Friday, December 28, 2012

Chapter 1: The Life of the World

Fr.Alexander standing on the walkway between the bookstore and the New Facility building at St.Vladimir's Seminary.


This book was first written as a study guide and was never meant to be a systematic theological treatise of the Orthodox liturgical tradition. However, after reaching a wide audience the demand could not be ignored and it was eventually published by St. Vladimir’s Press. 

The first chapter is entitled “The Life of the World”. The analogy Fr. Alexander gives as his thesis for the chapter is based on a quote that was echoed by the German philosopher Feuerbach “Man is what he eats”. The major focus point is on the creation account of Adam and Eve. 

What Fr. Alexander is saying here is that everything in creation is meant to be good. Everything given to us by God is for good. Unfortunately, the corrupt nature of humanity has made things “bad”. But if we are to understand the concept of the goodness of creation then the food that was created and given to man to eat must not be understood as food being given for the satisfaction of the stomach but rather it is given as communion with God. Every action then is done is understood as a form of constant prayer, liturgy and communion with God. The food then we eat should not be understood from a material accept. It should be viewed from the point that all food and all that exists is God’s gift to His creation, and it is given to man in order that his creation knows God. We then must come to know God in order to make our complete life in communion with God. God has blessed everything in creation so when we look at creation and everything around us we should never criticize because criticism at creation is criticism directed towards the creator. If we then understand God’s creation as encompassing goodness then His creation is the foundation of all wisdom. In order however to see the goodness of creation I can tell you of this goodness however, me telling you is depends on you and tasting this goodness as Christ said “O taste and see that the Lord is good”. 

In order to understand and see the good in creation we must understand the role of humanity in this situation. What are we as God’s creation defined as? Father Alexander would say that by definition we are the priest. Now Fr. does not mean the physical priest that wears his vestments on Sunday and takes confessions. The priest in this situation is the one who stands in the center of the world and unifies the world in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world (creation and all that is good) from God and then offering it back to God. During the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom during the Anaphora prayers the priest recites a part that speaks of this dynamic. “Your own of your own we offer unto you on behalf of all and for all”. Notice how the priest does not say “I” but rather he speaks on behalf of everyone. This goes back to the priesthood of all and that the entire community gathered is offering the sacrifice that is placed on the holy of holies. In doing so then the entire community is offering back what God gave to them; the beauty of the entire creation. By filling the world with this Eucharist the community then transforms the dynamic of this life as they receive the beauty from the world, making it life in God which ultimately results into communion with God. 


Everything we do then in life becomes a unifying factor in God. From the food we eat, from going to school, from working, from watching a movie etc. Everything we do we offer to Christ because He created it and it is good to offer. The world then, as creation, was created as the place where humanity embraces the material which is encompassed by the Eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament. If we understand the priest as an offering we then can see how it is that the entire community offers the sacrifice to God because it is not meant to be understood as the priest making the sacrifice but the entire community because our entire life in centered on sacrifice. This point then goes back to the analogy Fr. Alexander made when he began this chapter on food.         

In order to understand the fall we must understand why the forbidden fruit was eaten. The fall is centered on food. Men ate from the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree, whatever else it may signify, and was unlike every other fruit in the Garden. It was not offered as a gift to man. It was not blessed by God, and not being blessed by God the fruit’s eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. The fall is then understood as the image of the worlds love for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself. Eating from the tree showed the selflessness of humanity. The beauty and the good of creation were sucked out because the eating of the fruit was not done in communion with God but rather for man own selfless gain. The world and creation is fallen because it was not perceived the notion that God is all in all. This was seen all the way back from the fall itself because sin entered into the world through the realization that God presence was not made aware to humanity. This disregard for God was the aim of the first sin of humanity that continues to blight the world. Religions of this fallen world cannot heal or redeem it, because humanity today has become accepting of the reduction of God to areas called spiritual, sacred and supernatural. The world has accepted secularism which attempts to steal the world away from God.
      
What is then the purpose of life? The purpose of life is then to embrace the world as the creation made for all good by God. Embracing the good we come to be in full communion with God because God is the essence of all good. Fr. Alexander stresses the point of the book again in this chapter when he says:

The purpose of this book is a humble one. It is to remind its readers that in Christ, life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist. Page 20.

This is then the meaning of all life; to return back to God in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1.26-28). We were created in communion with God to share in the one body of Christ. However, today reductionism has prevailed in western thought. Everything we do we reduce to a mere set of activates thinking we are satisfying the soul when really we are fooling ourselves in the shallowness we have created around. It is almost like Christians are living a life that if we try hard enough that somehow the crucifixion will somehow be reversed. It is almost like we preach that Christ was not meant to crucified. This is simply due to the fact that Christianity has forgotten itself, forgotten that always it must be first of all stand at the cross like the beloved disciple and Mother Mary did. Replacing the traditions and the beauty of the church will never work because it was never meant to be replaced. Matins, vespers, liturgy, prayer of the hours, and psalmody is all in part of the beauty of the church; heaven on earth. When we begin to build handicaps and replace vespers with prayer meetings and any form of modern worship then the beauty begins to be lost in the fa├žade we construct thinking it is beautiful when really we have lost all beauty thinking that we need to restore it with modern form of worship. We must embrace all creation because it is good but we must also be discerning of any modern form of worship creeping into the church because just like Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the forbidden fruit because it was not blessed we might do the same by incorporating aspects in living out our theology if it is not blessed by God.

The following are a few quotations from the first chapter:  
      
In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. The world as man’s food is not something "material” and limited to material functions, thus different from, and opposed to, the specifically "spiritual” functions by which man is related to God. All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: "O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Page 14 

The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God—and by filling the world with this Eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the "matter,” the material of one all-embracing Eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament. Page 15

It is not accidental, therefore, that the biblical story of the Fall is centered again on food. Man ate the forbidden fruit. The fruit of that one tree, whatever else it may signify, was unlike every other fruit in the Garden: it was not offered as a gift to man. Not given, not blessed by God, it was food whose eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. It is the image of the world loved for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself. Page 16.

The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world. And even the religion of this fallen world cannot heal or redeem it, for it has accepted the reduction of God to an area called "sacred” ("spiritual,” "supernatural” )—as opposed to the world as "profane.” It has accepted the all embracing secularism which attempts to steal the world away from God. Page 16.

The purpose of this book is a humble one. It is to remind its readers that in Christ, life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist. Page 20.

Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. This is because Christianity has forgotten itself, forgotten that always it must first of all stand at the cross. Page 23

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Father Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. Timothy Ware (Now Metropolitan Kallistos Ware) and Prof. David Drillock standing on the porch in front of the Germack building at St. Vladimir's Seminary 

For the next blog posts I will be posting on Father Alexander Schmemann's book entitled "For the Life of the World". This is by far the most prolific and groundbreaking work written by Father Alexander Schmemann and dare I say by any modern Orthodox theologian in the 20th century. I will be doing a chapter by chapter output on the blog and hopefully by doing this we can see the love and care Father Alexander Schmemann had for his community as a priest. However, before we get into such a discussion it is only fair to talk just a bit about this individual. I dare not package Father Alexander because I personally did not know him or meet him for that matter and I am sure no one who does know him would package him either. By seeing through his writings and understanding his life we can come to see that he truly lived the selfless life we are called to lived out in Christ. Father Alexander, through his writings, was able to demonstrate to all that he was no more than just a human being. Through this, people were able to understand him as not only a theologian but a priest committing himself to a lifelong service to all of humanity. He did not come to be served but rather to serve those who others did not see Christ in them. Father Alexander was able to see and embrace Christ in all of humanity. What makes Father Alexander so special was that he was always ready to serve. So many people have come to us during the 20th century with the same mentality. Father Matthew the Poor, Father Pishoy Kamel, Patriarch Cyril 6th and the list goes on. I would place Father Alexander Schmemann amongst these names because not of writings but rather because he served others that were broken and needed healing. The following is a brief bio on Father Alexander Schmemann:

Born in 1921 to Russian family in Estonia Father Alexander was raised within the Orthodox Church. His family quickly moved to Paris France where he received his university education. He went on to further studies at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Seminary (where he studied under the noted Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov, amongst others) and was ordained a priest in 1946. From 1946 till 1951 he taught church history at the Seminary. However, in 1951 he was asked to come and teach at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (currently located in New York) where he taught till his passing away in 1983. In 1962 Fr. Alexander was made dean of the school, a position he held till his death.  Fr. Alexander also taught at Union Theological Seminary and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University and New York University.

Much of his focus during his time at St. Vladimir's was focused on liturgical theology, which emphasizes the liturgical tradition of the Church as a major sign and expression of the christian faith. His works became very popular that his "Introduction to Liturgical Theology" is the book used in all liturgy courses taught at any university institution or seminary today.

In 1970, he was active in the establishment of the Orthodox Church in America, which at the time became officially independent from the Russian Orthodox Church. Father Alexander fought his entire life believing that Orthodox Church in America should be under one banner and one faith. The culturism that was brought with the faith had placed multiple bishops of different ethnic backgrounds in the same area (IE. New York) which created a divide. He wanted the church to come together through its unity. He died with the belief that the church one day would be one again. I personally believe and carry this message on today because the body of Christ was never meant to be divided. Orthodoxy is not a denomination but rather it is life. If Orthodoxy is life then Orthodoxy is not broken but united under Christ.

His sermons were broadcast in Russian for over 30 years during the time of the communist rule in the USSR. He gained a wide following and many of his books today are translated into Russian. He published many books and articles. For the Life of the World, a popular volume on Christian faith as reflected in liturgy, has been translated into 11 languages. The book was first published as an underground publication in Russia that was passed around from reader to reader and would later be published by St. Vladimir's Press. Father Alexander fell asleep in the Lord on December 13th 1983.       

Father Alexander, along with Father John Meyendorff and other notable names impacted American Orthodoxy in the 20th century. Through there works the church is indebted to there contribution to the faith. Not only are we indebted to there work but there service to see Christ in others is how they made a real change in the lives of the different human beings they served. I hope with this small glimpse in the life of Fr. Alexander we will be able to understand and see how through his writing Fr. Alexander was not only speaking to the "highly educated" but was mainly speaking to everyone who had an ear to hear.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Silent Symphony: Silence as Voice


The Silent Symphony: Silence as the means of communication (Monks from St. Macarius Monastery)

The start of stillness is the rejection of all noisiness as something that will trouble the depths of the soul. The final point is when one has no longer a fear of noisy disturbance, when one is immune to it. He who does not go out in his intellect when he goes out (of his cell) is gentle, is wholly a house of love, rarely moved to speech. (St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent 27.4,5, P.262).

Silence has become a concept that many people today are foreign to or do not understand the true meaning of silence. Within the Orthodox church a form of silence was respected amongst monastic's which today we know as Hesychasm. Hesychasm on the basic level speaks of inner silence and to be able to keep still. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has five definitions on Hesychasm however, only a few will be mentioned for the time being. Firstly, the practice of inner prayer. This aims at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and languages. This form of Hesychasm was spoken of in greater depth by Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662) and Symeon the New Theologian (c.949-1022). Secondly, the quest for union through the Jesus Prayer is another form of understanding Hesychasm. Hesychasm with the understanding of inner prayer being a major concept can be viewed from the modern perspective of inner silence. Monastic's today are taught that inner silence is important for the mind and soul to seek union in Christ because the purpose of our very lives is union in Christ.

American Culture is based on being successful and talking to as many people as you can and being wired in order to be in touch with the "modern world". (Chris, who influenced this blog entry, with both the title of the blog and the idea) told me that inner silence is a forgotten concept within secular society. I would have to agree because silence is not appreciated anymore. Silence is only thought of as an activity that one might need to slow down there life because life is going too fast. Yoga is one example of such an activity. Yoga teaches an individual to slow down and to relax the mind and breaking down the body and mind in order to feel relaxed. However, silence should not be pushed to the side as a side activity one tries to implement once a week. Silence is not only for desert dwellers (monks) but rather I would argue that in order to find the only meaning in life is through inner silence. Being in union with God needs silence in order to achieve it or else everyone will be sucked into the secular society that teaches the importance of glamour and power over inner silence and union with our creator.            

St. Isaac the Syrian says "The silence of the soul is one of the mysteries of the coming age". Silence is a mystery that humanity has yet to experience. The issue is that humanity is told at a young age to express our thoughts through speech. We are never told speak from the heart. Humanity is packaged into a bubble never to be challenged of the norms that exist around us. When we are challenged then we are afraid to lose what we already know not realizing that the challenge has the opportunity to be a liberating factor. How can one grow solely from the knowledge they posses within the bubble they have confined themselves to live in? How can someone appreciate life by not being challenged by new knowledge? Matthew the Poor says it the best when he said:

"If we cast an examining and comprehensive eye on our life, we will realize the amount of attraction we suffer from against our own will trying to conform to the way other people cling to the transient affairs of this world. It is certainly quite strange that although we can see the errors of other people clearly in their behavior, we never cease modifying our own behavior to conform to these self-same errors. We might never go so far as to thrust ourselves into the clamorous drift of mankind as if struck by the same mania instead of trying to wrest ourselves from such a sweeping current. Not only so, but we try to make haste on our way and even invite others to share with us in our obscure stride toward an unknown predicament". (Orthodox Prayer Life, 197).

Father Matthew begins by saying the more we are attracted to the "I" lifestyle the more we will suffer not physically but our "will" will suffer greatly. This will help diminish our scenes to discern life choices because all we are ever taught is the "I" and the "ME" as being the reason to live. He then proceeds to say that humanity has become foolish because we see the errors of the society but we still adapt them and conform to these errors around us. Lastly, the most dangerous aspect is that we invite others to take part of the foolishness we have created not realizing we affect others by our actions. The idea is that society is about fast pace movement and if you cannot keep up then you cannot be part of society. People have forgotten to see the human person. What we see is always an individual who is packaged up ie. a priest, the doctor, the pharmacist etc. We do not see the person as being human but rather we package them up and throw labels. The issue is that we package people forgetting who we are as human beings. In packaging people we also package ourselves so we work hard to maintain this package whatever it is it might be that we package ourselves as. We dare not look inside of us because if we look inside of us we will be scared of what we find. Matthew the Poor touches on this point when he says:

"When you are completely alone with God, sitting in his presence in holy silence, you shall see your own image in the mirror of God. It is only then that you will discover how ugly you are! You will realize you do not resemble him in any way". (Orthodox Prayer Life, 198).

If we then come to realize who we are as a human being through the discipline inner silence the question must be asked how do we obtain unity with God through prayer? The simple answer is through silence. Christ is never worried about words coming from the mouth. He called those individuals hypocrites. He is truly looking to one's heart and to what's on the inside. Prayer is like a harmonious symphony. How? Because prayer is not dedicated by waking up in the morning and before going to bed one would say a prayer. Prayer is constant and fluid. If we are not in constant prayer then how can we see Christ in others? Our voices then become the strongest voices to the world through our silence. All our actions then become a form of constant prayer. Gandhi and Mother Theresa-to name a few-were the lights to the world. Never did they lift a weapon or dare speak out against any individual. Rather they saw humanity of the individual that stood in front of them and were able to genuinely take care of them seeing Christ in every human. There actions became a constant form of prayer through all walks of there lives. We must tear away at the walls that hold us in and throw away the packages we have for people. Stop seeing the doctor, the priest, the taxi driver and start seeing the image of Christ. "Christ shows us what is to be god in the way He dies as a human being". If we then realize the humanity of every one this is when inner silence can be attained and true prayer is lived out. Once we are detached from the norms of society we will finally be able to appreciation and allow silence to take form in our hearts. Now I am not saying silence can be easily achieved but this is a step to start working on within our lives. In a society were silence is taken for granted we must be the ones to lay the seeds in others. The silent symphony is the process of being constantly in prayer. Prayer then becomes the strongest voice born from silence. I will conclude with a final passage from Matthew the Poor:

"There is no share in silence and retreat for bodily activity. Solitude is a chance for the imprisoned soul to be released and go about its business. In the outset of practicing retreat, the flesh will be ill at ease and the mind will revolt, for the flesh and the mind will feel the darkness of the grace, where the soul will be still suffering in travail and discomfort while trying to break loose from the prison of the flesh and darkness of its senses. One may thus encounter unease at the beginning of ones solitude, but this is the crucial point, which calls for faith and patience. It is not so difficult for the soul to endure such an experience, for it will soon feel that the light is at hand and that behind the darkness of the grace there lies the glory of the resurrection". (Orthodox Prayer Life, 199).

As much as silence is needed it will be a constant struggle not only within the society but the struggle will come from within the mind. The mind is not disciplined so when we begin to focus on inner silence the mind will be our temptation and not the flesh. We must persist in the struggle because the most liberating aspect of silence is the fact that we will be able to see humanity as it is; in the image and likeness of God. Hesychasm allows for union in God born out of inner silence and inner prayer. The Jesus Prayer is vital to achieving inner silence because it is through the Jesus Prayer that monastic's are able to achieve the prayer of the heart. St. Theophan the Recluse regarded the Jesus Prayer stronger than all other prayers by virtue of the power of the holy name of Jesus. Lastly, I speak of monastic's and the practice of inner silence because monasticism should not be understood as a separation from our society. We should embrace the monastic vow because it is within the monastic lifestyle that we can see each other as human begins. Seeing Christ in all will allow us to genuinely to love each other with the same love Christ has for his creation.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Liturgy Homily


As I listen to the homily being given at St. Silouan Christmas liturgy I thought to myself how the incarnation of the Lord was not only for "me" but rather for all of humanity. As people shouted Christ is Born and I responded Glorify Him the thought of the homily was still present in my mind. The following is the transcript of the homily and followed by it is the web-link of the homily. Happy feast day of the Lord to all my brothers and sisters on the new calendar. Christ is born!

The homily was given Fr. Jonathan Tobias:

_____________________

There is a beauty of Christmas that we keep hidden from public view.

We are not bothered by all the busy-ness of the holidays. The sales in the malls and the sidewalk shops do not disturb us. They pretty lights and the popular songs are mostly rather nice: and even thought they'll be taken down tomorrow and thrown out with the tired trees on the curb, nothing is taken away from out secret happiness. 

Our Christmas joy is higher than the world. The holiday decorations and celebrations of the world are only part of our Festal Holy Day --not the other way around.

Our joy is so much brighter and filled with the Transfiguration Light that the world can only get a glimpse, maybe a reflection, perhaps for only a moment...then it shrugs and hurries off to normal business on December 26th.

Our Christmas is secret. It is hidden from view. It is located in a Cave, not on television or the internet or at the United Nations. There is no fame or celebrity in the Nativity of Christ. There are no headline news to herald the event. It would not have trended on Twitter. It would have been ignored on Facebook. No one would have blogged about the Christ Child. TMZ would not have tracked the Wise Men. Neither the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, nor NASA, not the European Space Agency, would have noticed the Bethlehem Star: they might have seen it all.

God located the Nativity in a cave for a reason. He covered the Incarnation in Mystery for a purpose. For thousands of years He kept this Mystery under a veil.

But He unveiled His secret plan on that first Christmas Day --a Plan kept in Divine Secrecy from the Ages...a plan for the liberation of mankind from the oppression of sin and death...a plan for the rescue of humanity from the enslavement to Satan.

It was kept in Godly Secrecy not to prevent anyone from discovering it. The salvation of mankind was mysterious only to ensure that the Secret would be discovered in only the right way. It needed to be discovered personally, at the very depths of the soul, at the center of the self, at the very heart. The cave of Bethlehem is a deep reminder, a symbol, even an icon, of the human heart. Just as the Child Christ was born in the Bethlehem Cave in the hidden depths of the world, so also is the Christ borne in the heart, the very center, the deepest mystery of you.

You can only meet the baby Jesus at the center os the earth, in the cave of Bethlehem: even so, you can only fellowship with Christ in your center, at the "cave" of your heart.

The world would expect a powerful domineering God to come to earth from the top down. But the God of Love actually came from a different direction: He comes only from the inside out, born in the flesh at the very center, and met and communed with by humanity only at the very heart.

Jesus Christ was born in a cave to reveal the fact that the Son of God is offered as a gift -- but a gift that can be opened only at our deepest self, where we are the poorest, the weakest and most vulnerable...where we are who we really are, hidden away from everyone else. That is where the Son of God wants to visit, commune with us, and stay.

Behold, Jesus says, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears My voice and open the door, I Will come into him and sup with him and he with Me. (Apoc iii.20).

This close friendship of God with Man -- this Holy Communion 00 started on Christmas Day, when Jesus knocked, and the Theotokos opened the door of the world of human nature to the Son of God. Peace on earth depends on a secret joy, rooted in a hidden cave. Let us go there, you and I...

Here we are, in the mystical and cave that is the Church the Body of Christ, that is eternity focused upon this One Moment in this one Divine Liturgy, at this particular manger upon this altar, in this discos and chalice, in this communion of the theanthropos, the God-Man Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son. And in this cave, what do we shepherds, and we wise-men and we, the ox and the donkey, see? When we gaze upon the Christ Child, what is it that warms our hearts?

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, descended from infinite transcendence into our broken up tiny little darknesses. He brought His divinity to bear upon our humanity in His one single personality. In Himself He gathers up the alienated fragments of the human race...He gathers up all our prodigal broken pieces of our selves...our selves, broken like splintered glass into our angered violences, our desperations, our addictions and despondencies, our hopeless biographies.

In His own Person, He puts the pieces back together again.

And He will do this, only if we will meet Him in the secret Cave -- the cave where no one is rich and self-sufficient...where no one is powerful and can oppress the weak with the violence domination...where no one is famous and can demand privilege and attention.

Instead, there are only humans, and one of those humans is also God.

Let us go meet Him, you and I, and adore Him in His peace. Let us be whole again. Let us be brother and sister again. Let us rejoice in the knowledge of this great and divine, splendid Secret, and broadcast it to the world. Let us shout it from the housetops, above the darkness, above the anger dominations, that Jesus Christ is born!        
______________________

http://janotec.typepad.com/terrace/2012/12/hidden-secret.html

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Becoming Human: Discovering Christ

The mystery of the incarnation is a thought that hardly goes through the minds of individuals through the "holiday" season. Where is Christ? Christ is where we are weak, vulnerable and dependent. Christ is where the poor are, the hungry, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know to Christ when our focus is constantly on other maters, on school, influence, personal appearance, and power. Our faithfulness is dependent on our ability to go where there brokenness, loneliness and human need. In doing that we will be able to see Christ in humanity. This is truly what it means to become human in Christ. Seeing Christ in others is seeing the incarnate Lord. It was through the Logos (word) taking flesh that allowed humanity to see Christ in everyone. Unfortunately, society has packaged humanity into taxi drivers, doctors, engineers or whatever else it might be that we want them to be.  We do not see humanity anymore. We see packages who can help us "only". 

If the Church has a future it must be one that deals with the humanity and not how the best serves it. Everyone within the church is seriously searching to live and grow in this belief, that if we live together within the community and see each other as friends within the church then this is what it means to live and to be united in Christ. The only way to stay well in the midst of the many "worlds" is to stay close to the community and remain small. When we see our own brokenness and vulnerability then we forget who we are not being able to see our own brokenness through the "bigness" we build around us. Often it is by seeing the brokenness of others do we realize our own brokenness and that by realizing that we are all broken then Christ is the true human that became incarnate for all of humanity. Once we discover the joy and the care of humanity, only then will we be able to rejoice in Christ and realize that Christ incarnation was not meant to be only for "ME" but rather as the redemption for all humanity.

Remember this time of the year as a time that Christ become incarnate not for "you" and "me" but for the entire community coming together seeing Christ in all of humanity. Seeing Christ is seeing our true selves in doing so showing what it means to truly become united in Christ. As St. Athanasius famously wrote in his master piece "On the Incarnation" God became man so that man might become god." (CH.54).


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Introduction to Eucharistic Theology

Eucharistic Theology  can be summed up in the point that Christ is forever present. There have been debates about His presence within modern Western Theology. However, in the entire celebration Christ is present in the entire celebration. Christ is present in the gathering of the church community. This is inherited from Pauline theology when we say Christ is present in the word; we venerate the word ultimately showing how Christ comes to us in the reading and preaching of scripture. Orthodoxy is beginning to rediscover this concept recently. What Christ presence's in the food means for us is that when we partake of the divine food we commune with God and with one another. Our existence is then affirmed and strengthened through our participation of the divine food. We are what we eat and this is the basis of what the church has always said. How then is Christ present in this bread and wine? What happens to the elements? The beauty of the church is that one does not need to offer a metaphysical answer to these questions. The bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ because Jesus says they are (cf. 1 Cor 11, and the institution narrative in the gospel accounts). Christ is the Logos the incarnate word (cf. John 1.1-2) and is the purpose for all creation. The how is not quite so evident. What we taste and see is bread and wine. For the most part the Orthodox Church has never accepted the substance and assistance's of what the Catholic Church teaches.

The Orthodox approach is taken from the approach modeled on the incarnation. It is based on the fact that God becomes man but in so doing did not destroy humanity but united humanity to Himself. This is the whole point of Athanasius "On the Incarnation". God became man so that man can become god (cf. Chapter 54 in the book). This same model Athanasius writes about is applied to the Eucharist. Christ humanity is preserved that He is fully man and fully God. The nature of the bread and wine are preserved that they are bread and wine. Christ was also divine human so the bread and wine become the divine glorious resurrected form of Christ. The Eucharist liturgy is itself an affirmation of the incarnation. This is precisely what Fr. Alexander Schemamann speaks of about in the article entitled sacrament and the world. The point he makes is that all creation is potentially symbolic in the sense it is transparent to God and should become a means of communion with God. In the Eucharist the created elements becomes a means to be in communion with God. The divine food becomes what they originally are supposed to be and that is perfect food. The purpose of Christ incarnation is in the Eucharist. Christ himself is the perfect symbol. He is the perfect bridge from the human to the divine. Christ is the perfect man the new Adam this recreated restored humanity given the capacity to be what it was created for through the participation in the divine life.

It is in the liturgy in the broadest sense that this reality is affirmed and lived. The important concept is participation understood as a lived relationship with God. It is no accident Paul uses the bride connection in his epistle. Ephesians 5 is not about marriage between man and women but our marriage to God. To talk about the real presence of Eucharist it is not efficient to talk about just the bread and wine but its complete form in the person of Christ. Liturgy is not an ends but rather liturgy is the beginning for the worshiper leading to the kingdom of God. Liturgy is a living reality meaning it will change and adapt in regards to language and musical style. What the ultimate meaning comes down to is the change pastoral? Is the gospel message being lived out by the gathered community? Is the body of Christ broken? Once we realize that we are the body of Christ then we will be able to live in communion with Christ and his gospel message.               

I would recommend any of Fr. Alexander Schmemann books on Eucharist Theology however before reading any of his books the first book I would read by him in order to understand Fr. Alexander I would read "For the Life of the World". This is a good introduction book on Eucharistic Theology and understanding what kind of person Fr. Alexander was:

  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Called to be Saints

                                                             Modern saints:

So many people when they see someone they would classify as being "holy" or does great "service" they automatically classify them as a saint. Sometimes I ask myself what is a saint? There's seems to be some confusion on everyone's understanding of a saint. The majority of people that I have come across come to see a saint as someone who is canonized by the church officially recognizing him or her as a saint. If that is the definition then I would immediately ask if Patriarch Cyril the 6th a saint? Is Father Bishoy Kamel a saint? Is Father Alexander Schemamann a saint? And list can go on and on. By that definition the answer would be no. Then how is it that we already regard these people as saints? That then builds a conflict between what we come to regard as a saint and what it truly means to all being called to be saints.

Paul's epistle to the Romans is theological the deepest epistle of the New Testament and has been regarding by many scholars and theologians as being his most profound epistle speaking about Christ and what it means to live in the body of Christ. It is the richest epistle speaking on what it means to be the Christ image in the world. His epistle begins with this very message when he says "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints" (Rom 1.7 RSV). The NKJV is missing the "who". I only point this out because the RSV translation emphasizes this calling to be saints. Paul tells the community in Rome that we are all called to be saints in Christ. That does not mean someone who is canonized is "only" a saint but rather through our living example we become saints in Christ. This is how we are able to call individuals such as Father Bishoy Kamel, Father Alexander Schemamann and Patriarch Cyril the 6th saints. Even though they are not "canonized" we call them saints because they lived being witnesses to Christ message. The confusion of their saintly hood is often depicted on the fact that they performed many miracles. However, this is not the case. If humanity needs miracles to believe then our faith is shallow. I am not denying that miracles occurred but I am stressing the fact that we do not live for the miracle but we live in the hope of Christ.

Disciples and saints come in all different shapes sizes and characters. Disciples are also not the smartest either. Throughout the entire ministry of Christ the disciples did know who "Christ was". If they had known they would not have fled at his passion. The person of Christ and who Christ is was revealed on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Christ had appeared to the disciples and the disciples did not know him. Christ was revealed to them when he opened the Scriptures and broken bread. Once they realized who he was he vanished. The same way we come to know Christ through the breaking of bread (Eucharist) and opening Scripture we come to know Christ. By knowing Christ we come to live in the one body of Christ and this is the calling of our sainthood. To be saints is to be the Christ image in the world. To realize we are forgiven is to spread the gospel message. Peter denied him three times and became the chief apostle. We deny him every day but that does not mean we give up rather we are united in the body of Christ to his calling. Being a saint does not mean everyone should know about you and your works. Being is saint is living out Christ and seeing Christi n everyone. Becoming the human being and be fashioned in his image so that you can become the light of world.      

The following is a link to Christ is Risen which is sung during the Paschal season:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Living What The Fathers Lived

The teachings of the church on how to orient our lives has mostly been handed down to us from the fathers. St. Anthony the Great, St. Pachomius and more recently Matthew the Poor and Pope Cyril the 6th. However, many people are out of touch with what the fathers preach. Everyone thinks that they have so many teachings that it would be impossible to read all those books and be able to apply those teachings in our own life.  Many would say that they left the world to devote their lives to prayer and a closer relationship with God. I would say that this is not the case. A basic formula from all the fathers can be expressed in the following way I heard preached to me by Fr. Andrew:

1. The thought enters the mind:

As human beings our minds function like a big open window. Throughout the day many thoughts enter in and out of our minds either not giving them much thought or we linger on them for quite a time. If you take public transportation or drive for long periods then you would know what I speak of. Thoughts come and go every single minute of our lives. My next question would be what do you do with them?  

2. You dance with the idea:

The answer to the question is that we can dance with the thoughts that enter the mind. An analogy would be a fly (thought) enters through the window (mind). We have two options at this point. We either let it fly around for a few minutes and it will leave or we will try, with our will, to chase it out (dancing with the idea). Many times this is what we do with a thought. A practical example would be the thought of an exam comes to mind that you have to write it tomorrow and by thinking of this exam it might bring you down because you do not want to write it. This second step is very dangerous because it naturally will lead to the next point. 

3. You entertain the idea:

You entertain the idea is the stage that once we reach can be difficult to escape from. This can take shape in the following form. "I want to buy clothes" (step 1). "Yes I need to buy clothes because I lack many shirts" (stage 2). Stage 3 would be "I will buy the clothing attire" but you still haven't because you are waiting for the object that will get you to the clothing and that can take form in the transportation or credit card money etc. This is why at this point the thought can still escape the mind but can be difficult.

4. The deed is done:

This stage is the deed being done. You are buying the clothing.

5. Possession (Addiction):

The most dangerous level is the last level which is called possession or addiction. This level is dangerous because once you get to this level the first 4 stages are avoided completely. You commit to this level naturally not realizing it is an addiction and this is why this level is dangerous to the soul of the individual. This step will naturally begin to develop the thought process of any person which might not lead to good consequences.  

Summary:

Now ideas that come into our minds can both be "good" and "bad" thoughts. I only give "bad" thoughts in my examples stated above however; this can work for "good" thoughts also. Our souls will always have open windows and this is why thoughts come in and out of our minds. We live in a society in which the appreciation of silence is taken for granted. We live in a society that throws images, music, and what society thinks is a "normal life" at us every day. This poses a great challenge for many of us to overcome stage 5 which is addiction that is not realized. There are two types of addiction. One that is realized and the individual is trying to overcome and the second type which is more dangerous than the previous is the addiction that is not realized and continues to be the "norm" for many of us. Anyone's natural question would be then how to overcome this? One answer I will provide and many will find strange because it's not the "norm" however, I (summarizing what the fathers teach) will pose that this should be the norm because out of this norm we will be able to love each other the way Christ says love your neighbors as yourself.

Our soul's then if we are to understand and accept the fact that open windows will also be part of who we are then closing a few windows is the solution. One way to close a few windows (and I offer this as the start of the solution because our goal should be that all windows are to be closed) is to go back to what the fathers taught us and that is to become "monastic". I do not mean leave the world and become a monk or nun but rather living the monk to the world today. Monasticism should not be thought of as something that is not part of this reality of our society. I would suggest that we are all called to live the monk life in our lives. How do we overcome our thoughts? We must begin to fill our windows with good thoughts all the time. We must begin to see the beauty and goodness in creation because God is the creator and we are to offer everything back to him being the creator. In the Byzantium liturgy of St. John Chrysostom there is a part during the Anaphora prayer where the priest recites "Your own of your own we offer unto you and on behalf of all and for all". So if we are to understand that everything belongs to God then we offer it back to him because it is his creation. This would make sense also for our own bodies. If we accept this as our starting point or as the fathers called "the first principles" then we can begin to live like the monastic's. This is when we will start to overcome stage 5 that we all find ourselves in. If we stop living for tomorrow and for yesterday and begin to realize that we live in the present the thoughts will slowly start to leave our minds. So going back to the previous example it should not matter if there is an exam you need to worry about writing for tomorrow. Tomorrow has not come so that should not worry you. We live for the here and now so the thought should be I will study right now for x amount of hours and through this studying I will be able to write the exam that might come my way.

Why can't we live for tomorrow? Because we do not know if we will even have a tomorrow. St. Anthony the Great is quoted as saying "lived everyday like it's your last". The beauty in living everyday like its your last will make you realize any thoughts about the future and the past are futile because it is out of our control. However advanced this might be too many it must have a starting point in order for it grow and be nourished. Like previously mentioned it is not easy because society bombards us with this consent living in the future and the past. Father Lazarus el Antony (St. Anthony's Monastery) says that living in the word not only do we have our thoughts to struggle with but we also have the world to deal with. His words are true because not only do we have to deal with the thoughts that cause us to stumble but we have to deal with the physical.

The one point that I began with is silence. Silence is a must need in our lives in order to overcome these thoughts and struggles. Once inner silence is attained through prayer then we can truly lift our hearts unto the lord through prayer. When praying many thoughts come to mind. Begin your prayer by contemplating these thoughts and slowly begin to let go. Then afterwards focus on the inner silence in which after you are completely let go of this world begin to pray with your heart and mind. Pray with your heart. This is a major tool the fathers use to battle the thoughts. Inner silence and prayer are two great tools that must be used to battle the thoughts. The following are different quotations by different fathers on this very topic followed by suggested readings by the fathers that speak more in depth on the concepts of prayer and inner silence:

1. A hermit said, "take care to be silent. Empty your mind. Attend to you meditation in the fear of God, whether you are resting or at work. If you do this, you will not fear attacks of the demons.

2. Father Moses said, "Sit in why cell and thy cell with teach thee all".

3. An Elder said "A man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness".         

Suggested reading:

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The Lives of the Desert Fathers
The Life of St.Anthony by St. Athanasius
Philokalia
The Ladder of Divine Ascent



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Love: Living Liturgy; Living Theology

The patriarch who became the monk to us all. He truly was a father to all of us and he holds a special place in my heart! Pope Cyril the 6th was not a man of high education (high school education) but he brought the Coptic Church into the modern world. He paved the road for Patriarch Shenouda III. The love he had for his children always greeting every single individual to the point where he would faint and they would have to help him. His strengthen to the church was truly perfected in his weakness! A man of deep prayer and he was famously remembered for praying a liturgy every morning before he began his day and continued this tradition when he was ordained to the bishopric of Alexandria. The more he prayed the more he struggled as he is so often quoted as saying "I prayed for a pure heart, it took me a long time and a hard struggle to discover that prayer itself is the only road to a pure heart." He was truly the father to all of us. He had a special gift that many never understood or could comprehend because out of his humility he would leave many confused with there encounter with him. So many stories are left for us however I can't do any justice to them. Lastly, he was an individual who truly never lived for the "I" and the "ME" but rather lived for Him whom he saw in all of us. His liturgy was not finished by the morning time but rather he constantly lived out his liturgy to all of us. Even though he was not educated he lived out his theology and his remembered for being a father to our two great modern theologians (Patriarch Shenouda and Father Matthew the Poor). There is a lot we can learn from him. The one small aspect I would take from his life is how he prayed. He never used words and its been documented that every liturgy he prayed he prayed with tears. Living in the body of Christ is a struggle but out of this struggled he never once lived for himself but was truly the Christ image in the world. The following are a few pictures of Pope Cyril (Kirolos) the 6th: 

The following picture were take from Fr.Kyrollos Facebook page.