From a treatise On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great
When humankind was estranged by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as children of God by adoption.
To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on that of Christ by being gentle, humble and patient, but we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life. We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless we are born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.
Our descent into hell takes place when we imitate the burial of Christ by our baptism. The bodies of the baptized are in a sense buried in the water as a symbol of their renunciation of the sins of their unregenerate nature. As the Apostle says: ‘The circumcision you have undergone is not an operation performed by human hands, but the complete stripping away of your unregenerate nature. This is the circumcision that Christ gave us, and it is accomplished by our burial with him in baptism.’ Baptism cleanses the soul from the pollution of worldly thoughts and inclinations: ‘You will wash me,’ says the psalmist, ‘and I shall be whiter than snow.’ We receive this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol. Source: Atwell, Robert (2011-09-08). Celebrating the Seasons (Kindle Locations 4293-4311). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.
It is useless to accuse those around us and those who live with us of somehow interfering with or being an impediment to our salvation and spiritual perfection… Spiritual or emotional dissatisfaction comes from within ourselves, from inexperience and from poorly conceived opinions we do not want to abandon, but which bring on doubt, embarrassment, and misunderstanding. All of this tires and burdens us, and brings us to a sorry state. We would do well to comprehend the Holy Fathers’ simple advice: If we will humble ourselves, we will find tranquility anywhere, without having to mentally wander about many other places, where we might have the same, or even worse, experiences. – Elder Ambrose
The sacred heart of Jesus the Christ is big enough to embrace and contain the whole universe.
By grace, our heart is to become over a lifetime of purification, illumination, and deification, the heart of Jesus the Christ. His heart is to become our heart…
Indeed, “blessed are the pure in heart.”
“The purer the heart is, the larger it is, the more able it is to find room within it for a great number of beloved ones; whilst the more sinful it is, the more contracted it becomes, and the less number of beloved it can find room for, because it is limited by self love, and that love is a false one. It is pleasing to God when a man begins to notice His action in the heart, because He is the Light and the Truth, whilst the Devil is powerful only through darkness, deceit, and falsehood; reveal his falsehood, place it before the light, and all will disappear! The future life is the perfect purity of the heart, which is now only gradually purified, and which is at present more often shut and darkened by sin and by the Devil’ s breathing into it, and only at times, under the influence of God’s grace, brightens and sees God, being united to Him most truly during prayer and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. ” -St. John of Kronstadt
Everyday life is filled with death. And, everyday death is filled with life. The present is always “a matter of life and death.”
The Burial Rite in the Anglican tradition affirms the paradox.
In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.
Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.
O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
We, in the economy of God’s saving work live IN this world but not OF this world. We are invited, indeed commanded, to be full participants in both worlds. Both must be true in order for us to “work out [our] salvation.”
So, our view to the circumstances of our everyday life is paradoxical. It is a human view and a divine view. It is a view that is honest about the struggle of purification. It is honest about the grief and sense of loss and defeat with which we still struggle. And, it takes seriously the faith conviction that “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
We began Lent in the Western Church with the honest statement, “remember that dust you are and to dust you shall return.” And (not but) on Easter we will sing with faith conviction, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” We say both.
That does not mean we are affirming a static both/and. We are affirming that we are in the midst of a journey of purification, illumination, and deification. In the midst. We must be honest in order to be victorious – “I believe, help Thou me unbelief.” We live in the paradox of “already but not yet” and it is a moving edge. Moving toward the day when:
“… sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35.10)
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7.13-17)
I believe Jesus, in the story of the raising of Lazarus does wept and He does say with boldness, “Lazarus come out!!” He does both as God and He does both as man. He does both as fully God and fully man, the God-man.
I offer the following reflections from Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Elder Sophrony, to properly contextualize my comments, surrendering them to the affirmation and/or correction of the Holy Tradition.
Lazarus, the Friend of Jesus
Let us first of all understand that Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, personifies the whole mankind and also each man, and Bethany, the home of Lazarus the Man, is the symbol of the whole world as a home of man. For each man was created friend of God and called to this Divine friendship: the knowledge of God, the communion with Him, the sharing of life with Him. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) And yet this Friend whom God loves, whom in love He has created, i.e. called to life, is destroyed and annihilated by a power which God has not created: death. God encounters in His own world a power which destroys His work and annihilates His design. The world is but lamentation and sorrow, tears and death. How is this possible? How did this happen? These are the questions implied in John’s slow and detailed narrative of Jesus’ coming to the grave of His friend. And once there, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Why does He weep if He knows that in a moment He will call Lazarus back to life? … the Orthodox Church teaches that all actions of Christ are “theandric,” i.e., both Divine and human, are actions of the one and same God-Man. But then His very tears are Divine. Jesus weeps because He contemplates the triumph of death and destruction in the world created by God.
Love, the Power of Life
“It stinketh.” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold “it stinketh”…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and “it stinketh.” At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: “and Jesus wept”… We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life. The power of Resurrection is not a divine “power in itself,” but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!…” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love. From The Christian Way, 1961 Archpriest Alexander Schmemann
In refusing to accept Christ as Eternal Man and, more importantly, as True God and our Saviour – whatever the form the refusal takes, and whatever the pretext – we lose the light of life eternal.
‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17.24).
There, in the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, must our mind dwell. We must hunger and thirst to enter into this wondrous Kingdom.
Then we shall overcome in ourselves the sin of refusing the Father’s love as revealed to us through the Son (cf. John 8.24).
When we choose Christ we are carried beyond time and space, beyond the reach of what is termed ‘tragedy’.
The moment the Holy Spirit grants us to know the hypostatic form of prayer we can begin to break the fetters that shackle us.
Emerging from the prison cell of selfish individualism into the wide expanse of life in the image of Christ, we perceive the nature of the personalism of the Gospel.
[...] It is a recognised fact that the ego is the weapon in the struggle for existence of the individual who refuses Christ’s call to open our hearts to total, universal love.
The persona, by contrast, is inconceivable without all-embracing love either in the Divine Being or in the human being.
Prolonged and far from easy ascetic effort can open our eyes to the love that Christ taught, and we can apprehend the whole world through ourselves, through our own sufferings and searchings.
We become like a world-wide radio receiver and can identify ourselves with the tragic element, not only in the lives of individual people but of the world at large, and we pray for the world as for our own selves.
In this kind of prayer the spirit beholds the depths of evil, the sombre result of having eaten of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
But it is not only evil that we see – we make contact, too, with Absolute Good, with God, Who translates our prayer into a vision of Uncreated Light.
The soul may then forget the world for whom she was praying, and cease to be aware of the body. The prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body.
The soul may return to this world. But the spirit of man, having experienced his resurrection and come near existentially to eternity, is even further persuaded that tragedy and death are the consequence of sin and that there is no other way to salvation than through Christ. Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): from His Life Is Mine, London 1977, p. 37-40
Are you tempted at this point in the Lenten pilgrimage to judge and measure the worthiness of your Lenten performance? Listen to and heed some words of comfort and exhortation. Wisdom. Let us be attentive…
I received your letter, my child, and I saw your anxiety. But don’t be sad, my child. Don’t worry so much. Even though you have fallen again, get up again. You have been called to a heavenly road. It is not surprising for someone running to stumble. It just takes patience and repentance at every moment.
Therefore, always do a metanoia when you are wrong and don’t lose time, because the longer you wait to seek forgiveness, the more you allow the evil one to spread his roots within you. Don’t let him make roots to your detriment.
Therefore, don’t despair when you fall, but get up eagerly and do a metanoia saying, “Forgive me, my dear Christ. I am human and weak.” The Lord has not abandoned you. But since you still have a great deal of worldly pride, a great deal of vainglory, our Christ lets you make mistakes and fall, so that you perceive and come to know your weakness every day, so that you become patient with others who make mistakes, and so that you do not judge the brethren when they make mistakes, but rather put up with them.
So every time you fall, get up again and at once seek forgiveness. Don’t hide sorrow in your heart, because sorrow and despondency are the joy of the evil one. They fill one’s soul with bitterness and give birth to many evils. Whereas the frame of mind of someone who repents says, “I have sinned! Forgive me Father!” and he expels the sorrow. He says, “Am I not a weak human? So what do I expect?” Truly, my child this is how it is. So take courage.
Only when the grace of God comes does a person stand on his feet. Otherwise, without grace, he always changes and always falls. So be a man and don’t be afraid at all.
Do you see how that brother you wrote about endured the temptation? You, too, should do likewise. Acquire a brave spirit against the temptations that come. In any case, they will come. Forget about what your despondency and indolence tell you. Don’t be afraid of them. Just as the previous temptations passed by the grace of God, these, too, will pass once they do their job.
Temptations are medicines and healing herbs that heal our visible passions and our invisible wounds. So have patience in order to profit every day, to store up wages, rest, and joy in the heavenly kingdom. For the night of death is coming when no one will be able to work anymore. Therefore, hurry. Time is short.
You should know this too: a victorious life lasting only one day with trophies and crowns is better than a negligent life lasting many years. Because one man’s struggle, with knowledge and spiritual perception that lasts one day, has the same value as another man’s struggle, who struggles negligently without knowledge for fifty years.
Without a struggle and shedding your blood, don’t expect freedom from the passions. Our earth produces thorns and thistles after the Fall. We have been ordered to clean it, but only with much pain, bloody hands, and many sighs are the thorns and thistles uprooted. So weep, shed streams of tears, and soften the earth of your heart. Once the ground is wet, you can easily uproot the thorns.
– Elder Joseph the Hesychast
“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding him in your ignorance as powerless? Is he, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as his incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and he will receive your repentance, as he accepted that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion.” St. Peter of Damaskos, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
The “rule of life” is not magic. It can hinder our journey of theosis as much as it can foster it. The key is the attitude of the believer not regarding one thing but several things. We hear in the gospel today of the Pharisees. They certainly had a “rule of life.” They spent time in daily prayer consistently. What is more, they were dedicated to reading and reflecting on the “word of God” on a daily basis. They were faithful tithers, almsgivers, and practiced a lifestyle of fasting. They were dedicated to the growth and development of life and ministry of the synagogue and temple of which they were members.
According to Jesus, not only in today’s reading but on a number of other occasions, their “rule of life” was for naught. It did not count for anything.
Where does this point us? Do we conclude that a “rule of life” is the enemy of spiritual growth and transformation? Some Christians have, over the centuries, basically concluded that very thing in some shape or form. Indeed, I would contend, it is one of the most fundamental causes of visible division in the Church. I have attended gatherings where there was a lot of “scriptural searching” and “leadings” and “intense praying” but not a lot of Christ. (Hey, I am willing to admit it might have been me who was out of sync. and not seeking Christ but power or approval.)
So, if all of this is not about a “thumbs up or down” regarding the form our everyday life in Christ take vis-a-vis a rule of life, then what is it about?? It is about the witness of truth in and through form and content. It is about thinking that form can achieve transformation without the proper content. It is also about thinking that content can achieve transformation without the proper form (more of a tricky and subtle trap for the Protestant). It is about seeking and finding (and being found and encountered by) Christ in and through the rule of life that is a dynamic union of form and content engaged in with humility (a genuine desire to know Christ) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is about living in the midst of and heeding the faithful witnesses to the Way, Truth, and Life – Christ Jesus.
Here is a wonderful reflection by Don Schwager to which I have added a quote from the Rule of St. Benedict. It touches on a couple of the points I have articulated.
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; 8 they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; 10 now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.”
11 But Moses begged the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, `With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.’” 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.
19 They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Gospel Reading: John 5:31-47
31 If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; 32 there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.
39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men. 42 But I know that you have not the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Meditation: Do you know the joy of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – and a life freely submitted to the wisdom and knowledge of God’s word? Jesus’ opponents refused to accept his authority to speak and act in the name of God. And they refused to believe that he was sent from the Father in heaven. They demanded evidence for his claim to be equal with God. Jesus answers their charges with the supporting evidence of witnesses. The law of Moses had laid down the principle that the unsupported evidence of one person shall not prevail against a man for any crime or wrong in connection with any offence he committed (see Deuteronomy 17:6). At least two or three witnesses were needed.
Witnesses to Jesus’ true identity
Jesus begins his defense by citing John the Baptist as a witness, since John publicly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and had repeatedly borne witness to him (see John 1:19, 20, 26, 29, 35, 36). Jesus also asserts that a greater witness to his identity and equality with God the Father are the signs and miracles he performed. He cites his works, not to point to himself but to point to the power of God the Father working in and through him. He cites God the Father as his supreme witness.
Jesus asserts that the Scriptures themselves, including the first five books of Moses, point to him as the
Messiah, the promised Savior. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they did not believe what Moses had written. They desired the praise of their own people and since they were so focused on themselves, they became blindsighted to God. They were so preoccupied with their own position as authorities and interpreters of the law that they became hardened and unable to understand the word of God. Their pride made them deaf to God’s voice.
God reveals himself to the lowly of heart
Scripture tells us that God reveals himself to the lowly, to those who trust not in themselves but in God alone. The lowly of heart listen to God’s word with an eagerness to learn and to obey. The Lord Jesus reveals to us the very mind and heart of God. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit he opens our ears so that we may hear his voice and he fills our hearts and minds with the love and knowledge of God. Do you believe that God’s word has power to set you free from sin and ignorance and to transform you to be like him?
Saint Augustine of Hippo (430-543 A.D.) wrote:
“As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for study.”
Daily Quote for Lent:
Christ is our Master who teaches us, by Augustine of Hippo, A.D. 430-543
“There is a Master within Who teaches us. Christ is our Master, and his inspiration and his anointing teaches us. Where his inspiration and his anointing are lacking, it is in vain that words resound in our ears. As Paul the Apostle said: ‘I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.’ Therefore, whether we plant or whether we water by our words, we are nothing. It is God Who gives the increase; His anointing teaches you all things.” (excerpt from Sermon on 1 John 3,13)
The fellowship of the faithful in the Spirit is a school for transformation and service, by St. Benedict, A.D. 480-543
“And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13) and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.” (excerpt from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict)
Source and credits: www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word