Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Eucharist Dimension of Death


The Eucharist unites those who are broken in the body of Christ. Many times we think that because we are broken this brokenness we carry can never be restored. Humanity begins to develop different ideologies on how to be fix the brokenness of human beings in which, these ideologies, will always lead you back to step one. An example can be medicine. People take medicine in order to physically get better however, some individuals can develop an addiction which leads back to step one-brokenness. Now I am not saying medicine is bad, actually quite the opposite is true. With the rise of medicine, we as a specie have been able to advance far more in the past 150 years than we have in the last 2000 years before then. The natural question that stems from this then if we have advanced to this degree why is it that humans are broken beings? To answer a question is not easy but many points have been made from all sides. I would suggest that one common answer or common action that unites every human being no matter what religious belief or background one takes is death. Death, as we know it, will come to all human beings. Death is a certainty for all. Growing up I sarcastically was taught that two things that can never be avoided are taxes and death. Death is guaranteed to all, so by understanding death and what it means this will allow us to understand the brokenness of humanity.

What is death? Death in a physical sense and in a simple manner is when one's body stops functioning. Your heart stops to beat and life has left your body. You cease to exist. All human brokenness will cease once death occurs. However, society today treats death in the complete opposite manner. Death today is glorified and celebrated in way that people do not want to see death anymore. 50 years ago if a family member would die the body would remain in the home for a few days before the funeral took place. This practice today however, has ceased because people cannot see death no more. By not seeing death we as a society have forgotten what it means to be "dead". This is the simple reason why death is the hardest thing to accept. Death has become a "passion" and a form of brokenness to many because it is at the point of death that we as human beings cannot carry anything with us to the afterlife. This is a known fact that any human being can acknowledge no matter what one believes in. In death we lose all our positions. This is why death is hard for many. I would challenge the reader to take another perspective, or paradigm in regards to how one should view death. In order to accept death (seeing that it is the one thing that unites all human beings) we must understand what it means to live. It is in death that life begins. The church has always taught that through baptism and Eucharist we enter these mysteries through our death. We must die to the world in order to receive life. This is exactly what Christ gave to us through his own death. He was crucified and then was risen into life. This is why at the last breathe Christ said, "It is finished". What is finished?

The restoration of the human being. Humanity once again was restored in the image and likeness of our original creation. As God spoke in Genesis by making us in his image and likeness, through Christ death and life we have been restored. Brokenness is shattered and new life has been given to all. This is why we chant during Pascha (Easter) Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death. Through Christ death He abolished death and through death he gave life to all. Unfortunately, many in our society cannot comprehend such a notion of destroying death because there paradigm of death is limited. If death becomes a separation of the individual from their positions then death surely will be a great travesty to all. However, if we are "separated" from our positions and we learn to die daily to the "passions" that constantly bombard us then death will truly be a reward as the spirit goes to its rest in Christ. Positions are good and we need them to survive and expand however, when I speak of separation I speak of attachment. We cannot be attached to positions. To be attached means to be "addicted" (for lack of better terms). One example that comes to mind is Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. He grew attached to the ring that at the end he did not cast it into the fire until he realized how much pain it caused him. If we learn to live in harmony with creation and see the good in creation then surely death, when it comes to us, wont be painful, but rather a restoration to the one who gave us all that is good. This culminates in the Eucharist. What it means to partake of the Eucharist is to die daily to that which holds us captive. The passions we have created around ourselves are what we constantly need to die to in order to have life. Then and only then will we be able to say, "into why hands do I commend thy Spirit" as we depart from this world.    

The following are two passages that inspired this entry. Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. John Behr look at the dimension of the Eucharist and what this means for us today. The life of the church has never been perfect, but we are all united in the body of Christ by our participation in the Eucharist. I highly recommend both books as they both lay the ground work of the Eucharist. Fr. Alexander was a liturgical theology professor at St. Vladimir's Seminary and the dean up to his death in 1983. Fr. John is a patristic professor at St. Vladimir's Seminary and is the current dean of the school.                      
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For more than thirty years I have served the Church as a priest and a theologian, as a pastor and a teacher. Never in those thirty years have I ceased to feel called to think about the Eucharist and its place in the life of the Church. Thoughts and questions on this subject, which go back to early adolescence, have filled my whole life with joy—but, alas, not only with joy. For the more real became my experience of the Eucharistic liturgy, the sacrament of Christ’s victory and of his glory, the stronger became my feeling that there is a Eucharistic crisis in the Church. In the tradition of the Church, nothing has changed. What has changed is the perception of the Eucharist, the perception of its very essence. Essentially, this crisis consists in a lack of connection and cohesion between what is accomplished in the Eucharist and how it is perceived, understood and lived. To a certain degree this crisis has always existed in the Church. The life of the Church, or rather of the people in the Church, has never been perfect, ideal. With time, however, this crisis has become chronic. That schizophrenia that poisons the life of the Church and undermines its very foundations has come to be seen as a normal state.

Taken from the preface of Fr. Alexander Schmamann's "The Eucharist".

There is clearly a close relationship between the dynamism and the faithfulness of the Spirit and the action of the Word operative in the processes that lead both to the Eucharist and to the resurrection. It is by receiving the Eucharist, as the wheat and the vine receive the fecundity of the Spirit, that we are prepared, as we also make the fruits into the bread and wine, for the resurrection effected by the Word, at which point, just as the bread win receive the Word and so become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist, so also our bodies will receive immortality and incorruptibility from the Father. As such, death, within the overall economy of God seen in the light of the Passion of Christ, takes on a Eucharistic dimension, alongside its educative and limiting function, and the economy as a whole can be described as the Eucharist of God.

Fr. John Behr, The Mystery of Christ, page 106.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Worship and Life

This icon shows St. Bishoy washing the feet of Christ. St. Bishoy is known for his humility and never saying no to any individual. One time him and the monks were on there way up to the mountain to meet Christ (it was foretold to them that Christ would appear on the top of the mountain). There was a beggar on the side asking for help to be carried up. All the monks ignored him except for St. Bishoy. He carried him on his back and the closer he got to the top the lighter the person got to the point where the person disappeared and it turned out this person was Christ whom all the monks walked passed. This is an excellent example of how we must all see Christ in every human being. 

Continuing from our last post on Father Alexander Schmemann let us reflect on the meaning of liturgical worship. Father Alexander always spoke about the the relationship of worship in relation for the life of the world. But what does this mean? How can one understand worship in relation to our own lives?

Liturgical worship should not be understood as another addition to the Christian faith but rather, it forms the foundation of Christian identity-expressing our highest purpose. Worship reveals to all what we believe and based on this belief, how we see ourselves in relationship to God, with one another, and the world into which we are called to carry the redemptive mission of Christ (cf. Mt 28-The Great Commission). The way in which the church worships is a witness to the truth of what she professes. Worship becomes a dynamic means of bringing in the entire human community into life everlasting with Christ. This is given through the expression of beauty! Liturgical worship transforms not just the individual but the entire community which participates in it. This is the dynamic relationship between worship and life. What is practiced is lived out, expressed, and becomes a witness for the life of the world.

The centrality of worship describing the life, identity and mission of the church, Fr. Alexander would use a Latin term to describe-"Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi". The phrase means the law of worship (prayer) is the law of faith (belief). Sometimes the term was expanded to include at the end "Lex vivendi" (Law of life), deepening the implications of this truth. How we worship reflects what we believe and this belief and worship shapes how we live. How we worship guides how we live the Christian faith and fulfill the Christian mission in the world by manifesting the joy in declaring the risen Christ.

Sadly though as society progresses forward and the rise of materialism and secularism, taking on passionate forms, becomes the paradigm to many. Liturgical worship then ceases to be at the center of life. Liturgical worship ceases to be lived out but instead becomes a form of rituals being performed by a few people. What then develops is a separation of the "sacred" (liturgy) and "profane" (the rest of the world). This point Fr. Alexander wrote greatly on stressing the fact that there is no separation of the "sacred" and "profane" because through God's creation all has been sanctified and blessed and this blessing is realized at the heart of the worship. By allowing worship to be our starting point in life then we will appreciate all of creation as it was meant to be from the beginning-God created it and it was good.

What has developed is an effort to simplify, by trying to make the worship more "attractive" to people from the outside has actually resulted into liturgical minimalism. This minimalism can take on many forms but one example of this can be when you enter into the "church" on a Sunday morning and is filled with people conversing with each other about how there week was or cell phones ringing throughout the service. This point goes back to the separation of the "sacred" and "profane". People have forgotten that Christ incarnate, the crucified and risen Lord is not only present in the "church space" but is present in the world as well. Our actions within the church determine our actions in the world. We must prepare our hearts and mind when we receive Christ and this is no different when we present ourselves in the world. This is why Fr. Alexander is stressing the point that there is no difference between the "sacred" and "profane". Every action, thought and step is done by choosing to put on Christ. Hence there is no such thing as "sacred" or "profane".          

Another liturgical minimalism that has developed is in the thought and ethos that people have began to develop that symbols of our worship, faith and our life is a problem. These long "liturgies" and "prayers" need to be reduced in order to accommodate the needs of the people. By stripping down the prayers and making the liturgical experience lose its richness, they think they have somehow made the faith more "relevant" and "contemporary". These individuals fail to grasp and understand human nature being symbolic. Anthropos (human beings) is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1.26-27) making the human being a divine icon of God. With the initial creation being symbolic in nature, symbols touch us at a deeper level more than words or effective (emotional) participation can. When we seek the one who created us good in his image and likeness, this is where we hunger most for God and we turn to Christ through worship to understand this great mystery.

Back in 2010, Pope Benedict addressed bishops in Rome speaking to them about the meaning of the Eucharist. He said, "the center and permanent source of the Petrine ministry, the heart of the Christian life, source and summit of the church's mission of evangelization. You can thus understand the concern of the successor of Peter for all that can obfuscate this more essential point of the Catholic faith: that today, Jesus Christ continues alive and truly present in the consecrated host and the chalice". Pope Benedict continues on by warning the bishops that, "Paying less attention at times to the rite of the Most Holy Sacrament constitutes a sign and a cause of the darkening of the Christian sense of mystery, such as when Jesus is not the center of the Mass, but rather a community preoccupied with other things instead of being taken up and drawn to the only one necessary: their Lord. If the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy, it is not a Christian liturgy. As venerable John Paul II wrote, "the mystery of the Eucharist is 'to great a gift' to admit of ambiguities or reductions, above all when, 'stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet;". By the end of his talk Pope Benedict summarized everything when he said, "Worship cannot come from our imagination: that would be a cry in the darkness or mere self-affirmation. True liturgy supposes that God responds and shows us how we can adore him. The church lives in his presence-and its reason for being and existing is to expand his presence in the world".

The relationship between worship and life is important in order to experience the beauty and to show it to others. As the old saying goes the truth will set you free. In this instance the truth becomes our unity in the body of Christ which becomes a life to all. When we come to encounter the joy of the risen Lord in the liturgy we live out his life in the world. The same life in which he was crucified we learn to be crucified to the passions and become free in order to sanctify our bodies and be made worthy. This joy then is experienced and share with everyone. By transforming our lives into the live giving bread we become a source of life to all. How? Our actions and interactions become this source of life. If you are at work, in school, studying, going out, helping with social services, helping at a church, going to a food drive, talking with the homeless, spending time with people at hospitals and the list goes on and on. All of this becomes sanctified and once people see the good in you then Christ becomes the paradigm to all. As Father Alexander Schmemann said, "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi", as we worship, we believe and so we will live!          
St. Francis of Assisi was always known to help the poor as he dedicated his life to the work of helping others unconditionally. Let us learn from St. Francis that we should never ignore or pass by any human being in time of need. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remembering Fr. Alexander Schmemann


30 years ago Fr. Alexander Schmemann reposed in the Lord (Dec 13 1983). Fr. Alexander Schmemann has been influential in my "return" to the faith. Even though I have never had the chance to ever meet him, his spirit lives on through his writings. His writings have helped me transcend my understanding of the Liturgy, Eucharist, Baptism and the life of the world. Fr. Alexander was a prominent liturgical theology professor at St. Vlaidimir's Seminary in New York. He served as dean of the school from 1962 till his death in 1983. Fr. Alexander can be remembered for many things but one thing that he took take pride in was being faithful to the Christian faith. What do I mean by this? He thought, and many times he makes it clear in his writing, that the Christian faith was being robbed of its beauty. One particular point was the cultural walls we have entrapped ourselves in. We have to break out of these walls in order to bring Christ to all Americans. However, this cultural barrier we trapped ourselves in was an issue Fr. Alexander spoke against greatly throughout his writings. Another important topic he wrote on and dedicated his whole life to was the Liturgy! The Liturgy can be summed up as our starting point, our paradigm, our first principle. All his writings on the Liturgy can be summed up in saying if the Liturgy is not present in our lives then we are like the walking dead. This following passage on the Liturgy speaks about how the Liturgy is our starting point.

A month earlier, he notes that it is only in the Liturgy that things come together: "I become filled with disgust for the role I have been playing for decades. I have fear and apprehension at having to immerse myself in the affairs of the seminary and the church. I feel that everybody around me knows what to do and how and what for, but I only pretend to know. In fact, I don't know anything; I am not sure of anything; I am deceiving myself and others. Only when I serve the Liturgy am I not deceitful. And I will say it again: all of life flows out of-and is connected with-the Liturgy! I feel a collapse of any energy-especially spiritual. I would like to leave!"

Another big issue Fr. Alexander took to heart was his running polemic against "religion", as distinct from authentic Christianity centered in the revelation of God in Christ. This error he insisted, was to think that Christianity is a subcategory of "religion", when in fact Christ explodes from within history all human constructions of reality, religious or otherwise, thus illumining with the divine world of which we are part of. The two works that stand out on this issue are the journals of Fr. Alexander and For the Life of the World. Fr. Alexander wanted to distance Christ and Christianity from what he viewed as the stifling habits and thought forms of "religion". Religion as an organization and institution was the cry of Fr. Alexander wanted to outcast as the great travesty of the 20th century. Even "piety" is regularly dismissed as a distortion, and he rails against those who came to confession with all sorts of "problems". His answer to all was simply to "live"! Which is to say, his answer was, Christ! Christ was the center and focus to all of Fr. Alexander's writings.    

By way of conclusion I will leave you the reader with this final saying which sums up Fr. Alexander in the best way possible. May his memory be eternal.

"I realized that 'theologically' I have one idea-the eschatological content of Christianity, and of the Church as the presence in this world of the Kingdom, of the age to come-this presence as the salvation of the world and not escape from it. The 'world beyond the grave' cannot be loved, cannot be looked for, cannot be lived by. Whereas the Kingdom of God, if one tastes it, be it a little, cannot be not loved! Once you love it, you cannot avoid loving all creation, created to reveal and announce the Kingdom. This love is already transfigured. Without the Kingdom of God being both the beginning and the end, this world is a frightening and evil absurdity. But without the world, the Kingdom of God is incomprehensible, abstract, and in some way absurd".    

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Sacrament- For the Life of the World


Many approach the sacraments as some sort of magical trick performed by a priest. Actually it is quite the opposite. The sacrament, the mystery, is our participation in the body of Christ. The same Christ, who as the priest recites during the liturgy, "For being determined to give Himself up to death for the life of the world". Christ is the one who gave his life for the life of the world. This is the mystery in which we are called to participate in the sacraments. Our own "death", in participating in the sacraments is the same participation Christ gave us through his own life culminating in his death and resurrection. There is no separation in the life we are called to live within the body of Christ and the life we live for the world. There seems to be this preconceived notion that the sacrament is set out against, or existing outside the rest of life. There is a distinction between the sacred (sacraments) and profane (the world). This notion stands at odds with what Christ established as giving up our lives for the life of the world. The world has been sanctified by his death and resurrection. The idea of profane and sacred has been broken. All that we do and participate in has become sacramental. This explains why we must bring the conclusion of the liturgy (the Eucharist) to the rest of the world. This Christ who died and rose, in which we participate in through our own life, must be brought within the life of the world. The Eucharist represents our own death in the body of Christ, and if we accept this notion of death (which we do by participating in the Eucharist), then as we constantly are called to die we must live out this death in the world we are in constant motion with. Our lives then has, in a sense, become sacramental. We then become an offering made by our own death in the body of Christ that is constantly lived out.

The following quote that was e-mailed to me sums up these thoughts a lot more coherently. I would recommend Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book "For the Life of the World" as a good read on this very topic of the sacramental life.        
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It must once again be emphasized that the sacrament is not something set over against, or existing outside, the rest of life, so that it is sacred while the rest of life and all other things are non-sacred or profane or non-sacramental; it is not something extrinsic and fixed in its extrinsically, as if by some sort of magical operation of Deus ex machina the sacramental object is suddenly turned into something other than itself and different from all other created objects. On the contrary, what is indicated or revealed in the sacrament is something universal, the intrinsic sanctity and spirituality of all things, what one might call their real nature. A recognition of the sacramental principle requires the recognition that nothing in life, in the created order, is, or can be, entirely profane or non-sacred; it requires the recognition of an essential “likeness”, a congeneracy or “identity in difference”, between the sanctifying power and what is sanctified, between the uncreated and created; it requires, finally, the recognition that the sacramental has a cosmic significance and is intimately related to every single aspect of created existence, and that therefore, while the way of looking at, or using, things may well be profane and non-sacred, the things themselves can never be.    

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Last words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann-Let us give thanks!


Today, the feast of Thanksgiving is celebrated across the United States (mid-October for our Canadian readers). On this feast day Father Alexander Schmemann gave his final words in the church before his passing away a few weeks later (Dec 13 1983). It is quite fascinating how the Eucharist translates into thanksgiving. These final words were written down by Father Alexander, even though all his sermons were never written down. The beauty about this feast is that the church is always thankful because it is through our thanksgiving that we come together in love in the body of Christ.

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Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the "one thing needed;" Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.
Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.
Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Fasting?

St. Catherine of Sienna-A role model to us all who held fasting in high regard throughout her life.

The church imitates Christ. Fasting in the life and works of Christ represent our first response to the act of unction and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Sadly enough many think that fasting is a physical act of giving up food and a simple change of diet. This of course is important to the concept of sanctifying a fast because if we cant learn to give up our own desires and pleasures how do we expect to imitate Christ if the passions have taken a hold of our nature. If we look to scripture we see that many forms of fasting had taken place and this did not necessarily include giving up food. If we look to the Samaritan woman in the gospel of John we find an individual who came to get water and left with the everlasting water, the water that will never make her thirst again. What was this water? Christ! How did she receive this water? By stripping away her passions through her honesty in answering Christ's questions and allowing Christ to penetrate her life in order to purify her body and was made worthy to behold Christ.

Fasting is a divine act of life which we have received from Christ himself. The first act Christ did following his Baptism was to go into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. The church from the very beginning has always infused its own body, the acts of Christ' life, in order that those acts become life-giving for the life of the world. The church, which is one with Christ, becomes the image of the life of Christ. If the church becomes imitators of Christ then fasting has become a fundamental phase that not only Christ went through but we also must go through to sanctify our bodies. To claim that we live in the body of Christ and to overlook fasting is to misunderstand the person of Christ. If we are to follow Christ in our baptism, death and resurrection we are to also follow with our own fast! We should take note that all actions done in the person of Christ, revolve around Christ and end up in him. This is why He spoke and said "for my sake", "come, follow me", "for my name's sake", "come after me". All these acts, fasting, baptism, enduring persecution and suffering lead to our union in the body of Christ.  

Why then do we fast? Fasting is a test in which the personality defies the self. It is an an exercise in which the self is resisted by man. Fasting then, should be considered an act of love of the highest order, a physical way of entering into the experience of the cross (Good Friday in the Coptic Rite calls for all parishioners to abstain from food). The fasting that Moses and other prophets did was to profit them and mankind. On the other hand, the fasting of Jesus, was not done that He might receive anything, but to make a free offering of Himself in an act of love and to manifest the coming sacrifice of the cross. We fast by offering our bodies as a sacrifice. The outward form is naturally our fatigue, but the true essence is the our intentional acceptance of death, that we may be born again in life in the mystery of Christ. It is then and only then we become, in the sacrifice we make, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming in the image of Christ for the life of the world.

Fasting should not be viewed from the paradigm of changing your diet as we naturally are taught but rather fasting should be viewed from the paradigm of death and life. We die to the world in order that we are given life in the body of Christ. All acts within the church lead to our salvation. All acts the church administers and teaches is meant to bring us in the body of Christ. All the mysteries of the Church point to the paradigm of death and life. If we learn to shed the passions of the body then we become imitators of Christ. Fasting is one of many acts that lead to this realization.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Elder Sophrony on Liturgy


Liturgy is the essence of the Christian life. Liturgy is the starting point in which we Christians begin to live our life for the world. When we tell others to "come and see" that usually entails bringing that individual to a liturgical service. Whether it is vespers or the liturgy the point being made is that the liturgy is our starting point. What it means to be united in the body of Christ begins with the chalice which was offered to us on the cross and glorified through the resurrection. Our joy and hope rests in the resurrection of our Lord. This is why the last offering given by Christ was received through the last supper meal Christ shared with his disciples. The last supper has become a form of unity build on love between human beings. Christ offered himself for the sake of humanity and in doing so bestowed his unconditional love for us through the last supper meal as his last act before the cross. This is how we today share in the body of Christ. The highest point of the liturgy is the Eucharist, the meal of love which binds us in the body of Christ. Elder Sophrony has spoken beautiful words on the liturgy and in doing so let us see how the liturgy penetrates the life of a Christian.
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We Christians live Christ within the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: "Time is a creation of the Lord". Among other things it means now is the time for God to act. Christ liturgizes, we live with Christ. The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us. Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into eternity.

His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great Thursday in the Mystical Supper. The 14th through 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John is one Divine Liturgy. So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture. The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy. In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word.

As Christ cleansed His disciples with his world and said to them: "You are already clean because of the world which I have spoken to you" (John 15.3) and He washed the feet of His disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His table of love. The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us. The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us.

In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humble God. Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany. The Body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church i an icon of the Kingdom of God. After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments. The glory of Christ is to bear fruit in every member His fruit. This explains His word: "Herein is my father glorified that ye bear much fruit" (John 15.8)."

Elder Sophrony of Essex 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Words for our Time-Fr. Matthew the Poor


This past summer a new book was published by Conciliar Press, Words for our Time: The Spiritual Words of Fr. Matthew the Poor. The book is based on reflection given by Fr. Matthew in Arabic to the monks of St. Maracrius Monastery focusing on specific topics such as the Cross and the Resurrection. James Helmy, the translator of these reflections from Arabic to English, along with the editors from Conciliar Press, chose specific topics to translate and publish. The book is divided into four sections, Spirituality, Christian Living, Scripture and Feats and Fasts. Each section has about 4 chapters and deals with many aspects made alive for our present time. Father Matthew had the mind of a 4th century church father present in our modern time. How he was able to relate to the cross, the resurrection and scripture in our times goes without a doubt that he truly lived out every word he spoke. Father Matthew is regarded by many as the greatest Egyptian elder since St. Anthony the Great. Father Matthew had a marvelous ability to communicate the deepest spiritual truths in the simplest and most practical language, making them accessible an actionable to laypeople as well as monastics. He speaks to the heart rather than the head, exhorting the reader to pursue a deeper and meaningful life in Christ. Essentially by reading these talks in the book is to sit at the feet of one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our age. The following are abstracts from the book. I hope everyone reading this can get a copy and to contemplate these beautiful words.

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Beloved, the message of the Gospel is very, simple, and its words can be understood without any sermonizing. Some of the abbas once came and told me, "There are some people waiting for you outside; please go give them them a short sermon." O people, the Gospel doesn't need sermons! It is never my intention to sermonize, and right now I am not giving you a sermon; I am just bequeathing to you the Gospel's message. Can't you all receive the scriptures as simply as I am delivering them to you now? Have I spoken difficult words? Have I taught philosophically? Never! Christ's words are extremely simple and straightforward. He said, "An evil generation seeks after a sign." But how could they ask for a sign when Christ himself was present with them! He is the sign! He gave life to the dead! For whom was the story of Lazarus recorded? For Lazarus himself? For a past generation? It was recorded for us. Lazarus was raised for me! Pages 26-27.

Do we enjoy the presence of Christ? I don't jut mean reading the Bible, but experiencing a direct link with Christ every day. Christ is with me at home, on the road, at work, at my service, at the altar. Brethren, do we receive that mystical life of Christ by daily prayers, by tears, by entreaties, by striking the breast, by constant kneeling, by the Word, by the heavenly bread placed upon the spiritual table? Ah, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us the living water and the Blood to drink, which having drunk, we will not thirst again after sn! "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days come when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" They days are certainly coming when you will say, "You speak about repentance, Abba, but how can I repent? I can't fast because of my sickness I can't kneel because of my rheumatism. My back, knees and bowels are all problematic. Abba, I have ten to twelve diseases!" That is why today I say, remember your Creator. Hold to the Cross, eat and drink spiritual things, before the time comes when your appetite is blunted! At that time you will not be able to eat, even if the food is placed right in front of you. Pages 44-45.

Here is God's World, Old and New Testaments, which I set before you; so you judge for yourselves, and may god judge my words before you. Salvation is not easy. Salvation requires a death. But if we are eventually going to die, why not just do it now by our own will? Let us choose the death that leads to eternal life. This is the real victory. And this is the invitation given to us this evening. Page 56.

I told him, "Those who have gone in the way of love and have experienced that divine mystery are no longer subject to any law. Anything you do, by love, is correct. Whether you spend the whole night in prayer, or prostrations, or singing psalms, it is all good and proper." And why? Because once you have entered into the blaze of divine love, you no longer distinguish between prayer and prostrations, between day and night, between light and dark, between good and bad tidings, between health and sickness. Once love ascends the heart's throne and reigns, life itself becomes a new heaven and a new earth...if love ever breaks down in your life, you will be imitating Abba Isaac's disconnected generator. But if your "generator of love" is working properly, all your struggles and prostrations will be converted into a very powerful and mystical energy that will enlighten wondrously; and you will be capable of doing amazing things, even in complete silence. Once love surpasses the level of mere asceticism and fills the heart, then spiritual wealth, and goodness, and blessings in abundance will follow. Pages 61-62.

Peace is an inner state of the heart and of the mind. But Christian peace is not a mere psychological condition; rather, it's a relationship. Christian peace flows from the believer's relationship with God and with other people. It's impossible for a person to have a good, peaceful relationship with God and not enjoy peace with others. So if our relationship with God or others suffers, our peace will flee from us. Every person who does not feel a full, deep, eternal peace within him will find his relationship with God distorted. There is a hard verse, which I am reluctant to quote, but here it is: "There is no peace for the wicked." Any deformation in our relationship with God, or friends, or family, or colleagues, or even with enemies, causes our peace to flee. That is why Christ focused strongly on man's relationship with his neighbor. Why else did He say, "Love...love...love..." even to the point of loving our enemies? Because He desires peace to sink deep within us; for without this He cannot reign over our hearts. A person cannot be called a "son of the kingdom" if he has not experienced this rest and confidence of heart. Page 88.

Oh, how great is this trial which Christ entered into with Satan and conquered for us! The Church should never desire rule or ownership on earth. Woe to the church that possesses much! Woe to the church that has numerous investments stored away in the national and central banks, only to be eaten away by the moth. Woe to the church whose assets are large while her poor are hungry! Woe to the church which owns many acres and buildings but has no poor eating at her table! But blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily fro her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish. They are preserved for the last day. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gained for us this third victory, and granted us to be poor on the outside; but we are rich with possessions greater than all the stuff of this world." Page 120.

Christ gave us this image and said, "Now I want you to carry your cross." What is our cross? I will explain it simply and briefly. Our cross is to suffer pain, and to sacrifice our lies, and to deny ourselves-for the sake of others. It is not for any advantage to yourself. All the advantages that accrue to you are derived from Christ's Cross. It's by Christ's Cross that you die to the world and the world to you. All your lusts and desires, along with the flesh of the old man, are crucified, not on your cross, but on the Cross of Christ. The cross you carry on your back cannot forgive your sins or crucify you to the world. All such things-salvation, redemption, righteousness, and the death of the old man's desires-are accomplished by Christ's Cross. Then what is my cross? You cannot approach Christ, or be united with Him or take His image, without hearing your cross. "Take up your cross and follow Me" means to be always ready to abandon the self for the sake other others. Page 164.

Thus, my initial remark proves true that Christmas is not about remembrance or a past event or even Gospel history; but it's the beginning of a living relationship with Christ, an impressive and momentous relationship-a relationship that is the basis of our existence or being. Consider this sentence: Christ is born, therefore I exist. If Christ is not born, then wipe out my existence. One of the philosophers once said, "I think, therefore I am". He was one of those who wearied himself through intellectual speculation, but today I speak to you about real ad life-giving things. Page 173.

Therefore, beloved, when we approach to eat the Body of Christ, each of us approaches as an individual; but after having eaten, no longer think of yourself as an individual person! You have become a member in the Body. Once I have partaken of the Eucharist, I am united to Hi; and so no longer am I just "me". All of humanity is collected into a single person in Christ. Mankind itself began with a single person, and it will be completed in a single Person. Otherwise, the dispersing effects of sin and the fall would be permanent. But Christ came to overcome such dispersion and separation; He came to gather the separate into one. Page 192.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Faith, Charity and Other Thoughts


About two weeks ago I received an e-mail from a dear friend (Vanda) titled Faith and Charity. The e-mail exchange was sparked by a passage I read on community. What we often forget is the concept of community and faith within the life of the church. The church is the gathered community in the body of Christ. This gathering can only take place because of our faith in Christ. This shared faith and shared Eucharist is lived in the life of the world. We see many countless examples with Christ. One example that should be familiar with us with the story of the Samaritan woman. Christ, being a Jew, was not supposed to speak with her however, after a conversation not only did she receive the everlasting water but the bread of life was given to her by freeing herself from slavery which was bestowed upon her by the fear that clouded her mind. What was her reaction? She did not keep Christ to herself rather she went to everyone in her community and proclaimed the word of Christ. The community we are apart is not meant to be sheltered only for "us" but shared for the life of the world. Our faith speaks of this when Christ told his disciples to go to all nations and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 28). Faith and community lived out for others is a community made alive in the body of Christ. The following are a few passages I received in the e-mail exchange that reflect on this message. Thank you Vanda for sharing this with me!         

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Taken from Pope Benedict 16th Porta Fidei (Door of Faith):

…faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25.40). These words are a warning that must not be forgotten and a perennial invitation to return the love by which he takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life. Supported by faith, let us look with hope at our commitment in the world, as we await “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3.13; cf. Rev 21.1)…  

…the “door of faith” (Acts 14.27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6.4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17.22). To profess faith in the Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-is to believe in one God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4.8): the Father, who in the fullness of time sent his Son for our salvation; Jesus Christ, who in the mystery of his death and resurrection redeemed the world; the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church across the centuries as we await the Lord’s glorious return…

…we cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5.13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invited us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn4.14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6.51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (Jn 6.28). We know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6.29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation...

…we must not forget that in our cultural context, very many people, while not claiming to have the gift of faith, are nevertheless sincerely searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world. This search is an authentic “preamble” to the faith, because it guides people onto the path that leads to the mystery of God. Human reason, in fact, bears within itself a demand for “what is perennially valid and lasting”. This demand constitutes a permanent summons, indelibly written into the human heart, to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us. To this encounter, faith invited us and it open us in fullness…      

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Great Commission


And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to end end of the age."  Matthew 28.18-20.

The great commission spoken by Christ to conclude the gospel of Matthew speaks of the role the church is meant to live out. The church is first and foremost a mission to all nations. Many countless examples can be given about missions to all of the nations. The greatest example is the Apostle Paul travelling throughout the Roman Empire and preaching the good news to all nations. Another example that is closer to home is St. Innocent and St. Herman of Alaska who came from Russia carrying the good news to the natives of Alaska. The Great Commission is the expression of love in the body of Christ beginning in the chalice and being preached to all nations. However, the paradigm has been shifted with the immigration of different ethnic groups moving to America and Canada. We must critically evaluate the great commission that has been brought with the immigration of these different ethnic groups to the west. Is the church still living the words of Christ spoken to conclude the gospel of Matthew? If you were to walk into a Greek, Russian, Serbian, Egyptian, Syrian, Italian, or any church does the church represent the nation it is present in? Can we critically and truly say that all nations are represented within the church today? Or are we caught in our "ethnic ghettos" that when we see an individual that is not "of the same ethnic background" we begin to gossip and whisper in each other ears judging the individual forgetting first and foremost we are all sinners? Sadly, many times we think that the church is the source of salvation for only "me" and no one else deserves this salvation OR if they want to practice they must practice "under our own terms". Professor Schneider said a profound statement that is relateable to these questions we are considering...

"Orthodoxy has to tell the world what the world needs and what that need truly is...this is missiology, this is mission outreach, missiology doesn't say come to the Orthodox Church because we're the true Church or because we have the true Tradition and only with us will you find salvation...missiology says I can help you understand yourself in ways you never imagine...and what is what we mean when we sing 'God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us'".
Professor Richard Schneider

The great commission is build on love for the human being! What it means to become a human within the church and to mission to the world is not about throwing a Bible to someone expecting him or her to come to the faith but rather it is how we relate to each other. Christ did not come and speak to tax collectors and prostitutes but he eat with them and sat down with them to serve them! If we are called to emulate Christ in our actions because Christ has become our example of what it means to be God then we to are called not only to speak to the homeless and hungry but to sit with them and bring them into the church and give them the bread that gives life to all. The mission of the church is not to baptize the "rich" but also the poor. The church is the mission to all nations not seeing color or race but seeing Christ in all. The church is the place were we, being given life in death, become poor in order to speak to the poor, become hungry to speak to the hungry, become rich to speak to the rich, become Christ in order for others to see Christ in us. Bishop Anastasios wrote on this exact idea when he said:

The saints of the church did not simple speak for the poor, but, above all, shared their life. They voluntarily became poor out of love for Christ, in order to identify with Him, who made Himself poor."
Bishop Anastasios of Albania, Mission in the way of Christ, 11.

St. Paul echoes the same message when he said that he became a Jew in order to speak to the Jews, he became a gentile to speak to the gentiles. How does this translate today? The great commission in focused around the society and world that we live in. Many speak of the society and world as being a "evil and bad place". However, how can this be if God created everything and it was good? We must be engaged in the world and society in order to see Christ in all. In order to live out the great commission for the life of the world we must become Americans and Canadians to all in order for all to see Christ in us. We must emancipate ourselves from the cultural ghettos we can created for ourselves in order to live out the great commission. St. Paul deals with this same issue when he found out that Jews and Gentiles were sitting at different tables at the table fellowship. He was outraged, and rightly so, because the body of Christ had been fragmented by this action. This is no different today with our actions! We have fragmented the body by creating specific "mission" churches and designating other churches for specific ethnic groups. We have fragmented the body of Christ by celebrating multiple liturgies and designating them as "a youth liturgy" the "adult liturgy" the "English liturgy" and by dividing up the community in this fashion we have divided the body of Christ. The great commission, the calling to live out the body of Christ can only produce fruit in the unity of the church. The church has never known division and it will never see division. Division of the church is a man made concept that has distorted the great commission. The Ecumenical councils was meant to unite the church but it has divided the church. The great commission lies in the person of Christ as the community comes together from all nations sharing in the one body.  

In the epistle of Barnabas, a second century writing, in the sixth chapter he writes "a human being is earth that suffers". This profound statement speaks volumes to the calling to mission to all nations. What it means to mission to all nations rests in how we see each other as human beings. If we continue to box people in as "doctors" and "priests" and the list can go on we lose the true value of the human being. The human being is the creature made in the image and likeness of God. When we mission to the nations we do not see race ethnicity or culture but rather we see Christ who is in all. We need to learn to drop our "ethnic walls" we have created for ourselves because of the fear that grips our hearts! Let us become the church of Christ that missions to the nation and not the church that we keep to ourselves!   

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Always Praying


I received an e-mail a few days ago with an attached document entitled "Always Praying". I found the document made an excellent point about our relationship with scripture and what it means to be in consistent prayer. The document was translated by Dr. George Bebawi! Dr. George is a good friend and my teacher! To a man who I look up to and have learned by sitting at his feet I hope we can all learn and become enriched from what he has to say. Dr. George is a well known Patristic scholar and has taught countless courses on Islam at Cambridge University and other Institutions throughout the world. Thank you very much for this document Dr. George and I hope we can all absorb this and make it applicable for all.

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Our true freedom comes from a free vision of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord, who united our humanity with his divinity without separation. The implications of this are that Jesus came to liberate us from the need for any other mediator between us and God. He came to us out of love. Insights into that freedom in this vision reveal that of the One and Only Mediator is Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not come to subject the soul to any another form of slavery. For slavery to sin was enough. True humility of children of God is the love that moves according to Christ’s purposes.

His purpose is to unite us all in Himself and in Him to God the Father by the Holy Spirit.

The freedom of is rooted in our commitment to the fellowship of Jesus. This fellowship puts Jesus our Lord first, before even necessary things such as eating and sleeping. This is the desire of children of God, not of slaves. This desire directs us freely in the Sprit and is not a “law” for slaves. If it ever becomes a form of slavery, love is absent. If it becomes a form of self-protection, maturity in Christ is lacking.

In love’s freedom we can make more progress than when we are subject to “the law.”  The rules to live by which we choose must be according to the apostolic teaching on love (1 Cor 13:1ff). This apostolic teaching frees us from ourselves and allows love to be the royal road of love. On it we do not retreat to the way of sin where slavery is obvious to us as we see we love our life more than God.

Here are some guidelines for walking on this royal road:

The freedom of love is rooted in the Incarnation of the Son of God, anchored on the cross, where we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20).

Putting Jesus first does not negate our love and care for our fellow humans for they all are his brothers and sisters and if loved as we love the Lord, our freedom from lusts allows us to serve them all as we serve our Lord. (See 1 John 1:4)

For this reason the saints of old who completed their course without going astray, governed themselves by love with Jesus as the king who enthroned in their hearts and coming before any person or element in their lives. Because of his Incarnation and his death, we can live by that crucified love where “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law” (Rom 3:21).

Children of God live by love but slaves live by fear. Fear seeks to please God but ignores the fact that God loves the unworthy. Fear creates obligations and ties a person to what he created as a law. The root of freedom is the union of the divine and human in the Son of God which was not according to any Law.

The Christian keeps watch over his heart and, sensing any deviation from the life-giving commandments, hastens to repent.

Help those who want to have fellowship with the Lord in the busy world:

Watch and see the sings that remind us to pray.

When it is hot, pray for the fire of the Holy Spirit and let this outside heat be your constant reminder of it.

When it is cold, pray for more unity with the Lord and let the cold remind you of how sin can bring coldness of heart and put out the fire of love.

When it rains, pray for the free grace which is given to all of us and pray for those who have not the grace of God in their life.

At midday remember our Lord was crucified at midday.  Do not let go of this moment in which we were reconciled to God. It is time to forgive all sins and injuries that we have sustained.

When you see the clouds, pray for the Shekinah glory of God to protect you from evil.  Pray also that this Shekinah covers the church.

At evening, remember your own death and give an account of what has happened during the day.  Give thanks for what you have done and pray for the people whom you have seen and pray for a peaceful time for your sleep.

Let the trees remind you of your growth (Ps 1:3) and the roads remind you of Jesus who is your Way, who is building our eternal dwelling with the Holy Trinity.

When you enter your home, remember your eternal dwelling in God and be grateful you are secured by God’s justifying grace which cannot be compared with your doors and walls.

If you have your hope in the life to come and in the resurrection and the eternal life, pray that your bed be your grave and your covers be your shroud.  Say with the Lord, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and sleep.

Do not let this become a ritual. 

When you sit to pray, remember you are sitting at the Right-hand of God the Father in Jesus Christ.

When you stand to pray, remember you are in the position of the resurrection of Christ our Lord.

When you kneel to pray, say the same words of our Lord in the garden and surrender daily to regain your peace, the gift of God to us.

Enjoy sleeping as someone who is waiting to be raised by the Lord.

When getting dressed, put off the old life and put on the new one (1 Corinthians 5:15).

Give thanks for everything you eat and drink, for this is not, in essence, separated from the Holy Eucharist. If Christ is the food and the nourishment of your life, then every meal is a chance to pray to receive Hi and to be nourished by Him.

May your walking be always a renewal to commit your life to the Way of the One who is our only Mediator.

Translated from the 5th dialogue by George Bebawi
Edited by Ellie Hashman 

Carmel, INDY 2009 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Woe to the Church


"Oh, how great is this trial which Christ entered into with Satan and conquered for us! The Church should never desire rule or ownership on earth. Woe to the church that possesses much! Woe to the church that has numerous investments stored away in the national and central banks, only to be eaten away by the moth. Woe to the church whose assets are large while her poor are hungry! Woe to the church which owns many ares and buildings but has no poor eating at her table! But blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily from her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish. They are preserved for the last day. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gained for us this third victory, and granted us to be poor on the outside; but we are rich with possessions greater than all the stuff of this world".

Father Matthew the Poor, Words for our Time, page 120 (chapter entitled: The Temptation of our Lord).

The church is a place that stands outside of time gathering together the elect in the body of Christ. In the wisdom of Father Alexander Schmemann he spoke "Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion". Religion as we know it had ceased to exist with the incarnation of Christ. Christ has become for us the example of what it means to become gods. Christ is our example and mediator of what it means to live a life in Christ (cf. 1 Tim 2.5-6). If Christ, having become our mediator, has given up his life for the world than we to must give up our lives for the world. Entering the church, receiving the Eucharist and the life we live within the church is a sacrifice, a death on its own in the body of Christ. However, this death has become for us life. We enter the baptismal font dying in our corrupt nature and being born new in the body of Christ. This great paradox was first witnessed by Christ whom having died on the cross received new life when he had risen from the dead. We then live in the joy of the resurrection because it is in the resurrected Lord that we have hope in the life to come.

I began this blog entry by offering a quote on the church from Father's Matthew's new book. Its bold, scary yet edifying. Father Matthew was a man who spoke greatly about the preservation of the church. Sadly, what we seeing happening today, and I witness this a whole lot, the church has become a place of comfort or a social club to be more direct. The body of Christ is broken and shattered with the notion of multiple liturgies which splits up the community at large. We forget the true purpose of what it means to part of a church community. It brings me great grief during the liturgy when we offer the kiss of peace, the congregation giving the kiss of peace to each other does not even know who they are offering it to. How can we offer the kiss of peace (done out of love for the person standing next to us) if we do not know the person standing next to us. At this point the church ceases to be a church and has become nothing more than an institution or as Fr. Alexander puts it a "religion". The church then begins to cater to the people of the community and completely neglects the poor. "Woe to the church which owns many ares and buildings but has no poor eating at her table!" The church from its very establishment was meant to be a mission. The church was the mission for the life of the world. Spreading the words of the gospel to all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Can we say this is reflective of our community? Can we walk into a church today and see those great nations in our churches or do we just see one specific ethnic group whom the church caters to and forgets that aspect of mission. Do not take my words for it. I challenge all to walk into any church and see what the make up of the church is. These walls that we have created for ourselves need to be broken down in order to bring all in Christ. If Christ is not present then the church is not united in the body of Christ. How can the church continue being a mission if Christ is not present? However, Father Matthew and Father Alexander do not stop at criticizing the church for this reason but instead continue on by offering the solution to his dilemma. The solution is and always has been Christ!

What did Father Alexander mean when he said Christ has brought us new life and not a religion? Father Alexander shows us that in order to be a Christian is not shown in how you speak or write but rather in how you live. A true Christian is the one who lives in the world and is engaged by it. This is why prayer, liturgy and everything that the church teaches us is meant to become a sacrifice for the life of the world. Prayer is not an isolated concept only done in church or at the comfort at your home but rather prayer becomes a lived aspect within your entire life. If prayer is lived out in the world then the true Christian will be able to engage the world and people will see Christ in him or her. By seeing Christ in others we are then able to appreciate the beauty and goodness in others. Instead of always focusing on the negative we are able to see the good in everyone because all creation is good given to us by God for God is good. This is what it means to bring the life of the church into the world. By constantly living out the words of Christ Christianity ceases to become a religion and another institution but it becomes the life for the world. If the church is able to bring Christ to the world then it will truly have the poor eating at its tables. It will truly have servants dedicated and wanting to serve. If Christ is the starting point, if the body and blood of Christ is the starting point this life can be achieved in the world. However, if we continue to show the world that Christianity is a religion of do's and dont's then we will continue to lose our youth to Atheism and other religions which can present themselves better than Christianity. However, if we show the world the bread of life then this is when the world will truly see Christ as the offering for the life of the world.

I will conclude with a story. A friend of mine at the seminary was talking to me about Christianity in America. Knowing my background as a Copt he boldly told me that all of American would be Christian Orthodox if only the church broke down all its cultural barriers that keep Americans away from the church. To my surprise I looked at him dead in the eyes saying I agree. We need to continue to strive to bring Christ to the world in order that people can see that the true bread of life lies within the church and not within the materialistic world. The church needs to stop being a social club and start opening its doors to all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is only then when all of the world will become Christian. However, the more we cater to those who are comfortable , have the faith and continue building big churches the more these big churches will just lose its members to the world that offers only instant gratification and not Christ.    

"...blessed is the church which is satisfied with Christ the Word, and gives daily from her riches, that the people might claim ownership with her in heaven-possessions which cannot be buried, pass away, or perish. They are preserved for the last day. Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who gained for us this third victory, and granted us to be poor on the outside; but we are rich with possessions greater than all the stuff of this world".

As a final remark I recommend this new book by Father Matthew the Poor. Essentially it is his teachings he gave in Arabic translates by James Helmy. An excellent read and aimed at a wide audience. Father Matthew had a gift that was able to touch the hearts of many and will always be remembered as the greatest church father of the 20th century. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Speech - Science wins?

A close friend of mine (Vanda) had sent me the other day this speech. I found it quite enlightening and relating to our modern times. Give it a read and leave your comments. Also I have attached a link at the bottom to a talk given by Fr. John Behr. The theme is death and I thought it relates quite well to the theme of this particular speech.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge"

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With the world watching he began to speak...

To those of science, let me say this. You have won the war.

The wheels have been in motion for a long time. Your victory has been inevitable. Never before has it been as obvious as it is this moment. Science is the new God.

Medicine, electronic communications, space travel, genetic manipulation...these are the miracles about which we now tell our children. These are the miracles we herald as proof that science ill bring us the answers. The ancient stories of immaculate conceptions, burning bushes, and parting seas are no longer relevant. God has become obsolete. Science has won the battle. We concede.

But science's victory has cost every one of us. And it has cost us deeply. Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease and drudgery and provided an array of gadgetry for our entertainment and convenience, but is has left us in a world without wonder. Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies. The complexities of the universe have been shredded into mathematical equations. Even our self-worth as human beings has been destroyed. Science proclaims that Planet Earth and its inhabitants are a meaningless speck in the grand scheme. A cosmic accident. Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone. We are bombarded with violence, division, fracture, and betrayal. Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it nay wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? Does science hold anything sacred? Science looks for answers by probing our unborn fetuses. Science even presumes to rearrange our own DNA. It shatters God's world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning...and all it finds is more questions.

The ancient war between science and religion is now over. you have won. But you have not won fairly. you have not won by providing answers. you have won by so radically reorienting our society that the truths we once saw as signposts now seem inapplicable. Religion cannot keep up. Scientific growth is exponential. It feeds on itself like a virus. Every new breakthrough opens doors for new breakthroughs. Mankind took thousands of years to progress fro the wheel to the car. Yet only decades from the car into space. Now we measure scientific progress in weeks. We are spinning out of control. The rift between us grows deeper and deeper, and as religion is left behind, people find themselves in a spiritual void. We cry out for meaning. And believe me, we do cry out. We see UFOs, engage in channeling, spirit contact, out-of-body experience, mindquests-all these eccentric ideas have a specific veneer, but they are unashamedly irrational. They are the desperate cry of the modern soul, lonely and tormented, crippled by its own enlightenment and its inability to accept meaning in anything removed from technology.

Science, you say, will save us. Science I say, has destroyed us. Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention. Even so, the temptations are too great for man to resist. I warn you, look around yourselves. The promises of science have not been kept. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos. We are a fractured and frantic species...moving on a path of destruction.

Who is this God science? Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power? What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers? The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad. Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or bad idea.          

To science, I say this. The church is tired. We are exhausted from trying to be your sign posts. Our resources are drying up from our campaign to be the voice of balance as you plow blindly on in your quest for smaller chips and larger profits. We ask not why you will not govern yourselves, but how can you? Your world moves so fast that if you stop even for an instant to consider the implications of your actions, someone more efficient will whip past you in a blur. So you move on. You proliferate weapons of mass destruction, but it is the Pope who travels the world beseeching leaders to use restraint. You clone living creatures, but it is the church reminding us to consider the moral implications of our actions. You encourage people to interact on phones, video screens, and computers, but it is the church who opens its doors and reminds us to commune in person as we were meant to do. You even murder unborn babies in the name of research that will save lives. Again, it is the church who points out the fallacy of this reasoning.

And all the while, you proclaim the church is ignorant. But who is more ignorant? The man who cannot define lighting, or the man who does respect its awesome power? This church is reaching out to you. Reaching out to everyone. And yet the more we reach, the more you push us away. Show me proof there is a God, you say. I say use your telescopes to look to the heavens, and tell me how there could not be a God! You ask what does God look like. I say, where does that question come from? The answers are one and the same. Do you not see God in our science? How can you miss Him! You proclaim that even the slightest change in the force of gravity or the weight of an atom would have rendered our universe a lifeless mist rather than out magnificent sea of heavenly bodies, and yet you fail to see God's hand in this? It is really so much easier to believe that we simply chose the right card from a deck of billions? Have we become so spiritually bankrupt that we would rather believe in mathematical impossibility than in a power greater than us?    

Whether or not you believe in God, you must believe this. When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faith...all faiths...are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable...with faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. If the outside world could see this church as I do...looking beyond the ritual of these walls...they would see a modern miracle...a brotherhood of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control.

Are we obsolete? Are these men dinosaurs? Am I? Does the world really need a voice for the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the unborn child? Do we really need souls like these who, though imperfect, spend their lives imploring each of us to read the signposts of morality and not lose our way?

Tonight we are perched on a precipice. None of us can afford to be apathetic. Whether you see this evil as Satan, corruption, or immorality, the dark force is alive and growing every day. Do not ignore it. The force, though mighty, is not invincible. Goodness can prevail. Listen to your hearts. Listen to God. Together we can step back from this abyss.

Pray with me...


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Liturgical Experience


Last week I was speaking to my father about the progression of the church from the 1st century to the modern times. We concluded that the beauty of the church is not about how "it has stayed the same", which it has, but rather the progression of the faith throughout the century has made the church what is it today. Many complain that the church is out of date and that 3 hour liturgies need to be dropped. I would challenge such an idea and ask the question since when did 3 hour liturgies ever remain the same? In the early church celebrating the Eucharist probably took less than an hour however, the fellowship spent at the church house probably lasted the whole day. Liturgy should then not be viewed as an "3 hour service" but liturgy should be taken in as the service of love. Liturgy lived for the life of the world is the liturgy that people can see Christ in us. By seeing Christ and seeing the love we live by then Christ becomes the ever present reality for the life of the world. Liturgy by definition is the ever lasting work of the people. It is not about a priest doing a few funny things in front of the holy of holies but it is the work of the people coming together in the body of Christ to fulfilled the commandment of Christ. To go out to the rest of the world and to preach the word of Christ baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the priest always recites "Your own of your own we offer unto you, on behalf of all and for all". The work of the people is the liturgy that is lived for the life of the world. The following is a nice passage I came across from a book I was reading that relates the message of the progression of the liturgy. Enjoy. 

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Liturgical Experience
'During divine service be trustful, as a child trusts his parents. [...] Cast all your care upon the Lord [...]; "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in the same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father, which speaketh in you." Long ago has the Lord freed us from this care, having by His Spirit taught the Church what to say, how to pray, at divine service." Such an attitude to the worship of our Church does not stem from conservatism.

Nor were the Church's hymnographers inspired by the principle of newness. New elements do not come into Orthodox worship from any feeling that past forms are stale, but for positive reasons:
  • 1) Teaching - for example when heresy threatened, or a Feast was instituted to focus more specifically on an event such as Christ's birth.
  • 2) New events, such as a saint's canonisation or a miraculous deliverance.
  • 3) An aspect of life is made the subject of common prayers - for instance, the environment, or a child's beginning school.
  • 4) Local celebrations and adaptations are more widely adopted.
  • 5) God inspired the composition and its insertion without any previous pastoral decision giving rise to it.

Orthodox teenagers were speaking disparagingly about forms of worship they had experienced at an ecumenical service.
Girl: 'They even had guitars in church.'
Another girl: 'We had to sing - and mime! - a "harvest" thanksgiving chorus about MacDonald's hamburgers!' [I was treated to a rendition.] 
S.M.: 'I'd feel an idiot singing that in a church! But be careful to get your reasons for being so scathing right! At least they were thanking God, singing about Christ. That's quite something nowadays. You can glorify God by a guitar. Or just enjoy it anyway, there's no sin in that. The really important point is not that it was laughably corny, but that it is a mistake to keep adapting the Liturgy, to replace inspired services. It is not wrong in itself to add another means of worshipping for other moments.'
Girl: 'The girls at school don't want it; the teachers make it up to try and be up to date.' 
S.M.: 'Yes, to "keep the young people in Church". C.S. Lewis says, "If something is not eternal, it is eternally out of date." Look at the rock charts. By the time you compose a service based on this week's style and get it approved by a liturgical committee  you'll be ages behind the fashion and have to start again. And there's no guarantee you're inspiring truth about God. It is not a service tested by centuries of praying saints. I'd rather struggle to pray like St. John Chrysostom myself. It's more sure. And it will take me a lifetime to get all I can out of it. The things that don't matter so much can change week by week.'
The saints who expressed reservations about elaborated hymnography in comparison with monologistic prayer (monologistic means concentrated in a short phrase; the Jesus prayer is the most widely practised of this type) were not rebels. Some ascetics live at such a depth of prayer that they have less need of liturgical richness. For the rest of humanity, the forms of our public services take people in a positive direction, freeing their minds from heterogeneous preoccupations. Common worship is also valuable as means of uniting with others in prayer. Athonite monks are taught that even thought prayer in the cell can go deeper than prayer in the church, monks who conclude that it is therefore better to skip the services will not gain grace in their cells.

+ Sister Magdalen of Essex, "Conversations with Children: Communicating our Faith," (Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2004) 194-6. ISBN 1 874679 21 5

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Believe in God but I don't go to Church


I cam across this blog entry: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2013/07/i-believe-in-god-but-i-dont-go-to-church.html and I thought this would be excellent to re-blog here because it deals exactly with a lot of issues that many priests and clerics deal with on a daily basis. Archimandrite Paul Papadopoulos get's to the heart of the issue which is focused on egoism. Egoism fuels the drive to be above scripture, to be above the church and everything that it stands for. Of course being united to Christ is not the work of the individual but the work of the community.

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I believe in God but I don't go to church."

We often hear the above phrase from acquaintances, friends and relatives, so our discussion will focus a little more on spiritual matters.

The basic argument of people who say that they believe in God yet do not go to church to participate in the Mysteries of our Orthodox Church, is that they are bothered by certain things, such as the luxuriousness of churches, obnoxious priests and chanters, the language is ancient (they don't understand it), the microphones, the lights, the candle offering (where they give money for a candle), the time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, etc.

The excuses are certainly a lot when someone DOES NOT WANT to live according to how the Church says. Unfortunately these people consider themselves outside the Church since they do not accept the basic components of the life in Christ, which is the participation of a Christian in the Mysteries of the Church. These people are not Christians, at least not Orthodox, because while they (supposedly) believe, they do not follow any word of Christ.

The issue of course is that most baptized Christians do not know who Christ is or what the Church is, and what Christ and the Church offer to people. Thus they do not attend church, because essentially they do not know what they are missing, and they do not know what the sacramental life can offer.

The Church, with all Her Mysteries, transforms us, sanctifies us, and brings us into communion with God. Our participation in the Mysteries of the Church is the key to this personal resurrection of ours.

The Church does not exist merely to take the position of medicine and exhaust all its capabilities, as some wrongly treat it. The Church exists to lead people, the faithful, to the Love, the Light and the Life in Christ through the Mysteries.

To say you believe in God is easy, but to believe in God in an Orthodox manner and to do corresponding works is difficult, though not impossible.

If a person really wants to know Christ, they can do this through the sacramental life offered by the Church. If you want to fool yourself you can claim to achieve this on your own. However, I do not know anyone that has been sanctified outside the Church. (The crazy thing is that some people consider as saints people like Elder Paisios, Elder Porphyrios, etc., yet they do not accept their lives.)

All this happens for just one reason: Egoism. When each person believes themselves to be a better interpreter of the Scriptures, and they believe the God-bearing Fathers of the Church are beneath them, and they believe they are smarter, more worthy and holier than the old "religionists" as they call them, and when they believe they have no need to repent of any of their sins (!), and they could be saved by themselves (whatever that means to them), then this text will probably not trouble them at all, rather it has been a long time since they fell into the abyss of self-love and delusion.

The biggest obstacle that prevents contemporary man from reaching communion with God is precisely this: they are trying to know Him the wrong way, using the wrong means, outside the Church. They dismiss the mystery of love and remain willfully grounded in a sterile faith which in a best case scenario simply means "acknowledging the existence of God" and not trusting and surrendering to Divine Providence.