says to us, “follow the pathway I have shown you and you will be here with Me.” We hope that we will be able to finish this path and be with Him forever, overcoming death like Him.

The question always remains, no matter how deep our faith, how pure our heart is, how well we have followed His commandments, how many times we have repented, how frequently we have participated in the holy mysteries He gave for us, can we finish the course. When the time of our physical death comes, will we know Him and be accepted by Him? The Lord tells us not to fear. He is always on our side, waiting to help no matter what difficulties we may face.

Saint Theophan tells us there one thing that can keep us from finishing the course, our self-confidence. 
He says,
Self-confidence in the hope of salvation is ruinous; but he who is sure that God, Who wants all to be saved, will save the one who seeks salvation, who does not lie down, but with effort acts according to God’s direction, and will save through means known only to Him, both pointing out the paths and supplying the strength—in that person, such confidence is holy, and serves as a sign not only of walking straight on the path, but also of great success in running according to the spirit, since it appears in consequence of consistent labors, through purification of the heart, and a tangible experience of God’s protection and defense.
We must have humility. Our path must include a surrender of our will to His. Our trust must become total. Then as we struggle we will overcome the passions that cloud our heart and experience His grace as it guides and give us strength. Our hope is validated in this way. It increases as we give up our self-confidence in our own efforts. God through His grace makes Himself known to us. Our struggle is no longer a struggle, but becomes a life filled with joy as we gain ever greater hope. With humility, complete trust is God, we must persevere and never give up. 

We must have a burning zeal for salvation. This is the gift we receive from God to help us fulfill His commandments and finish. This longing for salvation and out never relenting effort to follow Him in fulfilling the commandments is the force behind a God-pleasing life.

Sain Issac the Syrian affirms that the necessary motivating force is zeal:
It is called zeal because from time to time it moves, arouses, makes burning hot, and gives strength to a person to disregard the flesh in afflictions...
Look into yourself and see if you have this zeal, advises Saint Theophan. If you find in you this force, which is beyond self-will, then he says, you are alive; if not, “then you are dead or have fallen asleep.”

The Prophet David says, 
I have longed for Thy salvation, O Lord, and Thy law is my meditation .
My soul shall praise Thee, and Thy judgments will help me. 
.(Psalm 118:174, 175)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 339-341.

Monday, August 19, 2019

What is Happiness?

The prophet David gives us an answer in Psalm 118:
I have inherited Thy testimonies for ever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. (Psalm 118:111)

Once one has faith in Jesus Christ, accepts His teaching, has committed to living by them, then he will have a spiritual joy that will never cease. These teachings, when accepted with faith, fill our heart, promising a future life that overcomes our physical death. When death is no longer something to be feared, we feel an inner peace. There is longer need for anxiety. This is the force behind a self-centered way of being and is destroyed. We can then enjoy true happiness. We become embraced in His love. 

What is happiness? Saint Theophan says,
A state that rejoices the heart. Happy is he who is gladdened by everything that is in him, with him, and near him.
And what is the means to this happiness, he continues:
Take God’s testimonies, the decrees of God’s will, attested to by God Himself, with all love and desire, and abide in them with the firm intention to be faithful to them forever—and this will pour into your heart a joy that will not depart from it forever, so that the transition from one life into the other will be for him nothing else but a change of the joy of this earth to a joy that is never ending and indescribable.
This is the full message of Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes. Saint Theophan offers this summary of Jesus’ most important talk:
If you want to be blessed, that is happy all around—be humble, contrite of heart, meek, loving righteousness, compassionate, pure of heart, peace-making, patient and good natured.
The path to true happiness is not pleasure seeking, acquiring greater material well being or wealth, making more friends, enhancing the way we look, having a grand vacation or a fine meal. All these things may bring a temporary sense of happiness, but do not last because we alway seek more and more. True happiness only comes as Prophet David says, when we accept as our inheritance all the testimonies of or Lord. Filling our life in following them, knowing we will overcome death, our heart is filled with His grace and unending joy.

This message is given not just by the prophets, but also by Jesus, His Apostles and the Church fathers. This message is at the foundation of the Church and her liturgies and teachings. They are all geared to help us overcome our present way of life and to instead embrace Christ and His testimonies. With humility and passionate love of Christ, we will be blessed with everlasting joy.

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p249

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dormition of the Theotokos

On August 15th we celebrate the fallen no asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos - The Dormition.

This feast commemorates the death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ's mother.

According to Orthodox Tradition, Mary died like all humanity, "falling asleep," so to speak, as the name of the feast indicates. She died as all people die, not "voluntarily" as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.

To help us in our preparation of this feast, it is preceded by a two week fast.

For complete story of this feast use this link
There you will find information on the following.
Preparations for Her Repose• Her Repose• Procession and Internment in Garden of Gethsemane• Translation of Her Body to Heaven
• Appearance to Apostles
• Hymns
• A Homily on the Dormition by Saint Gregory Palamas

Link to all articles on this blog about the dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How do we see noetically? The fruit of Prayer

What are the stages to this ability to see God in truth? Saint Theophan tells us that when this stage of our spiritual life comes, it comes without any effort or prior exercise, it will be like this:
A song to God will be born in the heart, pour out from your mouth, and fly towards heaven. That is a song of glorification, thanksgiving, and every kind of prayer. If this has begun to happen to you, then know that you are already in your place, in the rank of angels, continuously glorifying and hymning God Whom they see noetically.
As we reach the higher stages of prayer we will find there comes a time when the mind prays without any effort, without the use of our willpower. Saint Theophan explains this way,
This of course is mental prayer. Mental prayer little by little warms up the heart and ushers it into another prayer—prayer of the mind and heart. The heart, having become accustomed to prayer under the influence of the mind, and having warmed up, begins of itself to advance to prayer and to draw the mind into it. This is prayer of the heart—the true prayer, as it ought to be, a prayer which encompasses the whole nature of a man; for where the heart is, there is the whole person. This condition reveals itself by a drawing within, which occurs during prayer, reading, reflection, and, even without all of this, during any pursuit. 
For most of us reading this, including myself, this kind of prayer of the heart is something that we yearn for. But it is not something we can force. When we are properly prepared God will give us this gift. 

Saint Theophan,
But one ought to know that it is not the fruit of the labor of praying alone, but a consequence of the whole God-pleasing life, of all the labors of doing good and asceticism, and it comes to light when the heart begins to approach purity.
The Prophet David says to pray,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Ps 50:10)
My lips shall pour forth a hymn when Thou has taught me Thy statues. (Ps 118:171)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 335-336


Monday, August 5, 2019

How is Fear Related to Faith

Faith is a gift from God that has been planted is us like a seed. With faith everything is clear. There are no obstacles in the path to live according to God’s commandments. With faith in God we are free of fear.

When we have committed ourselves to walk the pathway in life according to God’s commandments based on faith, we receive grace and develop zeal to always carry our His word. With true faith we are like the martyrs in that nothing will push us off this path. When we come to branches in the path the right one to take is clear. 

Saint Theophan gives us a parable:
Imagine a person walking on a bent and shaking board over a deep ravine — what fear, what sinking of the heart, what danger of falling at any moment. A few steps and such a person either falls or turns back, unable to cross using such a board. Imagine again, that for some reason all the objects surrounding this person begin to spin, and the earth seems to move, he definitely will fall. But he who walks on a solid bridge and sees that all things surrounding him are in their proper places, in the usual order, will not experience anything of the sort. Such is the one who believes.’ As the eye sees all material objects, so faith sees spiritual objects, each in its place, in its order, and in its relationship to other things. That is why a walk in the light of such a faith, which fills the soul with a confidence that gives to the one who walks boldness to step unafraid upon the way ahead, is never accompanied by hesitations, fears, and the spinning of thoughts, and therefore is completed successfully. But on the contrary, the one who walks without faith cannot be free of fears; sometimes he walks also, but as if upon knives. For this reason he cannot continue; rather, having tried, he quits.
Faith is a gift: of grace, but its seed has been put into our nature. Our mind ought to clearly see the spiritual and to give it as a guide to the soul. Our mind is a natural window into the spiritual world. But since it has been closed by sin, and a person cannot live without knowledge of the spiritual, it has been the pleasure of the merciful Lord to give the external a revelation of concealed spiritual and divine things. When this word is received with a lively faith, then it turns out the same as if the mind sees these things itself. Faith wipes away the haziness from this window, which is turned towards the spiritual world. The walking of the path of faith cleanses the mind and returns to it, through the action of grace, the lost ability to see the spiritual and the divine. Then, mingled with faith, by the power of God’s Spirit, it again becomes a window into the divine world. There is no other way there. No matter how much vain philosophy has puzzled over that realm, it has engendered only illusory notions — sometimes very beautiful, but always false (See St. Isaac the Syrian, Word 55).

It is through faith that we can make this commitment to always follow the commandments. With faith we are able to do as the Prophet David’s writs, “I have sworn and resolved that I will keep the judgement of Thy righteousness.”

Saint Theophan says,
Thus, he who walks in the light of faith, having accepted without reflection all of the divinely revealed will of God, walks as if under the light of a brightly shining sun, and will never stumble over anything.

As I reflect on this it becomes clear that faith is linked with my ability to truly commit to always follow His commandments in all aspects of my life. It becomes an unshakable vow to God. I believe in You, I put must full trust in You, i will never allow myself to deviate from this pure pathway. I will call on you daily to help me do this and when I err I will with humility seek repentance. It involves the highest level of commitment to never chose to waver from this path. This is not a weekend endeavor but an every day, every hour, every minute commitment. It is faith that gives me hope that no matter how difficult the path is you will be with me and giving me strength to persevere.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Order Your Life Like Heaven

When we examine the nature of the physical world we see that it has a perfect order. We have discovered that there are laws of nature established by God from the beginning of creation. The moon follows its path around the earth, the earth maintains its path around the sun. The atoms and molecules that make up the solid elements we find in a table or chair keep their order. Likewise, God has given us laws so we can live an orderly life. This is the way of heaven, orderly. This should become the way of our life. If we can only seek God’s Grace, then with humility act in harmony with it, we will become like Christ, perfected. This is all God is asking of us. Be like the sun and the moon or the atoms or molecules. Find the path to earthly discipline so you can overcome all the passions residing in your heart and body, to become capable of following all the aspects of the law that God has shone us by the Incarnation of His Son.

Saint Ambrose writes the following:
You see, what abides in heaven should abide in you. Then keep God’s word in your heart, and keep it in such a way that it will not be forgotten. Keep God’s law and learn from it. If you want to find the power of this prophetic saying, [For ever, O Lord, Thy word abideth in heaven (Psalm 118:89)], raise yourself from the visible to the mental, and take from it moral lessons. If God’s word abides in heaven, let us imitate heaven where it is abiding. Follow the example of heaven in your life. Is there any breach of the law in the sun? Does it not always follow the usual path? And does not the moon always, in a similar order, decrease and increase its disk? And is not the relation and apparent movement of the stars in heaven always the same? Thus everything in the heavens keeps its law and abides in its order. Let the word of God abide in you just as immutably, determining your line of action.
Saint Hilary says, when we were baptized and chrismated we received the seal of the Holy Spirit. We learned God’s commandments. When we follow this law, draw on the Help of His grace, we can act like Christ,  exemplify the image in which we were created, and live in peace with everyone and in all things.  ”

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 213-214.

Ten Points for Living an Orthodox Life