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


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Guarding the Heart - Watchfulness

To live a God seeking life in this world filled with distractions and temptations we must learn to be watchful always, guarding our heart from all evil thoughts. We are constantly being bombarded by thoughts triggered by our senses. These can tempt us into sinful acts. Our spiritual challenge is to engage in a struggle to eradicate all negative thoughts. We can learn to discipline our mind to become quiet enough so we can reject them when they occur. Jesus tells us to watch and pray (Mat 26:41). Both are essential. We must have a desire to live a Christ like life based on a loving faith so we are motivated to pay attention to our thoughts, desiring to reject those that can lead to sinful action. 

The Jesus prayer is an important discipline than can help us. This is a short prayer that seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness as well as bringing a quietness to the mind. Like any physical exercise program, it is practiced with repetition for periods of time each day until it becomes a prayer that is constantly being repeated in our mind. If we take no remedial action the brain will continue to trigger unending thoughts in response to inputs from our senses. We can easily become like a car without a steering wheel and brakes headed down a winding road at seventy miles an hour.

In addition to an inner effort to control our thoughts though attention and prayer we can become more critical about which life experiences we choose to participate in. This approach controls the kind and amount of stimulation we encounter. This includes entertainment of all forms, friends we associate with, social media we use, and other activities. A quiet spiritual life leads to a quieter mind focused on what God wills for us. Our current world is saturated with pleasure seeking activities. We are also constantly bombarded by advertising all cleverly crafted to stimulate our passions and lead us to engage in more and more of these activities. We should also be careful about idle time and daydreaming.

This spiritual task is to become more aware of our internal state and change our main focus on external events we call our daily life, to what is happening within our soul. In this way we can begin to control our thoughts and make room for an ongoing dialog with God. This will reduce the busyness and stress experienced in daily living.

We must take charge and not let our senses control our activities. We can’t be passive and let all the stimulation of worldly life fill our mind with temptations. We must learn to carryout our responsibilities without the normal bustle and fretfulness. We must become mindful, watchful. For example, we cannot allow any thoughts enter that lead us to anger and resentment. We must develop an internal attentiveness with spiritual vigilance and mindfulness. All this requires a serious effort to guard what impacts the heart of our soul.

The Orthodox way of life involving prayer, fasting, worship and participation in the sacraments will help you. Consult your spiritual father for specific suggestions related to your spiritual condition.

Reference: The Struggle for Virtue, chapter 7, Archbishop Averky

Ten Points for an Orthodox Life

Orthodox Prayer - the Jesus Prayer

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Gospel Love

The foundation of a Christian life is Love. This is a deep non-emotional love based on the love Jesus Christ has for us. Our aim is to become like Him, fulfilling the nature of our creation, made in God’s image and likeness. This is a life seeking unity with His Grace, the Holy Spirit, God Himself. This kind of love Archbishop Averky calls Gospel love. 

Gospel love is based on what is revealed to us in Scripture, a love based on sacrifice for others. Scripture says, 

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.”  (1 John 4:16).

We develop this kind of love observing how God showed His love for us. When the time was right God chose to bring forth His Only Begotten Son,  giving Him flesh to bring a new commandment based on love. He told His Apostles: 

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-25).

Love is the essential message of the Gospels. It is why God created the world. It is the creative force in all life, the underlying principle of all God created. It is this same love He desires for us, to be perfected in Love united with Him.

Think about the love demonstrated when Jesus was obedient to death, voluntarily giving up His life on the Cross. This He did for us, to free us from our sinful fallen nature. It was this sacrificial love that inspired the Apostles and early Christian’s to endure persecution, torture and even death. Their Love of Him brought thousands to believe in Him. It is this Love that enables all that is beautiful, a loving family life. All this comes from, God’s love.

We received a clear commandment from Christ about love. When a lawyer of the Old Testament approached Him asking, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law,” He answered, 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it:“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matt 22:37–40).

This is frequently referred to as the “Short Gospel.” He then let them know He was God. It is only with faith in the Gospel, in Jesus as the Son of God, that we can have true Christian, selfless, unconditional love. Ours is a faith based on Love.

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment (1 John 3:23). 

This faith cannot be a passive or an intellectual one. It must be a loving living faith. One based on loving action. Saint James tells us, 

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Jas 1:26–27). 
And this commandment have we from Him: That he who loves God must love his brother also (1 John 4:21).

To gain this love in our life we must believe in His Incarnation as the Son of God, fully human and divine. We must further understand the love demonstrated in the sacrifice He made when His gave up His life on the Cross.

Understanding this Love we will be able to commit ourselves to the effort required to be worthy of His grace. It is only through His grace working in our heart, our conscience, that we will gain the same selfless love of Him and others.

The Evangelist John tells us, 

We perceive the love of God “because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). 
When we have this understanding then we will be able to act like Him. “If you love me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Developing Gospel love begins with faith through which we gain God’s grace, enabling us to act with the same love He had for us. But, this is not the easy path. It is a narrow one that involves struggle. The easy path, following our own pleasure seeking desires, leads to eternal grief and torment, while the narrow path, making sacrifices to benefit others, leads us to a union with Him in Paradise. The main motive we should have in all our actions is this love. We are to seek no benefit, no recognition. The only motive for true Christian morality is selfless love. It is as Saint John tells us, 

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19). And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2). 
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10–11). 
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20)?

To become like Him we need to learn His commandments. We must study the Gospel. We must develop the necessary discipline and struggle to live as He taught. Above all we need to seek the Holy Spirit. It is only with God’s help that we will be able to do this. 

This requires a life of prayer and fasting, worship and participation in the Holy Sacraments. He gave us everything we need in His Church. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.

Reference: The Struggle For Virtue, Archbishop Averky, Chapter 7

Ten Points For Living an Orthodox Life

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Establishing a Daily Prayer Life

Daily Prayer is a most important spiritual discipline for Orthodox Christians. It is a way we communicate and establish a personal relationship with God. It is also a an ascetic practice.

The basic elements of prayer as taught by the Church fathers and elders are as follow:
1. We must create a time to pray every day. Prayer cannot only be casual or ad hoc. We need to carve out specific time in our busy lives for communication with God. This means identifying what we will give up to make time for prayer.

2. We also must create a specific place for prayer in our homes. We should set up a small home altar with icons, a censer, cross, and a vigil lamp. A specific place creates the right environment for our concentration in prayer.

3. We must also create a rule or program for our daily prayer. This is created by each person. We should make use of Orthodox prayer books and services. 
 Always include the Lord’s Prayer. One should review your rule with their spiritual father. Once you complete it then make a vow to follow it daily. Example of a prayer rule

4. We should approach our time of prayer with great reverence and awe about what we are about to do. Set aside all worldly cares and quiet yourself before beginning.

5. The Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God  have mercy on me a sinner”, is one of the most common prayers of n the Orthodox Church. It is recommended to set aside time in your daily prayer rule for the repeated repetition of this prayer. When practiced over time it will become a prayer that lives with you throughout the day, keeping your activities connected with God.

There is no single way to pray. The above guidelines will establish a sound discipline that will nurture your soul and bring you closer and closer to God. 

The most important thing about prayer is to DO IT. Don’t just study it.

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