Saturday, May 27, 2023

Once We Believe is Salvation Guaranteed?

Salvation is not guaranteed. Once we believe, are baptized and chrismated, we become part of Christ’s church and His family. We receive the Holy Spirit and are able to participate in the sacramental life of His church. We now have a path opened to salvation, eternal life with Christ. Having a free will makes this a life long process. We can choose to disobey any of His commandments, like Adam and Eve, separate ourselves from God.

We have a free will.  Jesus Himself warns His disciples about the possibility of being deceived by false teachers and being surrounded by those who disregard His teachings. He tells them, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13), implying that even close disciples are not guaranteed of salvation; they must endure. 

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, encourages them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Peter also warns in his second letter, “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Peter 3:17).

From a comprehensive view of Scripture, it is clear that those who have faith can be led astray and therefore need to learn how control the use of their free will. Our condition is one filled with passions and worldly self-centered desires that need to be tamed in order to follow His commands and become like Him, prepared for eternal life. We live in an environment filled with temptations.

Salvation the result of a lifelong process. This is the teaching of Apostolic Tradition, Scripture, and is consistent with the understanding of the Church Fathers. Central to this effort is continual repentance, acknowledging our sinful nature, seeking reconciliation, and seeking God’s help to change our ways. 

The Church Fathers consistently support this view. For example, St. John Chrysostom writes, “And just as no one can enter into a gymnasium without preparation, so no one can enter into paradise without the training of repentance" (Homily on Repentance and Almsgiving). Saint Gregory of Nyssa says “The grace of God is indeed always given for illumination and guidance, but it is not always received by those who desire it, but only by those who are always struggling to live according to His commandments, since, as we have learned, it withdraws from those who are negligent and does not remain in a place unoccupied." (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

Many Protestants and Evangelical Christians claim that once a person declares their faith, they are saved eternally. They often use Scripture passages like the following to mistakenly support their belief.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand (John 10:27-29)."

“Nor angels nor principalities  nor powers …nor any othe created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).”

While this idea of eternal salvation is very comforting, unfortunately, it is not the whole truth. The imagery of the Good Shepherd in John 10 emphasizes the faithful love and watchful care of Christ for His followers, rather than making a statement about an irreversible guarantee of salvation. Romans 8:38-39, which speaks of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God, refers to external things, but it does not negate the importance of human free will.

The Orthodox belief is deeply rooted in Tradition, Scripture, and the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the teaching of the Church Fathers. The Protestant view, on the other hand, is an innovation that disregards Tradition and promotes individualistic interpretation of Scripture. Historically, their view emerged as a response to corruption within the Roman Church, leading figures like Martin Luther to believe that these problems were due to a false understanding of Scripture and the neglect of Tradition.

Believing that belief in Jesus is enough for eternal salvation is a major error. It discourages people from engaging in the necessary disciplines necessary for salvation. Their view undermines the importance of ongoing repentance, the need for self-discipline and the cooperation with the transformative work of God’s grace in our lives. It is not what the Apostles taught and is seriously misleading.

We do share a faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. However, the truth is that we are created with a free will and can choose not to follow God’s will. This makes it necessary for a lifelong process to align our will with God’s will for salvation. This involves continual self-reflection, repentance and cooperation with God's grace. These differences highlight the need for respectful dialogue so that everyone can be saved through the lifelong synergy of our efforts and God’s grace.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

How Does a vibrant spiritual life begin


Disconnected from a vibrant spiritual life? Baptized as infants, then growing into adulthood, many Orthodox Christian have become preoccupied with worldly cares, relegating God to an afterthought. Though they may now attend church out of obligation, their personal spiritual life feels empty, lacking a warm connection with God. Perhaps they engaged in Bible study classes, but it remained a social and intellectual exercise.

A spiritual awakening. A vibrant spiritual life begins with what the Fathers call a spiritual awakening. This is a mystical experience that begins with an act of grace. This encounter with God leads to a conversion, a deepening of faith, and a renewed commitment to live in accordance with God's will. It's akin to waking up from a deep slumber, suddenly realizing the reality and nature of God's love. One becomes acutely aware of past neglect and failures to live as God intended. This awakening prompts a decisive choice to change one's life—a love affair with God where the desire to please Him is paramount.

More is necessary. However, this awakening only touches the heart which is not enough to transform one's way of life. It reveals the need for personal change, exposing feelings of insignificance and self-centeredness. It makes one conscious of their opinions, habits, and pleasures that are incompatible with a life of unity with God.

Don’t ignore it. Such awakenings can happen unexpectedly and at any time, constituting a free gift from God. If the first awakening is ignored then subsequent ones may not come as easily, as St. Theophan the Recluse teaches. Therefore, it is crucial to act upon this initial experience.

A lifelong process. A spiritual awakening initiates a lifelong process that may involve trials and arduous self-reflection. However, if the awakening is genuine, God becomes intimately relevant to every aspect of life. Though the mystery of God persists, one no longer doubts His reality and ever-present nature. The newfound motivation propels individuals to embrace an Orthodox way of life, incorporating ascetic practices such as prayer and fasting. Regular church attendance and participation in the Sacraments, particularly Holy Communion, become vital sources of nourishment for the soul, empowering one to purify the heart and overcome sinful tendencies.

In the subsequent posting, I will summarize the varying ways in which Saint Theophan the Recluse describes this spiritual event.

References: The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, Chapter 4 pg 102-104

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Ascetic Disciplines: Are They Necessary for Salvation?

Ascetic practices are essential. The Orthodox way of life involves ascetic practices that include regular participation in Sacraments and worship, daily prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and other spiritual books. These are seen as necessary to become like Christ and prepare for eternal life with Him. From the time of Christ and the Apostles this has been the constant teaching of the Church. Even after being taught the necessity of these practices, many Orthodox Christians fail to fully embrace them. Why is this? Why do some Christians lack the motivation or discipline to follow these traditional teachings?

Worldly lifestyle. It may be that many people are accustomed to indulgent or worldly lifestyles, unwilling to take the time or limit their actions by self-imposed spiritual disciplines. Society's emphasis on material possessions and consumerism reinforces the belief that pleasure-seeking and material gain are the primary goals in life. This perspective ignores the reality of Christ's teaching that we need to perfect ourselves to live by all He taught so we will be prepared to enter into His eternal kingdom. There is a widely held idea that it is not necessary to limit actions that may restrain instant, short lived worldly pleasures. Many live a life steadfastly attached to worldly things and pleasures, ignoring any thought about an eternal life. This way of thinking lacks the perspective that comes with remembrance of death and the promise of eternal joy in a life with Christ for those who are prepared.

Ignorant of lives of Saints. It is clear from the lives of the saints that these spiritual disciplines can be incredibly rewarding. By intentionally limiting their impulses and desires, individuals can develop a greater sense of self-control and discipline, becoming better able to control their emotions as well as  their physical actions. They can learn to align their self-will with the will of Christ, cultivating a deeper sense of spiritual fulfillment and inner peace. If they make this effort they receive the ever increasing help of God's grace and overcome any fear of death. 

Limited view of God. Another possible reason why many fail to engage in ascetic disciplines is because they have a limited view of God. They lack an understand of Him as our creator, One who is all powerful, Who created us in His image as Scripture teaches. If we embrace the view of God as our loving creator, we will seek to know Him intimately, not just intellectually. We will want to do what he commands for us out of our love for Him because of His love for us. This proper understanding will cultivate a strong desire to perfect ourselves through a spiritually disciplined life so we will be united with Him out of love. Becoming united with Him will become our aim in life.  

Lack of understanding of full Gospel story. There are many people who do not understand or accept the full reality of the Gospel story, seeing parts of it only symbolically, or even ignoring parts they do not believe. Some minimize the reality of miracles, even the virginal birth in the Incarnation of Jesus as God’s only begotten Son. Rather than seeing Him as fully God and man, they see Him only as a super good man. They may also resist accepting the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, or the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in sustaining life and giving us power to change our way of life in the form of grace. Since the time of the Enlightenment, the role of Holy Spirit has been replaced with reason and science. This has led us to believe that we have the power independent of God to control all aspects of our life. The rise of medical science has furthered this view, leading us to believe that we can avoid death with drugs and medical procedures. As a result, we have buried any thought of death. Even many common rituals after death involving cremation as an expedient and economical way to dispose of the body, followed by a gathering to celebrate life, shelters us from the reality of death as a transition to a new life. For many, the idea of eternal life has lost its meaning, is not in their daily consciousness or their aim. Therefore, the thought of death fails to motivate many to alter their way of life or seeing the necessity for engaging in ascetic disciplines.

Aim of life is eternal life. The Orthodox Church teaches that our ultimate goal is to prepare for eternal life by becoming united with God through a life of virtue and spiritual discipline. It is a life emphasizing ascetic practices that helps us control our self-centered desires, overcome our sole focus on pleasure seeking, and instead align our will with God's. A life lived in unity with God enables us to perfect ourselves for a future eternal life in His divine kingdom. Preparing for the life after death becomes our aim.

Commitment necessary. It is true that not everyone may be ready or willing to make this commitment. Ultimately, the decision to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church requires a personal understanding of God's fullness, a mystical experience of His love, and a recognition of our need to prepare for eternal life with Him in His kingdom. Only with this view will one be willing to give up self-centered and materialistic thinking and pleasure seeking and be willing to commit time and effort for spiritual disciplines, self-reflection, and spiritual growth. For those who do, the rewards are significant, life-changing, and lead us to salvation and a joyful eternal life.

Reference: Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Concerning Death, What Should We Think?

When we hear that someone has died, don’t we tend to think of this as a tragic calamity? Saint Gregory of Nyssa teaches that seeing death in this way is foolish because it is a denial of the reality of a beginning of a new life. This view results from an attachment to the ever-changing beauty of the world. We expect all we know as good to continue, and when something we see as beautiful is destroyed we suffer and grieve. When we face the loss of a loved one, we are overtaken by our sense of loss. We are unable to embrace a greater reality consisting of a greater unchangeable divine beauty. To overcome viewing death as a loss, we must understand the nature true beauty and good that is unchangeable. We must  recognize that our grief and suffering is caused by our attachments and passions that cause us to hold on tightly to things of this world. But what is this true beauty and good that is unchanging?

According to Saint Gregory, true beauty and good are naturally beautiful in and of themselves at all times, regardless of any utilitarian purpose. They are divine, not of this world. However, many people accept only what is good for their their present physical life and their desires. This kind of good is ever-changing leading to sadness and grief when it is taken away. When we die, we must realize that all worldly beauty vanishes, everything we value, all we see as beautiful and good. To overcome this cause of suffering, we must separate from these attachments and instead become attached to what is good at all times, what is divine. We must be freed from the limitations caused by our earthly passions.  

Our soul is immaterial and does not die with the body. The body is earthly and when it dies, nature causes it to disintegrate and return to the earth. Saint Gregory views the soul as pure and free and not defined by earthly passions. It migrates toward this unchangeable good nourished only by divine knowledge. When it separates from the body in death, it is no longer influenced by sensible pleasures that delude our judgment of good. This immortal life of the soul is not inflated with pride, weighed down by humiliations, enraged by self-confidence, trampled down by fear, moved with anger, or confused by fear. Therefore, knowing the nature of this new life of our liberated soul, how can we be sad because of death? Only if we are unaware of our true nature, the eternal beauty of the divine life of the soul. 

Wen someone dies, think about how they have been relieved of everything that causes suffering and hardship. When the soul separates from the body, we no longer experience anguish. We now possess a nature that no one can see or understand. Our soul, immaterial, without form, spiritual, and incorporeal, partakes of spiritual and immaterial existence once it has shaken off corporeality. Being made in the image of God, which is all good, when we die we are coming closer to the source of our existence. We have removed our fleshy garment, which saint Gregory calls an ugly mask.

Death brings a new kind of life. It’s like we have grown out of the stage of childhood and fully matured. Our sense of smell recognizes the odor of Christ. All our senses are transformed and united with what is good. This life of struggle is a road to our future hope and resembles a budding tree about to produce first the flower and then the fruit. This current life is but the seed of what is to come. Nature relentlessly advances towards death. The final goal of our journey is restoration to our original state or likeness of God.

Our future form will not be the same as it’s present form. We are continually in a process of change from birth. Our new form will not be subject to the conditions of our material corporeal  state. All evil will be rejected, and we will be one with Him, with His grace radiating throughout. “As a result, each person will show kindness to his neighbor, rejoice to see his neighbors beauty, and sadness will cease to exist because will reveal it own deformed state.” This will be the ultimate expression of the unchanging divine beauty, where death is not a tragedy, but rather a gateway to an eternal life of unending joy.


“Concerning Those Who Are Asleep,” by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, trans, John Saniddopoulos

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Raising Children with Christian Values

Will your children be prepared to deal as a Christian with the issues faced as teenagers and young adults? Saint Theophan the Recluse offers us guidance.

Preparing your children to deal with the challenges they'll face as teenagers and young adults, and helping them live an Orthodox Christian way of life, begins in infancy with the sacrament of Baptism. In baptism infants are joined with Christ, are given the seal of the Holy Spirit, are assigned a guardian angel, and become a full member of His Church. They receive the seed for a life in Christ. This is when the responsibility of the parents, along with godparents, begins for their child’s spiritual development. Children need guidance to form proper attitudes to deal with a future secular environment, to control their bodily passions, and to overcome a self-centered will. 

St Theophan says,

Therefore one must so conduct the developing powers of the soul and body so as not to give them over into captivity to enjoyments of the flesh, to curiosity, to self-will and self-centered pleasures—for this would be a sinful captivity—but on the contrary, one must train the child how to separate himself from them and master them, and thus as much as possible render them powerless and harmless.

As the needs of an infant’s body are aroused, a parent must bring them into proper bounds and encourage the development of proper habits.  Saint Theophan writes,

From the very first years one must begin to restrain the flesh which is inclined to crude materiality, training the child to become master of it, so that in adolescence and youth and later years, he might easily and freely be in control of this need.

To control bodily passions and desires, parents must establish age based rules for their children regarding the use of food. They need to help in developing a taste for healthy foods and the discipline to wait for assigned times to eat. Parents should not allow immediate satisfaction of food desires. Sleep needs to be similarly disciplined.

To avoid hyperactivity, inattentiveness, or laziness the body needs proper stimulation and stability. A child’s play should be scheduled and done in moderation so not to inflate self-will. They need to develop a controlled will with a purposeful attitude, as opposed to simply acting  based on sensual whims. If a child is allowed to enjoy himself with whatever and whenever he desires, he can become unwilling to obey even the smallest things. 

Children must learn to endure all external influences without misfortune. Therefore, a child cannot be over sheltered so it receives only pleasant sensations. They need to develop an awareness of things that can cause harm and disturbance.

Responses to the senses are developed early. Sacred objects should be among the first impressions an infant receives. Surround the child with icons and an oil lamp for the eyes, sacred hymns and prayers for hearing, and incense for smell. If the senses are not properly trained early they will become the source of temptations later on. Training the senses is also important for development of a healthy imagination. A child is naturally curious. Guide this by focusing their curiosity and exploration based on what is considered essential for a Christian life and avoiding all else. Anticipate that sinful passions will arise, and be prepared to deal with them so they will not become rooted and the source of bad habits. In all these efforts you will need the aid of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking capacity begins with the learning of words. This is when attitudes begin to be formed.  Be concerned that their attitudes are developed in line with Christian principles. In addition to a parent’s example, It is helpful to use stories to teach these principles. There are numerous orthodox children’s books available. Be sure to eliminate all books with corrupt concepts. 

A child has weak will-power and desires everything without discernment of what is good or bad for them. To develop control of will, require the child to do everything with the parents’ permission. Parents should also model good choices through their almsgiving, compassion, mercifulness, humility, and patience.

Also a child needs to develop proper feelings. A good approach for this is to have a church centered life. This will nurture a sympathy for things sacred, awe of the presence of God, a love of Christ, and pleasure in what has quietness and warmth. These can be found in the church. Bring them to services and receive Holy communion with them regularly. It’s important to participate in the sacraments with them so they learn that this something they are to do as they become adults. Teach them about the life and teaching of Christ. Try to avoid social media, TV, and streamed movies that encourage life based on sinful passions.

Lastly parents need to guide the development of conscience. A child must become aware of, and learn to listen for this inner voice. A parent needs to encourage a child to share the errors and teach them how to repent. All this requires a loving relationship between child and parent so the child can share without fear and freely say, “I did something wrong.” This love, however, is not one of satisfying any desire a child has. It involves having rules and discipline from the early ages.

If a parent follows this approach then the child will be best prepared with Christian values for the turbulent period of youth when the life of body is boiling at full steam.

St Theophan,

the fruit of a good upbringing is the preservation of the grace of Holy Baptism.”

One who has the kind of upbringing describe above has a great fortune. He will be prepared to weather the youthful temptations, preserving this spirit as they enter into adulthood.

Reference: Path to Salvation, St Theophan the Recluse, chapter 2.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Why is Holy Tradition important and How Does it Relate to Scripture?

The foundation of the church and its practices is Christ and Holy Tradition, which refers to t
he teachings and practices of the early Christian Church were passed down through a combination of written and oral traditions. The early church did not have a universally recognized canon of New Testament books, but the Apostles insisted that their followers hold true to the traditions they taught, which is now known as Holy Tradition.
It was several hundred years before there was a common collection of books used in the early churches that we now know as the New Testament.    

In the growth of the early church the Apostles insisted that the followers  hold true to the tradition they taught. 

“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). 
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). 
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6).

The Orthodox Church has always preserved the original teachings of the Apostles through the continuity of its practices, liturgies, sacraments, and writings of the early Church Fathers, in addition to the New Testament. 

There is a serious error that is inherent in many churches that came from an innovation introduced by Martin Luther, Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. This is the belief that scripture alone is the final authority for Christian faith and practice. They will often challenge Orthodox Christians when we talk about our faith saying, “Where do you find this in Scripture?” Their view of the church is limited to a book. They rejected Holy Tradition that was not recorded in the books and letters of the New Testament. In a sense they whitewashed the richness and completeness of the faith established in the early Church. 

The Orthodox Church has maintained this full richness based on Holy Tradition. It gives us the completeness of the faith as the Apostles taught. Holy Tradition includes, in addition to the New Testament, the results of the Ecumenical councils defending the nature of Christ, the liturgies and sacramental practices practiced since the earliest days of the Church, hymns, iconography and writings of the early Church Fathers. Nothing of Holy Tradition is contrary to Holy Scripture. With it we have the fullness of Christian Faith based on continual practices of the Orthodox Church from the time of the Apostles.

The Bible is an important part of Holy Tradition, and the Gospels give us the story of Jesus which is the basis of our Trinitarian faith. The official Bible for the Church is the Greek Bible (1904 text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), and the Orthodox Study Bible that uses the New King James Version is recommended for general reading. However, I don't suggest that you read it analytically as Protestants do, but rather prayerfully and with the help of the interpretations handed down through th Church Fathers.

It is recommended to read The New Testament as a story written by eyewitnesses without trying to determine doctrine, as doctrines included in the Creed. Reading the Bible prayerfully every day and letting it speak to one's soul builds faith, which leads to receiving God's grace that is nourished by the sacramental life in the Church and ascetic practices like prayer and fasting. St. John Chrysostom, in his 2nd Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, encouraged believers to approach Scripture with a prayerful attitude, saying: "If we wish to understand the meaning of Holy Scripture, we must pray for the help of the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth."

Remember that the New Testament was written by faithful men who were eyewitnesses and God inspired. Analysis as you read may turn the story into something akin to studying a text book on philosophy where you seek to extrapolate hidden meanings, or use logic to compose arguments and innovations. If you come across something you don’t understand or find hard to believe as you read, do not doubt, but instead assume that you are not yet ready to grasp the full meaning or reality of that event. Overtime more and more will be revealed through your reading. 

If you choose to engage in a Bible study group, it should be under the guidance of Orthodox clergy within the context of a local parish and with full respect of Holy Tradition. It's important to be wary of other kinds of social oriented study groups. If for business reasons it’s important to participate in such groups, be sure to take your Orthodox Study Bible with you so you can share the interpretations provided by our Church Fathers. It’s best to avoid such social oriented groups. If there are no Orthodox clergy available then choose a study group with careful discernment. Bible study should be primarily oriented to discussions about how to apply Scripture to our daily life and our full participation in the Holy Tradition of the Church. 

Keep in mind that the Church is founded on Holy Tradition that is the living and dynamic transmission of the teachings and practices of the Church from generation to generation beginning with Apostolic times. Holy Tradition ensures the continuity, unity, and vitality of the Church's teachings, practices, and worship.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

What happens at Death and in the Life After?

Death is an inevitable destiny. However, after death, there is a new life waiting for us in a new realm. Second, it is in our current life that we prepare for this life to come. Our current life is where we prepare for the new life to come. 

At the moment of our death our soul separates from our physical body. This separation involves a struggle as our soul and body were created together as one, resulting in resistance during separation.  Once separated the soul crosses over to an unknown realm, and it needs to know where to go and who to follow. The soul wonders, “Who will guide me?”

This new journey initially involves an ordeal. The soul carries with it any passions that were not tamed while united with the body, and it now faces opposing forces. On the one side are the demons who have tempted us in our earthly life, and on the other are the angels who want to lead us towards heaven. Since the soul still has a free will, it must chose who to follow. Will the temptations of the demons look more appealing than the uncreated light of Christ and heaven? The Divine Liturgy is a taste of Heaven, so reflect on how you view your love of the Divine Liturgy compared to the activities of daily life. If the Divine Liturgy is not your preference, then you may not prefer to follow the angels who want to lead you to the heavenly kingdom. If you don’t eagerly seek to participate in the Divine liturgy, then you will most likely not like heaven.

This ordeal is referred to as the particular judgment, which many claim is a self-imposed judgment based on the purity of our soul and its inclinations. At this time, everything that is part of the nature of our soul will be revealed, including our sinfulness. Nothing will be hidden. Most importantly, will we know God? Will our soul have a virtuous nature from our love of Him? Will we know our guardian angel or seek the protection of the Theotokos? Or will we be tempted to follow the demons who have nurtured our earthly passions? These forces will pull us back and forth. The ordeal will end as we wait for the Final Judgment by Christ based on our willful choice, either to enter a state of blessedness anticipating to enter His kingdom, or a state separated from God, tormented by our passions that cannot now be fulfilled. This is the judgment Paul refers to when he says, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). 

If we do not know God now, how will we know him after our death? How will He know us? If we know Hm and have developed a personal loving relationship with Him, we will not have any fears knowing that He is all-merciful and that the Theotokos will protect us. We will willingly follow the direction of our guardian angel. The Church was established by Christ and His Apostles, so we could develop this necessary relationship with God. This is the aim of the Orthodox way of life and all its sacraments and ascetic practices. If we have not engaged in this synergistic effort with God, we will be left in what the saints call darkness as we enter this new realm. We will not know the way nor who to follow. We may even fear the divine light and try to avoid it.

Next will come the moment of the Final Judgment by Christ Himself. This occurs with the His second coming. This will be a sudden event where Christ appears in all His glory for the universal resurrection. Scripture tells us it will be universal and simultaneous; solemn and open; strict and terrible, final and definitive; determining for all eternity our fate (Matt 25:31-46). This is also when we will be united with our bodies. But what will they be like?

According to 1 Corinthians 15:53, our new bodies will be transfigured. They will be "Spiritual, heavenly, without bodily needs, like angels" as mentioned in Luke 20:36. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:37-38 uses the analogy of a seed to explain this mystery saying, “What you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or other grain.  But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body." Our new bodies body will be different in that they will be immortal but will still be recognizable as affirmed by St. John Chrysostom who writes, “There is an identity shared between the body that died and the body that will be resurrected." St. Cyril of Jerusalem describes it this way, “The body after putting on incorruption is “changed” as iron, which comes into contact with fire “becomes fire.”  ...The body is changed “as the Lord who resurrects it knows." 

In 1 Cor 15:44 Paul further explains that our bodies will be transformed from spiritual to spiritual and we will become like angels while retaining or personhood. however, if our knowledge of God is limited to mental conceptions only, we will not truly know Him. To know God, we must have a personal experience with Him and cultivate a loving personal relationship. If you we not feel you have this relationship with Him, then we must recognize our poor condition, seek help and take action to establish this relationship. 

Remember, not everyone will be accepted into heaven. Jesus tells usin Matthew 7:21-23, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied thy name... cast out demons... done many wonderful works?  And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” 

Saint Porphyios advises, “We must not approach Christ out of fear of how we will die and of what will become of us. Rather, we must open out hearts to Him, as when we tug at a window curtain and the sun immediately shines in. In this way Christ will come to us, that we might truly love Him. This is the best way.”

To prepare for what is to come, we must act on the imperatives of an Orthodox way of life. We should pray daily and fast, go to church regularly, read the Bible daily, engage in discussions with other pious people, simplify our lives, be generous with alms, and repent. These practices will help us to grow in our faith and develop a deeper relationship with God.

Resources: Ten points for living an Orthodox way of Life

Friday, April 7, 2023

Preparing for Holy Week

For me, Holy Week is a profoundly significant event in my spiritual life, as it is for many Orthodox Christians. This week is filled with daily services filled with beautiful hymns and readings that remind us in a most personal way of Christ’s love shown in His self-sacrifice on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection. I feel as if I am actively participating in the passion of Christ. Every year, I am changed in some profound way. 

To experience Holy Week we must fully commit ourselves to participate in the many services and practice self-restraint through fasting. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (12: 1-2), we must offer our bodies as a living sacrifice in liturgical worship, and let God re-make us in His image. We must be open to change and continually repent of our sins, recognizing our limitations and celebrating the faith God has given us based on the hope of our resurrection. Don’t allow yourselves to be distracted by those who discourage your full participation, including fasting.

Our souls need this nourishment. The world that surrounds us, even in our church community, can easily distract and discourage us from living an Orthodox Christian life. At times we all fail to recognize our sinfulness and our need for divine help. Paul tells us set aside our exaggerated ideas about our self-importance. We must accept the limits of our being, seek to nourish your soul, and participate fully in this Holy Week. 

In the Orthodox Church, Holy Week begins with Christ's arrival in Jerusalem and includes services that mark the events of His Passion and Resurrection. The beautiful bridegroom services that begin on Sunday evening are filled with beautiful hymns concluding on Tuesday evening  with the moving hymn of Cassiani. On Wednesday, we have the opportunity to receive Holy Unction for the healing of our soul and body.

Thursday marks the initiation of the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Mystical Last Supper which is celebrated with a Divine Liturgy. That evening, we witness the crucifixion as the 12 Gospels are read on His Passion, and we have the opportunity to venerate Christ as He hangs on the Cross in a darkened, candlelit service. On Friday afternoon, we witness His burial, and that evening participate in a solemn procession  singing hymns of lamentation. 

On Saturday, we begin to celebrate Christ’s descent into Hades with a morning liturgy. The climax of the week comes on Saturday evening at midnight when the light of Christ is brought from the altar and passed on to each member, lighting all the candles held by each individual. The church is filled with light, and the glorious sounds of angelic hymns proclaim His Resurrection. This joyful proclamation, "Christ is risen, defeating death by death," fills our hearts and souls with His love and light.

As we enter Holy Week, let us all humble ourselves with restraint, fasting, and extra liturgical worship. Above all, let us remember that our purpose as Orthodox Christians is to become like Christ, to purify our hearts of sinfulness and passions, and to prepare ourselves for eternal life in his Kingdom. The Orthodox way of life supports our efforts toward this aim.

More on the Orthodox way of life

Saturday, April 1, 2023

What is Meant by Unseen Spiritual Warfare and Struggle?

Our principle task as a Christian is our engagement in a spiritual struggle against evil. There is no option for compromise with evil. We must be prepared to battle every type of evil. This a battle that is an inner one. It takes place in our soul. Until we root out all sinful tendencies in our own soul we will not be effective in combatting evil external to us, the evil caused by others. We need to have as a motto to “battle with evil in my own soul.

This battle is an unseen one because it takes place in our soul. Some mistakenly think this kind of effort is only for monks or clergy. Further, that it is not necessary for those living in a secular world to practice traditional guidelines for an Orthodox way of life. Instead of the unseen warfare in the soul, it is assumed we are to engage in external battles politically or otherwise, attacking the evil caused by others. But the reality is, if we were to all defeat the evil in our own soul we would live in a much different world. Archbishop Averky says: 

Only one who has battled with evil in his own soul can successfully wage battle with evil in general and, therefore, the battle with evil must begin in one’s own soul, with unseen warfare.

The standard for this battle is based on Jesus Christ. The reason He came taking on full humanity was to show us the significance of being made in God’s image, and a path to become like Him, united as one. He teaches us: 

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt 5:48)

We are all to seek such holiness.

This battle is one that is unceasing. It is never finished. Evil is constantly around us with the devil and demons constantly tempting us to follow them instead of God. But Christ has given us the help needed to engage in this battle. He sent us the Holy Spirit which lives in us. This we need to trust and follow. We should be continually praying for this divine help. This combined with our own efforts will lead step by step to a victory over evil. This is the reason all the elements of the Orthodox way of life are essential. These can be found in our booklet, Ten Points for living an Orthodox Christian Life.

We learn from the Church fathers according Archbishop Averky that the following four dispositions that are needed:

Never rely on yourself.

Always have in your heart hope in God.

Work at This unceasingly.

Pray always.

The greatest difficulty we face is our self-asserting pride. Pride causes us to deny any weakness we may have. It works to protect a self-image of being perfect in the eyes of others. We tend to think of ourselves as something special and superior to others. This is the root, origin and cause of the passions that lead us to sin. The Apostle Paul says, 

Do not be wise in your own opinion (Rom 12:16).

Our loving God wants us to win this battle with evil just like Christ has. This is why He allows external afflictions and grief.  These make us aware of our insignificance and awakens us to our prideful condition. He may also enlighten us with His grace. He continually calls us in various ways to awaken us to our nothingness and to follow Him. 

What are we to do? First, we must observe our life experiences and see that we can’t seem to do good without God. Saint Peter of Damascus says, 

“There is nothing greater than to realize your weakness and ignorance, and nothing worse than not to be aware of them.” 

Second, we need pray for His help to see our weaknesses and raise our awareness that we need His help. Third, we should be aware that our salvation may be in jeopardy because of the crafty nature of Satan who can only be defeated with His help. Fourth, once we observe we have sinned, failed to live up to His ideal, we must immediately recognize our weakness and repent.

The key is to observe ourselves carefully, to be watchful, to awaken our conscience, to embrace the vision of Gospel love, realizing how much we need Him to help us in this struggle. We must have the firm belief in God as Almighty who can do anything. That He is Love and always ready to give us help. This is why He gave us His only begotten Son. We can observe in the Scripture how He always helped the most disadvantaged, like the woman who lost a single drachma.

Finally, remember that the battle with evil is within. We cannot rely on our own self-will alone. We must overcome pride and discover and embrace our weaknesses. We must trust in God. We must live a life of repentance.

Reference: The Struggle for Virtue, Chapters 9 & 10, Archbishop Averky

Ten points for living an Orthodox life

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Resisting Evil

Jesus seems to present us with conflicting views on how to resist evil. The first view is found in His Sermon on the mount. He says,

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. 

But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.

And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 

Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt 5:38–42)

He is telling us not to harbor any vindictiveness or engage in any form of revenge for evil done against us. This was a significant change from the teaching of the Old Testament when the advice was, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” He wants us to eliminate the evil in our hearts and to respond with love not causing any further spread of evil.

A Christian must practice forgiveness. We must rid ourselves of all negative thoughts harbored against our neighbor. We are to seek an inner peace, one free of any evil thoughts, a peace that leads us to a unity with Christ. To be united with God we cannot harbor any vindictiveness or hatred of any form.

Jesus desires a peace free of evil that is different than what we normally think of as elimination of any conflict. The peace He desires is one that brings us closer to Him. One free of evil. We are to reject any peace that does not do this. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt 10:34). This kind of peace is not one that compromises any of His teachings. We cannot accept peace with Satan, atheists, apostates or malicious heretics. We can’t have friendships with thieves, murderers, rapists nor perverts, or anyone who consciously breaks the law of God. We need to understand the difference between the need for forgiveness of sins committed against us and the need to correct evil we see external to us,

From His statements many erroneously conclude that Jesus was telling us to avoid resisting any evil. Today there is a common misunderstanding that a Christian should forgive everything to avoid conflict, but ignore forgiveness of offensive he incurs personally. We tend to passively accept behaviors in society that are clearly sinful in terms of the Gospels. This includes widespread use of hate speech and foul language, violence, tolerance of liberal sexual norms, and discrimination. There is even a tendency to ignore governmental actions and regulations that are intended to suppress evil on our society. Laws are even being proposed to legitimize evil acts under idea of personal freedom. Archbishop Averky says, “such people completely ignore the whole series of places in Scripture where it clearly speaks of the necessity to take decisive measures for suppression of evil.

Are we to act to stop evil we see in others? Think about the action Jesus took when he found the commercial activity and the moneychangers operating in the sacred Temple grounds. He used a whip to chase them out and overturned their tables. This was pretty violent. This raises the question about how we are supposed to act when we see evil in our world. Archbishop Averky says, “Every type of such evil should be immediately thwarted with the most decisive measures, even including the sacrifice of oneself in an unequal struggle.” But when and how?

If gentle admonitions fail to correct the bad situation what do we do? This is where the role of legitimate authorities comes in. We must be careful in intervening ourselves because we may not have the needed skills and powers of Spirit that Christ has. Scripture also tells us to respect authority. In such cases we need to honor and call on those assigned to keep civil order, our policemen and women, our armed forces and other authorities involved in our system of justice. Paul tells us, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.(Rom 13:1) Today the authority of those charged with keeping civil order is widely challenged. We shouldn’t be overly influenced by the few bad actors we see in the media. View then as part of God’s plan.

Further, we should not harbor a criminal. It is a matter of loving our neighbor. To protect one who does evil only allows evil to be perpetuated in the future. There must be consequences for actions against God and civil order. We must turn those who commit crime over to the authorities. This protects others. It’s a matter of love.

When we see a person in despair, however, we must take a modified view. If there is a person starving who steals some bread it is time for compassion and help. Remember how David stole the sacred bread from the temple due to hunger (1 Samuel 21)? In this case we do as the Lord says, and give him more than he asks, if he demands your outer garment give him your shirt also.

When our Lord tells us to resist evil think first that His words are being directed toward our personal feelings of vindictiveness and any desire for revenge. He does not forbid the struggle against evil in general. But the best way to eliminate evil is to,eliminate it in ourselves. If everyone were to do this we would have a peaceful loving world.  To engage in a broader exterior struggle requires that we have a pure heart, one free from personal bias or any hostile feeling toward the person. That we are united with Him and able to do His will as directed by the Holy Spirit. We cannot risk acting out of a need for revenge or any kind of personal gain. St John of Kronstadt: Do not confuse man, the image of God with the evil that is in him, but love the man and pity him. Our battle against evil cannot in any way be vindictive. The right to vengeance belongs only to God.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom 12:19). Remember that God is the Master and when we are properly prepared He may call on one of us to act. 

Our primary focus must be on our personal efforts to uproot the evil in ourselves. To be capable of participating in this larger general battle against evil we need to have God’s grace working in us. All action must be undertaken only to bring others closer to a union with God. It must be His will to act. Our main effort should be to purify our own soul so we can become like Christ. We must expose the self-asserting pride in us, embrace and Gospel love, guard our heart from all evil thoughts, forgive others for any offenses against us, repent. All this is nurtured by our Orthodox way of life: Daily prayer, fasting, worship, participation in the sacraments, reading Scripture daily, helping others, and spiritual fellowship. 

Reference: The Struggle for Virtue, chapter 8, Archbishop Averky

Ten Points for living an Orthodox Life