Monday, February 24, 2020

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”

In Psalm 37 (38) we experience the nature of the true repentance King David offers to God. He is able to see the depths of His sinfulness and how awful it must look in the eyes of God. He even compares it to a pus filled festering wound. He is not referring to a physical wound but the wound in his soul. Seeing the loving nature of God David holds nothing back in his examination of his fallen condition. He pleads with humility for God’s help.

Archimandrite Amilianos of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos offers us an outstanding commentary this Psalm (Psalms and the Life of Faith, p 223). Here are a couple of quotes from His commentary:

“Consciousness of sin is your point of contact with God”
"No one can comprehend his sinfulness, no matter how great it might be, unless he has glimpsed the holiness of God.”

As you think about these two comments you can see how sin, in his eyes and those of the great king David, are quite different from our normal view of sin. Mostly we think of sin as breaking a commandment of God, like breaking a law. But David is giving us an example, along with the the commentary of Aimianos, that there is much more to understanding sin.

What does it mean when we say, "sin is the point of contact with God?” Doesn’t this imply a personal relationship with Him? Our true sinfulness is normally suppressed deep in our subconsciousness because most of us think of ourselves as “good” people. But, no! Deep down inside there is a festering sore in our soul. When we uncover this we do so in relationship with our God. Bringing us into contact with Him, we see Him as a loving God who will forgive and heal. Because of His love, we can see the level of perfection that is in God Himself. We realize that we are far from our potential. We are humbled in front of God. We eagerly seek mercy and healing.

The second quote says that no one can comprehend their sinfulness unless they have "glimpsed the holiness of God." What does this imply? To know our sinfulness we cannot simply go down a check list of sins and identify our sins and expect God to heal us. We need to have our inner heart enlightened by God. Only when we have known the nature of His holiness can we truly see how sinful we are. This is not a negative thing that will throw us into despair, because, as we see His holiness, we will also see His infinite mercy, His unconditional love that never wavers. It is this love that enables us to see what we have hidden deep in our subconscious mind.

So what are we to do to come closer to God? We must seek to know His holiness so our true sinfulness can be revealed to us. It takes more than a surface self-reflection to get to the root of our fallen nature. This is why the saints are always talking about how sinful they are. As we come closer to God, we come to  know our potential and what is necessary to be united with Him in eternal life. The Orthodox Way of life will lead us to this deeper understanding if we follow it out of obedience at first and then out of our love for God.

Saint Theophan says, ”The awakening of the sinner is that act of divine grace in his heart, the consequence of which he, as one awakened from sleep, sees his sinfulness, senses the danger of the situation, begins to fear for Himself and to care about deliverance from his misfortune and salvation….
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. (Path to Salvation, pp 102 & 103 )

Saint Poprhyrios says, “The love of God transforms everything; it sanctifies, amends and changes that nature of everything.” (Wounded by Love, p100)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Are You a Good Person? Beware!

Thinking of oneself as a good person can lead to deception. If your idea of being good is about following the rules given to you through your church or society, even if you say you believe in Jesus Christ, you may be on the wrong path. How can this be? It depends on the source of you inner disposition. If you are adhering to an orderly life through your own efforts then you are most likely in deception. To live a Christian life cannot be based on your efforts alone. Your choices must be based on your relationship with God, on the zeal and divine grace you receive from Him. There must be the sense in every act that you are cooperating with His will. Salvation cannot be gained through your own efforts.

Saint Theophan says,
This good order in one's conduct more than anything else can lead one into deception. Its true significance depends upon one's inward disposition, where it is possible that there are significant deviations from real righteousness in one’s righteous deeds. Thus, while refraining outwardly from sinful deeds, one may have an attraction for them or a delight from them in one's heart; so also, doing righteous deeds ourwardly, one's heart may not be in them. Only true zeal both wishes to do good in all fulness and purity, and persecutes sin in its smallest forms. it seeks the good as its daily bread, and with sin it fights as with a mortal enemy.
Our self-centerness blocks us from God and we are blind to the grace that God gives us. While our efforts to do good help us survive in the physical world and give us the necessary discipline needed for a more spiritual life, they are not sufficient when done only out of our own will. They are also most likely tinged with an underling sinfulness that is hidden. We need to give priority to developing a deep faith that is based on a pure heart open to grace. Then we will be on the right path to doing His will in cooperation with our own efforts.

When we think we are good people we are suffering from pride and probably unaware of our sinfulness. Beware!

Reference: Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 29

Monday, February 10, 2020

When Does Christian Life Begin?

A Christian life begins when we have overwhelming energy to fulfill a desire to be united with Jesus Christ.  This is called zeal.

Saint Theophan says,
Christian life is zeal and strength to remain in communion with God by means of an active fulfillment of His holy will, according to our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the grace of God, to the glory of His most holy name.
This zeal is evident to others as well. Others can observe the peacefulness they exhibit, the steadfastness they exhibit, and the sacrifices they are willing to make to live in a Christian way.

Saint Theophan says,
The person in whom this ardor is constantly active is one who is living in a Christian way.
This is about more than just trying to live by the rules of the church and commandments given to us by Christ out of obligation or fear. It's more than just tying to be a "good" person. The true Christian life is based on zeal, an inward awareness of God, a sense of communion and love with Him. The Spirit must be alive within and burning like a fire.

Saint Theophan says,
All this is good, but as long as it does not bear in itself the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, it has no value at all before God. Such things would be like soulless statues.
The beginning of Christian life begins with the inner working of divine grace. The first step to receiving this grace is Holy Baptism.

Reference: Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 27,29

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Why do we go to Divine Liturgy?

What are we looking for? A universal state of being within the Church; an inward state of being “conferred by Jesus,” experiences, feelings, longings, and visions.
Elder Aimilianos 

Elder Aimilianos points out that going to Divine Liturgy is a “movement from one place to another.” What are we to do when we leave the outside world and enter into the church?
To enter the church means to leave outside all those things that make up out life in the world...that which is ours and which belongs to us, our sin, our self will, and our desire... we leave behind not simply the things we see but even things we hope for.
He calls this a kind of “exile.” We enter into a clear free space that is like pure air. We should feel like we have entered into heaven, are standing there in its pure air. We have made a movement from one place to another. We are now in a place that contains no worldly pleasures. We feel we have been led to a foreign place where there is hope in a peace from all the cares and tribulations of an earthly life. We sense we have moved to a place that is closer to God.
When we enter into the open spaces of the church, we immediately experience a particular feeling, a feeling which confirms for us that here, in this place, our Helper is at hand. He is invisible, but you feel Him, as if He were rushing toward you, as if you could hear the sound of His breathing. He is your Helper, the One Who can deliver you, Who can redeem you, Who can satisfy your insatiable soul...
We come to Divine Liturgy to be close to God. Therefore we should go longing to see Him, to somehow feel His divine presence, to be united with the One we love above all else. When we do this our soul will be filled with a divine grief, recognizing what it lacks, yet desires. It will try to cry our seeking mercy, realizing that it cannot see God.

With this infilled longing we begin to pray. The Liturgy with all its hymns and prayers leads us in prayer. Our mind, being cleared of all our worldly cares begins to think about God. As the Liturgy progresses we begin to experience Him. We desire to taste Him, to receive His nourishment. Then in the Liturgy a divine table is set, beginning with the great entrance. With the whole choir of angels and the Saints joining in, the heavenly and earthly church becomes united. We call on the Holy Spirit and the gifts we brought as bread and wine become mystically transformed into Christ Himself.

We became aware of our separation from God before we entered the church and our sins that separate us from Him. We realize that the reason we came was to free ourselves from all the passions that cloud our heart. We see how difficult, if not impossible, it is to root these tendencies out. We acknowledge that it is only with God’s help that we can overcome our condition. We cry for forgiveness and repentance as we approach the Chalice to be joined with Him in Holy Communion. As we approach, we are in awe at the sweetness of God.

God is no longer the great absent one, but is greatly present and we begin to see His sweetness.

We also experience the pleasure of our soul as it becomes a participant in this union. When we participate in Communion our soul is nourished and we are given strength to help us overcome our worldly passions when we return to our earthly daily life.

But what is the reality for many Orthodox Christians? The elder tells us,
Most people go to church, present themselves to Christ, and leave without ever drawing out any of His strength, without experiencing His power, the way the woman with the flow of blood did (cf. Mt 9:20). And then say: “So what did I get from Christ? I came back from church the same person I was when I went.”
If we come to the church longing to see God, to experience Him, to receive strength from Him, we will leave a different person in some small way. Each time we are healed of our sinfulness bit by bit. 

The elder says, 
“This is why God has established this liturgical assembly. This is why He arranges for angels, archangels, and saints to be present here with sinners, so that each can give something to the other. The saints are here so that they can give their saintliness to the sinners. And sinners are here to convey to the saints their desire for their holiness, so they too, may be found in their company. We find all of this within the church, provided that all is still and silent within us, and that our gaze remains fixed solely on the drama unfolding before us.
When we come to church we are seeking an experience with God. Setting aside our worldly care and opening our heart to Him we will experience a renewed state of being conferred by Jesus. Everything comes from Him. Without our willing surrender, our recognition of our sinful state, we will gain nothing and return just as we were. All this has been established by Jesus for our healing, our perfection, the satisfaction of our spiritual seeking.

Reference: The Way of the Spirit, “On the State that Jesus Confers”, by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 55-69