Monday, October 29, 2012

The Response of Love

This is a very beautiful reflection which was shared with me by a very close friend and words cannot do it justice to the depth and beauty this reflection is sharing with us. I will leave my comments to a minimal by saying if humanity begins to focus on the spirituality and holiness of the soul then the love of God will live in each of us expressing its form in all that we do in the name of the Lord. Living our theology will then begin to be our focus and not the stress of this world of worrying about the things that fade away but rather focusing on the eternal that will never fade.


The early church knew that, in all creation, there is no one who is worthy through his own spiritual effort, through this own "worthiness," to partake of the body and blood of Christ, and that therefore preparation consists not in a calculation and analysis of one's "preparedness" or "unpreparedness," but in the answer of love to love:

"That we also, together with all the saints who through the ages have been well-pleasing to Thee, may become partakers of Why eternal good things, which Thou hast prepared those who love Thee, O Lord." When the celebrant proclaims the word "Holy things are for the holy," the Church responds, "One is Holy. One is the Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.: But in affirming and declaring this confession, she knows that the doors to the "homeland of the heart's desire" are open to all, and that "there will be no separation from each other, O friends.""

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "The Sacrament of Communion" in "The Eucharsit." Trans. by Paul Kachur (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987) 241. 

Prayer, however lonely and imbued with man's sense of unworthiness to speak with God on account of his many transgressions and vices, is above all the sign of love exchanged with God. The love of God is shown in drawing the heart of man to prayer and to standing in His presence, and the love of man is manifested by submitting his heart to God, even in its sinful and penitent state.

Prayer then is a response of love. At first the prayer of love is very subdued and unsusceptible to verbal expression. It is uttered more in words of regret and repentance. But advance prayer, being a mark of matured love, is not short of words of love.

God is love, all love and the spring of love. The human heart, which does not respond to the divine love, remains distant from God, deprived of his radiant and abundantly generous nature. The first indication of responsiveness is when a person is prompted to speak with god, and this is prayer. Prayer is the first proof that God's love has been poured into a human heart.

The reason why a person is at first taken up with the confession of sins is that the divine love, although it awaken and attracts the heart, is so pure that is cannot tolerate sin. So the first response to love becomes prayer and forgiveness. Repentance and purging are a preparation for the mutual exchange of divine love from a pure heart. In praying with tears and contrition of heart we are responding to love and our hearts are being cleansed to prepare us for receiving the Lover Himself. Jesus Christ calls us to repentance so that we may become worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. During prayer, where Jesus Himself is present, the Kingdom of Heaven comes very close to us, and the sense of penitence is so intensified that a person is ready to atone for his or her sins by sacrificing everything, even life itself. This is caused by the power of Christ's love, which He puts into our hearts as we pray in a way which we cannot perceive, but which fuels our fervor in worship to an amazing extent. "Love is as strong as death" (Song of Solomon 8.6). Prayer gives God an opportunity to pour His spirit of love into the human heart; then love performs by itself its work in the heart. First of all, it puts sin to shame, then condemns it, and finally forgives it. By accepting this series of actions during prayer, the person who prayers is accepting love. For prayer is but an acceptance of the spirit of love and a means of submission to its purifying effects.

Fr. Matta el-Meskeen (Fr. Matthew the Poor), Guidelines on Prayer      

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Search for Scripture

The search for scripture has posed many problems to the modern scholar. The Jesus Seminar interprets scripture through an archeological method, pinpointing less than 10 percent of the words of Jesus, actually having been spoken by Him. The diverse approach to studying scripture can be compared to the early church too how scripture was being interpreted by many such groups like the Gnostic and the “Proto-Orthodox” groups (Origen and Jerome). Scholars, with the rise of modernity, have taken a new approach with trying to get back to the original reading of the text. Bart Ehrman asks the question “Can we get back to the original reading of the New Testament”, which he thinks we can. Others might ask “would it matter if we can get to the original reading at all?” If modern historians claim that they try to examine scripture in light of the first century apostle writers, then we must read it as scripture and nothing more. Instead of wasting ink on paper trying to figure out why the passion narratives of synoptic differ from the gospel of John then we start to lose sight of the “original reading”.

Historians tend to neglect one aspect that is vital to understanding scripture as it was being written during the early 1st century; tradition. Taking the traditions out of scripture, many think was popularized by the 16th century reformers; however, this concept dates back to the Gnostics of the early 2nd century when they interpreted scripture out of the context of Scripture (Old Testament) and neglecting the passion of Christ. The idea that tradition is connected to scripture is crucial to understanding what scripture is. When Phillip saw the Ethiopian man reading the suffering servant passage he asked “Do you understand what you are reading?” his reply being, “how can I understand unless some guides me” (Acts 8.30-31). Phillip then preached Jesus to this man. Right after he was baptized on the road. Scripture was revealed through the traditions of the coming of Christ and his suffering. This passage (the suffering servant passage) was not about what the passage meant rather it focused on the meaning, which resides in the person of whom the text speaks of and it is our task to know this Person and what the text says about Him, the same way Phillip knew and explained to the Ethiopian man.

It was not until 1768 that the term "canon" came to be associated with a list of books. Before then it was associated with things that had to with a straight line. This explains why the “canon” of the New Testament was not formally agreed upon till the late 4th century. Church fathers from the 2nd century onwards knew what scripture was and what was deemed heretical. The fourfold gospel and the letters of Paul were quoted about as early as the 2nd century by Irenaeus. The search for scripture was not a problem for the early church because scripture had been revealed through the person of Christ. This is why we never see church fathers talking about why manuscripts had a different writings or why Jesus died on different times in the gospels but rather, explaining the scriptures through the person of Christ. Seeing scripture in light of who Jesus was is how scripture was interpreted by the early church fathers. The breaking of bread and opening of scripture (cf. Luke 24) is the main focus of this understanding. Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus believed after the scriptures were opened and broke the bread, the same aspect happened with the Ethiopian man. He believed because he opened the scriptures and came to realize that scripture spoke about the suffering servant of Christ. The search for scripture is realized not in the modern historical critical approach of breaking down the text to come up with the original reading but rather realizing who Christ was through his passion. The same way the disciples realized who Christ is with the opening of Scripture and breaking of bread (cf. Luke 24; cf. 1Cor 15:3-8) is the same we we know and see who Christ is today through our liturgical participation in the one body of Christ.    

I recommend a very excellent book that treats this topic with precise care. Fr. John Behr is an excellent writer and focuses on how the treatment of theology and history has been misunderstood in our 20th century context. The idea of combining both the disciplines of history and theology has mistreated the person of Christ. Fr. John in this 5 chapter book examines how the mystery of Christ is to be viewed in light of the cross. Excellent book that everyone should read! This reflection focuses on chapter 2 of the book.     

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Purpose of Scripture - Part 2 - Cleansing ones Life

This beautiful excerpt from St. Athanasius book On the Incarnation truly captures the essence of what scripture is supposed to mean for us. The problem of the historical-critical analysis of the bible in our 21st century context is that it's geared towards the science of scripture that it makes us forget that these are truly the words of God. Matthew the Poor used to say that every time he would read scripture (i.e. the first chapter of John's gospel); he would understand it differently every time he read it. This shows that scripture can speak to us in ways the modern approach to studying scripture can't. Now I am not saying studying the science of the Bible is wrong. Rather, this can be an edifying experience because this can show us how we have to start preaching scripture more to people. It's become a sad reality in our modern society when other faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam etc can freely express their faith in the secular classroom however, faiths like Judaism and Christianity are not allowed to talk about their faith. Society today does not allow Christians to cleanse there life in order to read and understand scripture.

Life is like a fast food menu. We are jumping from one item to another not realizing the damage this causes to our soul. Over time we start to lose our holiness and our spirituality dimensions to simple prayers asking God to help us in something specific or to give us something we truly want. Scripture would then be read and understood as a check list to please God. However, this is not the purpose of Scripture. The purpose of scripture is meant to change us on the inside. It reveals who Christ is and how we can live in unity with Christ. When we cleanse our lives from the negatives society throws at us that is when the true meaning of scripture will be understood. Scripture is the edifying promise that reaches its climax with the cross of Christ. Scripture is meant to be understood in light of the cross and if we realize what our cross is only then will scripture be as St. Athanasius puts it "was revealed to them (the saints) by God". Just like God reveals scripture to Matthew the Poor and to others so to will he reveal it to us!       


St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word:

But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind and grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that one which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God, and thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will receive that which is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Liturgy is an act of Theology: The beauty of the Orthodox Church

During one of the Sunday's I had attended a service in the Assyrian church of the east. It was a beautiful service and it showed how Orthodoxy is united under the same banner that unites all Orthodox churches. However, after speaking to some congregation members, they told me that this was not the liturgy but rather it was morning prayer. I had asked where the priest was and the reply I got was they had no priest because he was needed to serve at another church. This saddened me greatly because I wondered how can a community survive without communing? After continuing the conversation it was made clear to me that the one aspect that united the community together was very eminent; love.

Liturgy is an act of theology. We must learn to be thankful for what we have. If a priest were to not show up to a service I would image a service would be cancelled. However, at this church of the east this is never the case. In there hearts and minds the service goes on as the two deacons lead the morning prayer service. The yearning for liturgy within the community allows them to continuing praying and living out there holiness within the unity of Christ body. The smiles and love that I got that day at the church showed how strong the community was with no presence of a priest. If we continue to develop love within our own communities then the fullness of Orthodoxy can be expressed to the entire world. 

We must appreciate what we have because the more "common" and "habitual" we make the liturgy the more it will begin to lose its taste and the more it will become something done out of habit. I hope that we do not need to get to a point that we lose our priests to make us realize what we have. What we have is the beauty of the church that is expressed in living out the liturgical life. Theology is not just something to be studied but something that is understood to be lived out. How can I live out my theology? By being in community and sharing in the unity of the Eucharistic body that combines the community together. If we do not respect this then we will surely lose our church.


Lex Orandi Lex Est Credendi (how we pray influences what we believe, what we believe influences how we worship).
"Liturgical theology has to do with the "What," not merely with the "how."

Liturgy is not just the emotional frosting on a theological cake, and it is not just an audio-visual aid or doctrines too sophisticated for simple believers to understand otherwise.

Liturgy is an act of theology...the moment of truth which makes it possible to see the real 'objects' of theology: God, man and the world, in the true light, which, in other words, reveals both the objects of theology as they really are and gives the necessary light for their understanding.

The theological task is to see God, ourselves, and out world in their true light which shines from the eight-day banquet to which a new humanity is incited in the kingdom's epiphany." David Fagerberg. Theologia Prima, 109.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Living Orthodoxy: A summary of a talk given by Father Seraphim Rose

Orthodoxy is the only way of life. Radical statement this might sound to many if they are not within the Orthodox faith. If we do not then live Orthodoxy, we simply are not Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we hold. I am not saying you are not a good individual or wont be saved etc if you are not Orthodox. If you do not follow an Orthodox way of living then you are not Orthodox is the point I am trying to make.

Life in our modern world has become very confusing. As an Orthodox Christian how can we develop a view which will help us survive these times with our ancient faith intact?

It's a normal thing to say that life today has become abnormal. Fundamental values and concepts have turned society against each other. The spoiled generation of living in the present has no law but the fulfullment of personal happiness. Parents bow down to their children and as these children grow to become adults merely substituting their childhood games for grown up amusements. Life becomes this constant search for fun which is an empty way of living because wanting more fun would become our slave in life. A visitor from any previous century, looking at our modern inventions like television, movies and music or at any aspect of pop culture would think they have stumbled across a creation that has lost contact with the normal reality.

This fake culture, which is preaching the "I" generation, cannot support the enhancement of normal human life, much less inspire a young generation of youth to search for the truth. When this "I" generation then begins to search for this truth within religion, it usually finds a fake religion focused around a self-centred form of religion, filled with fantasy and fake things that keep you coming every week and contributing your money to that particular organization. The secular world today presents a constant state of temptation which makes equally demanding task on the soul. We are bombarded by it-whether in the music being played, with public billboards, and even in the home with the television you watch which might turn into a ruler of the household shaping your own views and opinions about certain aspects that rule your own life.

In the many forms these different media outlets speaks of the same message; live for the present, enjoy yourself and relax. What do you got to lose? A few years? The scary things about this is that the underlining message is not expressed within all of this. The more stricter nations where the name of God is being dropped is one step ahead of this society we live in. Forget about God and any other life but the present one is what many nations preach today. This has caused million of people to lose there lives (WWII) and later communist nations and autocratic nations of the Middle East. As more people get caught in the fantasy land known as the "American Dream", the true God is pushed away, dare I even say being forgotten and we are brought up forgetting who really took care of us when we most needed the care. 

Some of you will ask, what does this all have to do with trying to live a real Orthodox Christian life? Well, it has a lot to do with our own humility, to see the society we live around, abnormal as it might seem, does have a certain effect on us. The next natural question is what can we do about this to fix it?

There are two false approaches many of us adopt to our lives and many Orthodox Christians live by. The most common, and might seem unharmful, is to go along with the spirit of the times. Many youths today lack a strong example in the home, as many Orthodox youth are not being made aware of the need to struggle against the universal temptation of this narcissist ('I") age. They readily blend in with the anti-Christian world around them. This is death to the soul. As Christians we are called to be different from the worldly approach, and we must begin to educate our children and youths about this difference. Otherwise we are as good as any walking atheist today.

However, the other extreme can occur and we must be careful of this. The false approach of super spirituality often taken by many who have the burning heart but approach it without any knowledge. This can become a great downfall because if one is not used to this type of living they will come crashing down. As translations are being made available, one finds an increasing number of people talking about monasticism and the Jesus Prayer etc. Do not misunderstand me, it is wonderful to be inspired and to realize our high calling, but unless we have a realistic and I must stress, humble awareness of how far away all of us are from spiritual heights, our interest will only develop into a game which is just another expression based on the fake society we live in.

We have to realize that the society we live in cannot help us achieve the end goal of our live. Being an Orthodox Christian is not to be lived out by name but also by deed and work. No one said its going to be easy but why is that we say no to Orthodoxy and challenge ourselves in the society we will live to have the ends never justify the means. We work hard to get an education and 5 years into our working life we do not like the job we have. Why do we work hard to find a spouse and then find ourselves a couple years in have marriage problems. The issue is that we forget our Orthodox faith and rely on the society for answers without realizing society will always have in a  constant state of fun with no deep happiness to be found in this fun. If we come to realize that our life in to be lived out with the holiness and spirituality of the church then everything that we live around will be in a state of goodness. However, if we conform to society this will be a spiritual death that one can never recover from if he or she is not made aware of.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Archmandrite Sophrony on Liturgical Prayer

Deep prayer comes gradually. Body and soul adapt slowly. It is particularly important for the priest who celebrates the Divine Liturgy to transmute his entire life into prayer if he would live this great sacrament to the full. Preparing himself in awe, and approaching with reverence, by the very content of his office the priest is drawn into the domain of the Divine. He begins the Liturgy by invoking the dread Name of the Holy Trinity, and continues in spirit poised between the Creator and all created being. He remembers the Last Supper; Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane; Christ accused before Pilate; the cross and burial; the three days in the sepulchre; the Resurrection and Ascension; the sitting on the right hand of the Father—as the Son of Man now; and, finally, the glorious Second Coming. The priest likewise traces the creation of man, his fall and its tragic consequences; and God becoming incarnate in order to save the world. Mighty waves of cosmic life sweep through him. He will recall the needs and suffering of all mankind. In offering this holy sacrifice of love which requires total surrender of self, the priest opens wide his heart to embrace a multitude of lives and aeons of time. Thus he partakes in the world-redeeming sacrifice of Christ Himself; and in the act of communion craves not only to receive the body and blood of Christ but to apprehend His Divine life, also, in so far as may be granted to him by the Holy Spirit.

An intellectual grasp of the purport of the Sacrament is not enough. The priest’s whole being— heart, mind, body—must unite in sorrowful prayer for the world. And the more he grieves, the mightier the healing power dispensed to the world through his prayer.

In essence there is no other Eucharist than the one that the Lord Himself performed. By his good pleasure the Eucharist, unique, is ever repeated; indivisible, it is constantly divided and shared, extending through time to the uttermost ends of the earth. The Upper Chamber grows, to contain the perpetual flow, gathering all people by the holy sacrament of communion into unity after the likeness of the Trinity.

‘Holy Father,’ prayed the Lord, ‘keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are ...Neither pray I for these alone’ [the disciples] ‘but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . . And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me’ (John 17.11,20-23).

According to the ancient theological tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, mankind is one being but multi-hypostatic, just as God is One Being in Three Persons.

The Liturgy in its eternal reality is the Lord’s Passover permanently present with us. Before the coming of Christ the Jewish Passover commemorated the historical event of the crossing through the Red Sea—the moment when the children of Israel were saved from the Egyptian hosts. But our Passover is Christ, and He bade us commemorate in His Name: ‘This do in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19). Thus He, the true Centre of the universe (not some historical event) is the focus of our attention. This radically alters the character of the Easter festival. The whole Eucharist consists in ‘remembrance’— understood not in the usual sense as a recalling to mind only but as an existential entering into Christ’s world, into His Divine and human dimensions. Our Passover, and therefore also our Eucharist, is a passage from earth to heaven, from death in sin to the holy eternity of the Father.

Taking part as fully as possible in the Liturgical Act gradually teaches the faithful to participate in Christ’s Gethsemane prayer. This is the pattern: when we are pierced by sorrow, pain, loss, we transfer our own hurt to the universal plane, and suffer not merely for ourselves but for all humanity. To the extent of our personal experience we can live everyman’s tragic lot, his dread and despair. We call to remembrance the multitude of dead and dying. It may be that our suffering will at some point exceed our powers of endurance. Then, when mind and body can no longer keep up with the spirit, the spirit continues to follow after Christ, to crucifixion, to the grave, into the anguished hell of His love for mankind.

This noble science of the spirit is not acquired in a few short years of academic study: it demands our whole being. There is no end to this learning, since we never attain the fulness of Christ’s love. By means of long ascetic struggle we gradually perceive the eternal meaning and especial character of His sufferings. We realise that they far exceeded, not only in quality but in spiritual strength, too, anything that the world knows. We do not measure up to Christ but all Christians must aspire to plenitude of knowledge of Him. To the extent of our perception of His redemptive sufferings, His eternal glory will repose on us. Through Him we become sons of the Father. Now we know that no man cometh unto the Father, but by Him (cf. John 14.6).

Such glory will not be given to us automatically, by virtue of Christ’s merit, as many believe. Though all our efforts are as nothing compared with this gift from on High which is always pure gift, we must labour to receive and appreciate it worthily. Knowledge of Christ and of His Divine and human universality is a ‘pearl of great price’ (Matt. 13.46). ‘And this is life know...the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ (John 17.3). It is ‘that good part, which shall not be taken away’ (Luke 10.42) from us by the death of the body.

Concerned that the faithful be rooted and grounded in true knowledge of the things disclosed by God, Paul the Apostle in fervent prayer ‘bowed his knees unto the Father. . . that He would grant them, according to the riches of His glory . . . to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height’ of the Divine providence for us which ‘before the foundation of the world . . . predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself’ (cf. Eph. 3 and 1).

The same Spirit which inspired Paul to such prayer, to this day moves the hearts of priests and people to pray that every man may know with his whole self that God is our Father; that every soul may behold the Light of unoriginate Divine Being made manifest in the world.

The fulness of knowledge of the Most High God has not vanished from the face of the earth. The Church has preserved and from generation to generation hands on this knowledge and this spirit which are the quintessence of Sacred Tradition. The same Lord’s Supper is celebrated day after day. The same prayer is offered up to God by His priests.

In the Eastern Church, before receiving the mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ the faithful pray, ‘Of Thy mystical supper, O Son of God, accept me this day as a partaker.’ This day —NOW—speaks of divine eternity, in which there is no past, no future, but only the now. It is a prayer to be accepted into the divine plan.
Lord Jesus Christ, Everlasting King;
The one true High Priest;
Who didst offer Thyself to God the Father upon the cross
in atonement for the sins of the world;
and in this searchless act of service
didst give us Thine incorruptible Body for sacred food,
and Thy most precious Blood for life-giving drink:
Make us worthy of these ineffable mysteries,
that we may be partakers of the Divine Nature,
having escaped the corruption
that is in the world through lust.
We pray Thee, O Lord, hear and have mercy.
Source: Archmandrite Sophrony,  "His Life is mine." Rosemary Edmonds, trans. (New York: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1977) 87-90

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Theosis: Living out ones holiness in Christ

Post modern society things it has life all figured out. How? Well everything is all about fast. The faster we do, finish, or hand things in then we will be on top of everything in life. If that is the case then why are stress levels still high? Why do people still get sick? Why does it seem like there are more problems in the world today than there ever was?

We live in a fast food society that is focused on consumption and doing things at a fast rate. Every sit down and think what life is all about? Most people don't because they are distracted by the different media outlets, smart phones, work, school, family or whatever you can name must take up our time. Then what is the point of life? Every wonder why we are here? Every ask the question what is my talent or how I'm I to contribute to this world? The Orthodox answer to this is to live in the image and likeness of God. God created us in his image (Gen 1:26-27). We are unique in the eyes of God. So when you look at the mirror you are looking at the image and likeness of God. A part of God is in you. Every think of that? Kind of scary when you sit down and think about it. But why scary? Should it be scary? Many of us live life not even thinking about these aspects so if you are thinking about it then you are one step closer to understanding your purpose in life.

Life is meant to be lived in communion with God. Being one with God (theosis) is how all Christians should live out their lives. Partaking of the divine energies of Christ is how we are to live our lives. Cultivating our holiness and spirituality is what life is all about. Once you realize this is how life should be lived out then you will start to see everything around you in the world as being good because it's been created by God. Our fallen nature however, takes the good and turns it to bad. Westernized Christianity has corrupted our minds to always think because we are sinners we can never be worthy to even speak to God so then our prayer life takes a hit. Before you know it that will carry into not reading the Bible etc. However, this is not the case at all. If we are created in the image and likeness of God then we are designed to be able to reach a perfect state of mind. Once we have reached theosis with God then sin will cease to a problem to our fallen human nature. St. Anthony fought with the devil for 20 years. Then the devil gave up because he saw that he could not get to him. It shows that if we truly put in the effort then the health of our spiritual lives will be maintained and continue to grow and develop with Gods energies being present within us (Holy Spirit). This type of living carries into all aspects of our life including our liturgical life shared within the community of the believers. I am not suggesting either that this life is easy. It takes years years and years to work towards. Just like we struggle and sweat for the worldly satisfaction we must also struggle to live out this calling.
St. Cyril's fraction entitled (O Lamb of God-SUS Copts Black Liturgy book pg.459-461) has a nice part about theosis as it says "At the turning of the bread and wine into Your body and blood, our souls shall be turned unto fellowship with your glory, and our souls shall be united to your divinity". As we partake of the holy body and blood not only do we take it habitually but it's a lived experience as we reunite with the divinity of God when we partake of his energies.

As well the communion prayers before and after communion speak of this union.

Prayer before communion: "Open my eyes and heart that I may accept Your gifts and blessings and let Your Holy Spirit abide in me that I may united with you and live for the glory of Your Holy Name."

Prayer after communion: "Let my union with You today be everlasting. Make me increase in virtue and strengthen my faith and my hope."
Seek out your holiness and your spirituality in the secular society we live in. A great read is "Orthodox Prayer Life" by Matthew the Poor. Here is a link to the book (not complete) to an online version of the book. This is a good start if you are looking to start living out this life. Father Matthew, before becoming a monk, was a pharmacist and gave up the world to seek out his holiness and spirituality. We do not have to leave the world to do such a thing as he offers great insight to how to live this life out in his book.

I also recommend this blog with the main focus on Orthodox Spirituality. I learned a lot from all the post in this blog and I am sure we can all learn from the posts. Most important beyond the learning is living out what we learn and hear and this blog offers amazing insight to how one can live out this life.
"But the deification (theosis) that the Fathers had in mind does not mean the change of the human nature into a divine one. Rather, it means qualifying human nature for life with God in a communion of love. This is accomplished by lifting the serious barrier that severs the life of man from that of God-namely, sin. This takes place through our ablution and sanctification by the blood of Christ and our partaking of his Body. For this reason, deification-or union in its perfect sense as a life with God-cannot be fulfilled except at the resurrection from the dead. But we have been granted means of grace, commandments, and divine power by which to conquer sin, the world, and the life of this age. We have thus a new door opened before us. Through this door we can have-here and now-a foretaste of the union with God in communion of love and in obedience.-

Father Matthew the Poor-Orthodox Prayer Life. 107.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Every day, Ever hour

Humanity has been caught in the trap of the past and future. Being a student of history I tend to be caught up with the past as well. The past is fascinating because our nature tells us that we must learn from past events in order to repeat them or not to repeat them. However, what we seem to forget that every human is unique in their own special way. No two humans have the same finger prints and this applies to our personality. Instead of living in the past or looking forward to what will happen we must learn to live in the present moment.

When we speak to each other and tell of future events or dates many will say "God's will be done". I believe sometimes we take this statement for granted and forget the value that it holds. If we cannot trust that God's will be done then why even utter such a statement? Stress is a factor that is build upon the anticipation of something that will happen or things that happened in the past. But why stress over things that have occurred or things that have not occurred and are out of our control? This is a big dilemma because post modern society always has us thinking of either the past or the future never wanting to focus life on the present. (Dates for exams, final papers being due at the end of the term or "How was the wedding last week?" which then turns into gossip). When our minds are consistently geared towards thinking of the past and the future we then tend to forget about the present which turns into neglect for God and laziness in our pursuit of living out our theology with Christ. Sin the end result of this type of thinking.

However, we must be reminded of the Eucharistic community we are a part of. The Eucharist is the focus of the present time. The church, representing the unity of Christ in the one body stands outside of time. The church as the body and Christ as the head of the church stands outside of time. This is why many of the early church fathers made reference to the church being outside of time because it is not of this world. The church should remind us of the present time. What is most important to us is living out the body of Christ in the present time that we are aware of. Future and past is out of control because we are limited in the scope of physical time. But in order to be focused on the present we must be focused on something that stands outside of time; the church. The Eucharist reminds us of the death we must all go through in order for one to live a life in the unity of Christ and his church. To stop and to realize the present moment is a true gift because it is only then one can be thankful for the things taken for granted. Once one starts living in the present does ones appreciation for everything that is in the world begin to grow in their hearts seeing in through the eyes of Christ and the Eucharist.
"Our continual mistake is that we do not concentrate upon the present day, the actual hour, of our life: we live in the past or in the future, we are continually expecting the coming of some special moment when our life will unfold itself in its full significance. And we so not notice that life is flowing life water through our fingers, sifting like precious grain from a loosely fastened bag.

Constantly, each day, each hour, God is sending us people, circumstances, tasks, which should mark the beginning of our renewal, yet we pay them no attention, and thus continually we resist god's will for us. Indeed, how can God help us? Only be sending us in our daily life certain people, and certain coincidences of circumstance. If we accepted every hour of our life as the hour of God's will for us, as the decisive, most important, unique hour of our life--what sources of joy, love, strength, as yet hidden from us, would spring from the depths of our soul!"

Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, Diary of a Russian Priest

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Orthodoxy and the World - Part 3 - Unity

Unity is a bond that two people might share or a whole community. Unity is also a bonding factor within the community of the assembly. Every Sunday we partake of the Eucharist as a community of believers which unites us under the same belief. This is how we are united to Christ. By partaking of the Eucharist we become united to Him in one bread and one cup. Humanity was created for this purpose. How do we know? God says in Genesis 1.26-27 that He created us in his image and His likeness. If we then are created in his image and in his likeness then God abides in us. When we interact with other human beings we are interacting with Christ because we were created in his image and likeness. The factor that unites us together as the community of believers is the Eucharist of Christ.

Orthodoxy today is placed into one big bag and everyone who is not a Christian automatically assumes that we are Orthodox Jews or say "I have never heard of that type of Christianity". Living in the west naturally has diluted the concept of Orthodox Christianity to the secular world. Westernized Christianity is at the forefront of the Christian world today; something we Orthodox should not be apart of. Another misgiving of understanding Orthodoxy is that many place it as a denomination with Christianity. When we look at it as a denomination then it naturally gets spilt into terms like "Eastern Orthodox", "Oriental Orthodox" etc.; terms that I do not like to use or associate Orthodox Christians with because Orthodoxy is not a denomination but life. Living out your Orthodoxy within the community of the believers is how one ought to be Orthodox. Living through the unity of Christ expressing his ultimate form of love (Agape) is how an Orthodox Christian ought to live. By being one in Christ and dying to the world everyday for your beliefs is how we should conduct ourselves in the world. It's simple to walk around and say you are an Orthodox Christian but saying it is different than dying for it. When we are tested for our faith will truly know where we stand in our spiritual life as Orthodox Christians.

Sharing in the unity of the Eucharist should uplift us into experiencing Christ every day. Through constant prayers and reminder of the passion of the cross we truly can move closer to unity with Christ. Living out our theology through this unity is how an Orthodox Christian conducts himself to the rest of the world. Dying to the world in order to live like Christ is the constant theme of the New Testament. Our constant death to the world is not only shared with other humans but with the new Adam. Christ himself experienced death and our unity with Him is depended on our death as well. The covenant of the New Testament is based on this message and was preached by all the Apostles culminating in Paul's letter to the Galatians when he tells them "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no long I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I love by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20). The same way the apostles (Luke 24) recognized Jesus through the opening of scripture and breaking of bread we also come to know Christ through the same manner in the liturgical service by opening scripture and partaking of the divine Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity because we are united to one another by being united with Christ in one bread and cup. It was for such unity that man and woman were created, and this cannot be eradicated. "The devil could turn man, and in him, the world away from God, he could poison and enfeeble life through sin, permeate it with mortality and death. One thing he would not and cannot so: change the very essence of life as unity."

We are made for unity, but sin can turn the instinct to devilish purposes. The work of the devil is diabolical: literally, to "throw in two," from dia (two) and baleo (to throw). The unity of the Church in Christ, by redemptive contrast, is symbolical: Things separated are thrown together, Until that ascetical healing takes place, unity will often be an occasion for division. The world is divided up into "us and them," and love for ones own kind creates enmity toward the alien.

Unity is corrupted if the Church makes this kind of diving between itself and the world. This must not happen. Christians must not confuse salvation of the world with salvation from the world. The Church remains and sojourns on earth to beckon a world wracked with divisions and hostilities back to a love for which it was created, but has abandoned. The king of God is manifest when the Church assembles in a unity of love that only the Holy Spirit can inspire. This is the Church's leitorgia and the task of each baptised initiate therein. The community's ritual leitourgia and the individual's lived leitourgia are oriented toward enacting love.

Source: David W. Fagerberf, "Theologia Primse: What is Liturgical Theology?" 2nd Ed. (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2004) 202-203.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Unselfish Love: Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

"To Love means to look at a person and see in this person a treasure, something infinitely precious, something that's worth giving one's own life. Not giving it grudgingly but rejoicing in the fact that we can give, all our heart, all our intention, all our strength in the service of this person. And also conquer in us everything that is contrary to love which can hurt, which can diminish life of the person we want to love.

...Let us therefore think of the people who are around us..and ask ourselves...what can we offer them that will enhance their life, make it deep, make it great, bring joy into it...and then we will have fulfilled the law of love. The Lord says to us 'forget yourself, love the other, may your life be his joy, his strength, his inspiration.' Amen." 

+ Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. + John 3:16

Reminder: You are the beloved of the Beloved!!!

May the prayers of the Saints who are in union with Love, be with you.

Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Time Management: An Orthodox Perspective (By Dr. Albert Rossi and Julia Wickes)

The other day we had an orientation session given by Dr. Rossi. It was probably one of the greatest things I have heard on time management. I've been so accustomed to hearing the same thing over and over again and how to time manage that it became nonsense to me. There's never been an "Orthodox" perspective on time management, that when I heard his talk it blew me away because, well for lack of better terms and how cliché this will sound; the truth set me free. The following is an article co-written by Dr. Rossi and Julia Wickes talking about this issue. I hope it serves everyone well just like it has served me for a greater intention. Enjoy everyone!

The first thing to say, from an Orthodox perspective, is that there is no such thing as time management. We don't manage time. Time manages us if we allow the Lord to have a place in our schedule.

Whose time is it? 

Christ is everything, including the giver and owner of our time. He is the Way we format our schedule, the Truth about the meaning of time, and the flow of Life which moves us through time.

C.S. Lewis makes a profound point about time. He says that we usually regard time as our own. We start our day with the curious assumption that we are the lawful possessors of an upcoming twenty-four hours. With that hazardous assumption we then plot a matrix for our day, filling in time slots with tasks or restful moments. We might hope that we are managing our time in a way that will somehow please God. But when we begin with the assumption that time is ours, inconveniences and unexpected interruptions become intrusions into "my time."

By contrast, we can begin with the assertion that time is not our time. Time belongs to the Lord and He has a plan for time that HE desires us to accept for our own peace and joy.

Adjusting our expectations: 

Those who are trying to use their time to do the Lord's will must begin every day, every moment, with Jesus Christ. One question might be, "Lord, what do you want me to do, now?" But an even better question is, "Lord, what do you want to do through me now?" This takes the emphasis from the ego and places it on the Lord.

If we believe that God has a plan for each moment, we can then be sensitive to each moment as it unfolds in unexpected way. When we receive each moment as from the Lord we will begin to experience our time on earth as a series of small deaths and resurrections.

Every loss is a gift which God gives us so that He can give us more. We might lose our keys, our memory, a tooth, a computer hard drive. We might lose love ones through separation or death. The reactive thought would be, "This is the beginning of the end." A more truthful thought would be, "This is the beginning of the beginning". Death is the beginning of a new relationship with Christ, a fresh beginning of an entirely new life. Each loss and little death is a new beginning towards our ultimate beginning-heaven.

As we adjust our expectations time takes on a new meaning.

Sacrament of the present moment:

Simple awareness of the presence of God is the power within the present moment. The present moment-now-is the only place where God is. He discloses Himself through the reality of the present moment-nowhere else. This is a mystery we can participate in by simply trying to be aware of His presence.

Awareness, conscious contact with God, is the key.

The pray of Metropolitan Philaret: 

An Orthodox morning prayer by Metropolitan Philaret says : "In unforeseen events let us not forget that all are sent by thee." Here it is helpful to refine exactly what is meant by the idea that God sends all moments. God did not send terrorists to fly planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. Rather, God allowed terrorists to fly those planes. What, then, is implied by all in Metropolitan Philaret's prayer? An Orthodox perspective would say that events outside ourselves are subject to God's allowing will, and moreover are beyond our understanding. However, by faith we believe and confess that God sends all of the events that pertain to us. All events in our day, even those that we anticipate in a human way, can legitimately be described as "unforeseen", because they bear a divine potential which is not revealed to us in advance. But even "unforeseen events," in the most mundane sense of the term-the unforeseen phone call or the inconvenient request-can take on a new meaning, simply because our time is not our own.

Our freedom consists in embracing all that happens to us, exhaustion and all, as a blessing in divine disguise.

Making the most of time: 

There is a paradox inherent in the Orthodox approach on time. We do not "manage" our time yet we must be prudent and skillful in the way we use our time. We must plan without being a slave of our plans. So, we are back to basics. We need to allow the Lord to flow through is all the time, as best we can. Sometimes we must use the present moment to plan for tomorrow and the long-term future. But, again, it is the Lord doing the planning through us. When we finish the planning we can't obsess about it or allow the plans to become larger than life. We must be stable in the present moment and flexible enough to change plans as the Lord directs, at a moment's notice. One saint said she wanted to be a ball on a table in the hands of the Lord, allowing Him to move her any He chose, for His pleasure.

The truth is that we have all the time we need, and abundantly more, to do all that the Lord has us on the planet to do. He gives us our tasks and ministry, and resources with sufficient time. "And my God sill supply your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:19).

We, however, often have other ideas-enter stress and dissatisfaction. We make our own stress, in large part.

Ready for virtually anything: 

We can only be ready for virtually anything if we know what else we have to do and choose to not do. Then we can do or not do what appears in the moment, based on a deep intuition of what the Lord is calling for now. All too often we walk through life responding to the "latest and loudest" voice clamoring for our attention.              

David Allen in his interesting book, Ready for Anything, emphasizes a few key points. We need to have some system where we have written down everything we need to do. These are called projects, anything that requires more than one step to accomplish. We also need a list of next action steps, those things that can be accomplished in one action. These next actions can be grouped into categories which make life better organized. We might group together all the next actions which require a computer, or the phone, or when talking with my boss. Then, when we are at the phone or have a slice of free time, we will know what calls might or might not make on the spot. All this helps us think less about what we need to do. The brain is a fine instrument for creative thought but a poor container to remember all the outstanding commitments and projects which are ours. When projects and next actions are written down, and backed up, in some trusted system, then we can allow the system to remember for us. We can use our brain for other things. If we try to keep our commitments in our head, like a computer with too much in the memory, the entire system slows down.

We need to take copious notes and be willing to process and organize these notes at least weekly so we have more freedom in the way we use our time.

To be free in the Lord requires that we are as free as we can be from internal baggage and preoccupation.

Push pause: 

To let the Lord work through us means that we give him space, and, of course, time. All too often we are reactively. Our responses often take the form of a stimulus-response reaction. One handy suggestion is to push pause as often as we can. We can pause between the stimulus and our response, thereby gaining perspective.

The pause itself is usually sufficient to break the reactivity cycle. We can become aware of something else going on besides the unconscious reaction. This is a fine opportunity to try to remember that we are in the holy presence of god. One way to gain more conscious contact with God is to gently and quietly say, "Jesus". His holy Name is an expression of belief, adoration, expectation of salvation and unity with Him and all the members of His body. His name is sacred and is a power He asked us to use. "Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:23). We need to know that when we use His name we are acknowledging that we are his disciples. We pause and say His Name, as an act of obedience and surrender of the present moment. We can match this with an awareness of our breathing, centering us more inside our body.

We can simply say the one word, "Jesus", to transfigure what is in from of us, or in our minds. The name of Jesus can be a filter through which our thoughts, words and deeds have to pass to be freed from impurities. Needless to say, this is a severe asceticism. It requires a forgetfulness of the self, a dying to the negative thoughts the ego wants to indulge.


Time manages us because the Lord lives within the time He gives us. So, it is He, through the reality we call measure time, who manages, leads, nourishes and strengthens us. We don't live life. Life lives us,

Time is our friend, not our burden to endure. We need only remember that we are in the holy presence of God. We can pause and say the Name of Jesus, thereby brining us into His very life within us. Whole on earth we have an opportunity to "sanctify tine."
Dr. Rossi is a clinical psychologist who teaches courses in pastoral theology at St. Vladimir's Seminary. Juslia Wickes earned a masters degree from St. Vladimir's Seminary.