Thursday, December 25, 2014

One Christ! One Catholic Church

The grave of Father Matthew the Poor just outside the monastery of St. Macarius

On this Christmas day I would like to share this chapter from the Communion of Love by Father Matthew the Poor. In this second last chapter of the book he offers some insight about what the one Church of Christ should look like. On this Christmas day let us continue to pray for the unity of the church. Through the incarnation of Christ let us remember that we are all made whole in the body of Christ which unites and does not divide.

In an age like ours, tinged as it is with sectarianism, we are apt to think that the words We believe in one catholic Church refer to a oneness that applies to the sect or dogma to which a given Christian belongs, whether it be Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. It follows that catholicity is taken as necessarily denoting sectarian unity. An Orthodox believer insists that the oneness of the Church simply lies in its Orthodoxy, catholicity implying only those who are the Orthodox in the world. Such also might be the claim of a Catholic as well as a Protestant. Thus the theological concept of the nature of the Church takes shape for each and every Christian as though its unity were confined to the limits of dogma, and also bounds its catholicity, the latter being presumably a local aspect of the Church.

In such a narrow-minded concept which fanatically adheres to modes of thinking and to parochial perspectives, what is lost is the reality of the infinite nature of the Church, which transcends the physical earth as well as thought. But the Church is much greater than man! It is even greater than heaven and earth, for man has never filled the Church, nor will he ever be able to do so even if the whole world with all its beliefs and structures were saved (both prospectively and retrospectively speaking). For Christ is the only One who can fill the Church. In Him there abides the entire fullness that can fill all in all, fill man and his mind, fill time and space. The universe with its earth and celestial heavens can by no means contain the Church, yet it is the Church that contains man’s heaven and his earth. The Church is the new creation, a new heaven, a new earth, and a new man. In the nature of the new creation, old earth and old heaven are swallowed up, as if they no longer existed, though they actually do. Death is likewise swallowed up into life so that it no longer rules, and the corruptible into the incorruptible as well. All becomes new, alive, everlasting, and pure. Newness, in this respect, pertains to the unalterable eternal Whole; oldness is that which inevitably passes away bit by bit because of its essentially mutable nature.

Hence, the Church, with regard to its catholic nature is greater than man, his concepts, his structures, and his dogmas, greater even than the universe with its immense heavens, or the vast earth with all its decadence, or temporal events from beginning to end.

The Church is the new Whole. It is from the nature of Christ—out of which has been formed the Church—that this wholeness is derived, which includes all that pertains to man and to God through the incarnation.

The Church then is whole, in other words catholic, as it gathers in its own body of Christ, which fills it, all that belongs to man as well as to God together into one single entity which is both visible and invisible, both finite and infinite, an existence within the sphere of time and place, but at the same time eternal and metaphysical.

The word catholic comes from the Greek kath (in accordance with) and olos (whole). Simply stated, it means "wholeness.” The "wholeness” meant here is that which trancsends the totality of finite existence. It is an unalterable, infinite, unbreakable, inumerable whole; it is ONE, a fixed Whole analogous to the concept of Christ’s nature which is indivisible, unconfused, and unchangeable.

Such is the Church, which follows Christ in all His aspects. For as Christ is unique in His person, inclusive in His nature, simultaneously whole in His temporal and eternal, His local and universal existence, so is the Church also single and catholic. It follows then that whoever is within the Church is necessarily one and should inevitably be one because of the catholicity of the Church; in other words the Church has the divine capacity attained through Christ to make every single person one with God. Whoever is in Christ is from God and is one with God.

The means the Church uses to practice its catholicity are the sacraments, for through the sacraments all the faithful are brought together into union with the mystical body of Christ, thus becoming one body and one spirit; they have access to the nature of the one catholic Church, the body of Christ in the Church being the secret of its catholicty, His person the secret of its oneness.

If the faithful do not achieve a state of single-heartedness and single-mindedness, effected by partaking of the one body and then a state of one love effected by the person of Christ who reigns over all, the sacraments become no more than merely a formal existence, leading to intellectual and dogmatic discord. Sacramental or dogmatic formality is incompatible with the reality of the one comprising body, that which gives life to those who eat of it, and become one in it. In the Church the body of Christ is a source of life and unification; it is both alive and life-giving, and is also capable of abolishing all sorts of barriers created by time and place, as well as by human intellect and instincts, whether it be social barriers ("Neither slave nor freeman in Christ”) or racial and cultural barriers ("neither Jew nor Greek, neither barbarian nor Scythian”) or sexual barriers ("neither man nor woman” [Ga. 3:28]). The mystical body of Christ in the Church is that source of power which makes it capable of gathering all within its own unique catholic nature.

The Church is the new creation; whereas Adam had been the head of the old human creation and the only one from whom all races, peoples, elements, and classes of mankind had sprung, so Christ has become the second Adam and head of the new human creation and the only one from whom the new man has sprung as one chosen race (race here being the divine Christian one) as one justified people (the people here being those who are gathered together by the righteousness of Christ and not by that of its own), and as one holy nation (the only mother here being holy baptism and not a woman’s womb). The great secret behind the power of Christ in unifying races and peoples and in abolishing all barriers among all people on earth (ecclesiastical catholicity) lies in His being an incarnate God, the Son of God and the Son of Man simultaneously. The divinity of Christ has caused His humanity to surpass all raciality, nationality, and partiality, even sin and death. Christ’s sonship, with respect to God, has enabled Him to gather mankind into a single filiation to God. Hence, whoever partakes of the flesh of Christ has all sorts of barriers dissolved in him together with sin and death. He is thus made one with every man, a new man, newly and purely created in a manner analogous to the image of Christ, a son of God within the unique filiation of Christ. In the Church the catholic nature has become dependent on the divine flesh of Christ as implying a power to gather mankind and unify him within a single sonship to God.

Catholicity in the Church is that of Christ; it is the making effective of the nature of Christ which is capable of bringing together simultaneously man with man and man with God. In other words the Church, by nature of its catholicity, is against all sorts of discrimination, division, isolation, and even all that causes division, whatever its source may be, whether within man or outside of him. Christ not only gathers the dispersed colors and races into one mind and one faith, but also gathers them into one flesh in the full sense of the word that implies intimacy, understanding, and love. The Church is His mystical body, with its baptism and its eucharist, the meeting point of all humankind and the only meeting point for all peoples, nations, races, tongues, and colors which dissolves all barriers and disagreements. Thus all becomes one, great, pure body, one spirit intimate and loving, one reconciled man whose head is Christ, to whom pertains all that belongs to races, peoples, colors, and tongues concerning privileges and talents, but void of any division, dispute, or discrimination—which is exactly what is meant by the "catholicity” of the Church.

The reason is plain and simple why the Church has not yet achieved its catholicity, or rather why it does not live by its catholic nature which ought to be the essence of its life in Christ, the proof of its power, the secret of its wholeness or divine integrity. It has not yet conceived its divine concepts as pure and elevated above logic or human reason; i.e. its concepts are still bound to articulate and philosophical interpretations which hinder the vision of the serenity of the catholic nature of Christ which has the exquisite power of total reconciliation and the unification of sundry dispositions in such a manner that surpasses the capability of any nature in itself, and not only ideas, principles, and dogmas, being thus founded upon the forgiveness, purification, justification, and even the sanctification of every person by the blood of Christ which is capable of redeeming the sins of the whole world. It is as if the Church has not yet discovered the depths of power inherent in the blood of Christ and the working potentiality of His flesh and the depth of His love and righteousness.

It is quite obvious that all of the theological terms—as far as defects are concerned—are in themselves without blemish. The defects have occurred in their interpretation and in their comprehension; man, here, has approached the divine— i.e. the simple and serene nature of God—with Adam’s mind and thought, but not with those of Christ. Disagreement here is an inevitable and necessary obligation of the schismatic nature of Adam. The schism manifested in comprehending and perceiving Christ does not lie in Christ’s nature, nor does it belong to His catholic nature, but occurred as a result of the schism essentially inherent in man’s nature, a nature which has been obliterated by sin and has become full of hatred, suspicion, misunderstanding, vanity, and disunity. The fault in the Church’s schism lies not in the nature of the Church, but in the nature of man’s ability to conceive and grasp the nature of Christ and the Church.

Therefore, we can see that any schism in the concept of the nature of Christ and the Church signals that we have mundanely approached the divine through a fallen mind, that is to say, through an undivine approach. Every schism that has taken place within the Church implies that man has started to deal with ecclesiastical matters through an ethnocentric and racialist mind (which disperses), not in an ecclesiastical or catholic way (which unites).

It is only for the new man that Christ will remain unbreakable, indisputable, and without variation; only for the man who possesses the mind of Christ will the Church remain one, unique, and catholic to all people, orthodox in every thought, and void of any sectarianism of division—only for the new man who has accepted the nature of Christ deep in his heart. It is only when people renounce their own will that the sole will of Christ appears, and when they deny their passions and hatred, curb their bodies and minds to the work of the Holy Spirit. Only then will the mystical flesh of Christ be manifested and exert its action in the Church toward the gathering of hearts, principles, and ideas. When people earnestly surrender their lives to Christ, only then will the life of Christ be manifested in the Church, and then will His Spirit be poured out over it. When every soul within the Church spiritually, faithfully, and earnestly yields through fervent repentance to God, and when every Church yields as such, then will the Church be one through the grace of God, then will Churches be one through the power of the Holy Spirit, where Christ becomes one shepherd to the one flock He rules Himself with His Spirit, thus becoming the source of its catholicity and its unity.

Is not the Church a manifestation of Christ’s incarnation on earth and His continuity throughout time? In it the faithful form the new human nature, glorified in the person of Christ, through whom it is adopted by God. How is Christ to be manifested in the Church, except through the oneness of thought, will, desire, and sense common among the children of the only God who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but through human and spiritual unity (cf. Jn. 1:13).

How is it going to be proved to the world that God is one, except through the oneness of those born from Him?

And how is the world to verify that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son except through the oneness of the sonship of those who believe in Him, who are born of God through His death on their behalf and through His resurrection along with them, who are now united with His flesh, His blood, and His Spirit? In other words they have all become members in one body.

Is it not obvious that the catholicity of the Church and its oneness are but the totality of theology, the proof of Christ’s existence and action, the actualization of man’s new birth which he obtained from heaven by water and the Holy Spirit?

The lack of integrity with respect to the catholicity and unity of the Church, until now, among the Churches of the world does demand of us—not reconsidering our theology, for our theology is true and faithful—to reconsider ourselves in view of our correct theology so that we might correct our vision of God the only Father of all humankind and correct our view of Christ as the only Savior and the only Redeemer of all who call on His name, through whom is indiscriminately adopted the whole of humanity by God, thus correcting our love toward man—every person—as being inevitably a brother to us, even if he stood against us in hostility and set forth for us snares of death.

Yet it should be borne in mind that what urges us to attain such ecclesiastical catholicity and unity is not merely theological zeal or idealism or even remorse; it should be out of our own faith, our own love, that is to say out of the newness of our new birth which is from heaven and which can by no means be made effectual to us. We cannot abide in it apart from the catholicity of the Church and its unity.

The new man can never live separate from others or as a broken part or with hatred or hostility against others. The new man must be whole and one, for it is out of one catholic nature and one Father that he emerges. The one new nature with which every man in the Church is born is that which makes one of the whole through grace and spirit. Love here imposes its divine and catholic authority. Into the image of Christ the only begotten Son are baptized all those born to the Father by the only paternity.

The Church thus is catholic because it is the body of the Son (sacrificed for the whole world through love), who recapitulates all things within Himself. The Church is one because it is the unbreakable house of the Father.

We now look forward most eagerly with tears and supplication, with the new man’s consciousness, to the Church’s catholicity and to its unity all over the world.

Father Matthew the Poor, The Communion of Love, Pages 215-222.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I love, Therefore I Am

The following is an article I stumbled upon from 2009 written by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Metropolitan Kallistos is a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966 until 2001, he lectured in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2007, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elevated Bishop Kallistos to Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia. He is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include The Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Way and The Inner Kingdom. This text (first published in Again magazine) is adapted from a lecture he gave in August 1998 at the Eagle River Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Alaska.

Most of the time we think we know who we are. But do we, in fact, know in the full and profound sense who we are?

One text that is very important for the Orthodox understanding of the human person is Psalm 64:6 [LXX 63:7]: “The heart is deep.” That means the human person is a profound mystery. There are depths or if you would like, heights within myself of which I have very little understanding.

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, “The human being is a creature that is called to become God.”

I am reminded of the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis, of the promise of the serpent, who says to Eve, “You shall be as God.” The irony behind that story is that this was exactly the divine intention. The humans were indeed called to divine life. But the Fall consisted in the fact that Adam and Eve grasped with self-will that which God, in His own time and way, would have conferred upon them as a gift.

The limits of our personhood are very wide-ranging indeed. We should adopt a dynamic view of what it is to be a person. We shouldn’t think that our personhood is something fixed. To be a person is to grow. To be on a journey. And this journey is a journey that has no limits, that stretches out forever, that goes on even in heaven. Some people have an idea of heaven as a place where you do nothing in particular. But surely that is deceptive. Surely heaven means that we continue to advance by God’s mercy from glory to glory. Heaven is an end without end.

St. Irenaeus remarks, “Even in the age to come God will always have new things to teach us, and we shall always have new things to learn.” Even in heaven, we shall never be in a position to say to God, “You are repeating Yourself. We have heard it all before.” On the contrary, heaven means continuing wonder and unending discovery. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Road goes ever on and on.”

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

Those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.

I remember a visit in my student years in Oxford from Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He gave a talk on Orthodoxy, and there was a discussion afterwards. Towards the end, the chairman said, “We have time for just one more question.” Somebody got up at the back of the audience and said, “Fr. Sophrony, please tell us what is God?”

Fr. Sophrony answered very briefly, “You tell me what is man?” God and the human person are two mysteries that are interconnected, and neither can be understood apart from the other. “In the image of God” means there’s a vertical reference in our personhood. We can only be understood in terms of our link with the divine.

But then, let’s think of another point. “In the image of God” means in the image of the Trinity. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That is what as Christians we mean by God. We don’t understand God as a series of abstractions. We understand God as three Persons. And that we see very clearly from the Creed. We begin in the Creed by saying, “I believe in One God.” And then we don’t continue by saying, “Who is an uncaused cause, who is primordial reality, who is the ground of being.” This is the way many modern theologians speak. But in the Creed we say, “I believe in One God … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We continue, that is to say, in specific personal terms.

God for us is Trinity. And if we’re in the image of God we’re in the image of the Triune God. What does that mean for our understanding of our personhood? Let’s think first of the Trinity, and then of ourselves.

“God is love” declares St. John in his first letter, and goes on to say, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” In true love there is no exclusiveness, no jealousy. True love is open, not closed. God is love. There is no fear in love. And so God is not the love of one. God is not love in the sense of being self-love, turned in upon itself. God is not a closed unit. God is not a unit, but a union. God is love in the sense of shared love, the mutual love of three Persons in one.

When the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning fellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, “The union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons.” So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self-love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving.

Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. “God is love,” says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, “Man is love.” God is love, not self-love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving. The same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image.

There’s a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.

From this it follows that the characteristic human word is not “I” but “we”. If we are all the time saying, “I, I, I,” then we are not realizing our true personhood. That’s expressed in the poem of Walter de la Mare, “Napoleon”:

What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.

Whether the historical Napoleon was actually like that or not, de la Mare’s point is surely valid. Self-centeredness is in the end coldness, isolation. It is a desert. It’s no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer, the model of prayer that God has given us, and which teaches what we are to be, the word “us” comes five times, the word “our” three times, the word “we” once. But nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we find the words “me” or “mine” or “I”.

In the beginning of the era of modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century, the philosopher Descartes put forward his famous dictum, “Cogito ergo sum”  “I think therefore I am.” And following that model, a great deal of discussion of human personhood since then has centered round the notion of self-awareness, self-consciousness. But the difficulty of that model is that it doesn’t bring in the element of relationship. So instead of saying “Cogito ergo sum, ought we not as Christians who believe in the Trinity say, “Amo ergo sum I love therefore I am”? And still more, ought we not to say, “Amor ergo sum”  “I am loved therefore I am”?

One modern poem that I love particularly, by the English poet Kathleen Raine, has exactly as its title “Amo Ergo Sum.” Let me quote some words from it:

Because I love
The sun pours out its rays of living gold
Pours out its gold and silver on the sea.
Because I love
The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green
The transparent sunlit trees.
Because I love
All night the river flows into my sleep,
Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,
And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

This is the key to personhood according to the Trinitarian image. Not isolated self-awareness, but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the great Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so far as I am not loved, I am unintelligible to myself.”

If, then, we think of the divine image, we should not only think of the vertical dimension of our being the image of God; we should also think of the Trinitarian implication, which means that the image has a horizontal dimension relationship with my fellow humans. Perhaps the best definition of the human animal is “a creature capable of mutual love after the image of God the Holy Trinity.” So here is the essence of our personhood: co-inherence; dwelling in others.

What is said by Christ in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is surely very significant for our understanding of personhood: “That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21). Exactly. The mutual love of the three Divine Persons is seen as the model for our human personhood. This is vital for our salvation. We are here on earth to reproduce within time the love that passes in eternity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Orthodox Church" in the West

Excellent lecture given by Fr. Alexander Schmemann in 1968 at Oberlin College. His audience was the youth and he explains how the church was and ought to grow in the context of America and the western culture! Enjoy!


Our purpose in meeting here at this first conference of Orthodox students is not simply to hear a few lectures, listen to a few discussions, and proclaim once more how wonderful we Orthodox are. So often at Orthodox conferences we meet in an atmosphere of triumphalism and then, returning to our parishes, find ourselves utterly confused. The official image is always that of something magnificent, but the unofficial reality is that of complaints and criticisms. What we want to do here is not shares some slogans with you, but rather to think together. None of us has brought here ready-made answers; we are here to look for a common perspective. Although we are in a very new situation in America, we often jump over the first and essential , which is simply to think together about what we must do. Too often we want solutions to problems which we have not formulated, progress towards a point which we have not yet defined, victories in battles in which we don’t know who is fighting whom. Very often we are led by leader who proclaim that they have answers to all questions and misled us. I think, therefore, that if we plan this Conference in a “low key,” as a first step toward more light — in humility, in prayer, asking God not so much what we what to do but what He wants us to do — it would be more constructive and useful for the future of our Church.
The time has come to clarify the issues, to formulate the problems which we face together, to discuss the solutions and the priorities in our existences as Orthodox in a Western country which is our county. Are we a group of exiles? Are we a spiritual and cultural ghetto to be perpetuated against all odds? Are we to dissolve ourselves here in what is called the “American way of life”? What is this American way of life?

The purpose of this introductory paper is to deal only with the fundamental framework of these questions. In my first lecture to freshmen at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I always use the same symbol: if you have a big library and move into a new house, you can’t use that library unless you build shelves.  While it is still in boxes, you own that library, but it is of no use to you. My purpose then is to build the shelves and then to try and see what are the priorities of our Orthodox situation today.

It is impossible to speak about our situation in America unless we refer it to our normal and essential term of reference: The Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church — whether Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Roumanian, or Bulgarian — has always been both the heart and the form of an Orthodox world.Only here in the West, and for the first time in the history of Orthodoxy, do we think of the Church in terms only of a religious institution such as a diocese, a parish, and so on. No one in organically Orthodox countries has ever thought of the Church as being distinct from the totality of life. Since the conversion of Constantine, the Church was organically related to society, culture, education, family, etc. There was no separation, no dichotomy. The Russian word for peasant is simply christian in, which at the beginning obviously meant Christian.

Here then we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: we belong to the Orthodox Church but we do not belong to an Orthodox culture. This is the first and the most important change and unless we understand that this is not an academic proposition, but the real framework of our existence, we will not see clearly through our situation. For everything in the Orthodox Church points toward a way of life; the Church is connected to all aspects of life. Yet we are deprived of this connection because, upon leaving our churches on Sunday morning, we return to a culture which was not produced, shaped, or inspired by the Orthodox Church and which, therefore, in a way is deeply alien to Orthodoxy.

The first Orthodox immigrants in America never thought about all this for in many ways they continued to live within an organic Orthodox “culture.” They were still living with that type of unity because they belonged to what in American sociology is know as a sub-culture. After the liturgy, Russians or Greeks would meet in the church hall as they would meet not only as Orthodox but as Russians or Greeks or Bukovenians or Carpatho-Russians and they would meet precisely in order to breathe their native culture. At the beginning, all this was completely normal. Even today you can live in certain places as if you were not living in America. You can live there without knowing too much English, without any real contact with American culture. But whether we like it or not, that “immigrant” chapter of our history is coming to an end and this is where your generation comes in. You do not have an immigrant mentality. Orthodoxy for you is not primarily the remembrance of childhood abroad. You will not keep Orthodoxy simply because it is “the faith of your fathers.” Suppose we apply this principle to others: then the Lutherans should keep the Lutheran faith, the Jews the Jewish faith, and finally the son of an atheist should keep atheism because it was the “faith of his father.” If this is the criterion, religion becomes a mere cultural continuity. But our claim is that our Church is Orthodox, or, more simply, the Church, and this is a frightening claim. It implies that it is the faith for all men, for all countries, for all cultures. And unless this implication is kept in mind and heart, our claim to be the true or Orthodox Church becomes hypocrisy and it would be more honest to call ourselves a society for the perpetuation of the cultural values of a particular geographical region.

Our faith cannot be reduced to religious practices and customs alone. It claims the entire life of man. But the culture in which we live, the “American way of life,” is something which already existed when we come here and thus we find ourselves an Eastern Church  with a total claim on our life, yet living within a Western society and a Western way of life. The first problem then can be formulated very simply, although its solution is extremely difficult: How are we to combine these things? How can we live our Orthodox faith which claims the totality of our existence within a culture which also claims to shape our existence? This is the antimony of our situation; this is where all our difficulties are rooted. Yet unless we understand it, we will always have wrong solutions. These wrong solutions –quite popular today– follow two basic patterns. I will call one pattern a “neurotic” Orthodoxy. It is the attitude of those who, whether they are native Orthodox or converts, decide that cannot be Orthodox unless they simply reject American culture, who build their spiritual home in some romantic and idealized Byzantium or Russia, and who constantly curse America and decadent Western society. “Western,” “American” are here synonyms with “evil” and “demonic.” This extreme position gives a semblance of security; ultimately, however, it is self-destructive. It is certainly not the attitude of St. John who, in the midst of a violent persecution, said so simply: “…and this is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.”; and who also said: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment.” (I John 4:18) Here, however, Orthodoxy is transformed into an apocalyptic fear which has always led to sectarianism, hatred, and spiritual death.

The other dangerous pattern is that of an almost pathological “Americanism.” There are people who, when they hear in church on word in Russian or Greek, react as if it were a betrayal of Christ. It is the opposite of neurosis, the neurosis of those who want Orthodoxy to become American immediately.
It the first neurosis, Orthodoxy is reduced to a fanatical and negativistic sect; in the second one, America is falsified, for America is not at all a country which requires surrender, conformity, and the acceptance of the main-street mentality as the “American way of life.” What makes this country great and indeed unique is precisely the openness of its culture to change. And who knows whether it may not be the real mission of Orthodoxy in America to change the American culture which has never really been challenged by a different set of values. No doubt Orthodoxy has an understanding of man, life, world, nature, etc., radically different from those prevailing in American culture but this difference itself is a challenge for Orthodoxy rather than a justification for withdrawal, negativism, and fear. To avoid two extremes, to be truly Orthodox yet fully American — such seems to be the only real Orthodox tradition. How and where do we then begin?

I said already that I have no ready-made answers; I have only a few thoughts which I would like to share with you — a few thoughts about the conditions which may set us on the difficult way. One of the great dangers of modern, and especially American, culture is its reduction of man to history and to change. Since everything by definition is changing, the basic values which shape man’s life are also subject to change and none is absolute. This is the first thing which we Orthodox have to denounce and resist. We must openly confess that there are things which do not change, that human nature in fact does not change, that such realities as sin, or righteousness, or holiness do not depend on the changing patterns of the culture. How many times have I heard, for example, that in “our age” the concept of sin must be changed if it is to be relevant to the modern man. How many times we have heard that in “our age” we cannot speak of the Devil. Yet I am absolutely convinced that sin is exactly the same for me as it was for St. Paul and that if there is no Devil, Christianity is no longer the same religion it was for nearly two thousand years. It is not enough to speak, as some Western theologians do, of the “demonic.” It is not enough to identify sin with alienation. And is at this point that Orthodoxy has a tremendous responsibility, for  it is fundamentally the belief in unchanging realities, it is the denunciation of all “reductions” as not only doctrinally wrong, but existentially destructive.

Thus the first condition for anything else is simply faith. Before anything else is possible, before I can speak of myself as belonging to this or that generation, as immigrant or native, of our age as technological or post-industrial, etc., there is this one fundamental reality: man standing before God and finding that life is communion with Him, knowledge of him, faith in Him, that we are created literally for God. Without this experience and affirmation, nothing has meaning. My real life is in God and in heaven. I was created for eternity. These simple affirmations are rejected as naive and irrelevant today, and in spite of all its Christian terminology, Western Christianity becomes more and more a man-centered humanism. At this point, no compromise is possible and everything depends on whether Orthodoxy will remain faithful to its God-centeredness, to its orientation toward the Transcendent, the Eternal, the Divine.

We do not deny that men need justice and bread. But before everything else they need God. Thus, we truly can do what we are called to in spite of all temptations. The seemingly “charitable” character of these temptations is not only to proclaim or to defend but first of all to live this unchanging, eternal, hierarchy of values in which God and God alone is the beginning, the content, and the end of everything. This is the real content of the Orthodox faith, of our liturgy, of our sacraments. This is what we celebrate on Easter Night. This is what is revealed at the Eucharistic Table. It is always the same thing, the same prayer, the same joy: “Thy Kingdom come… .” It is the understanding of life as indeed preparation, not simply for an eternal rest but for the life which is more real than anything else — a life of which this life is but a “symbol” and a “sacrament.”

I can hear and sense the reaction: “Oh, again paradise and hell; is that Christianity? Can this be the answer preached in the 20th century?” And I will answer: “Yes it is. Yes it can.” It is because so many people today have forgotten this, it is because all this has become “irrelevant” for Christians themselves, that so many are in hell already. And Orthodoxy will lose all its salt if each one of us does not strive first of all for this personal faith and for this hunger for salvation, redemption, and deification. Christianity begins only when we take seriously the words of Christ: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33)

But now let me share with you my second preliminary thought. Just as each one of us must discover for himself the “unchanging” and take part in the same, never-ending spiritual fight, we must discover ourselves as belonging to one particular generation of Orthodox Christians living in the 20th Century in America in a secular and pluralistic culture and in the midst of a great spiritual crisis. What can we do together? What are the Orthodox imperatives for our common and corporate task? I think that here the priorities are rather clear, especially when one speaks to students and for students, for “student” is today the purest representative of what I call the second Orthodoxy in America. The first one — whether he came from the “old world” or was born here — is still and immigrant in his mentality. He lives within American culture but is not yet an organic part of it. A student is by definition someone who can and must reflect. So far Orthodoxy in America has not reflected upon itself and upon its situation here. The Orthodox student is the first Orthodox who is called to reflect on his life as an Orthodox in America and on this reflection depends the future of our Church here, for this reflection will obviously be aimed at the problems which I mentioned at the beginning of this talk. So this is a crucial task. You will say either yes or no for the entire Orthodox Church on this continent.

To say yes, however means to rediscover the Church as mission, and mission within our present situation means something more than simply converting individuals to Orthodoxy. It means primarily an evaluation of American culture in Orthodox terms and this is the real mission of the Orthodox “intelligentsia,” for no one else can do that. It is here that i must stress again the fundamental quality of American culture: its openness to criticism and change, to challenge and judgment. Throughout the whole American history, Americans always asked: What does it mean to be American? What is America for? And they are still asking these questions. Here is our chance, and here is our duty.

The evaluation of American culture is Orthodox terms requires first a knowledge of Orthodoxy, and second the knowledge of the true American culture and tradition. One cannot evaluate that which one does not know, love and understand. Our mission, therefore, is first of all one of education. We — all of us– must become theologians, not in the technical sense of the word but in terms of vital interest, concern, care for our faith, and above everything else in terms of a relationship between faith and life, faith and culture, faith and “the American way of life.” Let me give you one example. We all know of that one of the deepest crises of our culture, of the entire modern world, is the crisis of family and the man-woman relationship. I would ask then: How can this crisis be related to and understood in terms of our belief in the One who is “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim…,” the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Virgin? Is this belief a beautiful part of our liturgical celebrations, or a revelation of the mystery of love? Can this unique mystery of Mariology be truly “applied” as judgment, as healing, as Truth — to the confusion and chaos created by Freud and his followers? The knowledge of Orthodoxy thus is not a “part” of the corresponding progress of our American way of life but a key to it, a way of understanding and evaluation.

Where all this will lead us, I do not know. In the words of a hymn of Cardinal Newman: “I do not see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” But I know that between the two extremes — that of a surrender toAmerica, that of a surrender of America — we must find then narrow and the difficult way of the true Orthodox Tradition. No solution will ever be final, and there is no final solution in “this world.” We shall always live in tension and conflict, in the rhythm of victory and defeat. Yet if the Puritans could have had such a tremendous impact on American culture, if Sigmund Freud could change it so deeply as to send to generations of Americans to the psychoanalytical couch, if Marxism, in spite of all its phenomenal failures, can still inspire presumably intelligent American intellectuals, why can’t the faith and the doctrine which we clam to be the true faith and the true doctrine have its chance? “O ye of little faith…” Marx and Freud never doubted and won their vicious victories. The modern Christian, however, has a built-in inferiority complex. One historical defeat pushes him either into an apocalyptic fear and panicking or “death of God” theologies. The time has come, maybe, simply to recover our faith and apply it with love and humility to the land which has become ours. And who can do that if not those who are given a full share of American culture?

To sum up, two things are essential: first the strengthening of our personal faith and commitment. Whether priest or layman, man or woman, the first thing for an Orthodox is not to speak about Orthodoxy, but to live it to his full capacity; it is prayer, it is standing before God, it is the difficult joy of experiencing “heaven on earth.” This is the first thing and it cannot be reached without effort, fasting, asceticism, without sacrifice and the discovery of that which in the Gospel is called the “narrow way.” And then, to use a most abused word: a deep and real dialogue with America — not accommodation, not a compromise, for a dialogue may indeed be violent. If nothing else, it will achieve two things: it will reveal to us what is real and genuine in our faith and what is mere decoration. We may, indeed, lose all kinds of decorations which we erroneously take for Orthodoxy itself. What will remain is exactly the  faith which overcomes the world! And then in that dialogue we will discover the true America, not the America which so many Orthodox curse and so many idolize, but the America of that great hunger for God and His righteousness which has always underlain the genuine American culture. The more I live here, the more I believe that the encounter between Orthodoxy and America is a providential one. And because it is Providential, it is being attacked, misunderstood, denied, rejected on both sides. Maybe it is for the handful of Orthodox students on American campuses to understand its real meaning and to act accordingly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How To Deal With Sinful Condition

The following is a sermon given by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom!

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

So often we ask ourselves and one another a very tormenting question: How can I deal with my sinful condition? What can I do? I cannot avoid committing sins; Christ alone is sinless. I cannot, for lack of determination, or courage, or ability truly repent when I do commit a sin, or in general, of my sinful condition. What is left to me? I am tormented, I fight like one drowning, and I see no solution.
And there is a word which was spoken once by a Russian staretz, one of the last elders of Optina. He said to a visitor of his: No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece, out there is one thing which we all can do; when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross; not Christ's cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn't the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly... And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise...’

I remember the life of one of the divines, the story of one who had come to him and have said that he had led all his life a life that was evil, impure, unworthy both of God and of himself; and then he had repented, he has rejected all evil he had done; and yet, he was in the power of the same evil. And the divine said to him: There was a time when you lapped up all this filth with delight; now you perceive it as filth and you feel that you are drowning in it with horror, with disgust. Take this to be your reward, for your past, and endure...

This is something which all of us can do: to endure the consequences, to endure the enslavement which is our patiently, humbly, with a broken heart; not with indifference, not with a sense that as we are abandoned to it by God, then, why not sin? But taking it as a healing perception of what sin is, of what it does to us, of the horror of it. And if we patiently endure, a day will come when our inner rejection of sin will bear fruit, and when freedom will be given us.

So, if we can, in a l l the ways we can, let us avoid sin in all its forms, even those sins which seem to be so unimportant, because the slightest crack in a dam sooner or later leads to its bursting. If we can — let us truly repent, that is turn away from our past in a heroic, determined act; but if we can do neither of them — let us carry humbly and patiently all the pain and all the consequences. And this will also be accounted one day by the Lord Who in a folkloric life of Moses, in response to His angels saying, ‘How long shall you endure their sins’ — the sins of the Jews in the wilderness, answered: ‘I will reject them when the measure of their sins will exceed the measure of their suffering’…

Let us therefore accept the pain as a redeeming pain, even if we cannot offer it as pain pure of stain. Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Canonical Problem: The Priesthood

The last entry on the canonical problem we examined the role of the bishop in relation to the church and the Eucharist. This time we want to focus on the priesthood in relation to the church and the people (laos). Many believe that the "priesthood" is delegated to a few people who wear black. Unfortunately misunderstandings are rampant about the priesthood that we will look at in the following piece. One such example is that many do not realize that the diaconate (the order of deacons) is part of the priesthood. Some of the church fathers even spoke about sub-deacons being part of the priesthood. This particular topic and many more will be discussed below. If anyone has any questions or comments please feel free to write in the comment box.

To speak of the "priesthood" in the liturgical tradition, the canons of the church, in patristic teaching, is perhaps inevitable but doing so is misleading. It is misleading because, as a result, our understanding of ministry is reduced to cultic terms. When one turns to the New Testament as church began to grow, it has known an official ministry (list): certain ones whom "God appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (1 Cor 12.28); deacons and overseers (Phil 1.1); elders appointed in every church (Acts 14.23); persons who labor among the brethren (1 Thess 5.12-13). In all these descriptions of the earliest text of the New Testament not once is the term "priesthood" used. The term priesthood is used a few times in the New Testament making reference to Christ himself (Hebrews) and in reference to the Christian people (chosen people) of God (1 Pet). The early church father's begin using the term priest but only do so in relation to the bishop (overseer) or in connection to the Eucharist. Ignatius speaks of the "one altar" of the Eucharist at which the bishop presides (Magn 7.2).

As the centuries continued we saw a development of the priesthood as the culture and society began to change and grow. More people began to join the Christian faith so the community naturally developed. At this point (2nd and 3rd centuries) we see an expansion and and order developing for the priesthood. Bishops, priests, deacons and even sub-deacons were include in the rank of priesthood. St. Epiphanius extends the priestly hierarchy to include sub-deacons. Part of the dilemma in understanding the priesthood, as mentioned previously, is the cultic terms used to associate with the priesthood. We have boxed in the term priesthood to mean "a man who wears black and can grow a beard". Priesthood, in short, appears to be on its way to becoming a generic term for clergy. The term comes to suggest an autonomous power to perform certain sacred acts-above all make beard and wine the body and blood of Christ-which is transmitted from ordainer to ordained without necessary reference to ecclesial context. We have forgotten the "priesthood of all" not only encompasses the individual who wears black but it includes the entire community. This explains the rule or "tux" that a priest can never celebrate a liturgy unless the congregation is present in the church. This misunderstanding of the priesthood has led to a lack of understanding what a priest is, what a proper deacon is and what their roles are to be. Sadly, a 8 year old child running around wearing a white tunic is considered a "deacon". We have detached the beauty of being a deacon to mere mockery by vesting our kids and saying they are "deacons". A deacon is the one who distributes the gifts (Eucharist) to the entire congregation and takes care of the well-being of the entire community. The role of the deacon was to take care of the congregation and to minister to the widows of the community. Sadly, "deacons" today are nothing more than a show trying to impress their loved ones as the "concert" goes on. How then can we define the priesthood?

Authentic Christian priesthood can be defined only by reference to its role within the Church, and this in turn can be understood only by reference to the entire economy of salvation: the mystery of God's hidden plan for humankind revealed in Christ revealed through the work of the Spirit. The priesthood then includes all people, both those who are ordained (bishops, priests, deacons and sub-deacons) and those who are "not ordained"; the laity (laos). The Didascalia, a third century manuscript devotes five chapters on the priesthood. It says that the "clergy and laity together comprise the Catholic Church, the holy and perfect, a royal priesthood, a holy multitude, a people for inheritance, within which are bishops, priests, and prophets, and princes and leaders and kings, and mediators between God and the faithful, and receivers of the word, and preachers and proclaimers therof, and knowers of the Scriptures and of the utterances of God, and witnesses of his will, who bear the sins of all, and are to give answer for all". Note the length of this definition and who it includes being part of the priesthood. What then is the work of the priesthood?

The Didascalia answers this question, "The whole aim of our art is to give wings to the soul, to wean it for the world and to present it to God; to preserve the image of God in man if it exists, to strengthen it if it has become enfeebled, and to restore it if it has become obliterated; to make Christ dwell in men's hearts through the Spirit. In a word, the aim is to deify and bestow the blessedness of heaven upon him who in fact belongs to heaven". The priest is understood as the instrument of a work which is, divine: the deificiation of man. When one reads the fathers nowhere does a definition of the priesthood focus on administration. Today priests have become bankers and financial advisers of mega churches. St. Gregory the Theologian writes, "...before a man has, as far as possible, sufficiently purified his mind and far surpassed his fellows in nearness to God, I do not think it safe for him to be entrusted with the rule over souls or the office of mediator between God and man". The goal of the minister of the word is not just to spit out knowledge but to raise the soul to a transforming knowledge of God through entry into the mystery of the divine dispensation, through participation in God's saving plan for humankind.    

The most obvious aspect of the priest's (and deacon) ministry, particularly for us today, is liturgical. He is not only the minister of sacraments but the minister of the Eucharist. He brings together the community in the body of Christ. This great mystery is what culminates all that the church is called to do. Every activity, fundraiser, and church meeting can all be summed up in the Eucharist. Our entire life is Eucharistic and we must constantly seek out God in all actions activities with all human beings. With that being said, we must never think of clergy and laity as two separate entities. Just because one does not wear the black does not mean there is a separation. In order to understand the role of the clergy we must understand what the word "liturgy" means.

When we think of worship the first thing that comes to mind is the role of the priest (neglecting the order of the deacon). The priest celebrates, the laity attend. One does a few ritualistic acts, the other watches. This is another error and a serious one to consider in what it means to be part of the priesthood. The Christian term for worship is leitourgia (which we get the term liturgy from) means a corporate all-embracing action in which all who are present are active participants. All prayers in the Church are written in the plural. "We offer (the anaphora)", "We acknowledge" (the creed). The laity (laos) is in a very direct way the co-celebrant with the priest. The role of the priest is to offer to God the prayers of the Church, representing all people, speaking on the entire churches behalf. One example of this co-celebration can be demonstrated in the word Amen. We never pay attention to it yet it is a crucial word. No sacrifice, no blessing, no ordination, no prayer is ever offered without the use of the word Amen. Saying Amen means the entire church gives this prayer and sacrifice consent. Amen is indeed the word of the laity in the church expressing the function of the people of God. There is no service, no liturgy without the seal of Amen of those who have been ordained to serve God as community. Whatever liturgical service we want to consider, we must see that it always follows a pattern of dialogue (anaphora between the priest and the people) and cooperation (the kiss of peace offered to all) between the priest and the congregation. It is indeed a common action (leitourgia) in which the responsible participation of everyone is essential, for through it the church, fulfills the purpose of the liturgy; as a communal offering given up for the glory of His name. This explains the dynamic of the priest and the laity. Where is the role of the deacon in all of this?

Ignatius summed it up for the communities he was writing to (Trallians chapter 3 and Magnesians chapter 6). He laid down a threefold understanding of the priesthood (including deacons) representing the Trinity. He spoke of the Bishop being equal to God (first among equals), the priest represents the Apostle (the work of the Holy Spirit) [going out and making disciples of all nations] and lastly the deacon was compared to Christ (taking caring of the community and keeping the community on track). The role of the Bishop is to remain silent and to unite the church in the body of Christ, the priest missionises the church by bringing together all nations and the deacon takes care of the teaching and the well-being of the entire community. Sadly this threefold ministry is not found in many of the churches today.

Without a proper understanding of the threefold ministry in the Coptic Church (especially in the GTA [Toronto] where a bishop is nonexistent and deaconship is nothing more than a 2-hour gig on Sundays) the priest is coerced to be not only the Christ-like shepherd of his flock, but (along with the growing trend of constructing mega churches) must become the banker, project manager, and administrator of building projects and maintenance-as if being the shepherd weren't enough. This, in turn, dilutes the sacramental and liturgical role of the priest-priests become CEO's, and the congregation become employees of an enterprise. The Body of Christ, the church, is a taste of the kingdom on earth and the kingdom to come, and this kingdom does not merely exist on Sundays, but permeates every level of existence outside of the four walls of the church building. Let us continue the model that was handed down to us through the Orthodox tradition, and not caricature the industrialism exterior to us.

Forgive me for the scathing nature of this article. The blame falls on no one. This is but the effect of centuries of persecution, western influence, and below-par education...yet this is no excuse. The paradigm will not change overnight. But it is up to the church (i.e. us) to take small steps to not only proper Orthodoxy but proper Christianity. Let us restore the orders of the deaconate, let us all priests to return to the liturgical life they were called to, let the church boards govern building projects, let the congregation realize their role inside the liturgy and outside the church. Let us take small steps to the truth.      

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Live Giving Cross

Today the church celebrates the feast of the living giving cross! The following is a sermon by Father Matthew the Poor said on the feast of the cross in 1976. It is taken from the book, "Words for our Time".

Powerlessness has its own speech. Weakness has its own triumph. The world cannot be served from a place of power, but it can be served from the cross. On the cross the word stabs its own heart, but the cross is a school and to run away from it is to run away from the future. Fr. Bishoy Kamel.

Hail to the Cross! Hail to the life-giving Wood!"  A strong objection arises in the mind of each of us at times which asks, "How can we say, 'Hail to the Cross'? Is the Cross a person: How can I be so materialistic as to say, 'Hail to the wood of the Cross'? Do we worship idols, as the Protestants say of us?” But in truth, we thank God for the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and for that marvelous Wood, upon which were proclaimed the inner mercies hidden before all ages in the Father's bosom.

I was speaking with some of the abbas about the disciples who followed the Lord, how they didn't realize they were following God. They rather liked Christ because He was a healer and a feeder. "Ah, we will never hunger or thirst again!" they said. Then followed that strange act when the people attempted to raise Him up to make Him a king.2 At least they saw in the healings and signs an indication that He would lead Israel to an earthly salvation. They felt their situation with Him to be better than that of the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna; and Christ saw this as a kind of gain. It was a measure of truth. And then the mother of James and John asked of Christ, "Grant my sons to sit one on your right and one on your left in the kingdom.' But she meant a kingdom that would appear on earth, a type of Davidic kingdom, without any thought of death or eternal life. All minds were centered on an earthly reign!

This manner of materialistic thinking and earthly ambition were not overcome until the Cross. Oh, hail to the Cross! It overthrows every type of ambition and aim at worldly profit. The day a person begins to feel he is something important in the world is the day the Lord reminds him of the Cross; and he immediately forgets all his false hopes and clings to it. Hail to the Cross, which is capable of cleansing our thoughts and consciences from every earthly hope and temporal aim!

When the Cross first made its appearance, Peter, who considered himself 'prime minister" of the disciples, fled. He stood watching from afar; then John (as I imagine it) asked him, "Would you like me to speak to the high priest for you?”

He said, "No, no, I'd rather follow events from a distance. You go inside.' So he just stood outside with the servants-but they exposed him.

See how grace pursues the believer! Hide under a different name, and the name gets exposed; hide behind a mask, and the mask is exposed; hide behind dishonest talk, and the talk is exposed. Grace pursues us to the very end. For when God loves a person, He chastens him.

Hail to the Cross, for it brought an end to all the false bonds that tied the disciples to the Lord. As we said, the Cross exposes every false ambition, just as it abolished the disciples' aims when they all fled. Christ had told them, "This night you will all leave Me, but I am not alone.”

Blessed is the Cross, which reveals every pretense of the heart, the conscience, and the tongue! "Though all the disciples forsake You, I never forsake You"-thanks be to the Cross, 0 Peter, for it brought an end to this false pretense and false supremacy!

How often I see this in people who say to me, "O Abba, because of what you've done for me, I will support you until the day of my death!" At that moment I laugh inside and think to myself, "Crucify Him, crucify Him.'?

In truth, my beloved, our discussion on the Cross can extend to considerable length, and I don't know if you or I have the energy to last long enough; but let us continue our vigil. The mystery of the Father, the mystery of love, was hidden from all ages before the Cross. The promises of the Father to man were consistently doubted-as His promise to Abraham that he would have a son-for man was incapable of feeling the Father's love. The love, the faithfulness, and the promises of the Father cannot be revealed to man just by word or thought; there must be tangible proof. Christ Himself came, the very image of the Father, and the icon of His essence-but neither then did man believe. He told them, "If you do not believe My words, then believe for the sake of the works”; but they believed neither words nor works.

The tragic events surrounding the Cross caused every last hope Christ could have had in man to be extinguished. Even the disciples of Emmaus told with sorrow of their failed hopes in the One they thought was the Savior. But on the day of the Resurrection, the truth of the Cross was declared; and the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost and threw light on all the works of Christ. They saw the Cross as the revelation of the Father's compassion. It needed neither wisdom nor philosophy. They proclaimed that Cross on which the Lord of glory was crucified, and people responded, "Does the Father love us so much that He would give His only Son?" Yes!

The Cross made all of God's doings a touchable reality, whereas wonders, contemplation, and philosophy are all impotent in comparison. St. Paul said that the Cross was considered foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to us it is power.11 Tell me, then, is this a "contemplative" power? Can the power of God be a mere thought? A philosophy? What is power, Abbas? Power is an active or working energy. Electricity is an active energy: light is an active energy; wind is an active energy. Every type of power is an energy at work. And now-would you believe it-our spiritual life has entered into this realm of power! Spirituality has become dunamis12 for human life, an energy that can do things. Remember how Christ healed the bedridden man by just saying, "Get up"13-how is that for working energy!

The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has entered into human life as a touchable reality and as a working, acting energy and power. Don’t I have the right then to say, "Hail to the wood of the Cross"? I don’t mean the literal wood of the Cross: for even if you brought that to me today, it wouldn't raise anyone from the dead. "How can you say that, Abba?" you'll respond.

Let me tell you. Which is greater, the wood or Christ Himself?

"Christ;” you say. Well, Christ was not able to perform signs in Capernaum. Can you explain to me the meaning of "was not able"? I don’t want to analyze the meaning too minutely, to avoid offending sensitive consciences. But the mind stalls at such words; they will vex and fatigue your brain. But He was not able to perform signs in Capernaum-which means He tried. Did He try or not? And was He able or not? Do not respond. Now that was Christ. So neither is the wood of the Cross able, of itself to effect anything. But what is able?

"Do you believe that I am able to heal you?” "Yes, Lord!" and they worshipped Him. So when I say, "Hail to the wood of the Cross;' I'm expressing my faith in this wood, upon which was crucified-my goodness!-the Son of God.

The Church's hymn of salvation is expressed in the Song of Songs, a book which carnal man will never understand. The Fathers used to forbid any person with an impure mind from hearing a sermon on the Song of Songs. When Gregory of Nyssa would come to speak on this book, he would say, "All you unstable youth, who have not yet been confirmed in purity and love, depart! These words are not for you:' He wanted no one with a mind distorted by the world to stumble.

So today, when we say, "Hail to the life” giving wood of the Cross;' I ask (forgive me) all the Protestants to depart, along with all such who look unfavorably upon our Orthodox worship. We express our worship in words and hymns that are indiscernible to anyone not steeped in the depths of divine mystery. So we refuse to surrender for an hour, not even for ten minutes, to those who enter in to spy on our freedom in Christ Jesus. The divine love, hidden from all ages, hidden from the great and wise, was nailed to the wood. How wonderful­ give me that wood!

"Here, take this piece, which has been preserved for almost two thousand years:' No! My friend, I speak about the wood in the mystical sense. I praise that wood in a spiritual, exalted sense.

I wish for the Cross to be held before my eyes from the dawn of my youth till the dusk of my old age, that I might meditate on it every day as it bears the Blood. No passing of time can erase it from my mind; no hand can lift it from my sight; no thief can steal it from me. Other religious relics can be stolen; they stole the head of St. Mark and sold it from place to place for years, as you all know the story. But I don't want what thieves can take. I desire a treasure that can neither be stolen nor decay.

The base of the Cross is planted on earth and in my heart. How both, you ask? I don't know; but so it is. Its base is on earth (and in my heart), while its height touches heaven; and upon it hangs the Son of Man, as the angels of God ascend and descend upon Him. In this wood I see my salvation, my sanctification, and my righteousness, which I would not have been able to achieve by my own arm, nor by the arm of a prophet or even an angel I embrace this wood in my soul during my troubles, my injustices, and my tears; and I find incredible comfort.

Hail to the wood that purges me from every thought that is not pleasing to Your goodness! Hail to the wood that fortifies me against every assault of the enemy, whether by wrong thoughts, by jealousy, by pride, by forgetfulness, by anxiety, by laziness, or by the decay of a bad life. Hail to the life-giving Cross, which if I enter the eternal sleep, will be to me not a grave but wings, by which I will soar. Hail to the wood that is a rod and staff to help me along my way, even when every person has forsaken me and I have nothing left in the world, until I reach life's end and arrive at the open door of heaven, bearing the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such, my beloved, is the doxology of the Church on the day she sings "Hosanna!" If only the song of the Feast of the Cross would become the song of our entire lives! As you go and come, and move here and there, say, "Hail to the life-giving Cross!" 0 Cross of the Lord Jesus, grant me the Lord's peace!

The Bible says, “And He went out bearing His cross to the place called 'Place of a Skull.’" Bearing His cross. Think of the Lord's words, "He who does not take up his cross cannot be My disciple.” "Lord, is my cross other than Yours?" Yes, My son, I have My Cross and you have your cross.” What's the difference-I'll tell you. The Lord's own self was crucified upon His Cross. An astonishing miracle! Even if we sat here till morning, even if my brain could organize every thought, I still couldn't express the miracle.

It was impossible that Christ bear the condemnation of sinful man unless He first emptied Himself. Even before He came down to earth, He subjected Himself to a very strange and incredible self-emptying; for God could not take unto Himself a body from the earth's dust, and unite eternally with such a weak element, without self-emptying. For absolute weakness to unite with absolute strength is an event incomprehensible to the mind-but it occurred by an ability in God's nature unknown to man. We may say that in God's nature there is an attribute called “self-emptying," by which He can take unto Himself something completely incompatible with His honor and power. He took a part of His creation and made it a part of Himself. Now, this divine attribute is not found in us; but in His mercy He placed in us an image or reflection of it. He gave us the ability to partake of a divine attribute called humility. We call it "humility,” but in actuality it's the act of self-emptying.

Christ emptied Himself in order to be incarnate and in order to be crucified. But to be crucified meant that He made no claim to "self' This was made very clear during His trial He didn't defend Himself; for if He had defended Himself, He would not have been crucified. His refusal to defend Himself was an integral part of the Cross. Thus He acted before Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas. With one word He could have shaken up and repelled His judges and adversaries. Paul, on the contrary, appealed to Caesar; but they still executed him. The appeal was simply a hidden intention of the Holy Spirit to allow Paul to carry the Gospel to the household of Caesar. But to bring ones case before Caesar is a lost cause-what can Caesar do for you? They said to Christ, "Defend Yourself!" but He wouldn't, because then He would not have been crucified. So the self-emptying that occurred at the Incarnation was revealed also at the Cross, but in a violent way. He endured the violence of slaps, insults, spitting in the face, strikes to the head, thirty-nine lashes, and blood falling everywhere-but never did He speak.

Let me give you a kind of strange analogy, Abbas. Imagine I'm walking toward you from afar, and a rough worker comes up to me, deals me a couple of fierce blows, and I fall to the ground. He hits me so hard in the stomach that my organs come out, and I writhe in pain on the ground; but none of you can come near me. Then he hits me in the head with his boot and breaks it. What would be your feelings? Even if you happen not to like me, imagine this happening to someone you love. Imagine this happening to a beloved family member, while he opens not his mouth; and the perpetrator is even a weakling, a young boy. You would say, "Why isn't Abba doing anything? Why doesn't he hit him back? Abba is strong, but this kid is weak; he can knock the kid out with a single hit! Abba, do something!" But the kid keeps hitting me till he exposes my organs and steps on my neck and kills me.

The Cross is nothing less, Abbas! What heroism, O Jesus, what greatness, O God! It twists and confounds the mind! This can make one go mad thinking about it! If a human saint had done this, we would make statues of gold and write thousands of poems about him. Consider Joan of Arc, who just for leading an army had statues made of her and poems written about her. Consider the saintly monk Bonaventure, and all the poetry and acclamation he received for being burned alive while confined in prison. The saints give us a small picture of the Cross, but Christ is the ultimate hero.

When Christ died on the Cross, He paid the price for all those who died and who would die. Life itself died; and thus life was granted to all those who die in Christ Jesus. Death reached its end on the Cross. This was the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are blessed to receive and put on this Cross-without any pain or suffering on our part-by the Spirit in baptism. We are signed by the Cross, receiving redemption, and salvation, and righteousness, and eternal life.

One may ask, "Is there a price that I pay for this Cross?"


"Any labor or work?”


"So the Cross that caused our Lord violence and abuse is given me for free?"

“Yes, freely.”

“And His death is given freely?"

"Yes, freely.”

Freely! By the Cross the Father was pleased to reveal, from within the depths of His being, the fullness of His love toward all generations; it was a sacrifice given for humanity, that we might receive the sonship and divine image through Christ Jesus. All who have been baptized have put on Christ; this "putting on" means receiving His complete image-in death and resurrection. This gives us, therefore, the image of the slaughtered Son before the Father; and thus we receive favor and acceptance. All these blessings are dependent upon the transferal of the Son's image to us. We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.

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 lives, 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 bearing your cross. "Take up your cross and follow Me" means to be always ready to abandon the self for the sake of others.

Let's dwell upon this idea a while because it's not a small matter. We saw that Christ suffered beatings and pain, not for Himself, but for the sake of others. This is the cross we are called to bear in this generation, in order to fill up the sufferings of Christ in our bodies. My cross is not that I should suffer for myself, or endure trials for my own salvation. Would my enduring all injustice or persecution grant me salvation? Not at all-what saves me is Christ's Cross. But I accept injustice and persecution primarily for the sake of him who persecutes me and for the sake of my message to the world. Herein I take up the image of Christ and the Cross.

You might say, "This is a hard saying, Abba! You mean that if I don’t endure the insults and attacks of people, I am deprived of the cross?"


"Then prove it by a verse.”

Fortunately a verse just came to me now while I was speaking: "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Imagine if the Father withheld forgiveness from me; would I then have salvation? Would I have anything in Christ's Cross? Nothing. I am deprived of the Cross if I refuse to forgive my brother. So the cross that I must bear is to sacrifice, to renounce myself, and to endure tribulations unto death, for the sake of my brother and for the world. A very strange and astounding thing! Hail to the Cross, which by the mystery of Christ hidden in it is able to grant me endurance of pain for the sake of others! It teaches me to endure persecution with thanksgiving, to endure injustice and humiliation without defending myself.
"Abba Matta, they're saying such-and-such about you!"

I can only respond," Hallelujah.” What a bitter cross I once endured when they informed me of malicious things said against me! A bitter cross indeed; but I persisted in swallowing up the words until they finally passed through my system, and the conclusion was praise. I gained strength. I gained joy, health, and resilience from that cross.

Hail-I am insistent on this point-hail to the wood of the life-giving Cross! From the Cross we may receive strength upon strength, by the mystery of Christ, who was able to pass over the abyss of death without complaining or defending Himself. This is strength, Abbas, when a human is accused and does not defend himself. It is strength, Abbas, when someone insults and mistreats you, and you remain silent while you are swallowing up all the words, until they pass and their effect dies.

Hail to the wood of the life-giving Cross! Hail to the unbreakable power that issues from the wood of insult and injury! This was the power planted on the earth on the day of Golgotha. And from that day till the end of time, that power enters in to comfort every soul grieving, sorrowing, and persecuted. May God make you a people who take pleasure in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; a people who take pleasure in defending the poor and the victims of injustice. May God allow you to participate in that wondrous picture of a lamb led to the slaughter, with the knife placed at its throat while it is calm and silent. It is silent because its owner is the one slaughtering it; it trusts him, because he was the one who fed it. How incredible that we learn from lambs and sheep! 0 Lord, what is this amazing example that You have placed in animals for us? Can you believe that Christ was symbolized as a lamb led to the slaughter? I myself have many times seen a lamb being prepared for slaughter: it exhibits the utmost calmness. You tie its legs, but it doesn't move; you place the knife, and it doesn't move. It trusts the person who is its owner, and feeder, and caretaker.

Ah, beloved, let us trust exceedingly that the One who shepherds us is the One who will "slaughter" us. It is not at all the work of our adversary; for as He said, "You would have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” The knife descends from above. The nails were driven by a heavenly hand, and the hammer was sanctioned by the Father, who permitted the Crucified One to be hung on the Cross. Man himself can never bring you to be slaughtered, or harm your reputation, or steal your rights, unless it be allowed from above. Step forward, therefore, and fear not, but accept the cross and the knife-just like your Lord.

"He who desires to be My disciple must take up his cross and follow Me.” And the disciple will be crucified every day. The bitter is very bitter; don't ever think that your cross is an easy matter. The cross has in it the sting of death. When once the cross passes, you might feel relief and say, "Oh, thank God it's past!" but the next one soon follows! The cross is not a pleasurable thing in the least; God knows, it has not a thousandth fraction of pleasure in it. A person only rejoices after he has survived his cross. Remember Christ, who pushed through moment by moment, being severely oppressed by sufferings, though He refused to murmur a single complaint until the very end, when He finally cried out with a loud voice and gave up the spirit. Man similarly remains oppressed by trials and suffering until they pass and he says, "Thank You, O God!"

I once underwent an extremely bitter experience. Someone once went abroad and, without an ounce of right, spread the most loathsome rumors about me. The blow dazed me; so I ran to my cell and cried out in the name of Jesus Christ. This saved me, because I was on the verge of losing myself and reacting in an irrecoverable way. I cried out to Christ from my cell in a tremendously loud voice; it was the cry of someone on the verge of death. I found divine aid come upon me the same moment. But I could not bear it long. I went out of my cell after five minutes looking like a dizzy, ill, injured man. I suffered from that blow for years. For years I suffered from the injury, until it partially subsided; but it never completely disappeared.

This is a new message for us, Abbas, a very new understanding, and if we seize it, we will advance incredibly. The Cross of Christ will be transfigured in us. Abundant power, full of blessing and grace, will come upon us; and that power will lift us above this world, above all its straits, grief’s, and needs. We are in urgent need of God's power. And there is no way of obtaining this power except by entering into the mystery of Christ's Cross. Let him take up his cross and follow Me.

Father Matthew the Poor, Words for our Time, Pages 155-168.