Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Does It Mean When John Says, "Do Not Love the World?"

John the Theologian says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” What does he mean? Before answering this question let’s examine what it does not mean. It does not mean we should not love the people in the world; God clearly commands us to love everyone in the world, including our enemies (Mark 12:31; John 15:12; Matthew 5:44). Neither does it mean that we are not to enjoy or utilize the good gifts that God has given us in the world (James 1:17). God provides us with many good things to enjoy and we ought to receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)

Saint Symeon frames this issue by asking this question, “What is the world?" He answers giving us the meaning of John's instruction to not love the word. “It is sin and attachment to things and passions.”  

The referenced passage is in John’s 1st Epistle: 
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:14-17).
We see that John clearly specifies what we at not to love; namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All of these attitudes are sinful and rebellious against God and His will for us. 

The Orthodox Study Bible reminds us of the following: 
The world here is creation after the fall and under the dominion of Satan. It is creation no longer oriented toward God, but temporary and dominated by inordinate passions (see Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13; 1Co 7:29-31). The world distorts every realm of God's good creation. There are (1) sensual pleasures of the flesh (physical passions), (2) intellectual attainments and capacities of the eyes (the soul's passions), and (3) inordinate possessions, power, and honors of life (the pride of human spirit).
When John refers to “lust of the flesh” he is referring sins such as sexual immorality, gluttony, and other indulgences. When he says,   “lust of the eyes” is pointing to root of covetousness. This is the greedy desire for the material riches and possessions of this world. Finally, when he writes the “pride of life,” this is about the boasting of ambition and achievement, a thirst for the honor bestowed by and the applause received from the world.

Saint Symeon points out that this is not an impossible command. 
“I know well that many saints of old guarded themselves from this,  and those of the present still do. They spend their lives in the midst of the things of this life, it’s concerns and it’s care’s, and yet complete their lives in perfect holiness. Of them and their like Paul bears witness, when he says “The form of this world is passing away, so that those who have wives should be as if they had none, and those who buy as if they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as if they had no dealing with it (1Cor 7:29ff).
Symeon emphasize this is not a casual warning. If we are attached to the things of the world in this way then in reality we are an enemy of God. James says, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of The world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).” And John also says, “if anyone loves the world, love for the father is not in him (1John 2:15).

We must remember that Jesus in the great commandment says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your strength and with all your soul (Mk 12:30).”

Therefore if we are craving things of this world we are not following God’ commandment. This how Saint Symeon puts it: “Therefore he who craves or has an attachment to anything else’s transgresses this commandment.” He continues saying, “Let us hate everything, great and small, that endangers our souls.”  Christians are commanded to imitate Christ and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–14)

Saint Symeon warns us that we must pay attention to the smallest of transgressions.
He who willingly fails at small things, even though it keeps himself from greater offenses, will be more severely condemned because, while he kept the greater matters under control, he was overcome by the lesser. Even one single passion will be enough to destroy us...”
Our aim as a Christian is to become united with Christ, what we call theosis. To be united we must continually work with the help of God’s Grace to act wit a pure heart out of love for Hod as well as others this means Weill be following the ancient guidelines that involve ascetic practices which include prayer and fasting
And live a life of continual repentance.

Saint Symeon suggests that it is helpful to keep in mind the Judgment we will eventually face . He says, 
He who always keeps his own mind and constantly looks forward to the coming Judgment, and fervently repents and weeps, will overcome them all at the same time. As he is lifted up by repentance he “is more than a conqueror” (Rom 8:37).
Even though we ought to love the people in the world and enjoy the good gifts God bestows on us, we must always be careful not to elevate any of them to first place in our hearts and lives.

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourages, pp 109-111.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Symeon the New Theologian on Repentance

Why is repentance so central to a Christian way of life? It is because the aim of Christian life is to be perfected in virtue through God’s grace so we can return to Paradise with eternal life in His kingdom. Repentance is the path to perfection. We need to remember that there will a Judgment that must be faced. Saint Symeon points out what Paul writes, “We must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body (2Cor 5:10).”

Saint Symeon says, 
Let us repent with all our heart and castaway not only our evil deeds, but also the wicked and unclean thoughts of our hearts and obliterate them in accordance with that which is written: ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13).’ Tell me: what use is it if we distribute all our goods to the poor, but fail to make a break with evil and to hate sin? What [use is it] if, while we do not actively commit bodily sin, we mentally engage in shameful and unclean thoughts and invisibly commit sin and are governed controlled by restrained passions of the soul?
Saint Symeon knows there are many who ignore the teachings of Jesus. There are those who do not want to be bothered by clergy or anyone who reminds them what a Christian way of life requires. Some will even say, “I did not want the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly we have to have a desire to be united with God, to do as God commands, and to prepare now for the Judgment and life in Paradise. But the reality is that there are many who reject the teaching of the Incarnate and Triune God. They see no need for repentance or any ascetic practices.

There are others who try discredit the teachings of Christ and see the ways taught by the Church as foolish. Saint Symeon says, 
How will they defend themselves? Will they say, we have not heard? Or nobody warned us?  Or we did not know the name, O Master, nor Thy might, Thy strength, Thy power? He might then justly say to us, “How often have I told you beforehand and exhorted you, O miserable ones, through prophets, through apostles, through all my servants, even through Myself.
Saint Symeon then gives a list of teachings we have received from the Lord. It makes a good list for our own review:
Have you not heard Me say, “blessed are those who weep now, for they shall laugh (Lk 6:21).  Have you not heard Me cry aloud, "blessed are those who mourn (Mt 5:4)?” But you have laughed unrestrainedly as you discussed among yourselves and prolonged your idle conversations, inviting each other to dinner and ministering to your stomachs. 
As Jesus says, “I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment (Mt 12:36).”
Have you not heard Me say, “How narrow the gate and how hard is the way that leads to life” (Mt 7:14) and “The kingdom of God suffers violence, and men of violence take it by force (Mt 11:12).” Yet you lie on soft beds and seek comfort by any means.
While Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mk 9:35),” you have chosen “the best seats and the places of honor (Mk 13:39).” Have you not chosen positions of power and leadership and offices and high honors, and been unwilling to be subordinate and to serve in humility of spirit...
While Jesus said, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt 7:12)” have you not been concerned solely with your own comfort and lusts?
Have you not been covetous, rapacious, and unjust  and served no one but your selves? Think about what Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9)?” 
When I told you Jesus said, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Mt 5:39)”, have not some of you laughed and others even refused to listen to this? Did you not say that I commanded you something bad and unjust?
When Jesus told you, “whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two (Mt 5:41),” not only have you not done so but most of you have not even instructed others.
When I told you, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake (Mt 5:11f),” did you not welcome praises and honor and glory to the extent the other would make you weary of life itself.
When I mentioned, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3),” did you ever heartily wish to be poor.
When I said, “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5),” did you not act angrily towards those who did not do at once what you wanted?
When I said to you pray for those who ill treat you, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you (Mt 5:44),” have you not said, ‘This is fine for the apostles?”
There are many more. We need to study Scripture and examine our lives always seeking ways to improve our way of life. When we realize how difficult this is we will find humility and then seek His grace, the Holy Spirit, to help us. 

The lesson is, if we love God and want to be united with Him, we need to listen carefully to what He has taught us. We need to be aware of the Judgment that will come. Knowing what is necessary through His teachings, and accepting that the gate is narrow to Paradise, we will seek repentance always. As Jesus taught as He began His public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4:17).”

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, pp 103-104.