Salted and Salt — Powerful Witness

The Old Testament, when read through the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus yields some amazing nourishment.shroud of turin

Take for example the wonderful interplay between the tower of Babel and Pentecost which we just celebrated. The Kontakion (thematic hymn) for the feast says,

“When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, he divided the nations. But when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit!”

The gospel reading appointed for yesterday (May 23rd, 2013) speaks about salting and salt. It states, “For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9.49-50)

You and I are salted with the fire of the Holy Spirit. You and I are, by the salting of the love of God, to die and be born anew. We are to become salt that we might salt the world with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says in another place, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. (Matthew 5. 13)

Turned into salt… Hmmm. Where have I heard this kind of stuff before? Ah, yes. Lot’s wife… Lot’s wife ? ! What ? !

[15] When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.”
[16] But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him forth and set him outside the city.
[17] And when they had brought them forth, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed.”
[18] And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords;
[19] behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. lots wife becomes salt
[20] Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there — is it not a little one? — and my life will be saved!”
[21] He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.
[22] Make haste, escape there; for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zo’ar.
[23] The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zo’ar.
[24] Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
[25] and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
[26] But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19.15-26)

So, Lot’s wife was salted with the fire of God’s love visited on Sodom and Gomorrah. She shared in their disobedience by not trusting in and living in agreement with His love. She became what she believed – salt. She fled but she turned back toward. Our obedience must be, as Eugene Peterson says, “a long obedience in the same direction.” We must persevere in setting our eyes on the face of Christ. “Thy face, O Lord, will I seek.” Perseveringly seek…

One becomes salt as a testimony to the power of disobedience and one as a powerful witness to the consequence of obedience. Both in relationship to God’s love but two very different witnesses.

Hebrews continues the theme of the fire of the Holy Spirit and adds the idea of “shaking.” What endures, endures as a witness to either the power of the love of God in the life of someone who receives it and lives in agreement with it … or not …

[25] See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
[26] His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.”
[27] This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain.
[28] Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe;
[29] for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12.25-29)

St. Thomas Aquinas composed a beautiful prayer that, basically, beseeches the Holy Spirit to “salt” him. In so doing, he beseeches the Spirit to turn him into a strong pillar of salt in this world as a witness to the power of the love of God in and through the life of someone who says their persevering “yes” of loving trust to God.

Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas – For the Salting of the Holy Spirit (St. Thomas recited this daily before the image of Christ)

O merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in order, O my God.

Grant that I may know what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You.

May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centered in You be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature the eyes of christwithout gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You.

Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant that with Your hardships I may be burdened in reparation here, that Your benefits I may use in gratitude upon the way, that in Your joys I may delight by glorifying You in the Kingdom of Heaven. You Who live and reign, God, world without end. Amen. Source

Turn me into a living-giving pillar of salt (a witness to the power of love to save) as I daily, join St. Thomas Aquinas, and turn my glance away from the world that is passing away by fire and fix it steadfastly on the icon of your lovely face, O Lord …

Fr. Thomas

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Faith and Works: A False Dicotomy

I have faced many challenges as I have sought to direct the roots of our faith, hope, and love as a Christian into the soil of the Holy Tradition of the “true faith” as the Divine Liturgy calls it. One of these challenges is realizing that I (many of us?) have somehow created dichotomies that are false. One of the most notorious is faith and works. It is a tough one because many of the giants of Christianity have based much of their preaching and teaching on it !! Yikes. How could I?? Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that not everyone in the Western Church believes that faith and works are “over against” one another. And, what is more, I have know for a fact that there are Eastern Christians who believe the dichotomy is real.

What is more, I have found the false dichotomy going both directions. So, for example, there are those who believe that faith is sufficient AND there are those who believe in a version of “works righteousness.” What is more, the misappropriation that has its expression throughout the Church.

So, I am not pointing the prophetic finger at anybody in particular. There is enough culpability to go around.

I received a short reflection on this false dichotomy in my email this morning. I know there are plenty of websites and blog sites that have postings that are more lengthy and perhaps more exhaustive (literally). But, I like Fr. Seraphim’s way of just getting straight to the point without a lot of fluff. He says it and then stops. Wow, what an idea !! The only thing I would challenge is his assumption that only the “Orthodox” embrace the union of faith and works and everyone else doesn’t. I am not “Orthodox” and I don’t embrace the dichotomy, for example. (Well, at least I am attempting to no longer embrace it or practice some form of it. Not that I have become perfectly immune to the tendency, but I press on.) And, I am sure that you don’t embrace the dichotomy (so, perhaps I am preaching to the choir). Nonetheless, with that small caveat having been registered, I wholeheartedly commend the reflection to you…

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“Faith and Works”
By Priest Seraphim Holland 2013
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

John 5:28-29 2nd Wednesday of Pascha, 2013

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,  (29)  And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” [John 5:28-29]

CHRIST IS RISEN!

We who are true Christians know that the way we live shows what we believe. The greatest heresy (meaning the most egregious to the soul) of our age is a relatively new one – that salvation is by faith alone. Those who espouse this heresy do not understand what faith is, and who its always present companion is. It is plain as day in the Scripture, as the Holy Apostle and brother of the Lord James says:

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  (23)  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:  (24)  For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.  (25)  But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.  (26)  If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:22-26  )

AND

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”  (James 2:14)

AND

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (18)  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  (19)  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  (20)  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:17-20)

If we understand faith to mean that we believe and live according to what we believe, and that faith and works cannot be separated, than I will agree that we can be saved by faith alone. However, The Holy Apostle makes a distinction between “faith” – that is – to espouse a belief in something, and “works” – to live according to faith.

Many modern Christians essentially believe that only believing in God saves, since of course:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  (9)  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We who are Orthodox read “all” of Scripture. The very next words the Holy Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians are:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Christians have always understood the faith to be believing in God, and acting upon that belief. Only at the time of the Reformation was the terrible heresy of “Faith by works alone” concocted by the mind of Satan and distributed to those who value human reason too highly. This is a terrible tragedy for the soul, and I have seen people lost to the church because they could not grok (sic. [grasp?]) this concept.

It matters what you believe and it matters what you do! Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, always with confidence that God will fill our infirm vessel with grace, and magnify our feeble but sincere efforts. Source

Decisions and Unity

Today’s epistle reading in the western church’s lectionary is the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas (feast day Feb. 24th). Notice the existence and faithfulness to a set of living parameters that governed the decision – the Holy Tradition is in place at even this early point! Here is what I glean:

  1. The prayers.
  2. Solidarity of fellowship — unity on several levels.
  3. Adherence to the Scriptures (the Old Testament) and a Christo-centric way of reading and interpreting them that is practical for everyday life.
  4. Adherence to the living witness of the Holy Spirit through the sacred narrative – spirit of the Word not just the letter of the Word.
  5. A conviction regarding the necessity for an apostolic order, consistency, and continuity that maintains and fosters the continuity of the community and the faithfulness/continuity of the witness/preaching. A conviction regarding unity and the need to preserve it. The need for 12 apostles not 11. The need to remain one in the Spirit and not be divided.
  6. The conviction that everyone could and would be used by the Holy Spirit along with the celebration of apostolic leadership.
  7. Trust in the presence, leading, and governance of the Holy Spirit – cost what it will, lead where it may. In other words, they are not “winging it” or creating a tradition on their own.

It is important, I believe, to read this passage with a view to the deeper work the Holy Spirit is doing. He is establishing His Tradition. For, in fact, the apostolic community will need it in the days ahead and the controversies they will face. Notice the unity is maintained. Why is that important? Well, lets think about the reason for the choice. They are replacing Judas. The whole event is prompted by their experience of betrayal and division!! Judas didn’t just betray Jesus. He betrayed them. Indeed, they betrayed one another in the deepest sense (remember Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus?!). The question of unity must have been on the minds of the disciples as they engaged in the choice! Here is what the Church Fathers have to say about the event and the underlying issue of unity:

St. John Chrysostom

election of Matthias“Make known to us, Lord, the one you choose” (Acts 1.24-25)
In those days, Peter, stood up in the midst of the disciples and said… As the fiery spirit to whom the flock was entrusted by Christ and as the leader in the band of the apostles, Peter always took the initiative in speaking: My brothers, we must choose from among our number. He left the decision to the whole body, at once augmenting the honour of those elected and avoiding any suspicion of partiality. For such great occasions can easily lead to trouble.

Did not Peter then have the right to make the choice himself? Certainly he had the right, but he did not want to give the appearance of showing special favour to anyone. Besides he was not yet endowed with the Spirit. And they nominated two, we read, Joseph, who was called Barsabbas and surnamed Justus, and Matthias. He himself did not nominate them; all present did. But it was he who brought the issue forward, pointing out that it was not his own idea but had been suggested to him by a scriptural prophecy. So he was speaking not as a teacher but as an interpreter.

So, he goes on, we must choose from those men who lived in our company. Notice how insistent he is that they should be eyewitnesses. Even though the Spirit would come to ratify the choice, Peter regards this prior qualification as most important.

Those who lived in our company, he continued, all through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us. He refers to those who had dwelt with Jesus, not just those who had been his disciples. For of course from the very beginning many had followed him. Notice how it is written that Peter himself was one of the two who had listened to John, and followed Jesus.

All through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning with the baptism of John – rightly so, because no one knew what had happened before that time, although they were to know of it later through the Spirit.

Up to the day, Peter added, on which he was taken up from us – one of these must be made a witness along with us of his resurrection. He did not say “a witness of the rest of his actions” but only a witness of the resurrection. That witness would be more believable who could declare that he who ate and drank and was crucified also rose from the dead. He needed to be a witness not of the times before or after that event, and not of the signs and wonders, but only of the resurrection itself. For the rest happened by general admission, openly; but the resurrection took place secretly, and was known to these men only.

And they all prayed together, saying: You, Lord, know the hearts of men; make your choice known to us. “You,” not “we.” Appropriately they said that he knew the hearts of men, because the choice was to be made by him, not by others.

They spoke with such confidence, because someone had to be appointed. They did not say “choose” but make known to us the chosen one; the one you choose, they said, fully aware that everything was pre-ordained by God. They then drew lots. For they did not think themselves worthy to make the choice of their own accord, and therefore they wanted some sign for their instruction. Source: From a homily of St. John Chrysostom on the Choosing of Matthias

St. Cyril of Alexandria

All who receive the sacred flesh of Christ are united with him as members of his body. This is the teaching of St Paul when he speaks of the mystery of our religion that was hidden from former generations, but has now been revealed to the holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit; namely, that the Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Jews, that they are members of the same body, and that they have a share in the promise made by God in Christ Jesus.

If in Christ all of us, both ourselves and he who is within us by his own flesh, are members of the same body, is it not clear that we are one both with one another and with Christ? He is the bond that unites us, because he is at once both God and man.

With regard to our unity in the Spirit we may say, following the same line of thought, that all of us who have received one and the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, are united intimately both with one another and with God. Taken separately we are many, and Christ sends the Spirit who is both the Father’s Spirit and his own, to dwell in each of us. Yet that Spirit, being one and indivisible, gathers together those who are distinct from each other as individuals and causes them all to be seen as a unity in himself. Just as Christ’s sacred flesh has power to make those in whom it is present into one body, so the one, indivisible Spirit of God, dwelling in all, causes all to become one in spirit

Therefore Saint Paul appeals to us to bear with one another charitably, and to spare no effort in securing by the bonds of peace, the unity that comes from the Spirit. There is but one body and one Spirit just as there is but one hope held out to us by God’s call. There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and works through all, and is in all. If the one Spirit dwells in us, the one God and Father of all will be in us, and he through his Son will gather together into unity with one another and with himself all who share in the Spirit.

There is also another way of showing that we are made one by sharing in the Holy Spirit. If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit it must surely be obvious to everyone that by repudiating in a sense our own life, and taking on the supernatural likeness of the Holy Spirit who is united to us, our nature is transformed so that we are no longer mere men but also children of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature. We are all one, therefore, in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are one in mind and holiness, we are one through our communion in the sacred flesh of Christ, and through our sharing in the one Holy Spirit. Source: St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on St John’s Gospel, 11.11 (PG 74:559-562); Word in Season III.

St. Basil the Great

Who is there who can hear the names of the Holy Spirit and not feel exaltation in his soul, not lift up his thoughts to that supreme nature? For he is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the upright Spirit, the guiding Spirit. His chief and distinguishing name is Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn for their sanctification; all who live virtuously seek him, and are, by his influence, refreshed and helped towards their own natural end.

He is the source of holiness, the light of our under­standing, for to every mind he offers his own light for the discovery of truth.

Though by nature he is inaccessible, yet through his generosity men can receive him in themselves. He fills all creatures with his power, but only those who are worthy can participate in him. But all do not share him in the same measure; he distributes his power in proportion to men’s faith.

He is simple in essence, but manifold in power. He is present to each in his fullness, and in his fullness is present everywhere. He is divided, but does not suffer by the division; all share in him, but he remains whole, like a sunbeam whose kindly influence benefits each creature as though it were present to that creature alone, and shines over land and sea and dissolves in the air.

So too the Spirit is present like the sun to each individual who is capable of receiving him, and emits an influence which is sufficient to help them all, but is not divided; and they profit by sharing in him according to their natures, not according to his power.

Through him hearts are raised on high, the weak are led by the hand, those who are advanced gain perfection. He it is who shines on those whose hearts are purified and stainless and makes them truly spiritual through the common comm­union they have with him.

Even as bright and shining bodies, once touched by a ray of light falling on them, become even more glorious and themselves cast another light, so too souls that carry the Spirit, and are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and send forth grace upon others.

This grace enables them to foresee the future, to understand mysteries, to grasp hidden things, to receive spiritual blessings, to have their thoughts fixed on heavenly things, and to dance with the angels. So is their joy unending, so is their perseverance in God unfailing, so do they acquire likeness to God, so – most sublime of all – do they themselves become divine. St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 9.22-23; The Divine Office II

Ascension: Heaven to Earth Come Down And Earth To Heaven Gone Up

As I indicated in my last post, the Feast of Ascension is upon us. As a matter of fact it is, in the western church, going to be celebrated this Thursday. It, along with Pentecost, are favourite feasts of mine. The reason ascension of Christshould be clear in view of the name of this ministry – “Upward Call.” Our discipleship is call heavenward. It is a mysterious union of upward and downward not about geography. Up and down are not terms that speak of presence and absence but of relational reconciliation and consummation. It is the great commission issued to us by our Lord to become one with Him not only in death but in the fullness of His life in ascended (consummate) glory. And all of this as we live in the midst of a world that is passing away and giving way to this consummate life – “on earth as it is in heaven.” The upward movement — the movement of relational consummation — is implied in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The Feast of Ascension makes explicit and fulfills the promise of our salvific journey as it moves toward fulfillment.  Here is a wonderful reflection on this theme by St. Maximus of Turin that was assigned to be read on the 5th Sunday of Easter (28 April 2013). I offer it for reflection now as a preparation for our celebration of the Ascension of Christ and of our own ascension in Him from one degree to another as we mature in Him. I have highlighted a portion for emphasis.

Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in Baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s Resurrection the thief ascends to Paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living; there is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see the underworld restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement our Saviour’s Passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights. Christ is risen! His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made. The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son himself is the day to whom The Day, his Father, communicates the mystery of his Divinity. He it is who says through the mouth of Solomon, I have caused an unfailing light to rise in heaven. And as in heaven no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance, and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the Evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it. And so, my friends, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of guilt. Sinner one may indeed be, but no one must despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of Paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness? Source: St Maximus of Turin, Sermon 53, 1-2 (CCL 23:214-216); Word in Season III, 1st ed.

Onward and ever upward in Christ Jesus by the Holy Sprit while we reside right here with our feet solidly on the ground !! P.S. — For those who want to follow where the feast, in its profundity, will lead us in our discipleship: Why, in the icon of the Ascension, is the Theotokos in the center below the ascending Christ? Or, to put it another way, what does the feast of Ascension and Pentecost have in common with the Feast of the Annunciation and Nativity in terms of the Theotokos as an icon of the Church and the believer?! Fr. Thomas

Wings to Ascend With Christ

Isaiah 40
[28] Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
[29] He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
[30] Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
[31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 55
[1] Give ear to my prayer, O God;
and hide not thyself from my supplication!
[2] Attend to me, and answer me;
I am overcome by my trouble.
I am distraught
[3] by the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
[4] My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
[5] Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
[6] And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
[7] yea, I would wander afar,
I would lodge in the wilderness, [Selah]
[8] I would haste to find me a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

Ephesians 4
[7] But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
[8] Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
[9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
[10] He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Homily II
A man watches a bird flying, and wishes to fly himself, but he cannot, because he has no wings. Even so the will is present (Ro. 7.18) with a man to be pure, and blameless, and without spot, and to have no wickedness in him, but to be always with God; but he has not the power. To fly into the air of God and the liberty of the Holy Ghost may be his wish, but unless wings are given him, he cannot. Let us then beseech God to bestow upon us the wings of a dove (Ps. 55.6), even of the Holy Ghost, that we may fly to Him and be at rest, and that He would separate and make to cease from our souls and bodies, that evil wind, which is the sin that dwelleth in the members of our souls and bodies. None but He can do it. Behold, it says, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world (Jo. 1.29). He alone has shewn this mercy to those men who believe Him, redeeming them from sin ; and for those who are always waiting for Him, and hope, and seek without ceasing, He achieves this unutterable salvation.

4. As in a gloomy black night a fierce wind blows, and stirs and searches and shakes all the plants and seeds, so when man falls under the power of the darkness of the devil’s night, and is in night and darkness, he is agitated by that dreadful wind of sin that blows, and is shaken and stirred, and searched through all his nature, his soul, his thoughts, his understanding ; and all the limbs of his body are shaken, and no member of either soul or body escapes free and immune from the sin that dwelleth in us. In like manner there is a day of light and a divine wind of the Holy Ghost, which blows and refreshes the souls that are in the day of the light of God. It penetrates all the substance of the soul and its thoughts, and all the being and all the members of the body, refreshing and resting them with a divine, unspeakable rest. This is what the apostle declared when he said, We are not children of the night or of darkness, for ye are all the sons of light and the sons of day (1 Th. 5.5). And as yonder, in the state of error, the old man put on man as a complete whole, and wears the garment of the kingdom of darkness, the garment of blasphemy, unbelief, unconcern, vainglory, pride, avarice, lust, and all the other trappings of the kingdom of darkness, ragged, unclean, and abominable ; so here, all who have put off the old man, which is from beneath the earth all whom Jesus has stripped of the clothing of the kingdom of darkness have put on the new and heavenly man, Jesus Christ, once more corresponding, eyes to eyes, ears to ears, head to head, to be all pure, and wearing the heavenly image.

5. The Lord has clothed them with the clothing of the kingdom of ineffable light, the clothing of faith, hope, this mercy to those men who believe Him, redeeming them from sin ; and for those who are always waiting for Him, and hope, charity, of joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and all the other divine and living clothing of the light of life, of inexpressible rest, that, as God Himself is love, and joy, and peace, and kindness, and goodness, so the new man may be through grace. And as the kingdom of darkness, and sin, are hidden in the soul until the day of resurrection, when the bodies also of sinners shall be covered with the darkness that is now hidden in the soul, so the kingdom of light, and the heavenly Image, Jesus Christ, now mystically enlightens the soul, and reigns in the soul of the saints, but is hidden from the eyes of men, and only with the eyes of the soul is Christ truly seen, until the day of resurrection; but then the body also shall be covered and glorified with the light of the Lord, which is now in the man’s soul, that the body also may reign with the soul which now receives the kingdom of Christ and rests and is enlightened with eternal light. Glory to His mercies and His tender compassion, for that He has such pity on His servants, and enlightens them, and delivers them from the kingdom of darkness, and bestows upon them His own light and His own kingdom. To Him be glory and might for ever. Amen. from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, pg. 13-15, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921

“Where are We Headed?”: Pascha – Ascension – Pentecost

arrowWe are approaching the end of the season of Pascha in the western church. The feasts of Ascension and Pentecost will soon be upon us. It is important, therefore, to be reminded of the way of life that is supposed to be borne out in and through the Church and her members as a result the resurrection of Christ Jesus. To put a not too fine point on it, “Where are we headed?” The Holy Tradition proclaims and facilitates an answer: We are to become partakers of the divine nature in the person of the Holy Spirit; daily live out the grace of our baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus and more consummately manifesting our union with God the Father in His Son – in other words, to grow up into the likeness of the Son by the same Spirit; and to have Christ Jesus make His appeal through us to the world and continue His ministry in the world.

The season of Pascha initiates this message. The grace proclaimed and communicated through Ascension and Pentecost continue it and bring it to fruition. Once again, St. Macarius the Egyptian speaks eloquently regarding this trajectory. I must admit that his allegorical application of the prophecy of Ezekiel to the disciple was new to me. I found it to be wonderfully enlightening as I consider the meaning of Pascha, Ascension, and Pentecost. Here is the segment of Homily I articulates, “where we are headed.”

HOMILY I – An allegorical interpretation of the vision described in the prophet Ezekiel

1. The blessed prophet Ezekiel relates a glorious and inspired vision or apparition which he saw, and his description is that of a vision full of mysteries unspeakable. He saw in the plain a chariot of Cherubim, four spiritual living creatures. Each living creature had four faces, one the face of a lion, another the face of an eagle, another the face of a calf, and the fourth the face of a human being. To every face there were wings, so that there were no hinder parts to any of them. Their backs were full of eyes; their bellies likewise were thick set with eyes ; there was no part about them that was not full of eyes. There were also wheels to every face, wheel within wheel. In the wheels there was a Spirit. And Ezekiel saw as it were the likeness of a man, and under his feet as it were a work of sapphire. The Cherubim-chariot J and the living creatures bore the Master who rode upon them. Wheresoever He chose to go, it was with face forward. Beneath the Cherubim he saw as it were a man’s hand supporting and carrying.

2. And this that the prophet saw was in substance true and certain, but it signified and foreshadowed something else, mysterious and divine – a mystery hidden verily from ages and from generations (Col. 1.26) but in the last times made manifest (1Pe. 1.2) at the appearing of Christ. The mystery which he beheld was that of the soul, that was to receive her Lord, and to become a throne of glory (Ma. 25.31) for Him. For the soul that is privileged to be in communion with the Spirit of His light, and is irradiated by the beauty of the unspeakable glory of Him who has prepared her to be a seat and a dwelling for Himself, becomes all light, all face, all eye; and there is no part of her that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. That is to say, there is no part of her darkened, but she is all throughout wrought into light and spirit, and is full of eyes all over, and has no such thing as a back part, but in every direction is face forward, with the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of Christ mounted and riding upon her. As the sun is of one likeness all over, without any part behind or inferior, but is all glorified with light throughout, and is, indeed, all light, with no difference between the parts, or as fire, the very light of the fire, is alike all over, having in it no first or last, or greater or less, so also the soul that is perfectly irradiated by the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of the face of Christ, and is perfectly in communion with the Holy Ghost, and is privileged to be the dwelling-place and throne of God, becomes all eye, all light, all face, all glory, all spirit, being made so by Christ, who drives, and guides, and carries, and bears her about, and graces and adorns her thus with spiritual beauty ; for it says, the hand of a man was under the Cherubim, because He it is that is carried upon her and directs her.

3. The four living creatures which bore the chariot were a symbol of the ruling factors of the soul. As the eagle is the king of birds, and the lion of wild beasts, and the bull of tame ones, and man of creatures in general, so the soul also has its ruling factors. They are the will, the conscience, the intelligence, and the faculty of love. By these the chariot of the soul is controlled, and upon these God rests. According to another interpretation the symbolism is applied to the church of the saints in heaven. As it is here said that the living creatures were exceeding high, and full of eyes, and it was not possible for anyone to apprehend the number of the eyes, or the height, because the knowledge of these was not given ; and as it is with the stars in the sky, to see and wonder at them was given to all men, but to know and apprehend the number was not given ; and with the plants of the earth, to enjoy them was given to all, but it is impossible for anyone to know the number of them ; so with regard to the church of the saints in heaven, to enter into it and enjoy it was given to all who will but strive, but how to see and apprehend the number is reserved for God alone to know. The Rider, then, is conveyed and carried by the chariot or throne of the living creatures which are all eye, or, in other words, by every soul that has become His throne and seat, and is now eye and light. He is mounted thereon, and governs her with the reins of the Spirit, and guides her according to His understanding. For as the spiritual living creatures went not whither they were minded to go, but whither He that sat upon them and directed them knew and willed, so here it is He that holds the reins and drives by His Spirit, and they go accordingly, not by their own will when they are minded to go through heaven. Sometimes, discarding the body, He drives and takes the soul in thought through heaven; sometimes, when so it pleases Him, He comes into the body and its affairs; sometimes, when so minded, to the ends of the earth, and discovers to the soul mysteries revealed. Oh, the noble and good and only true Charioteer! In like manner shall our bodies also be privileged at the resurrection, the soul being thus pre-glorified even now, and mingled with the Spirit.

4. That the souls of the righteous become heavenly light, the Lord Himself told the apostles, when He said, Ye are the light of the world (Ma. 5.14) He first wrought them into light, and ordained that through them the world should be enlightened. Neither do men light a lamp, He says, and put it under the bushel, but on the lampstand, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men. (Ma. 5.15, 16) In other words, Hide not the gift which ye have received from Me, but give to all that are minded to receive it. Again, The light of the body is the eye ; if thine eye be full of light, thy whole body is enlightened, but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body is dark. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness. (Ma. 6.22,23; Lk. 11.34)) As the eyes are the light of the body, and, so long as the eyes are well, the whole body is enlightened, but, if any accident befalls them and they are darkened, the whole body is in darkness, so the apostles were set to be the eyes and light of the whole world. The Lord therefore charged them by this saying, If ye who are the light of the body, stand fast and turn not aside, behold, the whole body of the world is enlightened ; but if ye who are the light are darkened, how great is that darkness, which is nothing less than the world. So the apostles, being themselves light, administered light to those, who believed, enlightening their hearts with that heavenly light of the Spirit by which they were themselves enlightened.

5. And being themselves salt they seasoned and salted every believing soul with the salt of the Holy Ghost; for the Lord said to them, Ye are the salt of the earth (Ma. 5.13), meaning by earth the hearts of men. They administered in the souls of men the heavenly salt of the Spirit, seasoning them and rendering them free from corruption and from going bad, instead of that unsavoury condition they were in. Flesh, if it be not salted, corrupts and is filled with ill savour, so that everyone turns from the evil odour, and worms creep into the corrupted flesh, and there dwell, and feed, and burrow; but when the salt comes, the worms that dwell there are destroyed, and the offensive smell is at an end; for it is the property of salt to kill worms and to banish an ill smell. In the same manner, every soul that is not salted with the Holy Ghost, and does not partake of the heavenly salt, which is the power of God, corrupts, and is filled with the ill odour of bad thoughts, so that the countenance of God turns from the dreadful odour of the vain thoughts of darkness, and from the passions that dwell in such a soul. The evil and dreadful worms, which are the spirits of wickedness, and the powers of darkness, walk up and down in it, and dwell there, and burrow, and creep, and devour it, and bring it to decay. My wounds stink and are corrupt, says the Psalm. (Ps. 38.5) But when the soul flies to God for succour, and believes, and asks for the salt of life, which is the good Spirit that loves mankind, then the heavenly salt comes, and kills those dreadful worms, and banishes the ill savour, and cleanses the soul by the effectual working of its power, and thus the soul is made sound and free from deterioration by that true salt, and is restored to being useful and serviceable to the heavenly Lord. That is why in the Law God, using a figure, commanded that every sacrifice should be salted with salt. (Le. 2.13) from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921

Spiritual Warfare

When you think of spiritual warfare, what comes to mind? Is participating in the Divine Liturgy and receiving communion one of them? A theme that surfaces over and over again in the Church’s heritage of liturgical prayer is spiritual warfare. Here are a couple of examples.

A Prayer after Receiving Communion
Freely Thou hast given me Thy Body for my food, O Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart. Consume the thorns of my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and sanctify my reasonings. Make firm my knees and body. Illumine my five senses. Nail me to the fear of Thee. Always protect, guard, and keep me from soul-destroying words and deeds. Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me. Give me understanding and illumination. Show me to be a temple of Thy One Spirit, and not the home of many sins. May every evil thing, every carnal passion, flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion. I offer Thee as intercessors all the saints: the leaders of the bodiless hosts, Thy Forerunner, the wise apostles, and Thy pure and blameless Mother. Accept their prayers in Thy love, O my Christ, and make me, Thy servant, a child of light. For Thou art the only Sanctification and Light of our souls, O Good One, and to Thee, our Master and God, we ascribe glory day by day. Amen.

Let God Arise!
Let God arise!
And let His enemies be scattered!
And let those that hate Him flee from His presence!

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

As smoke vanishes,
So let them vanish!
And as wax melts from the presence of fire,
So let the demons perish from the presence
Of those who love God
And sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross,
And say in gladness –

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

For you drive away the demons
By the power of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified on you,
Who went down to Hell
And trampled on the power of the devil,
And gave us you,
His venerable Cross,
For driving away all enemies.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord,
Help us! –
With our Holy Lady the Virgin Mother of God,
And all the Saints throughout the ages. Amen.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

Guard us by the holy and life-giving Cross
And keep us from all evil.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commit our spirit.
Bless us,
Save us,
And grant us eternal life. Amen.

The agenda of the Holy Tradition is to overcome sin and death, whatever form they take in our life. Unless we enter the arena of spiritual effort in agreement with the Holy Spirit’s agenda of transformation, we will not know the joys of paradise. Perhaps it might be helpful to consider St. Paul’s exhortations regarding the Divine Liturgy in light of this heritage of liturgical prayer of which he is an early example.

So, it should not surprise us to find the heritage of spiritual counsel making the same point. St. Marcarius the Egyptian, is one among many who have reflected at length on this theme along what will be more familiar lines. Here is his counsel:

HOMILY XXV – On Spiritual Warfare
By St. Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300 – 391)

This homily teaches that no man, without being strengthened by Christ, is capable of overcoming the stumbling-blocks of the evil one, and what those who desire the divine glory must do. It teaches also that through Adam’s disobedience we came down into bondage to carnal passions, from which we are delivered by the mystery that is in the cross. It instructs us besides that the power of tears and of the divine fire is great.

1. Those upon whom the divine law is written, not with ink and letters, but implanted in hearts of flesh, these, having the eyes of their mind enlightened, and reaching after a hope, not tangible and seen, but invisible and immaterial, have power to get the better of the stumbling blocks of the evil one, not by themselves, but from the power that never can be defeated. But those who have not been honoured with God’s word, nor instructed by divine law, are vainly puffed up and fancy that by their own free will they can bring to nought the resources of sin which is only condemned through the mystery contained in the cross. It lies in the power of man’s free will to resist the devil, but it does not extend to an absolute command over the passions. “Except the Lord build the house,” it says, “and keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain, and the builder laboureth in vain.” (Ps. cxxvii. i.)

St Macarius the Egyptian with Cherub2. You cannot go upon the asp and basilisk and tread under your feet the lion and the dragon, without first purging yourself as far as human ability goes, and being strengthened by Him who said to the apostles, “Behold, I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.” If human nature had had force, without the whole armour of the Holy Ghost, to stand against the wiles of the devil, the apostle would not have said, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” and again, “Whom the Lord shall destroy with the Spirit of His mouth.” That is why we are bidden of the Lord to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” If we are not delivered by the superior power from the fiery darts of the wicked one and admitted to the adoption of sons, our social existence is in vain; we are far from the power of God.

3. Accordingly, one who wishes to be a partaker of the divine glory, and to see as in a glass the form of Christ in the ruling faculty of his own soul, ought with insatiable affection and an inclination which is never filled, with all his heart and all his might, by night and when it is day, to seek the help which comes mightily from God, of which, as I have said before, it is impossible to partake, unless a man first abstains from the luxury of the world, from the desires of the opposing power, which is alien to the light, and is an activity of wickedness with no kinship to a good activity, but wholly estranged from it. Therefore, if you wish to know why we, who were created in honour and put to live in paradise, came at last to be compared unto the beasts that have no understanding and were made like to them, having fallen from the glory of innocence, understand that having become by the transgression the slaves of the fleshly passions, we shut ourselves out of the happy land of the living, and being reduced to captivity we are still sitting by the waters of Babylon; and because we are still held in Egypt, we have not yet inherited the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey. We have not yet been leavened with the leaven of sincerity, but are still in the leaven of wickedness. Our heart is not yet sprinkled with the blood of God; for the snare of hell, and the hook of sin is still fixed in it.

4. We have not yet taken to ourselves the gladness of Christ’s salvation, for the sting of death is still rooted in us. We have not yet put on the new man, which after God is created in holiness? since we have not yet put off the old man which is corrupt according to the sinful lusts. We have not yet borne the image of the heavenly nor been made conformed to His glory. We have not yet worshipped God in spirit and in truth, because sin reigns in our mortal body. We have not yet beheld the glory of the incorruptible, for we are still under the operation of the moonless night – We have not yet put on the armour of light, since we have not yet put off the armour and the darts and the works of darkness. We have not yet been transformed by the renewing of the mind, for we are still conformed to this world in the vanity of the mind We are not yet glorified with Christ, because we have not suffered with Him. We do not yet bear in our body the marks of Him, and are not in the secret of the cross of Christ, for we are still in the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are not yet heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, for the spirit of bondage is still in us, not that of adoption. We have not yet become the temple of God and the habitation of the Holy Ghost, for we are still the temple of idols and the hold of the spirits of wickedness because of our propensity to the passions.

5. In truth we have not yet acquired simplicity of conduct or the brightness of the mind. We have not yet had vouchsafed to us the guileless and reasonable milk and the growth invisible. The day has not yet dawned upon us, nor the day star risen in our hearts. We have not yet been mingled with the sun of righteousness nor begun to flash with His rays. We have not yet received the likeness of the Lord nor been made partakers of the divine nature. We have not yet become the genuine purple of the King, nor the unfalsified image of God. We are not yet smitten with the passionate love of God, or stricken by the spiritual charity of the Bridegroom. We are not yet acquainted with that ineffable communion, and have not experienced the power and peace that there is in sanctification. To sum it all up, we are not yet a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people forasmuch as we are still serpents, a generation of vipers.

6. How should we be anything but serpents, we who are not found in obedience to God, but in the disobedience which came by the serpent? How to bewail the calamity as it deserves, I cannot find. How to cry aloud and weep to Him that is able to expel the error lodged within me, I do not know. How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How shall I lament for Jerusalem? How shall I flee from the grievous bondage of Pharaoh? How am I to quit the foul place of sojourn? How can I deny the bitter tyranny? How can I get out of the land of Egypt? How can I cross the Red Sea how pass the great wilderness? How escape perishing from the bite of serpents how to conquer the aliens? How shall I utterly destroy the heathen within me? How shall I receive the oracles of the law of God upon these tables of mine? How shall I see the true pillar of light, and of the cloud proceeding from the Holy Ghost? How shall I enjoy the manna of eternal delight? How drink the water from the life-giving rock? How am I to pass over Jordan, entering into the good land of promise? How am I to see the Captain of the Lord’s host, whom Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw Him, immediately fell down and worshipped?

7. Unless I go through all this and destroy the heathen within me, I cannot go into the sanctuary of God and rest, nor become a partaker of the glory of the King. Therefore, labour to become a child of God without fault, and to enter into that rest, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Christ. Labour to be enrolled in the church in heaven with the firstborn that you may be found at the right hand of the majesty of the Most High. Labour to enter into the holy city, the Jerusalem that is at peace, that is above, above all, where also is Paradise. You have no other way to be admitted to these wonderful and blessed types, unless you pour out tears day and night, like him who says, “Every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with my tears.” You know well that they that sow in tears shall reap in joy. The prophet says boldly, “Hold not Thy peace at my tears,” and again, “Put my tears into Thy bottle.” Are not these things noted in Thy book? And, “My tears have been my meat day and night,” and in another psalm, “have mingled my drink with weeping.”

8. For the tear that is really shed out of much affliction and anguish of heart in the knowledge of the truth, with burning of the inward parts, is indeed a food of the soul, supplied from the heavenly bread, of which Mary preeminently partook, when she sat at the feet of the Lord and wept, after the testimony of the Saviour Himself. He says, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” O those precious pearls in the flow of blessed tears! O that immediate and ready hearing! What a strong, wise mind! What keen love of the Spirit of the Lord, moving vehemently towards the unsullied Bridegroom! What a sting of desire in the soul for God the Word! What swift communion of the bride with the heavenly Bridegroom!

9. Imitate her then, my child; imitate her whose eyes were fixed upon nothing but Him only, who said, “I am come to send fire upon the earth, and I would that it were already kindled.” There is indeed a burning of the Spirit, which burns hearts into flame. The immaterial divine fire his the effect of enlightening souls and trying them, like unalloyed gold in the furnace, but of consuming iniquity, like thorns or stubble; for our God is a consuming fire, taking vengeance on them that know Him not in flaming fire, and on them that obey not His gospel. It was this fire that worked in the apostles, when they spoke with fiery tongues. It was this fire which shone by the voice round St. Paul, enlightening his mind, but blinding his sense of sight; for not without the flesh did he see the power of that light. It was this fire which appeared to Moses in the bush. This fire, in the shape of a chariot, caught up Elias from the earth. The blessed David was seeking the operation of this fire when he said, “Examine me, Lord, and prove me: try out my reins and my heart.” It was this fire which warmed the heart of Cleopas and those with him while the Saviour talked after His resurrection. So the angels and ministering spirits partake of the shining of this fire, according to what is said, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire.” It is this fire which burns up the beam that is in the inward eye, making the mind clear, that, recovering its natural power of penetration, it may see without interruption the wonderful things of God, according as one says, Open Thou mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of Thy law. This fire drives away devils, and destroys sin; but it is the power of resurrection, and the effectual working of immortality, the illumination of holy souls, and the strengthening of rational powers. Let us pray that this fire may reach us also, that always walking in light, we may never for a moment dash our feet against a stone, but shining as lights in the world, may hold forth the word of everlasting life; that enjoying ourselves among the good things of God we may rest with the Lord in life, glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory forever. Amen. from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921