The Four Degrees of Love

The Holy Tradition of the Church proclaims four degrees of love in word and deed.

1. Hate evil.

Love for all to see

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12. 9-10)

2. Love good.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12.9-10)

3. Mourn for your sin as your own and the sin of the other as if it were your own.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5.4)

4. Be willing to die for the sake of the sin of the other as your own.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5.21)

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Corinthians 5.14-15)

This is Christ Jesus. This is the revelation of the heart of God – of God in His entirety – LOVE… The work of the Holy Spirit begun at Pentecost and lived out in ordinary time, places, and people, is to manifest the fullness of the love of God the Father, in Christ Jesus, in and through His Church. Our life together and personally is to display the fulness of true love.

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Corinthians 5.14-15)

“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

Making Saints

On this most holy day of our Lord — All Saints — the saints with a single voice as one new many in Christ Jesus say to you:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us…

In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.  In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory…

All Saints

And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…

 I therefore … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”  (Ephesians 1.1-8, 11-14; 2.1-7, 3.10; 4.1, 14-21)

———————

The Holy Spirit at Pentecost created saints and a school for saints – the Church. But, Pentecost is not a past event. It is an ongoing event – an unfolding miracle. The Holy Spirit gave to us who believed on the name of the Jesus, new life – that was Pentecost no less than the one recorded in Acts. An ongoing event. An event without an end. We became partakers of the divine nature – the breath life, His very Life. We were born from above. He is now, right now, conforming us to the likeness of Christ Jesus. He is now, right now, doing so in the life of people like you and me somewhere on the face of the earth. We are, by His presence and work, participating in the creation and schooling of saints. Pentecost was and is the revelation of the ongoing
creation of a new humanity in Christ Jesus.

The celebration of “All Saints” on the Sunday after Pentecost is a celebration of this ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in all who believe. A celebration of, perhaps the greatest miracle of God, the Church, a community of men and women in whose life, personally and corporately, the resurrection of Christ Jesus is being established as a practical reality even in this present moment. A great and expanding cloud of witnesses.

We are not ashamed of the name of Jesus. We confess the faith of Christ crucified, risen, actively reigning, and coming again. To Him be glory along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.

Fr. Thomas

“Who do you say that I am?” – Identity and Ministry in the Church and World.

Pentecost is the feast in which we celebrate “being born from above” and growing up – maturing – in our identity. It is bothcorporate and personal. It is both Divine and human.

Confusion and the division it breeds are weapons of the enemy… By means of them he attempts to thwart the purposes of God in our lives. Many famous authors have ventured depictions of the shape of the enemy’s effort:

  • Nouwen – the desire for power, the spectacular, relevance.
  • Rolheiser – pragmatism, loss of wonder, spirit of restlessness.
  • Pennock – the passions of vainglory, pride, self-love.
  • Bonhoeffer – cheap grace (Christianity without the cross or the scars that go with it).

There are, of course, the classic passages from the gospel accounts that set all of this in its proper context: the baptism and temptation of Jesus coupled with His initial calling of disciples; the exchange between Jesus and His disciples at Caesarea Philippi; Jesus’ discourse and prayer recorded in the gospel of John on the night of His betrayal.

The focus is on identity and mission. Pentecost is the feast of identity in Christ. The Holy Spirit puts forward as normative, the two universally accepted Mysteries – Baptism and Holy Eucharist – as reflections and proclamations of the meaning of and right relationship between, first, Christ and His Church and second, identity and mission.

Clarity regarding this foundational aspect of our discipleship is vitally important territory for the enemy to conquer. If he can work confusion regarding the identity of Christ Jesus as well as our personal and corporate identity in Him, he has achieved a huge victory. A great example of the specific form this debilitating confusion takes is misunderstanding of such things as:

  • Humility and exaltation
  • The relationship between faith and works
  • The relationship between identity and mission – being and doing
  • Strength and weakness
  • The definitions of success and failure in parish life
  • Confusion of the meaning of the terms sacred, secular, and profane

I am sure you can add to this list from your own experience…

This has lead over the centuries, and still does, to some amazing definitions and strategies on the part of many in the Body of Christ. The paths we have trodden as the Body of Christ have been and are disheartening.

Let me give you an example of a typical area of confusion – the saints. Confusion about what the lives of the great men and women in the Body of Christ were really like is dangerous. Those who read their lives without a commitment to hear voice of the Holy Spirit through them can easily go astray.

What is up with the saints?! Who were they – really?! What value do they have for us? Or, you could take the other tack. Everybody wants a saint for their very own. And, I am not talking about ancient people. To be associated with someone who is a modern day “saint” or “icon” of, let’s say, evangelicalism, like Billy Graham or of Catholicism, like John Paul II or Teresa of Calcutta will do just fine. In essence, everybody needs (wants) a saint. Having a saint of your very own is pretty cool. Of course, for those who are seeking the fulfillment of the passions listed above, it involves something else. Some want a piece of the pie of saintly association to serve their own agendas.

This last little point is very important. We can hijack saints. We can, on the one hand, romanticize and “Photoshop” their lives. Or, on the other hand, we can make the people who promote(ed) our agendas in the distant or recent past into saints to further our aims. After all, who is going to shoot down a saint?! Makes you look pretty mean-spirited if you do. The result? Our agenda takes a giant leap forward. The more saints you can enlist or create, the better.

Sound terrible? Well, maybe. But it IS true. Either way, we create or perpetuate confusion regarding their identities and ultimately our own.

Romanticization and syncretism are two of the obvious results of confusion.

Let me give you a simple example. Today, June 9th, is the feast of St. Columba. As a life-long Anglican, I can testify to the form this confusion takes regarding our Celtic heritage. At this point I refer you to an article by, The Very Rev. Lester Michael Bundy OSB(Obl), Professor Emeritus, Regis University. This article might give you folks who aren’t familiar with the whole “romanticization” and “saint ownership” syndromes, an idea of the context in which many of us in the “liturgical-historical” wing of the Body of Christ live and move. Read the article and then return to this article – look for romanticization and syncretism.

Having read that article you may now get the idea of what I mean by the terms “romanticization” and “saint ownership.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the saints, especially the Celtic ones! I love reading their lives.

My example about the saints is for the purpose of pointing out the inherent confusion regarding their identities. Who WAS St. Columba? Really… The revelation of identity comes via struggle of engaging in real life in relationship with the one and only identity giving person – God.

BUT… Remember, this is an article about identity. God’s identity and our identity and how these relate and through the relationship, create life. The article on St. Columba points out how easily confusion can enter into our “sacred” world. First, confusion in the form of a romanticized picture of discipleship. Second, confusion in the form of different groups hijacking the saint in one way or another to fulfill their own agendas and the syncretization of the gospel.

Pentecost, and the events that followed it, reveal the truth regarding Christian identity – where it comes from and how it matures. For example, it teaches us to take seriously the whole question of identity BEFORE we take seriously the whole question of missional effectiveness. Pentecost, in my opinion, can (has?) also be hijacked and turned into a feast about mission and not about identity. Lets get the horse and the cart in the right order. Identity first then mission.

The Divine Liturgy proclaims and provides grace for the living out of these themes. These truths are woven like a wonderful and mysterious tapestry by the Holy Spirit as He invites us to be attentive and responsive to the living realities of:

  • Personal and corporate identity in Christ
  • The grace and gift of the Holy Spirit
  • The communion of the saints
  • Missional living as the fruit of union with God and one another

We learn identity in the furnace of mission. I get that totally. But identity is still the first thing… Read the passages I referenced above. You will see that the “who you are” comes before the “you will do this.” in other words, what I do doesn’t make me who I am. What I do can certainly help reveal the truth, but it doesn’t create the truth of my identity. St. Columba learned his identity through a good number of struggles in the harsh world of 6th century Ireland. We are learning and living out more fully our identity in the harsh environment of a 21st century global community.  One environment is not “harsher” than the other. Each generation bears its own expression of the “arena of harshness” in which all of this is worked out.

Sainthood is not romantic. It is a story of struggle. It is the story of the warfare laden journey of a disciple and his or her community of faith from confusion and disorder regarding identity and mission to clarity, order, and effectiveness. From self-serving life to self-giving life. Portraying saints as saints BECAUSE they successfully struggled is the portrayal of authentic holiness and is worthy of immolation. Just as Thomas was suspicious of a “scarless” risen Lord, I am suspicious of a scarless and struggle-free story of sainthood. What it meant to live in the furnace of God’s love. They were and are, as far as I can tell, men and women who understood the meaning of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” as a one they could legitimately pray with their last breath. I have read enough of the autobiographical stories of men and women who were later canonized in which they spoke of struggle after struggle to know that the “homogenized and ultra-pasteurized” versions are dangerous and many times fueled by unworthy agendas.

I love this depiction of the kinds of men who attended the first Ecumenical Council of the Church:

“Constantine The Great, the first Christian King, realized that the Church of Christ was plagued with various (incorrect) dogmatic opinions of Arius, the protopresbyter of Alexandria. Constantine therefore organized in 325 AD the first Great Ecumenical Council at Nicea in Asia Minor. 318 God-bearing Fathers from all the ends of the Orthodox Christian world hurried to meet so as to deliver (protect) the Church from heresy. King Constantine was present throughout the council. Many of the Fathers that were present had suffered greatly for their confession in the name of Christ, during the reign of the previous King. Some had one eye removed, others had their noses or their ears cut off, others had their hands cut off or other injuries.”

It is THIS church that recites the creed in the spirit of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the victory of union over isolation and estrangement, understanding over confusion, and mission as the fruit of identity. Pentecost is not romantic. It is the feast of birth and growth – messy and painful as well as joyful and fruit bearing. Pentecost is the feast in which we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the life giving union of God and man. The union of God and man bears the fruit of human life and identity. We, saints great and ordinary,  cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the arena of combat toward the knowledge of our identity in Christ and His identity in us. We labor in the “working out” of that identity in the context of ministry both within the Body of Christ and the world. Because God’s life and identity lives in us we live and have identity. Pentecost is the feast of mission. “Abide in Me and I in you … Bear fruit that lasts.” I/we do what we do because of who we are in union with Christ and one another.

We are saints – great and ordinary at the same time. We have a story; a transformative story, when honestly told, involving victories and failures. Wehave scars, limps, missing limbs to prove we  participated in the great battles of the Kingdom of God against the Kingdom of this world. We need to tell these stories with vigor and listen to them with focus. We need to be attentive for these are stories of the wisdom and power of God in Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to seek to see the revelation of the love of God through the mutual indwelling of Christ’s identity in ours and ours in His; and the transformative power of the same Spirit to bring all aspects of our life personally and corporately into practical agreement with that identity.

I count it as one of the greatest honors life could offer to be numbered among saints such as these.

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

The Desires and Convictions of Your Mind and Heart

What are the desires that reside deep down within you? What are the desires that provide the fuel for and are the final arbiter of your decisions and the underlying direction of your life? Are they the desires/passions of a unregenerate mind or the
desires/passions of the very heart of God within you?

One of the most important fueling and guiding desires revolves around the concept of transformation. It involves the realization that my life is not what I yearn for it to be and there is a way for it to change. At the very core of transformation is the conviction that change is possible. Not, in fact, change that I can bring about on my own, but which can come as the result of uniting myself to the Lord and His covenant people. Walking in weakness but with a heart that is deeply convinced that change is possible in such a transformative and life-giving community is a key to a new present and future.

 Psalm 50(51).6-12

[6] Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret
heart.

[7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[8] Fill me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
[9] Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
[10] Create in me a clean
heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

[11] Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
[12] Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 36(37).4-5

[4] Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of
your heart.

[5] Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.

James 4. 4-10

[4]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.
[5] Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”?
[6] But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
[7] Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
[8] Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.
[9] Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.
[10] Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

Hebrews 10.23-25

[23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;
[24] and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
[25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

1 Peter 1.13-22

[13] Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
[14] As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
[15] but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;
[16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
[17] And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.
[18] You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,
[19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
[20] He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.
[21] Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
[22] Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart.

Psalm 130(131).3

[3] O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.

To some degree, it boils down to the following two statements in the life of all people. As Christians, we must take seriously the fact that this dynamic is still operative:

  • You will make time for the things that you truly desire and are of utmost importance to you.
  • Nothing will change if nothing can change.

What do you desire in your life and the life of others? What do you believe about the possibility for change and transformation in your life and the life of others?

Fr. Thomas