Monday, February 24, 2014

Great Lent: The Meaning of Repentance

Great lent is a time of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance at the root is a change of the mind and body. We have grown accustomed to thinking that repentance is feeling bad for our actions and that we need to be punished in order to revert back on the right path. This is a good thought if we were still 12 years old. We must see repentance as a renewal and change back into the communion of God. Sin is a breaking away from God. It is a separation in which we must find our way back to the love of God. Yes there will be days when we skip the fast, missed our prayers or become angry with others however, the only way to correct our actions and thoughts is by uniting to the body of Christ through the renewal and change of mind, body and spirit. True life and true repentance will only come once we realize that we have lost communion with God and through Him we can be made whole through the Eucharist.

The following is an excellent quote from Fr. Schmemanns book Great Lent. I recommend this read during this time period. If you are interesting in reading any of the ancient fathers I would recommend St. Athanasius On the Incarnation.

Repentance is often simply identified as a cool and "objective" enumeration of sins and transgressions, as the act of "pleading guilty" to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of a juridical nature. But something very essential is overlooked--without which neither confession nor absolution have any real meaning of power. This "something" is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, from the real life as created and given by God. It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers, or become angry. It is quite a different thing, however, to realize suddenly that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am far away from my real home, my real life, and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence. Yet this, and only this, is repentance, and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, to recover that lost home. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

The following is a prayer of St. Ephrem which is recited during the Great Lent. This prayer serves as a reminder that we are constantly being formed and united into the body of Christ as we grow in love and service for others.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages Amen.

The following is a link to an earlier entry on fasting. May God bless you all on our journey through the Lenten season.

Why Fasting?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Christology and the Council of Chalcedon-Book Review

The following is a book review by Fr. John McGuckin on the new book by Fr. Shenouda Maher. This is quite the read and the first of its kind. This will become an important work and I hope we can all get a copy and digest it and break down everything Fr. Shenouda has to say. If you are an academic, a priest, or someone who simply likes to read this is the book for you. Enjoy. 

Fr. Shenouda M. Ishak. Christology and the Council of Chalcedon. Outskirts Press. Denver Co. 2013, 681pp.

Fr. Ishak has, for many years past, been one of the world’s leading Coptic theologians in the international ecumenical dialogue with both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. He is a familiar and much respected figure in the counsels of the WCC. His studies over so many years bore fruit in this present work: a magnum opus summing up an immense set of journeys. The study represents his notes and analyses of a breath-taking array of Miaphysite theologians as well as learned presentations on why the Oriental family of churches will not accept the settlements of the Council of Chalcedon (451) and its doctrine of the two physeis of Christ running into consilience in the single divine hypostasis. This is no work that suggests that the refusal of Chalcedon was a result of political or geographical isolation (arguments that are often found in modern text from historians who have clearly never read the theologians carefully). The study progresses from the well-known characters of the Miaphysite tradition-Dioscorus and Severus of Antioch for example, and goes on in a wonderfully rich manner to outline the whole topography of the ecclesial tradition of “the Orientals”. 

It carefully distances this from any suspicion of Eutychianism (Monophysitis). The work is unique and irreplaceable. If I have a critical remark on its undoubted achievements it would, perhaps, be to say that it is often better in what it affirms (of its own sensus fidei) that in what it condemns about that of others. The work gathers together much previously existing scholarship in handy synoptic form, but it is priceless for the intimate way it expounds the theologians of the Miaphysite tradition whom the western text books rarely ever refer to. It opens with a critical attack on Nestorian and Syrian thought (chapters 1-2) and gives detailed documentary evidence of the synodical condemnations Nestorianism called down upon itself. Chapter 3 sets side by side the manner in which the Byzantine synodical tradition from Chalcedon to the Synod in Trullo (692), and the Anti-Chalcedonian Miaphysites respectively attack the Nestorian premises (namely: Peter the Iberian, Timothy Aleuros, Philoxenos, Severus of Antioch, Jacob of Serug, Theodosios, Theodore, Damian and Benjamin of Alexandria, and the Armenian Church). There is a close study of the history of the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Christological significance of the Theotokos title. 

Important sections treat the issue of the “one complete nature and hypostasis” of the word made flesh, which should be required reading for all concerned with historical Christology. Fr. Ishak’s studies of St. Cyril’s Eucharistic soteriology and the analysis of the “two natures only in contemplation” (the gnorizomenin of Chalcedon) are rare and finely detailed and much too be welcomed. Here is a theologian who understands the issues of Mono-Energism and Monothelitism, and how both were important “acts” in the whole Christological process: a perspective largely missing from most commonly available textbooks of Christology. 

His work makes it clear why these were attempts by Chalcedonian theologians doomed to failure from the outset if they were hoping to reconcile the Orientals. The work ends with a series of the Miaphysite theologians and synods which have condemned the Council of Chalcedon. This is a source of immense erudition and will be required reading for anyone involved in future dialogues, and all who wish to understand the great issues involved in the crisis of expressing the international Christological faith o the Church in the 5th century, which sadly remain to divide us.

Fr. John Anthony McGuckin.  

The following is a link to the Amazon page to Fr. Shenouda's book:  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prayer is Breathing

Metropolitan Georges Khodr: Prayer is breathing 

Original text here

The way we are with our Lord is that we are always tormented and the Lord always heals us. It is not for us to wonder why we are like this-why we are in suffering, why we exist in suffering. Divine inspiration does not give an answer to this question. It does not say why we are subjected to pain, to pain of the body, to pain of the soul, to pain of the conscience. The Divine Scripture is content to observe this and to start off on this basis in order to reveal to us how we can leave this suffering, how we can bear it and change it into the power to create and approach God, turning it into a ladder by which we go up to heaven.  

In the Divine Scripture we have promises of healing, and of sure salvation from sin. When he promised the joy and revealed the life that will come when we accept the mystery of God and obey him in all the afflictions of the world that we taste, whether in spirit or in body. When we are in such a state, in torment like what those who sought healing from the Lord were in, we cry out like them: “Lord, have mercy!”

“Son of David, have mercy on me.” “Lord have mercy on my son, for he suffers greatly…” We observe that all these words are seeking mercy, which in more comprehensive than healing. When we ask for healing, most of us ask for healing of the body, which is something good, but we have not reached the point of suffering from sin leaking in to us, so we ask for it to be removed from us and we remain Christ’s. What is our stance toward the stricken after we fall into evil, after darkness engulfs our souls? What prayer do we pray? Do we trust that God Himself will come down to us if we pray? Do we know that God wants us to speak to Him? For us to enter into dialogue with Him?   

Naturally, God is capable of responding at all times, and he responds effectively if we ask or if we do not ask because He knows all our needs. However, the Lord prefers for us to speak to Him so that we might be trained in His friendship. He asks this boldness of us, the boldness of children with their Father. This is what we ask him in the Divine Liturgy, before we recite the Lord’s Prayer, when we say, “And make us worthy, O Lord, that with boldness we may call You Father…”

God wants to be among us, to be friendly with us, so that we might know that we have risen to the rank of divinity and so we might realize that God has come down to the rank of humanity. If God has come own to our souls as they are, as we know them to be, in their weakness, in their disgrace, in their filthiness, if God visit these soul then He is their Healer.

The problem of modern, contemporary man is that he is content with himself because he has made puppets, toys that he plays with and he thinks that this is enough, especially if he has acquired some wealth and spared himself hard living and so closes himself off and does not ask about anything. This is mankind’s evil in this generation that we are in and for this reason the Lord says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17.17). If a person completely closes all the windows to himself, he suffocates because he cannot breathe. When we are content with toys that we have made, we close the window to heaven on ourselves and we suffocate. People do not only suffocate through their lungs, their mind also freezes, their heart withers, their conscience goes idle and they spiritually die.

What is prayer before this situation? Prayer is us opening the windows when we feel shut in. it is us opening the windows of the heart to heaven so that God can visit our souls. Only then are we able to love.

Prayer is breathing. If we are certain of this we can conquer all the world’s trails because our spirits will be filled with the air of grace.