All My Cares

“Just as I am without one plea…”

All my cares are “laid aside” as I behold and approach the altar of God set in the wilderness (or ruins if you prefer the urban image) of my everyday life. And where are these burdens/cares laid? They are placed into the love scared hands of Jesus. Oh that my own care-ridden and inconsistent asceticism/obedience by this “laying aside” would blossom into humility. Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner. Indeed, “I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But, Thou art the same Lord who property is to have mercy…”(1)

Beloved:  “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5.5b-7)

“Just as I am without one plea…” without one excuse or objection.

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” (Psalm 26.4)

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(1) “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” (BCP, 1928)

The Holy Mystery – The Fullness of Being In Union

I am not unmindful of the promise by which I pledged myself to deliver a sermon to instruct you, who have just been baptized, on the Sacrament of the Lord’s table, which you now look upon and of which you partook last night.

You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, consecrated by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what the chalice holds, consecrated by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through those accidents the Lord wished to entrust to us His Body and the Blood which He poured out for the remission of sins. If you have received worthily, you are what you have received, for the Apostle says : ‘The bread is one; we though many, are one body.’ (1 Cor. 10.17).

Thus he explained the Sacrament of the Lord’s table: ‘The bread is one; we though many, are one body.’ So, by bread you are instructed as to how you ought to cherish unity. Was that bread made of one grain of wheat? Were there not, rather, many grains?

However, before they became bread, these grains were separate; they were joined together in water after a certain amount of crushing. For, unless the grain is ground and moistened with water, it cannot arrive at that form which is called bread. So, too, you were previously ground, as it were, by the humiliation of your fasting and by the sacrament of exorcism. Then came the baptism of water; you were moistened, as it were, so as to arrive at the form of bread.

But, without fire, bread does not yet exist. What, then, does the fire signify? The chrism. For the sacrament of the Holy Spirit is the oil of our fire. Notice this when the Acts of the Apostles are read. (Soon the reading of the book is going to begin; today the reader is beginning that book which is called the Acts of the Apostles. He who wishes to advance has the source of advancement. When you come to church, put aside empty talk; concentrate your attention on the Scrip- tures. We are your books. Attend, then, and see that the Holy Spirit will come on Pentecost. And thus He will come : He will show Himself in tongues of fire. For He enkindles charity by which we ardently desire God and spurn the world, by which our chaff is consumed and our heart purified as gold. Therefore, the fire, that is, the Holy Spirit, comes after the water; then you become bread, that is, the body of Christ. Hence, in a certain manner, unity is signified.

You now have the sacraments in their order. At first, after the prayer, you are admonished to lift up your heart. This befits the members of Christ. For, if you have become members of Christ, where is your Head? Members have a head. If the Head had not preceded, the members would not follow. Where has your Head gone? What did you recite in the Creed? ‘On the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sits at the right hand of the Father. 5 Therefore, our Head is in heaven. Hence, when the ‘Lift up your heart’ is said, you answer: ‘We have [them lifted up] to the Lord. 55 Then, because this lifting up of your hearts to God is a gift of God and lest you should attribute to your own strength, your own merits, and your own labors the fact that you have your hearts thus lifted up to the Lord, after the answer, ‘We have our hearts lifted up to the Lord,’

the bishop or priest who is officiating also says: ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have our hearts raised up to Him. Let us give thanks to Him, because if He did not give [the grace], we would have our hearts fixed on the earth.’ And you bear witness to this, saying: ‘It is right and just for us to give thanks to Him who caused us to raise our hearts up to our Head.’

Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord’s Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the ‘Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments. Do you wish to know how they are commended?

The Apostle says: ‘Whoever eats the body of Christ or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 56 What does it mean to receive un- worthily? To receive in mockery, to receive in contempt. Let the Sacrament not appear of trifling value to you because you look upon it. What you see passes; but the invisible, that which is not seen, does not pass; it remains. Behold, it is received; it is eaten; it is consumed. Is the body of Christ consumed? Is the Church of Christ consumed? Are the members of Christ consumed? God forbid! Here they are cleansed; there they will be crowned. Therefore, what is signified will last eternally, even though it seems to pass. Receive, then, so that you may ponder, so that you may possess unity in your heart, so that you may always lift up your heart. Let your hope be, not on earth, but in heaven; let your faith be firm and acceptable to God. Because you now believe what you do not see, you are going to see there where you will rejoice eternally.
St. Augustine, Sermon 227

Being Prayer – Doing Prayer

“Prayer of the heart, then, is no longer prayer of one faculty alone, but prayer of the entire person, spirit, soul, and body together. It is precisely at this stage that prayer becomes not just something we do but something we are – something, moreover, that we are not just from time to time but continually. In this way St. Paul’s injunction becomes a realized fact: ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17). Nor is this all. Since the heart is not only the center of our created personhood but also the place where Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell within us, prayer of the heart is not so much something that we do as something that God does; not so much my prayer as the prayer of Christ in me (Gal. 2:20).” Kallistos Ware, From the forward of On the Prayer of Jesus, By Ignatius Brianchaninov, pg. xxix.

Put On Incorruption — The Heavenly Man

“Saint Paul rejoices in the knowledge that spiritual health has been restored to the human race. Death entered the world through Adam, he explains, but life has been given back to the world through Christ. Again he says: The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven and it is heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthly man, the image of human nature grown old in sin,so let us bear the image of the heavenly man: human nature raised up, redeemed, restored and purified in Christ. We must hold fast to the salvation we have received.Christ was the first fruits’, says the Apostle; he is the source of resurrection and life. ‘Those who belong to Christ will follow him. Modelling their lives on his purity, they will be secure in the hope of his resurrection and of enjoying with him the glory promised in heaven. Our Lord himself said so in the gospel: Whoever follows me will not perish, but will pass from death to life.

Thus the passion of our Saviour is the salvation of mankind. The reason why he desired to die for us was that he wanted us who believe in him to live for ever. In the fullness of time it was his will to become what we are, so that we might inherit the eternity he promised and live with him for ever.

Here, then, is the grace conferred by these heavenly mysteries, the gift which Easter brings, the most longed for feast of the year; here are the beginnings of creatures newly formed: children born from the life giving font of holy Church, born anew with the simplicity of little ones, and crying out with the evidence of a clean conscience. Chaste fathers and inviolate mothers accompany this new family, countless in number, born to new life through faith. As they emerge from the grace giving womb of the font, a blaze of candles burns brightly beneath the tree of faith. The Easter festival brings the grace of holiness from heaven to men. Through the repeated celebration of the sacred mysteries they receive the spiritual nourishment of the sacraments. Fostered at the very heart of holy Church, the fellowship of one community worships the one God, adoring the triple name of his essential holiness, and together with the prophet sings the psalm which belongs to this yearly festival: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. And what is this day? It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the author of light, who brings the sunrise and the beginning of life, saying of himself: I am the light of day; whoever walks in daylight does not stumble. That is to say, whoever follows Christ in all things will come by this path to the throne of eternal light.

Such was the prayer Christ made to the Father while he was still on earth: Father, I desire that where I am they also may be, those who have come to believe in me; and that as you are in me and I in you, so they may abide in us.” Source

Christ is Risen — I Am a Witness of the Things Accomplished Among Us

“Christ is Risen!!”
“Indeed, He is Risen!!”

This is the enthusiastic exchange that is being heard this morning among the Christian faithful in the Western portion of the Church.

“Who says?!,” one might ask. Someone might respond, “Well, that is what the Scriptures say.” And, they would be right.

But, I would hasten to add that the Scriptures say more than “Christ is Risen” in some general sense. The faithful, in the New Testament, say it in the first person singular. “I say, Christ is Risen. I am a witness to this event.” The New Testament faithful are also emphatic that if we say we have fellowship with them, we need to say it too and not just say, “They say so and I believe them.” No, they put us on the spot and say, “Join us in saying, ‘I say so.'”

Jesus, prior to the exhortation of the apostolic faithful, commanded us to bear witness to the saving message and work of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. To bear authentic and authoritative witness that He had died, risen, is present, and is coming.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1.8)

Witnesses. Those who, in union with the Holy Spirit, speak in word and deed of the marvelous works of God the Father in Christ Jesus His Son.

St. Paul speaks of himself as a testifier.

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (I Corinthians 15.1-11)

St. Paul goes on to speak of the importance of the living testimony of the Church and its members.

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men;  and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3.2-6)

St. John speaks of himself as a testifier.

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21.24)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1.1-4)

St. John adds a crucial aspect – the fullness of joy.

Our report of the appearing of the crucified and resurrected Christ Jesus in our lives brings the fullness of joy. You might say, if I may be so bold, it completes what is lacking in the sufferings and resurrection of Christ Jesus so to speak.

There is an essential fullness to our salvation that includes testimony – being a witness and bearing witness – to the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Indeed, it was out of the creative environment set in place and governed by the Holy Spirit that first, the authentic testimony/witness of the Church issued forth into the world. And, it must be emphasized, it was first the proclamation by their way of life. Second, and simultaneously, the words of the believers emerged from this lived life of testimony/witness. These words became, in due course, the New Testament.

The Church is a community of disciples who testify to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Our way of life as well as our words manifest the dying and rising of Christ Jesus by grace. In so doing, we experience and rejoice in the fullness of the joy of our victorious Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Oh the delight and bliss of that joy ! !

By the authorization and grace of the Holy Spirit we are to be trustworthy witnesses of these things ! !

As St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “But now let the testimonies concerning His resurrection itself go with us on our way.” And let us add ours to it. Bear authoritatively by the grace of the Holy Spirit the marks, in your soul, on your body, through your way of life, and the words you use, the saving message:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ the coming One is in our midst.

Our joy is full.

At-one-ment: The Reality and the Living Out of It

“Humans … As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation– the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life– his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really doeswant to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself– creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in,, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtual as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Articulation and Experience — Palm Sunday

Today is the day on which we celebrate pilgrimage. In the gospel texts that articulate the events of this day, we witness not only the intersection of a huge variety of journeys but the culmination of them.

They reach their various destinations. Ironically, the journeys and the people on them all end up at the same place. And this is the case even though the journeyers view, the place – destination – in dramatically different ways. They all believe this is the place where what they desire will be accomplished. Same destination but with different goals. How could we have different goals but all end up in the same place?! (I invite you to consider that notion deeply. Indeed, this dynamic is sooo much of our everyday life in relationship with others.)

I have shared my struggle to put words on the experienced reality of my life with and in Christ Jesus.

I have spoken of it as:

  • a journey/pilgrimage
  • an unfolding
  • about identity before it is about behavior
  • a labyrinth
  • a pulsating point (thank you Fr. Serafim)

As a result of spending time with a dear friend over the course of a weekend of retreat, we spoke of the need to articulate authentic experience. The need to put into words what has, is, and will occur.

He sent this quote to me. It is a beautiful articulation of the faithful struggle that is our life in Christ Jesus.

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line—starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven.  Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City.  But that is not the way I have done it, so far.  I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.  Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back.  I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times.  I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order.  The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back.  Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there.  I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises.  Often I have received better than I have deserved.  Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes.  I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley.  And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will. Wendell Berry, Jaber Crow, p. 133.

The Revelation and Availability of Crucified Love

Contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:

1. How His compassionate love for mankind did not diminish because of His sufferings;

2. How, with love, He offered comfort to His mother, commending John to her as a son in place of Himself;

3. How, with love, He prayed to the Father for mankind:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (St. Luke 23:24).

Now, inhabit and rest not only in the revelation of Our Lord’s love for you but IN the present availability of His love here and now.

Source: The Prologue for March 23rd

Progress

We should always be wary of applying linear notions of progress to our prayer life and asking ourselves: “What stage am I in?” “How far have I progressed?” Whatever “progress” in prayer is supposed to mean, it certainly doesn’t work like that. This is something Thomas Merton pointed out toward the end of his life. He said, “In prayer we discover what we already have. You start from where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize you are already there. We already have everything but we don’t know it and don’t experience it. Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need is to experience what we already possess.” Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Martin Laird, pg. 53

The Witness

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1.1-2)Elder Sophrony

“In Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit God gave us the full and final revelation of Himself. His Being now for us is the First Reality, incomparably more evident than all the transient phenomena of this world. We sense His divine presence both within us and without: in the supreme majesty of the universe, in the human face, in the lightning flash of thought. He opens our eyes that we may behold and delight in the beauty of His creation. He fills our souls with love towards all mankind. His indescribably gentle touch pierces our heart. And in the hours when His imperishable Light illumines our heart we know that we shall not die. We know this with knowledge impossible to prove in the ordinary way but which for us requires no proof, since the Spirit Himself bears witness within us.” Elder Sophrony

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