The True Church: One Aspect – “Giving It Your All” With Perseverance

The Church is authentic when it is composed of men and women who are continually and fully surrendering themselves to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. The form this “comforting” takes is faith, hope, and love.

 Hebrews 12.1-9

[1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
[2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
[4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
[5] And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? — “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
[8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
[9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

To be fully surrendered and available looks different in the life of others and in your own from time to time. It means “giving it your all and beyond” as you truly comprehend it without reservation and with gratitude. As you and I grow, the “and beyond” becomes more than the last “all and beyond.” But, at any one moment it is what we TRULY understand it to be as an expression of “all that we are and all that we have.”

The “all and beyond” is never enough to finish the race on our own. Jesus put it bluntly when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We are weak even in our strongest moments or seasons of discipleship. It is just what we have and MUST offer in synergy with God’s “all and beyond” in Christ Jesus. Together, we finish the race and gain the prize.

2 Corinthians 12.9-10

[9] The Lord … said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
[10] For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

We must put “flesh and blood” on the concept. We must exert our all and must exert His all. Together we WILL, PERSEVERE, and WIN in the deepest and most authentic sense.

The result? The True Church … A Church and a Lord to which others will desire to join themselves so they too may enjoy what we enjoy … THE ONE AND ONLY FULL LIFE – Christ Jesus.

Here are two videos that will help in a wonderful way. Link 1Link 2.

Fr. Thomas

The True Church

The higher the cost for confessing the life of Christ Jesus in life and word the deeper the authenticity of the Church constituted by such confessors. Perhaps we need to listen to the “witnesses — confessors” (martyrs) of the faith in past generations and our own more deeply who speak to us of the inner warfare that must be embraced by all those who desire to be added as living stones into the building which is the the true Church.

Ephesians 6.10-20

[10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
[11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
[12] For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
[13] Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
[14] Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
[15] and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
[16] besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
[17] And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
[18] Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
[19] and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
[20] for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Let us embrace the death of the old man that must continue in order for the new man to be set free to shine forth as a light to all who sit and walk in darkness. Let us continue to pay the price that grace demands with hope that we may lay hold of the fulfillment of the promise of grace with joy.

Fr. Thomas

The Spirit of Gratitude: An Essential Aspect of Our Full Humanity

The gospel reading for yesterday in the Eastern Orthodox Church was the parable of the ungrateful vineyard workers – Matthew 21.33-42. It is a story of the tragic effects of ingratitude toward the owner of the vineyard by those whom he has hired to work in his vineyard. The hatred toward the owner by the workers is “taken out on” those whom the owner sends to collect the harvest. They beat one, killed another, and stoned yet another. In our nice, orderly, and civilized American society, the scene of public beatings and killings are chilling – riots with fatal beatings caught on tape for the world to see. And stoning? Well, that is in class of horror all its own.

Without gratitude, our humanity begins to slowly disappear. The human spirit is infested with the spirits of resentment, entitlement, and perpetual discontent.

All of these thoughts were very sobering and cautionary as I read the homily by St. Nikolai based on the gospel pericope. Let me share just the part on gratitude with a couple of Scriptural passages that speak of the importance of gratitude.

“There is nothing in this world uglier than ingratitude, nothing more insulting or soul-destroying. What can be uglier than when a man suppresses and conceals a good work done to him? And what is uglier than when a man returns mercilessness for mercy, faithlessness for faithfulness, dishonor for honour and mockery for good? Such ingratitude draws a black cloud between the ungrateful on the one hand and the most pure Eye from heaven – that is light without the admixture and goodness without the admixture of evil – on the other… In this world, gratitude receives its true, divine radiance and ingratitude its destructive ugliness, only in man – only in the human race. No single other living creature in the world is capable of such gratitude or ingratitude as man. The most grateful man is the closest to perfection. His gratitude to all God’s creatures around him makes him the finest citizen of this star-studded universe. Gratitude towards men makes him the first citizen of human society; gratitude towards the Creator of the universe and towards men makes him a worthy citizen of the Kingdom of God.” Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pg.127-128

The Psalmist knew the essential character of gratitude. He issues transformative invitations to you and me that are both encouraging and exhortive:

Psalm 95

[1] O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
[2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
[3] For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
[4] In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
[5] The sea is his, for he made it;
for his hands formed the dry land.
[6] O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
[7] For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would hearken to his voice!
[8] Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
[9] when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
[10] For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways.”
[11] Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.

Psalm 100  

[1] Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
[2] Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
[3] Know that the LORD is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
[4] Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
[5] For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Listen to the admonition of St. Paul: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 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. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3.14-17

The Church has, during course of its daily worship life, taken St. Paul’s admonition seriously — “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness” — and adopted Psalms 95 and 100 among other canticles, as its way of encouraging and training believers on the right way to begin the day. We must make a right beginning to each and every day. That beginning is by voicing our gratitude to God for all things. It makes a difference not only in how we relate to Him during the day. It makes a difference in how we end up treating other the people we encounter as well.

Fr. Thomas

The Arena and Warfare We Wage

I am in the process of rereading Unseen Warfare, as edited by Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and revised by Theophan the Recluse. It is a wonderful read, filled with rock solid, inspiring statements regarding the core issues we face as Christians and practical counsel regarding how to best cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own transformation into the full likeness of Christ Jesus.

Let me quote from the “Foreword,” by Staretz Nicodemus:

“This book, which profits the soul is justly named ‘Unseen Warfare’… For it teaches not the art of visible and sensory warfare, and speaks not about visible, bodily foes but about the unseen and inner struggle, which every Christian undertakes from the moment of his baptism, when he makes a vow to God to fight for Him, to the glory of His divine Name, even unto death.(It is of this warfare that the book of Numbers speaks allegorically: ‘Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord’ [Numbers xxi. 14.]) It speaks of invisible and incorporeal foes, which are the varied passions and lusts of the flesh, and of the evil demons who hate men and never cease to fight against us, day and night, as the divine Paul says: ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,  spiritual wickedness in high places’ (Eph. vi. 12).

This book teaches that the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the hierarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.

With what is weapons are warriors armed for this unseen warfare? Listen. Their helmet is total disbelief in themselves and complete absence of self-reliance; their shield and coat of mail – a bold faith in God and firm trust in Him; their armour and cuirass – instruction the passion of Christ; their belt – cutting off bodily passions; their boots – humility and a constant sense and recognition of their powerlessness; their spurs – patience in temptations and repudiation of negligence; their sword, which they hold ever in one hand, is prayer whether with the lips or within – in the heart; their three-pronged spear, which they hold in the other hand, is a firm resolve in no way to consent to the passion which assails them, but to repulse it with anger and wholehearted hatred; their pay and food, sustaining them in their resistance to the enemy, is frequent communion with God, both through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and inwardly; the clear and cloudless atmosphere, which enables them to see the enemy from afar, is a constant exercising of the mind in the knowledge of what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and a constant exercising of the will in desiring only what is pleasing to God, peace and quiet of the heart…

In brief, I would say that every man, who desires salvation, will learn through this book how to conquer his invisible foes, in order to acquire the treasure of true and divine virtues and to be rewarded with an incorruptible crown and a token of eternity, which is union with God, both in this life and in the future… repeating the words of David: ‘Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty’ (I Chron. xxix. 11) for ever and ever. Amen.” Unseen Warfare, pgs. 71-74

It was this Foreword that inspired me to read this book thirty years ago as a newly ordained priest. It is this Foreword that inspires me again as I journey deeper into a new phase of me and my family’s life and ministry. So, perhaps, Unseen Warfare is, for me, a pivotal book that has been used by the Lord to minister His encouragement and strengthen for deeper transformation and more effective Kingdom service in union with Him.

What book(s) does the Lord use in your life over and over to minster His faith, hope, and love to and through you?!

Fr. Thomas

On Spiritual Struggle: The Counsel of a Serbian Elder

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica was a spiritual guide within the Serbian Church during the twentieth century. He lived through all the suffering that occurred in Serbia during that time. As a result of being a teacher, counselor, and faithful Christian during the decades of pain and turmoil, he can offer to each of us words of wisdom and encouragement as we walk through our darkest hours. The following excerpt, which presupposes the Serbian experience, touched and ministered to me in a very deep way recently. I believe, it might be of immense benefit to others. I commend it to you with that understanding.

“Everything is constantly changing; nothing remains static. We perfect ourselves either in good or in evil.

We must learn how to live a heavenly life, and that is not easy, because up until now we have led a life of resistance and opposition … That is how inner resistance builds up. If we do not learn to rid ourselves of this inner resistance, we will not be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and dwell among the angels and the saints. For we have acquired the habit of always opposing one thing or another, as there is always something that is against our will. We have not learned to be obedient to the will of God but always want our will to be done. Well, in this case there will be no place for us in heaven…

The evil spirits are always wanting to interfere with whatever we are doing for our salvation. Alas, we who are lukewarm usually say to ourselves, ‘Wait, I have not yet done this. I have not yet tried that … I will repent later. After I have done all these things I will repent, God, and I will walk the straight path, wandering neither to the right nor to the left.’ This is exactly what the spirits of evil want us to do; they want us to put off our salvation until tomorrow, or the day after, and so on and so forth, until the end of our life. But the Holy Fathers say, ‘Go with the Lord, go today, follow Him!’

May the Lord give us Serbs and the whole world the spiritual strength to transform ourselves. We know that the time is running out, and the evil spirits know this too … But it can all turn out for good if each one of us begins with himself, if the transformation starts with us. We should try to have good thoughts which will radiate from us. A meek and humble person is always very pleasant to be with, for he emanates peace and warmth. That person may not say a single word, yet we rejoice to be in his presence. So, if we all begin with ourselves, transformation will take place. Good will be renewed and established all around us…

We are very peculiar beings, and we often wonder at all the mysteries that surround us. We know a little bit about the world, but this is really very little. In the first place, we are a mystery to our own selves. Who are we and what are we, we wonder? No one asked us to be born, and no one will ask us when we will depart this life. Our life span is very brief, but even during this brief time we have been given many opportunities to perfect ourselves in good and to turn toward the Absolute Good. Only when we do so will our horizons expand and some answers become clearer to us, such as why the world exists and why it is the way it is. We will understand that it is because of us, that we are to blame for the state of the world today. We will realize that we are constantly destroying peace, love, and joy. Yet, when we become united with the Source of life, everything will become clear. We Christians have been called to spread Divine peace and the atmosphere of heaven. There are very few of those who realize that this is how we should be – a source of goodness, peace, and joy.

The seal of the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, which bears the fruits of our life. Meekness, peace, a merciful heart, goodness, kindness, faith, and abstinence are some of the fruits of tears offered to Christ from the heart. The results of such tears are love of one’s enemies and prayers offered up to the Lord for them. Tears give us strength to be joyful even in times of great suffering and tribulation and to look upon the sins of others as our own and repent for them. Tears make it possible for us to lay down our life for our brother.” Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (pgs. 133-135)

This is certainly not an easy saying and it is hard to hear. But, as with all the Holy Spirit speaks, it is designed to lead us into all truth. I pray you will embrace the words of this great Elder and it will be a balm of healing and hope to your soul.

Fr. Thomas

Vision is the Hearbeat of Transformation

I came across a wonderful quote from the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

After doing a google search of the quote, I came across a response by someone who blogged the quote.

“‘the endless immensity of the sea’ eh? Has anybody thought of how long endless is, and how LITTLE there is to do after a while on a ship? Such thoughts would make me give up entirely. Now, thinking of all the many places the ship I was helping to build would travel, and that I would help them do it…now THAT’s incentive!”

So, what I realize is that, perhaps, it is not enough to be promised eternal life! It is just as important to fill that promise with a particular “quality” or “destination.”

Jesus promised not just “eternal life” but went on to speak of the quality of that “life,” namely, “the fullness of joy.” The fulness of joy has, perhaps, many ports of call. Each destination is unique and each leads from one glory to yet a greater glory. From one stage of outrageous fulness of joy to a yet greater joy — now and ever and to the ages of ages.

Fr. Thomas

New Revelation vs. Deeper Revelation

“My child, do not expect a new Revelation. I shall only speak to thee of the things which have been told to men from the beginning. What may be new will be the particular attention given to certain aspects of the eternal truth.” In Thy Presence, by Fr. Lev Gillet, pg. 11

What I hear Fr. Lev Gillet saying goes to the very at the very heart of the traditional understanding and application of the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus – the God-man.

I have been involved, over the years in many conversations in which the concept of a “new and deeper understanding of the revelation of God in Christ” was used to validate policies and practices in the Church that flatly contradicted what has been understood by the Church at all times, by all, in all places since the time of the apostles.

I have never quite understood how such a rationale could be articulated let alone put into place through concrete policies and actions. The reason I find this approach to be an insult to the Holy Tradition issues from my training. My mentors plowed deeply into my mind a deep commitment to  a “conciliar” understanding and application of the Scriptures.

There is a difference between a deeper understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ which is unchanging and a purported understanding of the revelation that represents a clear and obvious departure from what the Church has come to understand the revelation means and requires of the faithful.

If, in fact, as the Church Fathers contend, the Church has been and is the Spirit-filled and directed community in union with the Living Christ, in its understanding of the revelation of the Good News and its application, then any change that might be contemplated by any part of the Church must, inevitably, be submitted for consideration by the whole Church; participate in that consideration, and abide by the decision of the whole Church regarding the contemplated change.

One aspect of a conciliar understanding of the revelation of God in Christ is inner consistency. That means that no matter how deep our understanding of any aspect of the revelation might become, it will have a “sameness” to all of our previous understandings of the same aspect of the revelation. This sameness witnesses to the integrity of not only the revelation but our interpretation.

Of course, integrity does not disqualify diversity. Diversity is no enemy of unity in the arena of the Church’s life or the validity of its comprehension of the practical meaning of the Word become flesh for our salvation. From the beginning of the Church’s life, regional diversity of understandings and applications have been common. However, these diverse understandings and applications have been build upon an underlying common understanding.

A second aspect of the conciliar character of the Church’s relationship with the revelation is that any decision must be in agreement with what has been understood at all times, in all places, by all over all the way back to the apostles.

The Church, if it is the Church, is One. This is the Church’s conciliar understanding of our Lord’s words in John 17. This chapter is like a doorway to many other passages to be sure.

It might be fair to contend that all of the Church’s problems are the fruit of its repudiation of conciliation and its refusal to embrace re-conciliation (the re-establishment of conciliation as a foundation stone of its operation and of its practical union).

The likelihood of another “Ecumenical Council” is slim. Why? Well, consider, for a moment, what would have to happen for that to take placd. Each and every denomination would have to submit its entire understanding and practices to the mind of the Church as it was last understood when the Church was one in practice. In other words, the whole Church would have to repent – die to the mind it has that caused and sustained the inner division and be born to its authentic mind (its only mind), which is the mind of Christ.

In my opinion, and that is just what it is, an opinion (and not I am sure all that humble), the only way for the Church to move ahead with authenticity is to tackle the issue of its own division. The Church’s division is, perhaps, the most convincing proof of its repudiation of a conciliar understanding and application of the Gospel.

Fr. Thomas