Monday, November 25, 2019

Awakening Our Heart to God (3) - Through Visible Means and the Senses

Saint Theophan tells us that an awakening to God and developing the desire to live a God pleasing life requires the intervention of divine Grace. He says the awakening occurs in two ways: by visible means and our senses or an internal awareness of the Spirit. This article will focus on the first.

Let me begin by reviewing the vision that must develop in us. He describes it as follows:
God is one, worshipped in Trinity, the Creator and Upholder of all things, or as the Apostle says, the Head of all things (cf. Eph 1:10) in our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, active in the Holy Church, which, having perfected the faithful, transports them to another world. The world will continue until the fullness of time, or the end of time, when, at the resurrection and judgment all will receive according to their deeds—some will descend into hell, while others will dwell in paradise, and God will be all to all (cf. 1Cor 15:28).
 Consider how frequently God is revealed visibly. This can happen when He appears in a worldly form while the believer is either awake or asleep. I had two such experiences. One was more mystical where the heaven was revealed with nodes of shimmering lights, like galaxies but different. It was a sign of a greater world where things existed in love. This led to a recognition of an unsustainable lifestyle and a commitment to change. My wife and a few others decided to sell our house and form a communal community seeking harmony in Nature and Spirit where we lived off the grid and grew much of our own food. The other event that resulted in another and more significant change was a revelation of Christ Himself in broad daylight while standing on the edge of a small lake while living in this community. Jesus turned to me and simply said, “Charlie, why are you denying me.” He then left. This truly awakened me and I immediately sought out a spiritual father and began a disciplined life as taught by the Orthodox Church.

Saint Theophan points out many examples of this kind of intervention by grace. He mentions Paul and how Jesus appeared to Him on the road to Damascus. He also mentioned Constantine the great where the “chi roh” sign (first two letter of Christ in Greek) appeared to him in a dream and he was told that if made this his sign on his troops banner they would be successful. They were, and his reign led to the Christianation of the Roman Empire.

He appears in different ways also such as the numerous appearances of the Theotokos. Angels have also appeared many times. Or, it can happen by an appearance of any of the saints. These are not uncommon experiences.

Another way we experience this is by miracles caused by a mysterious force. This is why we see Jesus and His disciples performing miracles of healing, and raising people from the dead. These unexplainable events rationally lead people to awaken to the Spirit and to seek unity with God.

Saint Theophan says the following:
“In all such manifestations, the mind, confused by various objects and seductions of the world and hopelessly caught in the visible, sensible, external order, is confronted with striking, unexpected and sudden appearance to it of higher beings and powers.from the invisible realm.”
In these visible or sensible experiences our distorted worldly view of realty is shaken and a larger view emerges which bursts open our heart to receive and recognize grace working in us. We suddenly realize how mistaken we have been about our way of life, what we value and seek. Instead, awakened by grace, we turn ourselves to God and now seek an intimate relationship with Him.

Next we will discuss internal perceptions that also lead to an awakening.

Reference: Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 107-109, p227

Awakening Our Heart to God (2)    Awakening Our Heart to God (4)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Awakening our Heart to God (2)

To be awakened spiritually and to have the desire to pursue a God-pleasing life requires two things. First, there must develop an awareness that a significant change in way of life is needed. This happens when there is an awareness of the state one is in is one, being separated from God and at the mercy of wave after wave of worldly cares. Second, develops the awareness of what a spiritual life involves. Learning that this process requires our effort could with the work of divine grace. It is not simply an awareness that comes by a mechanical process based on rational analysis. It is necessary to be touched by God in a mystical manner.

Divine intervention is necessary because one’s current life style is very powerful and is supported by numerous relationships and strong attachments. As Saint Theophan put it, the way we live involves,
 “a realm where there are principles, ideas, opinions, rules, customs, pleasures and ways that are completely incompatible with the true spiritual life for which man is intended.” 
The current life is one that is totally immersed in a way of life incompatible with spiritual growth. This means that it’s hard to imagine a better way of living and, most likely, seems impossible. Because of this, the awakening, the nudging of grace, may not be accepted at first. To be awakened this grace must be accepted in the heart, feeling the love of God calling to come closer to Him. 
Saint Theophan says,
The door to conversion may be opened only under the condition that the spiritual way of life be revealed to the sinner’s consciousness in its full light, and not merely revealed, but that it touch the heart...
The spiritual life may be pre-conditioned by reading the Scripture, the lives of the saints or the influence of a pious parishioner or spiritual father. With regular church attendance the soul is nurtured in a way where a hard heart begins to yawn, to open its eyes, and bring to light new possibilities. As it begins to open, grace will increase bringing a new force to bear for an awakening and decision to change.

Saint a Theophan says,
The true Christian life is one of grace. The self-directed life, no matter how beautiful it is in appearance or how close it is to the form of Christian life, will never be Christian. The origin of the Christian life is in arousal by grace.
When this process begins it can cause a major upheaval in one’s thinking, causing a totally different life style to emerge. For one who has been asleep, living without the awareness of sin,  their entire self-will be discarded and replaced with a new life that is truly a God-pleasing one. 

Saint Theophan describes this spiritual vision that cause such major change as follows:
“God, in the Holy Trinity that is worshiped, Who has created the world that is worshiped, Who has created the world and takes trouble over it, saves us, the fallen, in the Lord Jesus Christ, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, under the direction and guidance of the Holy Church, and through one’s life here of trials and bearing the cross, which leads to eternal, unending bliss in the future life.”
This new way of thinking, a new world view, develops in us via divine grace. The contrast it brings with the previous way of seeing things will be sharp, and the sinfulness of the past will be revealed. This provides further motivation for one to change their way of life, to repent, and results in an intense desire to seek God for mercy. 

Saint Theophan says,
“Under such action the heart is loosed from its former bonds and becomes free, and that is why it freely selects the new way of life. This is how arousal by grace operates. It destroys everything in the consciousness and emotions that is old and bad, and vividly presents only the new and good. It leaves the person in this situation overwhelmed, fee to choose the new life or to turn back to the previous one.”
This new way of life can generate fear as it is such a drastic turn towards God. Saint Theophan tells us this consciousness of this new way of life comes about in two ways:
“1. Sometimes it is introduced visibly and through the senses.  
2. Sometime the spirit of the  person is led into it and perceives it internally.”

In the next post we will explore both of these ways.

Reference: The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp102-107.

Awakening our Heart to God (1)      Awakening our Heart to God (3)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Awakening Our Heart to God (1)

In my last post I discussed the issue where many find themselves unaware of God’s presence and are overwhelmed by all the cares of daily life. These are good people, who have good jobs and care for their family, but God is not their main priority. They may go to Church most Sundays, but only come after the Gospel is read and look forward to coffee hour after hearing the sermon. They don’t participate in the main purpose of the liturgy, Holy Communion, but only a few times a year. They most likely have never been to Confession because they don’t see themselves as sinful. These people are in spiritual terms, asleep. Their life is not about perfecting themselves to live in communion with God. They have no thought about their future life in His Kingdom. They do not appreciate life of repentance or the idea of purification taught by the Church. Spiritual disciplines like fasting and daily prayer have no power for them, even though they may fast occasionally in a lite way and pray occasionally. They are doing everything out of a sense of duty or obligation to their family, ethnic tradition or norms of society. Their Creator who has made them in His image and likeness is far away in a distant land.

There is the powerful story of David from the Old Testament who found himself asleep in this same sense. His situation was extreme because he had committed several very serious sins but was oblivious to the error of his ways. He was attracted to a beautiful married woman who he caught bathing on the roof top, had sex with her, and she became pregnant. Being king, he arranged for her husband to be sent into a battle in a way where he would surly be killed and he was. He then married her. All this did not bother David until, one day, the profit Nathaniel came to him and presented a case for him to judge. The case he presented involved two men. One was very wealthy who had a large flock of sheep and cattle. The other was very poor who had only one sheep whom he raised like a daughter, even held it in his arms and fed it his food. It was very dear to him. One day a traveler came to visit the rich man. Instead of taking a sheep from his own flock he took the one from the poor man and had it slaughtered for his meal with the traveler. When David heard this case he was very angry and said the poor man should be given a flock of sheep and the rich man should die. He asked Nathan to tell him the name of this wretched man. Nathan stared into David’s eyes and said firmly, “This man is you! You have everything and what you don't have you can easily get. But you took Bathsheba for yourself and had Uriah her husband whom she loved very much killed. You like the rich man took from her who had little the one she loved for your own pleasure.” David was suddenly awakened and said, “I have sinned against the Lord!” Awakened, he was transformed and began to live a new life in repentance. We can see how he became close to God through the many Psalms of repentance he wrote.

Those whom I described above are like David, unaware of their sinful nature, and distant from God. I myself was also like this for many years. For our salvation it is important to know how we are awakened from this slumber and able to turn our hearts to God in repentance and receive His grace. Saint Theophan describes this process as being similar to one who is sleeping, who wakes up in the morning, gets up, and gets ready to go to work. 

Saint a Theophan says,
A sinner who turns to God and repents is roused from the lullaby of sinfulness, reaches a decision to change (he gets up), and, at last, puts on strength for his new life in the Mysteries of Repentance and Holy Communion (preparation for work). 
We also see this process of awakening clearly in the story of the Prodigal Son. He left his father, went far away and  lived a loose life until he lost all and was suffering. He came to himself (awoke) and made a decision to arise (get up) and go to his father. He left his former life and confessed to his father, I have sinned. The father receives with open arms, joyful at his return, and clothes in fine clothes (absolution in Confession)  and prepares a grand meal for him (Holy Communion).

Saint Theophan identifies three stages in the conversion of a sinner (one who is asleep and not aware of his sinful nature like David and the Prodigal Son) to a God pleasing life:
  1. Arousal from the slumber of sin.
  2. Reaching a decision to give up sin and devote oneself to pleasing God
  3. Vestment of power from on high for doing this in the Mysteries of Repentance and Communion.

Next, I will cover Saint Theophan’s view of how this awakening takes place.

Reference: The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 101; 2 Samuel 11 & 12; Lk 15:11-32

Awakening our Heart to God (2)

Friday, November 15, 2019

If Life is Good - Why Repent?

The reality is that most people are indifferent about their salvation. They are satisfied with life and see their situation as good even though they may face some difficulties. Those they attribute to lack of their own efforts or blame someone else. Their focus is on external things: their occupation, their pleasures, good sex, good food, luxuries of home goods, a bigger home, a fancy car and so forth. All these they feel they are able to get through their own efforts. In their view, what is the need for God? The challenges of this life consume their energy and attention. There is no time or reason to worry about salvation. Some dutifully profess they believe in God, attend Church occasionally, but they do not pray, fast or read scripture daily. They enjoy novels instead or the latest TV series that are streamed by various internet services. They are satisfied surfing social media and getting and giving likes on Facebook or Instagram. Since these are easy to get and give, why bother to develop deep friendships that take up their time? Their life is characterized by Martha whom the Lord told, “you are worried and troubled about many things” (Lk 10:41).

All this activity of life is driven by an unknown but constant unquenchable thirst. The desire to achieve, to be liked, to posses more material things, etc.  Because of this underlying force one can spend their entire life “in sweat, toil and great labors: busing themselves with various occupations in which they hope to find a way to quench this unquenchable thirst” (St Theophan the Recluse p 95-6). Such a person lacks God’s grace and is not really connected with God. Instead they only “dwell on themselves, and make self the main goal of their life and activity” (St Theophan the Recluse p 95).

Saint Theophan puts it this way:
The emptiness that has formed inside them because of their falling away from God causes and unquenchable thirst inside them that is vague but constant. The person has become a bottomless abyss. They make every effort to fill this abyss, but cannot see or feel it getting full. Thus, they spend their entire life in sweat, toil and great labor; they busy themselves with various occupations in which they hope to find a way to quench their unquenchable thirst. These occupations take up all their attention, all their time and all their activity. They are the highest good, in which they live with their whole heart. Thus, it is clear why a person who makes self their exclusive goal is never themselves; instead, everything is outside them, in things wether created or acquired by vanity. They have fallen away from God, who is the fullness of everything. (St. Theophan the Recluse p 95-6)
Saint Theophan give us three “fiends of many cares”:
  1. Emptiness of the mind: This is a mind that has forgotten God who is everything. It “gives rise to care and trouble about learnedness, inquisitiveness, questioning and curiosity.”
  2. Emptiness of the will: One deprived of possession by God who is everything. “This creates desire for many things, the longing to possess many things, so that everything is in our control…Self interest.”
  3. Emptiness of the heart: One deprived of the enjoyments of God. This “forms a thirst…, a search for an infinite number of objects in which we hope to find pleasure for our senses, both internal and external.”
There is a large number of good people who are captured in this way. They tend to see life as good as long as they are able to continue to gain more and more external things. When their desires cannot be met, they often fall into depression, anger, envy, and resentment. “This is the world of vanity, in which occupations, ways, rule, connections, language, diversions, amusements, concepts…are permeated by the spirit of these three fiends of many cares and trouble…” (St Theophan the Recluse p 97) Unfortunately, these people are blind to their condition. They are captured by this self striving, immersed in worldly things and the means to satisfy an unknown inner yearning. They are consumed with all their cares that their condition is invisible to them. They do not realize they are separated from God. They become satisfied with a declaration that they believe in God. They know the Lord’s Prayer by heart, but they do not see their sinfulness or realize how serious is this separation from God. They do not think about salvation or even their own mortality. The know the story of Jesus, His death and Resurrection, but it has little meaning in their daily lives.

The result is a blindness to human reality. Such a person is unaware of their sinfulness and what is needed for their salvation. They are not interested in discussions or activities that are spiritual in nature. Saint Theophan puts it this way:
“There is a blindness and insensitivity in the sinner. They do not see their own condition, and therefore do not sense the danger and therefore do not take the trouble to care to be delivered from it. The necessity to change and be saved does not even enter their mind. They have complete, unshakable confidence that they are at their proper station in life, want for nothing and must therefore leave everything the way it is. Therefore they consider any reminder about another kind of life to be superfluous for themselves; they do not listen, and cannot even understand what it is for. They avoid and shun it.” (Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 100)
In the next posting I will share how one can be awakened from this dangerous stupor.

Ref: The Path to Salvation, by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 95-101

Awakening Our Heart to God (1)

A Personal Note: I lived in this stupor until I was over 40 years old. I had no awareness of the deep nature of my sinfulness and how far I was separated from God. For me I was successful in my career, I had a good marriage and two beautiful children. My parents were healthy and my grandparents still living. All was good, very good. I assumed it was my good work that made this possible. I would go to Church periodically, but it was out of a sense of obligation to my in-laws and wife. There was not a spiritual connection in this. It was just something you did. There was never a feeling so committing a sin. Like I hear many parishioners say, “I have not killed any one. I have not stolen any thing, I have not committed adultery.” I was so self centered, to go in front of an authority person like a priest to confess would not have been possible. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Orthodox Worship

A review of worship in the Orthodox church including the Divine Liturgy

Fasting in Orthodox Way of Life


A key element of the Orthodox Way of Life is fasting. This is an ascetic discipline that is necessary to tame our passions and nurture our soul so we can come closer to God and become united with him. It is not a virtue but an aid, a means to our union with God. This video gives the history, the reason for its importance and the guidelines given to us by the Church.