Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Brokenness

"Brokenness, sin, and the evil we see around us is foreign to the original purpose for which God created us. Evil is not natural to the creation of man. Each generation has the same measure of freedom to conform its mind and heart - the "personality" - to God.

St. Gregory wrote: "But in the way I have described, the whole procession of sin entered into man's life for his undoing, and from a tiny source poured out upon mankind an infinite sea of evil. The soul's divine beauty ... was ... darkened with the rust of sin; it no longer kept the beauty of the image it once possessed by nature, and was transformed into the ugliness of evil....

To be created in God's image means in one respect that the radical freedom man enjoys will not be violated by God. If such freedom did not exist, man would be less than a creature created in God's image. This freedom is part and parcel of man's high calling to become a son of God; a calling that exists even when mankind refuses to hear it.

Further, the fact that creation was deemed good and the radical disordering - the brokenness -- that is evident everywhere is extrinsic to it, means that man and the world can be redeemed. (If brokenness were intrinsic to creation, redemption would not be possible.) This redemption can reach into the deepest places of our soul and extend into the deepest reaches of the universe.

Here we begin to see that a Savior is necessary. Man is existentially locked in a prison of sin and death, yet retains awareness and experiences a deep longing for life outside of it. God, never ceasing to love His creation, and longing that His creatures might return that love intervenes in the affairs of man...

Man shares in this new of life of Christ - a life in which the power, wisdom -- gifts of God -- are given to man through baptism. Man receives the Holy Spirit in baptism - the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead (Romans 6) - which also functions as the promise of a future resurrection just as Christ was raised. Before that promise is fulfilled however, some serious work needs to be done. We must confront our own brokenness and sin. ....

Once again St. Peter of Damaskos showed us the way to turn around adversity: "... all things in life are twofold: day and night, light and dark, health and sickness, virtue and vice, ease and adversity, life and death. Through the help from above we in our weakness come to love God ... knowing that all things are perfectly good and beautiful

(Genesis 1:31) and God orders them for our benefit" (Philokalia III).

A person without God cannot make sense of evil and brokenness in the world. To change for the better on a human level is good. To change by coming to love God when confronting evil and brokenness is to participate in the Divine Life itself.

Here the words of St. Paul can be properly understood and applied: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Only in weakness and brokenness can love emerge. The brokenness in the world, often a source of despair, is transformed into an opportunity to empty ourselves (kenosis) from our own passions of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth and put on Christ - an emptying that reaches fulfillment in love towards God and neighbor.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dry Bones and the Dew of Hermon

Each person is precious to the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, and to each person of the Most Holy Trinity. This is because we were created in love in the Image and Likeness of God. We live our life here on earth in our body, and with our mind or psyche, and with our spirit, all given by God, yet we are not yet whole and complete, integrated and fulfilled, and each part living in harmony with the rest and with God and Heaven. Here on earth we are in the process, consciously or unconsciously, of working this out, yet there are days in all of our lives when we feel like the dry bones that the Prophet Ezekiel saw so long ago in a vision. When we are feeling dry, life seems hard, and we are needy but without much hope of help and this dryness can go on for some time, and we can even feel that it will continue forever. What the Prophet Ezekiel saw was that with God there is hope in even impossible situations beyond hope, like the dry bones lying in the valley of death. Here is what the Lord said to Ezekiel, “…Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:4-5)

We need to move beyond just the dry bone days and nights, however long they may last. We may feel inertia, and be restless, unmotivated, and uninterested—stuck in the hole. We need to find hope, and then enter into the condition of grateful and sympathetic love for God and for others made in His Image and Likeness, His People. We need to see that they too, like us, can grow in time into the fullness of the Heavenly condition even if today this seems far, far away. We need to believe that our and their dry bones can become alive. Another Prophet, King David, wrote encouraging words about this condition in one of his Psalms. It is the promise of life in a loving community of souls, of the fullness of blessings poured out upon our heads and hearts, and the gentle dew of hope and love that accepts ourselves and others in sympathy even in our brokenness and pain, and covers us with the refreshment of a Heavenly mind. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that settled upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forever more.” (Psalm 132:1-3 in Septuagint numbering; 133:1-3 in Hebrew numbering) May we accept the dry bones when they come, but give them to Christ to make them alive and in that life, bring to us soothing dew from Heaven, cleansing us, refreshing us, and renewing us to live with Him forever. Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On the Warmth of Thanksgiving

Each day we see life flowing all around us in the people we see and meet, in the work or play that we do, and in the things that we touch with our senses or our minds, and life is full indeed. But this fullness is of two different types: either the fullness of complaints and disappointments, or the fullness of thanksgiving and gladness. This fullness is not set by any outward circumstances, or by others, or by fate, or even by God. It is set truly by our own conscious or unconscious choices that we make as we move through each day—hour by hour and minute by minute. We have the freedom to live in a world of blessedness, hope, and love by choosing most wisely where to set our heart. We need to learn just how to see these choices, fill our hearts with gladness, and feel the warmth of love from God Himself. This process is the discovery of how to live a life full with all the good things God has prepared for us. We can find this bright path with a sure compass, for He is reached and touched mostly by thankfulness.

The goodness of God is present in each moment that we live, but we can’t see this because our focus is often on momentary pleasures or goals that seem good in our limited perspective. God, however, is not limited by selfish desires or by partial perspectives. He always has our very best interests in mind, and consciously chooses to bring these to us, but as young and inexperienced children, we often don’t see clearly at all what are really in our best interests in the long run. Thus even though His goodness is absolute and unending, it is not always apparent to us. If we choose to stop and openly wonder why something is happening to us instead of just reacting, and then ask God to show us the good in it, even if it seems painful or unpleasant, then something more will happen, especially after we get used to doing this every day. Then beyond the wonder of why, slowly life will be seen as different, larger, and more meaningful. Slowly we will see that Goodness is reaching out to us, caring for us, and holding us closely with unselfish love. It is in this awareness, and then in giving thanks, that God’s warmth can fill our hearts. May the Lord of Life open our hearts more fully today to touch and receive this sweet warmth, and gladly give thanks to Him, as King David said, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 106:1 in Septuagint numbering; 107:1 in Hebrew numbering)

The Monks of St. Isaac of Syria Skete

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building a House on a Rock

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.

- Luke 6:46-7

 

If therefore we called Christ the Savior of us all, Lord, let us do the things which He says. For He teaches us Himself with the benefit is of our being willing to do that which is commanded, and what the loss is at our refusing to obey. He who does not obey is like a man building a house, having taken no care for its stability. For he who is obedient and tractable holds a thoroughly firm position and everything that is honorable and good, by reason of his being not so much a hearer of the law, as a doer of its works. He therefore resembles a house firmly settled and having a foundation that cannot be shaken, so that even though temptations press upon him, and the savageness of the passions that dwell within us assail him like some winter torrent or a flood, he will sustain no serious loss. But he who merely inclines his ear to what Christ says, but stores nothing up in his mind, nor performs anything that is commanded, on the other hand, is like a house just ready to fall. For he will be led away at once into things in seemingly whenever pleasure allures him, and leads him into the pitfalls of sin.

- St Cyril of Alexandria

 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Wonder of Grace

It happens that laymen live in piety, while priests live in unrighteousness, and therefore, if grace were to seek everywhere only the worthy, neither Baptism nor the offering of the Body of Christ ought to be performed through them. But now the Lord usually acts even through the unworthy, and the grace of Baptism is not in the least injured by the life of the priest. I say this so that anyone strictly examining the life of a priest would not begin to be tempted, reasoning about what he performs in the Sacraments. For a man does not introduce anything from himself, but all this is the work of God’s power, and God sanctifies you in the Sacraments.

-Saint John Chrysostom

Friday, September 26, 2014

Learning to Pray

What are the things you do daily without thinking twice? We brush our teeth, we put on clothes, and we never leave the house to begin our day without a pair of shoes on our feet to equip us for the road ahead.

In the same way, we can strive to see prayer as an essential part of our day, for the benefits are greater than fresh breath or comfortable feet! Let us teach our children to start small, with an icon of Christ and just five minutes, but strive for consistency. The goal is to remember, thank, and glorify God each and every day by coming to meet Him face to face. By doing this, we grow to rely on Christ and He becomes the center of our lives.

Remember, when we pray, we open the communication between us and God in a very personal way. There’s no one who knows us better than our Lord. He is with us each step of the way, and He knows exactly what we need. The Blessed Elder, IERONYMOS of Aegina +1966 encourages us in his writings "Do not leave off prayer. No matter how tired you are, you can pray for half an hour. Feed your body as if you were going to live a hundred years, but feed your soul as if she were going to die tomorrow."

In the Orthodox Church, we learn how to pray from the Saints who are illumined by God and who share in His glory. When we use their prayers that were written and passed on to us, we become like them and follow them into union with God. Certainly, we can also speak from the heart, but to rely on the words of the Saints for help is the most accurate way of reaching our Lord – for not every ship that sets sails reaches it’s destination.

http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/08/learning-to-pray.html

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A 'hard' saying...

Abba John said, "I think it best that a man should have a little bit of all the virtues. Therefore, get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God. Use great patience, with fear and long-suffering, in the love of God, with all the fervor of your soul and body. Exercise great humility, bear with interior distress; be vigilant and pray often with reverence and groaning, with purity of speech and control of your eyes. When you are despised to not get angry; be at peace, and do not render evil for evil. Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing you are less than every created thing. Renounce everything material and that which is of the flesh. Live by the cross, in warfare, and poverty of spirit, and voluntary spiritual asceticism, in fasting, patience and tears, in discernment, and purity of soul, taking hold of that which is good. Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings. Shut yourself in a tomb as though you were already dead, so that at all times you will think death is near."