“Wisdom… Let us be Attentive!”

The Divine Liturgy is designed; first and foremost, I believe, to be “entered into” (experienced) with the heart and the intellect. And, what is more, the relationship of head and heart must be of a particular kind. The head must descend into the heart, there to dwell restfully, perceiving and comprehending all it receives through the heart. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the congregation is exhorted to pay attention in this particular way.

Before the reading of the Gospel, the Church proclaims that the life of Christ Jesus is the very foundation and center of the Scriptures. How does it do this? The celebrant issues an exhortation to pay attention. He is proclaiming that what is about to happen, what is about to be spoken (and hopefully received) is of first importance – the revelation of Christ Jesus for the life of the world! Then he says a prayer asking God to grant all who will hear (and receive) the Gospel proclamation will do so with the intention having what they hear (and receive) to transform their lives and the world in which they live.

Here is what is said by the celebrant and people at that point:

Priest: Wisdom. Arise. Let us be attentive. The Lord be with you.

People:  And also with you.

Priest: Let us pray.

Priest: Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Priest: Peace be with you.

People: And also with you.

Priest: The Holy Gospel of ……..

I was spending time, early this morning, in the Psalms and chose to read Psalm 78, one of the “exodus Psalms” (also one of my favorites). Verses 1-8 leapt off the page in light of the proclamation before the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy. Listen to this!

Psalm 78.1-8

[1] Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
[2] I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
[3] things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
[4] We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders which he has wrought.
[5] He established a testimony in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children;
[6] that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
[7] so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
[8] and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Sounds the same, doesn’t it?! Well, of course it does. The Divine Liturgy is simply the revelation of the whole Scriptural counsel of God in liturgical form. “The Mysteries,” proclaim and consummate the transformative power and wisdom of God in Christ Jesus.

I was using Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms as my vehicle for moving through Psalm 78. Here is what he says about verses 1-8. Listen for the similarity between what this 19th century evangelical pastor/preacher says about the attitude that all faithful Christians need to have and what the priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church says about the character of our discipleship in the Divine Liturgy.

“’Give ear, O my people, to my law.’ The inspired bars calls on his countrymen to give heed to his patriotic teaching. We naturally expect God’s chosen nation to be first in hearkening to his voice. When God gives his truth a tongue, and sends forth his messengers trained to declare his word with power, it is the least we can do to give them our ears and the earnest obedience of our hearts. Shall God speak, and his children refuse to hear? His teaching has the force of law, let us yield both ear and heart to it. ‘incline your ears to the words of my mouth.’ Give earnest attention, bow your stiff necks, lean forward to catch every syllable. We are at this day, as readers of the sacred records, bound to study them deeply, exploring their meaning, and laboring to practice their teaching. As the officer of an army commences his drill by calling for ‘Attention,’ even so every trained soldier of Christ is called upon to give ear to his words. Men lend their ears to music, how much more then should they listen to the harmonies of the gospel; they sit enthralled in the presence of an orator, how much rather should they yield to the eloquence of heaven.

“Speak Lord, for your servant listens.”

More than enough said and, hopefully, more than enough heard!

Fr. Thomas

A Prayer of Parents for their Children

Years ago, I came across a wonderful prayer designed to be prayer by  parents for their children. I have prayed it for our three children ever since. I shared it with Lorna and she is praying it for them as well.

We share it with you and hope it is beneficial in the pursuit of running the race that has been set before you – Christian parenting.

Fr. Thomas and Lorna

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A Prayer of Parents for their Children

Holy Father, eternal God, from whom all goodness and blessings flow, I humbly pray to You for the children Your mercy has granted me. You have given them substance; You have through an everlasting soul given them life, and renewed their spirit through baptism, by virtue of which they are able to obey Your commandments and attain the kingdom of heaven. Preserve them in Your grace to the end of their lives, and sanctify them, that Your Name be hallowed in them. Co-operate with me by Your grace that I bring them up for the glory of Your Holy Name and for the benefit of our neighbors. Grant me the necessary means for this, wisdom, patience, and fortitude. O Lord, enlighten them by the light of Your wisdom that they love You with all their soul and thought. Plant into their hearts the fear and repulsion of all wickedness that they move forward on their way without corruption. Beautify their soul by Your chastity, kindness, humility, diligence, patience, and all virtues. Guard their lips by truth that all slander, falsehood and wickedness be offensive to them. Sprinkle them with the dew of Your grace, that they prosper in virtue and holiness, and that they grow up in Your favor and in the love of righteous men. May their Guardian Angel ever be with them and protect their youth from vain thoughts, from the attraction and seduction of this world, and from all snares of the evil spirit. And if at any time they were to sin before You, turn not Your face away from them, but be merciful to them, awaken in their heart contrition, and according to the multitude of Your mercies, cleanse them of their sins. Do not withdraw from them the bounties of the earth, but grant them everything necessary for their temporal needs and for the gaining of eternal salvation. Protect them from affliction, anger, and misfortune, harm and pain through all the days of their life. O good Lord, I pray to You, grant that I have joy and gladness in my children; vouchsafe that I appear with them before Your terrible tribunal, and without fear say: “Here I am, O Lord, with the children You have given to me;” that together with them, praising Your indescribable goodness and eternal love, I may glorify Your most Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen.  — Taken from Selected Orthodox Prayers, Eastern Orthodox Books, Willits, CA.

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom – According to the Hours of the Day and Night

O Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly blessings;

O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment;

O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word deed, forgive me.

O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart;

O Lord, deliver me from every temptation;

O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires;

O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; do Thou, being God, forgive me in Thy lovingkindness, for Thou knowest the weakness of my soul.

O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy holy Name;

O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, Thy servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end;

O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me, according to Thy grace, that I may make a start in doing good.

O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of Thy grace;

O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in Thy Kingdom.

O Lord, receive me in repentance;

O Lord, leave me not;

O Lord, save me from temptation;

O Lord, grant me pure thoughts;

O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace;

O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins;

O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience;

O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness;

O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of Thee in my heart;

O Lord, vouchsafe that I may love Thee with all my heart and soul, and that I may obey in all things Thy will;

O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters;

O Lord, Who knowest Thy creation and that which Thou hast willed for it; may Thy will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for Thou art blessed forevermore. Amen.

The True Church – In But Not Of the World

In a recent post, I spoke of, what I believe to be, an aspect of the “true Church,” namely, “Giving it your all with perseverance.” I want to add another aspect to the list, “life witness.” Now, when I use the word “witness,” I intend for you to understand that I bring to it the connotations of the Greek word, “martyr.” When you read the word “witness” in your New Testament, most likely the Greek word is martyr.

I do not want to take the space in this post to give a detailed exposition of the threads of meaning that this connection exposes. Suffice it to say, martyrdom in some form or another (as the Holy Spirit determines), is the inevitable shape that true discipleship in Christ takes when we are “giving it our all with perseverance.” In short, martyrdom is simply dying to all that is not of Christ in your life – interior and exterior – and living in more and more practical conformity with all that is of Christ – interiorly and exteriorly.

Several passages from the New Testament will take us deeper into the nature of the true Church, which is martyrdom.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6.24

“But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13.9-13

“But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.” John 17.13-19

“Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4.4

Our martyrdom, in essence, begins with the commitment to no longer live according to the standards and priorities of “this world.” We are citizens of “another world” – the Kingdom of God – which has been and is breaking in to the kingdom which is “this world,” and transforming it (according to ways that are appropriate to God’s economy of purpose) to the Kingdom of Heaven. The “flow” is toward the consummation of the Kingdom of Christ no matter what appearances may indicate. The gates of hell shall not (are not) prevailing against this progress no matter how hidden and subtle.

Our commitment, according to our Lord and Master, Christ Jesus and the “witness” of the Holy Spirit within us, is to decide at all times and in all places with all persons, to make our decisions and live in identifiable ways that are in agreement with the standards and priorities of the Kingdom of God.  It is coming to the point where, nothing less than this is acceptable to us in our own life before we even begin to say or do anything about our conviction of this in the lives of others (I must be actively addressing my own stuff before I presume to speak to others about taking care of what I believe to be their stuff! Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating letting sin slide. Just the opposite. I am advocating NOT letting sin slide but taking care of it in our own life first.).

Such a commitment to not “give in” to the standards of this world is, of course, huge. But, I at least, cannot rationalize it away. I cannot pretend that it is anything less than the true baseline of, as Watchman Nee termed it, “the normal Christian life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic, The Cost of Discipleship, called anything less than such a commitment, “cheap grace.”

Will we fall back into the old ways, the ways of the world? Will it be painful and feel artificial and seem many times like no progress is being made? Yes. The Church Fathers make it abundantly clear that “walking in the light” – living the Kingdom life beginning here and now, in the midst of this world, is tantamount to warfare. Warfare of an invisible kind with the “passions of the flesh” that have reigned within us unchallenged.

The passions of pride, self-love, and vainglory desire to keep us enslaved, sowing in the soul confusion, delusion, and vain reasoning. When we realize this is the case and begin to oppose the “powers and principalities” that war against Christ within us, we must intentionally lay aside all our acquired learning, every opinion about God and ourselves. We must allow the Holy Spirit through use of the Holy Tradition, “which has great holy power and is filled with divine wisdom,” teach and conform us to the likeness of Christ Jesus.

Because the roots of the “ways of this world” have grown deep and strong into the depths of our souls, the journey of spiritual healing and maturing will be lifelong. Our Lord made it abundantly clear: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7.13-14)

We need to become as children not just when we are new to the faith. No. We must remain teachable children and grow up into the kind of maturity that remains deeply teachable. The Holy Tradition calls this characteristic, humility. St. Paul is speaking of this character trait when he says, “If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8.2)

You and I will lapse into times of forgetfulness and revert to the ways of the world. Then, all of a sudden we will be awakened out of our stupor by the Holy Spirit. But we must, never give up. We must never let ourselves become despondent or give in to feelings or thoughts of resignation or self-condemnation. Breaking the power of the ways of the world in our life is hard work that takes time to accomplish. The healthiest thing to do at the moment we realize our lapse is to cry out to God in thanksgiving for the merciful “wake-up call,” agree with the truth God has shown us, re-turn to our right mind (truthful mind) regarding our life, and move forward from that point with great thanksgiving.

The old ways cannot be overcome by our own strength. We must be being continually strengthened and equipped by the Holy Spirit. But, it is also true that the old ways cannot be overcome without the exertion of our will with regularity and constancy. It is the union of our will with the strengthening and equipping will of the Holy Spirit that can successfully overcome the power of the spiritual inertia of the old “frame of reference” and our tendency to “fall back” into the way of life we have forsaken.

You and I will not “win friends and influence people” according to “this world.” But, we may be the leaven of salvation to many. St. Seraphim of Sarov, the 18th century Russian saint, greeted all with these words: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

The most important questions that the true Church of Christ Jesus over the last two millennia asks us are: Do you know what the Lord desires for you to do? Are you doing it? If not, why not? When will you do it? What price are you paying for the delay? Are you, in short, setting your hand to the plow and looking back?

Be blessed by the “witness” of St. Mamas, who is commemorated today…

The Holy Martyr Mamas of Caesarea – September 2 — Mamas, was born in Paphlagonia of renowned Christian parents, Theodotus and Rufina. His parents were cast into prison for Christ’s name. His father died first in prison, and as soon as Rufina bore Mamas, she also died. Thus the newborn child was left alone between the dead bodies of his parents. However, God the Provider sent an angel to a noble widow, Ammia. Ammia saw the angel in a dream: he told her to go to the prison and take the child in. The local eparch granted Ammia permission to bury the dead and to take the child to her home. When Mamas reached his fifth year, he began to talk and his first word was “Mama!”-for which he received the name “Mamas.” In school, Mamas displayed unusual intelligence, and as he had been reared in a Christian spirit, he did not hide his faith, but confessed it to the other children and laughed at the idols. During the reign of Aurelian there was a bitter persecution of Christians. The pagans did not even spare the Christian children. Mamas was fifteen years old when he was brought before the emperor. The emperor told him that he needed only to deny Christ verbally. Mamas replied: “Neither in my heart nor with my lips will I renounce my God and King, Jesus Christ.” The emperor ordered him to be beaten, burned with torches, and finally thrown into the sea. But an angel of God saved him, and took him to a high mountain near Caesarea. There he lived in solitude and prayer. Even the wild beasts were tamed by his sanctity. He was finally discovered by his persecutors and subjected to torture again. When he had overcome torture both by fire and by wild beasts, St. Mamas was run through with a trident by a pagan priest. Thus, in A.D. 275, he gave his holy soul to God, to Whom he had been faithful during all of his tortures. From his relics many healings of the sick have taken place. (The Prologue from Ochrid, pg. 279)

I know, I haven’t given you or myself much “wiggle room.” But then, neither does Jesus. The character of our martyrdom is NOT determined by us. It is decided by God. Your decision and mine is whether or not to embrace it with gratitude, humility (a truly repentant attitude – “joyful sorrow”), and perseverance when it becomes known. This we do, it must be stated, in the context of the visible and invisible fellowship of the saints. To God be the glory…

Fr. Thomas

In Prayer

I was going through some of my books this past weekend, in order to make room in our garage (hopefully NOT for more stuff!). I came across a much loved volume, The Valley of Vision. It is a collection of Puritan prayers. For all of the “bad press” that the Puritans get, we owe them a great debt of gratitude. Without them, much of the Christian core values upon which our country is founded would, perhaps, be missing. What is more, they have much to teach us regarding pragmatic trust in a “Providential God,” who is intimately involved in the warp and woof of everyday life, calling His faithful flock to sacrificial service and providing for them every step of the way. Their faith in God quite often waxed “charismatic” as it soared with zealous abandon as this prayer testifies:

O Lord, in prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all   evils on the shores of mortality. Time, with its gay amusements and cruel disappointments never appears so inconsiderate as then.
In prayer I see myself as nothing; I find my heart going after Thee with intensity, and long with vehement thirst to live to Thee. Blessed be the strong gales of the Spirit that speed me on my way to the New Jerusalem.
In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.
In prayer all my worldly cares, fears, anxieties disappear, and are of as little significance as a puff of wind.
In prayer my soul inwardly exults with lively thoughts at what Thou art doing for Thy church, and I long that Thou shouldest get Thyself a great name from sinners returning to Zion.
In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life, and taste heavenly joys; entering into the eternal world I can give myself to Thee with all my heart, to be Thine for ever.
In prayer I can place all my concerns in Thy hands, to be entirely at Thy disposal, having no will or interest of my own.
In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, Thy kingdom to come, with greatest freedom, ardent hopes, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved.
Help me to be all prayer and never to cease praying.

    The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, pg. 264-265.

Now that is beautiful. As I inhabit those prayerful words, they transport me, via my heart, to a place that my mere reason and best efforts will not take me on their own.

Fr. Thomas