Seeking the Face of the Lord

Among the books that provide the content for my daily reflection is The Prologue from Ochrid, by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. In the offering for Tuesday, April 28th, Bishop Nikolai bids us reflect on beholding the face of Christ Jesus, which is the radiance of the Father’s glory.

When I read it I was immediately reminded of C.S. Lewis’ in great essay, “The Weight of Glory” in which we alludes to the idea that we behold the face and glory of Christ in our neighbor:

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

I am also reminded of the wonderful collect in the Book of Common Prayer for the second Sunday after Epiphany that reads:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

It completely blessed me. I am confident that it will bless you as well. Enjoy…

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HOMILY – “About seeking the face of the Lord”

“Your presence, O Lord, I seek.”(Psalms 27:8)

“Let Your face shine upon Your servant.” (Psalm 31:16)

King David sought that which the simple fishermen received without seeking. King David was reclining in darkness and was yearning to see the glowing face of the Lord, which was revealed to the simple fishermen in its complete radiance. King David belonged to the period of waiting, but the disciples belonged to the period of fulfillment. There [the period of waiting] it was only the announcement of the coming of the Lord, but here, [the period of fulfillment] the coming of the Lord. There a presentiment and day dreams about the face of the Lord, here radiance and beauty of that same face. The face of the Lord was radiant even before the resurrection and how much more radiant after the resurrection! The inextinguishable flame of Divinity hid behind the icon of His body and shown through that bodily icon. The disciples gazed upon Him fixedly and they rejoiced in their hearts. For forty days they gazed upon His glorified body and they rejoiced in their hearts!

O my brethren, let us also seek the radiant face of the Lord in order to feel the pleasure by which the angels of God become intoxicated. If we are going to seek Him with yearning in this life, then we will see Him, at least, in the other life. If we do not seek Him in this life, then we will not see him either in this life or in the other life. Brethren, let us yearn for the face of Christ! His every word shows us one feature of His face. Each of His apostles shows us some characteristic of His face. His every deed shows us some feature of His face. Each of His saints shows us some ray of His radiant face. With yearning brethren, let us exam the face of the Lord. Let us assemble ray after ray until it reveals the entire sun. Let us enshrine that Sun in the depths of our hearts, that it illuminates our bodily courts from within. Let us plant this inexpressible sweet vineyard in our heart that we may taste of that immortal drink by which the angels become intoxicated.

O Lord, bearer of light, show Your radiant face to us, Your servants.

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Just an additional note for those who desire to read more of Bishop Nikolai. In the beginning of his homily for the Fifth Sunday after Easter, in Homilies, Volume 1, Bishop Nikolai also reflects on beholding the face of God. He eloquently portrays Christ Jesus as the behold-able face of God for us. I recommend it as well. Here is also a link to an online version of The Prologue from Ochrid.

God Bless,

 Fr. Thomas

Sharing and Speaking Our Participation in the Life of God

Everyone of us has been in the position of seeing something beautiful or reading something that sets off a series of deep understandings or participating in the life of another in such a way that we are overcome with the presence of God in them or the circumstance – alone. At one and the same time such a moment is both wonderful and painful. We are changed and yet we are alone in our change.

There is a profound sense of aloneness. When we are deeply moved the need to share it – “pass it on” – is a given. It is part of being legitimately human to desire to share what has changed us. We desire our transformation to be set in community.

Transformation, and the circumstances that attend it, is meant to be shared. Therein lays yet another opportunity for transformation. The sharing – effective communication – of that which has changed us is also transformative.

Archimandrite Sophrony, in his book about the life of Elder Silouan, The Monk of Mount Athos, reflects on this joy and burden. Even though he is speaking of this need to share such things in the life of Elder Silouan, it is not just the profound experiences of participation in the life of God on the part of the “Elders.” It is a need that true for all of us.

We all need to struggle with this necessity. It is a real way in which we “work out our salvation.” Here is the excerpt from the Archimandrite’s book:

“The ascetic in spiritual contemplation beholds things which for the overwhelming majority of people are a mystery, but afterwards he is faced with the impossibility of communicating this mystery – translated into mortal language it is construed quite differently by him who hears it. The language of human words and concepts is able only to a very limited extent to convey one man’s inner state to another. The indispensible condition for mutual understanding is a common or identical experience. Without it there cannot be understanding because each one of us introduces the compass of his own experience, and it is therefore unavoidable that we should speak in different tongues. Yet, since we all share a common nature, it is equally possible to provoke by words a fresh experience in the soul of another, and thus awaken new life in him. If this applies to human intercourse, how much more so does it apply where divine action is involved. The word of God does, in fact, given a certain inner disposition of the soul, offer new life – the eternal life which is contained within it.

No reader of the Gospels can fail to notice the apparent lack of logical sequence in Christ’s conversation. Consider, for example, the exchanges with Nicodemus, with the woman of Samaria, with the Disciples at the Last Supper. Christ’s interest is directed not so much to what a man says as to what there is in his heart of hearts, and to what he is capable of receiving from God.” Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos, pg.115

God bless you in this ascesis of sharing the unsharable and expressing the inexpressible!!

Fr. Thomas

Partnership with God vs. Union with God

The following is a response to a post made by Pastor Bill Livingston on his blog located here.

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I rejoice in the connection you are making between the mutual trust relationship God intends that we have with Him and the creation of mankind in the opening chapters of Genesis. It is all about marital union. The Book of Common Prayer, in opening words of the marriage ceremony says:

“The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.”

This is one of the reasons I will always choose to live deeper and deeper into the fullness of the liturgical tradition. It reminds me of the deepest truth in ways that impact every aspect of my being – body, soul, and spirit. I do not need to invent the context of remembrance and transformation. The Holy Spirit has already created it and given it to me/us in the Holy Tradition. Pardon the preaching…

Anyway, back to the Genesis account of the creation of the man and the woman and the beginnings of their relationship with God and one another.

I agree with your choice of “fruitfulness mandate” to express the nature of the first covenant between God and mankind.

My take on the appropriateness of the term arises out of my comment to your previous post. It is all about marital union. The Old and New Testaments are shot through with marital language in reference to the essential nature of the relationship between God and humanity.

For example, today (April 27th) in the lectionary schedule we are instructed to read Psalm 45. It is the Psalm that talks about the wedding of the king. Jesus interprets this Psalm when He says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” (Ma. 22.3) What is more, the end of time is interpreted by Jesus in the same way, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him.” (Ma. 25.6) (This thought is taken from Fr. Patrick Reardon’s treatment of this Psalm in his book, Christ in the Psalms, pg.87-88)

Now, of course, the primary union is the Holy Trinity. In light of this union, all other union for us takes on its meaning and is an expression of it by grace; i.e. the God-man relation and the human-human relationship in all its many categories (each category of human-human relation having it own unique character and boundaries – righteousness).

So, then, God says “be fruitful and multiply.” We think of this as a mandate referring to the union between Adam and Eve. And so it is. But first it is an invitation of God for us to be in a marital union with Him. Adam and Eve as one were to enter into union with God; and consummate their union with Him. As a result, God and humanity were to indeed “be fruitful and multiply.” This is the essential nature of the “fruitfulness mandate.” The sharing of dominion over the whole universe was to be a divine-human dominion. In fact a dominion exercised by Christ and His bride!! Wow. Now that puts a different perspective on the fall.

Thus, God warns Adam and Eve against the grave danger to the divine-human relationship and the human-human relationship by those who refuse their wedding proposal, and if they betray the nature of the marital union God “proposes” (pun intended). They will surely die. Death not only in terms of the divine-human union but the human-human union.

And so, what are you and I supposed to make of all of this? What I make of it is that humanity – Adam and Eve – were created in the image of God and in the image of the destiny of the divine-human relationship. The union of Adam and Eve is an “icon” or likeness of the union God intends to have with mankind. That destiny was to be fully human by becoming consummate partakers of the divine nature – by becoming one with God. That is to say, we were invited and meant to enter into marital union with God in the person of the Son. In so doing, we were to TRULY be fruitful and multiply in the fullness of our humanity. This destiny was never achieved in the first creation story.

But in the “second creation story,” if I can coin that phrase, namely the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of the God-man, Christ Jesus, God has re-created mankind in His image through baptism – the Church. The Church is the new humanity, the new Eve, the bride of Christ Jesus, the new Adam.

Now that is a Mystery that renders me speechless ! ! But, that is the Scriptural witness.

Finally, I am reluctant to join you in your use of the term “partnership,” in view of how loaded a term it is in our society today. It has been used by so many in order to try and do away with the reality of union. So, they invent a new term, “partnership.” We hear people saying at parties, “Let me introduce you to my ‘partner’ so and so.” I believe they use the term to dodge the uncomfortable and not easily dealt with term “union.”

I think I will stick with “union.”

God bless you as you powerfully and wonderfully rightly divide the Word of God.

Fr. Thomas

Memory and Transformation — The Fellowship of the Unashamed

There are moments, words, and images that shape us. How and why? It is a deep mystery of God’s purpose. What is also a mystery is the human memory in that shaping process.

The library of the seminary I attended has a motto etched in the stone over the doorway. It reads, “Seek the Truth, Come Whence it May, Cost What it Will.” That saying always stuck with me but it was not until years later that I thought of using it in a sermon. On that occasion I remembered it as saying, “Seek the Truth, Cost What it Will, Lead Where it May.” Obviously, they are not the same. Any yet, they are related and both are true.

Somewhere inside me, the saying developed into something else. It took on a life of its own. Out of the old came the new. I do not disagree with the original saying. I am not saying that the original is “outdated” or “obsolete.” I am not trying to redefine the original to fit my lifestyle. The two sayings stand side by side. Each sheds light on the truth in its own way and are easily seen as in agreement with one another.

There is a piece that has been circulated throughout the Body of Christ for years. It is called “The Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have carried it around in my Bible for years. I come across it now and then and it challenges me down to the marrow of my bones every time.

Like my saying, there are slightly different versions of it and its authorship is attributed to different people. But, the essence of the piece is the same — the truth of the gospel has a price and that price MUST be paid if the truth is to set us and others around us free.

Indeed, the “Fellowship of the Unashamed” could be summarized in the words: “The Truth, cost what it will, lead where it may.” 

Here is “The Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I hope it challenges and refreshes your commitment to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.

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“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. 

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. 

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear.”

Penned by a young Christian pastor in Zimbabwe which were found in his office after he was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.

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My brothers and sisters let us be of sober in mind and living in light of the truth of the Gospel. Let us bear witness unashamedly …

Peter understood deep within his soul that being a disciple meant being a member of “the fellowship of the unashamed.” He basically “got it” even though he couldn’t live out what he knew full well was the radical demand of the Gospel.

And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. Mark 14.27-31

It is only by dying to the sinful flesh and “Holy Spirit power,” as the young Zimbabwean pastor proclaims that we can truly witness.

It was not until Jesus re-receives Peter’s confession of faith (Peter dies to the sinful flesh) and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in him that he can live out what he professed with his lips. He and the other disciples became witnesses in life and word. Jesus told His disciples this would be the case.

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9.26

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith…” Romans 1.16

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

Fasting from a Critical Spirit

“He who speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure for ever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Proverbs 12.17-19

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4.29-30

“So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James 3.5-13

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A friend of mine recently said he believed the Lord was calling him to fast from a critical spirit. This instruction came as a result of reading Catherine Marshall and her story of being challenged by the Lord to do the same thing.

The Brindley family has a tradition. We call it the “eighty twenty principle.” Basically, it is the conviction that we only need to say twenty percent of what we think we need to say. A full eighty percent of the words we speak could, in fact, be left out. Our relationships would not suffer from the absence of those words. As a matter of fact, they would almost certainly benefit. What is more, the twenty percent needs to issue from a humble and contrite heart as much as possible. Then speak.

Much of the eighty percent falls into the category of words that issue from a “critical spirit” – a heart that is not right – and, therefore, need to go unsaid or wait to be said when they can issue with integrity from a humble and contrite heart.

Cuts down on the chatter and the arguments and the wounded hearts.

As with so much in the Christian life, simple but not easy.

There is a difference, therefore, between speaking the truth in simple, clear, and direct terms with profound love and speaking with a critical spirit.

I invite you to read and reflect deeply on this challenge.

There are, obviously, many Scriptural passages we could site. It goes without saying that we need to do our Bible reading on the subject ! ! !

For the purpose of deepening our reflection on the Scriptures, however, I invite you to share extra-biblical quotes that reiterate and deepen our commitment to this challenge.

The quotes I shared with my friend follow separated by asterisks.

Enjoy….

Fr. Thomas

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We Christians need to pray for everyone, and especially all those who have deviated from the faith. The grace of God preserves the baptized as pure gold. Though he be covered with rubbish, filth, and impurity, he is gold all the same. Suddenly peace of soul will manifest in the man. It is pleasant for him, good, but he does not know from where such a peaceful breath of air came to him, and when it vanishes, he does not know to where it departed. This is the Holy Spirit; this grace of God consoles, soothes, and comforts a man, often through the prayers for him by all of the church or through the prayers of spiritual people.

St. Rachel of Borodino

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By accepting a suspicion against the neighbor, by saying, ‘What does it matter if I put in a word about my suspicion? What does it matter if I find out what my brother is saying or what a guest is doing?’ the mind begins to forget about its own sins and to talk idly about his neighbor, speaking evil against him, despising him, and from this he falls into the very thing he condemns. Because we become careless about our own faults and do not lament our own death, we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbor.

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

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Each person must bear the weaknesses of others. Who is perfect? Who can boast that he has kept his heart undefiled? Hence, we are all sick, and whoever condemns his brother does not perceive that he himself is sick, because a sick person does not condemn another sick person…. Love, endure, overlook, do not get angry, do not flare up, forgive one another, so that you resemble our Christ and are counted worthy to be near Him in His Kingdom. My children avoid condemnation—it is a very great sin. God is greatly saddened when we condemn and loathe people. Let us concern ourselves only with our own faults—for these we should feel pain. Let us condemn ourselves and then we shall find mercy and grace from God.

Elder Ephraim

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When anyone is disturbed or saddened under the pretext of a good and soul-profiting matter, and is angered against his neighbour, it is evident that this is not according to God: for everything that is of God is peaceful and useful and leads a man to humility and to judging himself.

St. Barsanuphius the Great

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Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent, that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.

Abba Pimen

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The Holy Eucharist is the first, most important, and greatest miracle of Christ. All the other Gospel miracles are secondary. How could we not call the greatest miracle the fact that simple bread and wine were once transformed by the Lord into His very Body and His very Blood, and then have continued to be transformed for nearly two thousand years by the prayers of priests, who are but simple human beings? And what is more, this mystery has continued to effect a miraculous change in those people who communicate of the Divine Mysteries with faith and humility.

St. Ambrose of Optina

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I have heard some people speak ill of their neighbour and have rebuked them. To defend themselves, these evildoers have answered: “We are saying these things out of charity and concern!” However, I have replied: “Stop practising a charity like that or you will be accusing of deceit the one who said: ‘Whoever slanders his neighbour in secret, him will I destroy,’ (Ps 101[100].5). If you love him – as you claim – pray for him in secret and don’t make a mock of the man. This is the way of loving that pleases the Lord; don’t lose sight of it and you will take the greatest care not to judge sinners. Judas was of the number of the apostles and the thief was among the criminals but, in an instant, what an astonishing change!…”

So reply to anyone who speaks evil of his neighbor to you: “Stop, brother! I myself fall into the most serious faults every day; how could I now condemn this man?” Thus you will make a twofold gain: you will heal yourself and heal your neighbor. Not judging is a shortcut towards the forgiveness of sins, if this saying is true: “Do not judge and you will not be judged”… Some people have committed grave faults in the sight of everyone but, in secret, have carried out the greatest acts of virtue. Thus their detractors have been mistaken by focussing only on the smoke without seeing the sun…

Those who are hastily censorious and severe fall into this delusion because they don’t keep the memory and constant care of their own sins before them… Judging others is shamelessly to usurp a divine prerogative; condemning them is to bring down our own souls… Just as a good grape-picker eats the grapes that are ripe and does not pick those that are green, so a watchful and sensible soul carefully takes note of all the virtues he sees in others; but it is the stupid man who keeps an eye on their faults and failings.

St. John Climacus

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“The disciple is not above his master.” Why do you judge when the Master does not yet judge? For he did not come to judge the world, but to have mercy on it. If we hear it in this sense, the word of Christ becomes: “If I don’t judge, don’t you judge either, you who are my disciple. It is possible that you are guilty of more serious faults than the person you are judging. How great will be your shame when you become aware of this!”

The Lord teaches us the same thing in the parable when he says: “Why look at the speck in your brother’s eye?” He convinces us by means of irrefutable arguments not to want to judge the others and rather to search our own hearts. Then he asks us to free ourselves from the passions that are installed there by asking God for that grace. Because it is he who heals the broken-hearted and who rescues us from our spiritual illnesses. For if the sins that overwhelm you are greater and more serious than those of the others, why do you reproach them without worrying about your own?

All who want to live piously, and above all those who have the responsibility to teach others, will necessarily profit from this precept. If they are virtuous and temperate, giving an example of evangelical life by their actions, they will reprimand with gentleness those who have not yet resolved to act similarly.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

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Let us then not judge others, neither have your eyes on those that take life carelessly, but upon Jesus; from Him let us take our model. Was it I who gave you what you possess? Was it I who redeemed you, that you should look up to me? It is Another who has placed all these things before you. Why turn from the Master and look to your follow servant? Have you not heard Him say: ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.’ (Matt. 11.29)? And again: ‘Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister… And again, ‘Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister (Matt. 20.26, 28). And yet again, let you should take some offence at your fellow servants who are idle and cut yourself off from them, He says, ‘For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you’ (John 13.15)… Why, O Christian, must you always look to what is outside? Why look to others? If you must look at others, look to those who are worthy of your regard: men that are just and upright, whose whole life is lived according to the lay of God, not to those who are breaking it and live unworthily. For if you look to these last you will draw from them only much that is evil and fall into indifference to good, and into vanity, and you will be critical of others. But if you turn your attention to those whose lives are worthy, towards humility, towards loving earnestness, to compunction, you will prepare for yourself a multitude of good things. Hearken to what was said of the Pharisee who despised others, who were upright men, and saw only the sinner (Luke 18.11). Hearken and take warning! Behold how admirable David was in reverencing the just who went before him: ‘I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were’ (Ps. 38.13). For, turning away from sinners, he and others like him regarded only men that were conspicuous for the worthy lives. You should to the same, For your are not to sit as judge over the crimes of others. You are commanded to judge yourself, not others: ‘For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11.32, 33). But you have perverted the right order of things when you exact no account from yourself for your own sins, great and small, but instead search carefully into the sins of others. Make an end of this, and putting from us this perversion of right order, let us set up a tribunal within ourselves and become in it the accuser, the judge, and the punisher of our own crimes. If you are still eager to investigate that which others may have done, then search not into their sins but into their good actions, so that from the memory of our won evil-doing, and from the desire to imitate their good lives (and from the presence of an incorruptible Judge, each day goading the conscience onwards as with a spur), we shall become more humble, and more earnest, and reach at length the joy of eternal happiness through the grace and mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom

The Mystery of the Holy Mystery

The Holy Eucharist is the first, most important, and greatest miracle of Christ. All the other Gospel miracles are secondary. How could we not call the greatest miracle the fact that simple bread and wine were once transformed by the Lord into His very Body and His very Blood, and then have continued to be transformed for nearly two thousand years by the prayers of priests, who are but simple human beings? And what is more, this mystery has continued to effect a miraculous change in those people who communicate of the Divine Mysteries with faith and humility.  St. Ambrose of Optina

Do not neglect , with right preparation, the regular participation in the Holy Mysteries…

Fr. Thomas

The Transformative Power of the Living Word of Christ: A Celebration of “Christ in the Psalms,” by Patrick Henry Reardon

I had the distinct privilege and joy on Sunday, March 21st, to attend the Lenten Retreat at Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral, in San Francisco. My thanks is extended to Dr. Paul Smith, a very dear friend, for this opportunity to be nourished in worship, fellowship, and learning.

The keynote speaker on this occasion was Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor of “Touchstone”, magazine. This first offering was entitled, “Scripture and the Life of Prayer”. In his remarks, Fr. Patrick drew particular attention to the tradition of praying in the morning, noon, and evening corresponding to the 3rd, 6th, and 9th biblical hours, 9am, 12noon, and 3pm respectively.

I will be reflecting on the praying of the “hours” in an upcoming article.

The most important result and immediate fruit of my participation in the retreat, however, was a renewed use of Fr. Reardon’s wonderful book, Christ in the Psalms. It is a wonderful work of theology.

When I say it is a work of true theology, I mean it is the work of a man who faithfully struggles to live what he professes to be true. Theology is prayed life. As such, this book is deeply pastoral. By means of it I have, over the years, been pastured through the “changes and chances of this mortal life” by the Holy Spirit through Fr. Reardon.

Since March 21st, I have been using it daily with renewed gladness. The Psalms appointed for the Sundays of Lent as well as the daily Psalm pattern have been truly life-giving for me. Fr. Reardon’s reflections on them have given the opportunity to identify with Christ in His passion, death, and resurrection in a deeply personal way this year.

I would like to offer some excerpts from Fr. Reardon’s reflection on the Psalm appointed for today, April 6th, Psalm 102 (103). Enjoy the refreshment of the Lord through Fr. Reardon.

Fr. Reardon writes:                                           

“Psalm 102 (Hebrew 103) is another of those psalms in which the believer addresses mainly his own soul. It both commences and ends with the invitation: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul.’ This psalm is an outstanding illustration of that special quality of Christ prayer that we may call the interiorization of sacred history, that dimension of the Bible that Saint John Cassian call its ‘third sense.’” pg. 203

My mind immediately went to a couple of passages that talk about the transformative character of the Word of God when it “lives and moves” in me:

“… and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” Ephesians 3.17

 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3.16

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4.12

So often, I relegate the passages to the informational area of my brain instead of exerting my will to receive it into the truly dynamic location where mind and heart are united in their zealous desire for the Lord and His transformative Spirit to consummate their work of salvation.

Fr. Reardon establishes this character of the Word:

“A word of explanation may be in order here. The ‘second sense’ of Holy Scripture (following Cassian’s schema) is its relationship to our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Bible is ‘fulfilled.’ He is the exegetical key. He is the Lamb who opens the seven seals of its mysteries (Rev.5). Any reading of Holy Scripture, then, that attempts to bypass its fulfillment in Christ will attain only to the letter that kills, not the Spirit that gives life. But we Christians, precisely because we are ‘in Christ,’ also read the Bible as our own book. The Bible is the word directed to our hearts, the perfect law of liberty that reflects our own natural faces (James 1.23-25). The lengthy story of God’s dealings with His people is the history of our own souls. ‘For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope’ (Rom. 15.4). ‘When you pray,’ wrote St. Jerome, ‘you speak to the Bridegroom; when you read the Bible, He speaks to you.’ The reading of Holy Scripture is thus a privileged locus of the Christian’s dialogue with the Lord. For the soul in Christ, the Bible is preeminently the book of the heart, where we study our own history and come to know our own identities in Christ. This ‘third sense’ of Scripture corresponds to what Bernard of Clairvaux meant when he call the Bible ‘the book of experience.’ It means that we do not correctly interpret the Bible except in permitting the Bible to interpret us.” pg. 203

Wow… That is enough for a whole day’s rumination!! I need to let the Lord “read me” to me!! Show me to me. Invite me to live out my real identity instead of the false identity of my own fashioning. I live out in more areas of my life who I really am – my true identity – hidden in Christ deep within me, by allowing the revelation of Christ – His living Word – to touch the areas of my life where dying and rising with Him have not effectively taken place.

So, the whole enterprise of Scripture “study” is not just about the collection of more information. It is about the dynamic fruit-bearing power of the information. It is about “trans-information” or transformation.

I am being invited to enter into the narrative that transforms, which is the sacred (saving) history of God’s people. They were transformed by entering into covenant with God. This sheds a whole new light on the concept of covenant.

Entering into covenant with God is embracing His “history” – His life – and letting it become my life. When that happens, His life enters me and begins to unite itself with every aspect of “me.” When His life finds an area that does not match His identity, He addresses it, conforming to His likeness. His “history” becomes my “history.” His “identity” becomes my “identity.” All by His grace accompanied by my repentant attitude and commitment. The interiorization of the Word of God is essential to salvation.

This is, in fact, what Fr. Reardon says:

“This is the historical God of the covenant and the commandments: ‘The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children: to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.’ It is to this interiorization of the commandments, this ‘remembrance’ of the everlasting covenant, that this psalm summons the soul: ‘Forget not all His benefits; He forgives all your iniquities.’ This knowledge of the forgiving mercy of God is the substance of the covenant in Christ … This knowledge of the true God is inseparable from the forgiveness of our sins…” pg. 204

Salvation is, therefore, the transformative intersection and union of revelation and repentance that progresses and develops throughout my life as a disciple. Let me quote from Fr. Reardon’s reflection on Psalm 30 (31):

Throughout this psalm [30 / 31] there is also an ongoing changing of tenses, back and forth between past and future. We have been redeemed, but we still pray for our final deliverance. Even as we taste the coming enjoyment of God’s eternal presence, hope’s struggle in this world goes on: ‘For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope’ (Rom. 8.24). pg. 60

The establishment of the victory of Christ’s resurrection in my life is founded upon many things. But, the basis of it all is the transformative intersection of the Word of Christ and the joyful sorrow of my true condition at this moment. Indeed, as St. Paul says:

“Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6.1-2

I pray that the resurrection of Christ Jesus is living and moving within you by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray He will show you the real you in Him and you will actually live that real you.

Thank you Fr. Reardon for the way you have and are allowing/cooperating with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to work in your life and through your life into the lives of others such as me …

–Fr. Thomas

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom — Archbishop of Constantinople (~400 AD)

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!