The Word Made Flesh Makes Us Divine (Authentically Human)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record. Making the same point over and over. Case in point, my recent post. Actually most of my posts I guess. Well, so be it…

So, here we go again…

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We share the divinity of Christ Jesus by grace because He shared in our humanity. Salvation is the reconciliation – reunioning or re-at-one-ment-ing – of God and man. Our former state of being and life are forgiven. Well, actually the old is more than just forgiven. It dies. We die to death and sin, we don’t just have it forgiven. We die to life without the divine nature (living death, alienation), thereby receiving our authentic humanity (new life) which, by definition means being “God breathed” again.  We do not become God, we become fully human. But not only are we reunited with God. We are also reunited with one another and the whole created universe in and through Christ Jesus. The dividing wall of hostility and alienation in all categories or aspects is removed.

This is the great gift of Christmas and of Easter. St. Peter testifies, “…His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” 2 Peter 1.3-4 (NASB)

St. Peter goes on to talk about maturing in this salvation, the purification and illumination that is essential to it. Notice that I said essential to it. Not extra. Salvation and sanctification are not distinct. Maturing in new life and the growth in holiness is an essential aspect of our salvation.

This is THE Good News. The Church Fathers referred to it as “theosis” and “deification.” The true doctrine of salvation is this and grows out of this root. All depends on it and must be understood in light of it. Indeed, this doctrine is not a doctrine. It is a person – theanthropos – the God-man – Christ Jesus.

Ironically, this is not what I hear from the Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic pulpit on Sunday mornings. Sad. This is so basic to any right appreciation of the self-offering of Christ Jesus on the cross. The reason for His death and resurrection. It is Christianity 101. Here is a modern translation of Hippolytus’s (170–235) articulation of deification. (If you want to read the excerpt in a more literal translation that retains the word “logos” instead of “word,” it can be found here.)

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Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win men back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce him to slavery but by addressing to his free will a call to liberty.

The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was couched in such obscure language that it could be only dimly apprehended, in the last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding him to show himself openly so that the world could see him and be saved.

We know that by taking a body from the Virgin he re-fashioned our fallen nature. We know that his manhood was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, he would hardly have been a teacher who could expect to be imitated. If he were of a different substance from me, he would surely not have ordered me to do as he did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with his goodness and justice.

No. He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. Without protest he endured his passion, he submitted to death and revealed his resurrection. In all these ways he offered his own manhood as the first fruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as he did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.

When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine.

Whatever evil you may have suffered, being man, it is God that sent it to you, precisely because you are man; but equally, when you have been deified, God has promised you a share in every one of his own attributes. The saying Know yourselfmeans therefore that we should recognise and acknowledge in ourselves the God who made us in his own image, for if we do this, we in turn will be recognised and acknowledged by our Maker. The treatise of St, Hippolytus On the Refutation of All Heresies, Book 10, Chapters 32-33

Clothed In Humility

I received a copy of Wounded By Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, for Christmas. Part One, is a summary of his life in his own words as recalled by those who knew him. While I have only read 26 pages, what is becoming obvious is the supreme importance he placed on obedience. For him, obedience was not only an arena for transformation but the sweet nectar of holiness, the fruit of obedience. Obedience bears the fruit of deeper obedience as well as other virtues.

The elder loved obedience almost from the beginning. Obedience was the arena in which he was clothed in humility.

The monk is an icon among us of what is true for me and you in our journey of salvation.

Here is an excerpt from the book that illustrates the process. I also include two passages from the Scriptures as well.

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Where should I start, my children, to tell you about how i became a monk? My life on the holy mountain is a long story.elder porphyrios

When I had reached the age of fourteen, my elder called me and said to me:

‘What are you going to do? What are your plans? Are you going to stay here?’

‘I’m going to stay!’ I exclaimed, beaming with pleasure and joy.

‘Make a bow.’

I made a bow. Then he brought me a cassock of his own which was old and worn and which he kept for work. It was so patched and mended that the original cloth could barely be seen and the collar was greasy and stained by sweat. I had seen young monks in the Kyriakon; they had been handsomely dressed and I had dreamt of a cassock like theirs. What can I say? I had waited for this moment with longing. And young as I was, I had imagined the cassock I would be given to wear, and how fine and splendid it would be. But when the time came, what did I see> A patched old rag. I was disappointed a little – for five minutes. I was young at the time, you see, fourteen years old. I didn’t say anything though; I didn’t complain. When I say the cassock, I felt suddenly crest-fallen, as I said, but I quickly thought of the positive side.

‘With your blessing,’ I said and took it.

I didn’t think about the matter again. I thought about the hermits who wore hair shirts and never took them off of washed them. God therefore gave me great consolation. I went to the reading desk. The Epistle of Saint John happened to open before me. And that same day, my God, You spoke to me! You spoke to me! O my God, You spoke to me so much…
Wounded By Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, Denise Harvey (Publisher), Limni, Evia, Greece, 2011.

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35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.35-45)

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1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5.1-11)

Guarding Christ, Guarding Us

Regardless of our response to Him, God never abandons us; never. God’s love is His own presence. Presence is personal and therefore unceasing. Deeds begin and end but personhood is unceasing. God’s love is a guarding love, a providing love, an exhorting/disciplining love — a saving love. First, in His person and then in His deeds. This is how He is actively present though in our times of rebellion we sense His saving presence as everything that is the opposite of what that term connotes. The name of God is Emmanuel — God WITH us, personally with us, as well as God acting on our behalf.

Salvation is not narrow. Salvation is wide and deep and broad. Salvation is the recovery of personhood. And, therefore presence. And, therefore union. And therefore union of authentic presence. Mutual unceasing self-giving presence in personhood. Because God is present to us, we have the opportunity to be present to Him. We have an icon of this mutuality of personhood/presence in the life of the Holy Family of Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth.

The words of Robert Frost’s poem come to mind, “…and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Mary and Joseph took the road less travelled in this world to point the way for us. They did not do so as people unlike us, with nothing in common. No, they are JUST LIKE me and you. And so, they can point the way with understanding and we can intuitively trust them even though the way they point runs against the grain of the way of this world. They were personally present to Jesus. They guarded Jesus. Indeed, they saved the life of Jesus!

But, who is guarding whom?! Who is saving whom?! Indeed…

St. Gregory of Nazianzen said it, “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”

Rejoice, I bring you tidings of a great joy which is for ALL the people. God is WITH us. Indeed, as we proclaim in the Divine Liturgy, “Christ is in our midst. He is and ever shall be!”

“Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.” (Bidden or unbidden God is present.)

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Matthew 2:13-23, especially vs.13: “Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’”

When God planted in Paradise, He set “the tree of life” (Gn 2:9) in the middle of the garden. After Adam’s disobedience, God imposed the divine consequences of sin: “to earth you shall return” (vs. 3:20). To prevent Adam from evading this judgment, “the Lord God sent him forth out of the garden. . . . And [He] stationed . . . the fiery sword which turns every which way to guard the way to the tree of life” (vs. 3:24-25).

Thus mankind enters into history and this existence full of sickness, death, and the slaughter of innocents. However, God the Life-giving Trinity never abandons us. According to Metropolitan John of Pergamos, “The Father and the Spirit are involved in history, but only the Son becomes history. . . . [And] if the Son dies on the cross, thus succumbing to the bondage of historical existence, it is the Spirit that raises Him from the dead. The Spirit is the ‘beyond’history, and when He acts in history He does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton” (Being as Communion, p. 130).

The Spirit introduces the age to come into this present existence, beginning at the moment our Lord assumes history: “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’” (Lk 1:35). The Holy Spirit then continues to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus, as this early passage from St. Matthew shows.

Through an angel, He directs Joseph to flee to safety with Jesus and His mother (Mt 2:13). Following the death of Herod the Great, the same Spirit directs Joseph as to when it is safe to return (vss. 19-20).

We must be careful not lose sight of the Holy Spirit in this passage, for it is He who actually gives the command to flee, even though the message is delivered by an angel. According to St. Maximos the Confessor, “The Holy Spirit is not absent from any created being, especially not from one which in any way participates in intelligence” (Philokalia vol. 2, p. 180).

The holy angels, of course, are known as the intelligent (noetic) powers. The Spirit works through those beings who are wholly pure, including our guardian angels and the other bodiless powers (Mt 2:13, 19). We should respect them and pray for their help. Through the angels, the Spirit actively guards everyone who is united to Christ, protecting us against the evil one and his servants.

Later, we see how the Holy Spirit makes Joseph rightly afraid of Archelaus, the murderous son of Herod the Great (vs. 22). The Spirit communicates with those mortals who have attained a measure of personal purity through prayer, men and women who are receptive to His voice. In this instance, He works through the dream life of the righteous Joseph.

Understanding the Spirit’s work is crucial if we are to grow in holiness (Jn 3:6-8). This much is certain: the Spirit of God never leaves Joseph, nor will He abandon the members of Christ who are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Let us heed His promptings as we pray for clarification and guidance. Above all, we understand that the Holy Spirit never ceases to work among the faithful to bring about our salvation, as revealed to us through the prophets (Mt 2:23; Eph 3:4-5). Our decisions and actions, especially those that aim to please God, will be woven into His plan of salvation for us and for all of mankind. Let us pray for wisdom!

“Assist me, I pray Thee, and direct me with divine wisdom to do Thy will faithfully.”

Source: Dynamis

Silently Together, And It Is More Than Enough

I listened to Handel’s “Messiah” in the car and chanted the Magnificat during Advent. We sang Christmas carols during the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve.

But, somehow, as satisfying and wonderful as it was/is, it was/is not enough. There is something more. Something deeper I have known (experienced) and desire to enjoy.

Silent veneration and worship with rapt attention. Being loved and loving from the depths. I need no words, I need You, O Lord. And, you offer me Yourself, silently and completely. I have no words I have only myself to offer, O Lord. I offer this silently and as completely as I can at this moment knowing it will be more as I mature in my love for you and my capacity to know (experience unceasingly) Your love for me.

St. John Chrysostom walked this path “before” me and walks it with me still. Thank you “Golden Tongue” for your companionship and encouragement. The same thank you also to Fr. Phillips Brooks who penned, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

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Strange and wonderful is the mystery I behold. In my ears rings the sound of shepherds, not piping a lonely melody but chanting a heavenly hymn. Angels carol, archangels celebrate with song and dance, the cherubim sing hymns, the seraphim give praise, all of them keeping festival as they contemplate God on earth and our nature in heaven. By divine decree he who dwells on high is now here below; by God’s love those who dwell below are raised on high.

Bethlehem today is like heaven: instead of stars it has welcomed angels praising God. Everyone is leaping for joy, so I too want to leap for joy; I want to dance, I want to join the festival; but as I dance I do not pluck the lyre, nor carry pipes, nor kindle torches. Instead of musical instruments I bear Christ’s swaddling clothes, for they are my hope, my life, my salvation; they are my pipe and my lyre. Carrying them I come that endowed with eloquence by their virtue I may say with the angels, Glory to God in the highest; and with the shepherds, Peace on earth for men on whom his favour rests.

Today he who was inexpressibly begotten by the Father is marvellously brought forth by a virgin for my sake. In his nature he was begotten by the Father before all ages in a manner known only to the One who engendered him; outside his nature he is today brought forth anew in a manner known only to the Holy Spirit’s grace. His birth on high was real; his birth here below is real. He was truly begotten as God from God and he is truly brought forth by the Virgin as man. In heaven he is the Father’s only Son, Unique from the Unique; on earth he is the Virgin’s only Son, unique from her who is also unique.

I know a virgin bore a son today and I believe that God begot a son before time was, but the manner in which this happened I have learned to venerate in silence and I have been taught not inquisitively to inquire by busy reasoning. Where God is concerned we should not regard the order of nature, but believe in the power of the One at work therein. Source: from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ADVENT & CHRISTMASTDE, YEAR 1

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“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
-Phillips Brooks
Source: The Hymnal 1982

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And all of this lived not linearly but by “fits and starts” off in this direction and then off in that direction. And yet, we press on, lean forward, drawn by the End/Beginning into such moments of experienced union. Not more union but more deeply knowing the union that is already. This is the pilgrimage of repentance. Repentance is the way of salvation, which is the Way, Truth, and Life of eternal union.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Here is a an edited version of a homily for the Nativity, by St. Basil the Great. I cannot find the full text online. If any of you know a website where it can be found so we may be blessed by the full text, attach the link in the comments section.

Merry Christmas.

God on earth, God amongst us! It is no longer the God who gives the Law amidst lightning and thunder, at the sound of the trumpet on the mountain wrapped in smoke (Ex 19.18), at the heart of a fearful tempest (Ex 19.18), but he who converses gently and kindly with his brethren in a human body. God in our flesh! This is no longer he who only acts at certain times, as with the st basil the greatprophets, but he who assumes human nature completely and who, through the flesh that is our own, raises all humanity to himself.

How is it that light has come into all of us by means of one alone? In what way is divinity present in the flesh? It is like fire in iron…: while still remaining in place, the fire communicates its own proper ardour to the iron. It is not at all made less by this but it wholly fills the iron to which it communicates itself. In the same way God, the Word who “dwelt among us”, did not go out from himself; the Word made flesh underwent no change; heaven was not deprived of him who contained it and earth welcomed him who remains in heaven…

Enter fully into this mystery: God has come in the flesh to put to death the death concealed within it. Just as drugs cure us once they are assimilated by the body, so the darkness of a house is dispersed once the light comes into it, and so, too, the death that kept us in its power has been destroyed by the coming of our God. As ice formed during the night melts under the heat of the sun’s rays, so death has reigned till the coming of Christ. But when the Sun of justice arose (Mal 3.20), “death was swallowed up in victory” (1Cor 15.54); it could not withstand the presence of the true life… Let us sing glory to God with the shepherds, let us dance together with the angels, “for this day in David’s city a Savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2.11)… Let us celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of all humanity.
Source: Saint Basil (c.330-379), Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, “Homily for the Nativity of Christ,” 2.6

Prayer or Empty Praying — Holiness of Life

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6.5-8)

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And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18.9-14)

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And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

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“Nevertheless, we should not collect too many prayers. A few prayers, correctly read, are better than many prayers raced through. And, of course, it is hard to keep from rushing when, in our eagerness to pray, we have gathered more prayers than we can handle.”
-St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter 47

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“The power of prayer does not lie in too many words but in the simplicity and sincerity of the heart.”
-from the video, “You are Three and We are Three”

If you desire to learn the heart of prayer and the mutual relationship between it and holiness of life, and have never read “The Three Hermits,” by Leo Tolstoy, I wonder if it is not time to do so. It can be found here. A video dramatization of it can be found here.

Variations on a Theme of Sin and Death, by the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve – Opus Infinitude

I attended a winter semester graduation celebration yesterday. On the wall of the apartment where the festivities were being held was a framed quote from a Bob Dylan song: “The times they are a-changin’,” released on January 13, 1964 by Columbia Records. It was a song of its time — the 60’s.

But, as I considered the occupants of the apartment upon whose wall the quote and album cover photo was a-hangin, I reminded myself that these 20-something’s are the children of the teenagers of the 60’s ! ! Mind/time-warp. Wait, this should be MY apartment ! ! Those would have been MY sentiments during MY teenage years, not THEIR sentiments during THEIR early twenties. I kind-a thought, “Hey, get your OWN folk-rock and roll icon, this one is OURS ! !”

So, I wondered, “ARE the times a-changin’?” OR have the times stayed the same and the same underlying constant has been identified by them in the 2nd decade of the twenty-first century that was identified by us in the 1960’s? Perhaps, the poster DID belong on the wall after all.

Hmmm…. That’s really deep, man ! !

Things have not gottin’ worse. We have just moved to another verse. (Hey, that rhymes, man.) But, the same old song. Louder? Yes. Making a difference in more lives quicker? Oh yes. And, little or a lot more of this or that? Yes. But, the same song.

There IS a reason to keep all those old clothes and that old car. It and they will come back in style someday ! ! The OLD and the NEW speak of something changeless deep down below. Because this is the case, the Gospel is “the best news not just good news” not matter what era, nation, tribe, or language or circumstance in which it is faithfully preached and humbly received.

We can still pray the same prayers and read the same scriptures because the basic reality of sin and death has not changed. AND, the once-for-all victory of Christ Jesus does not have to be repeated to respond to something “new” from the sin and death factory of the evil one. And, it is not possible, by our own efforts, to come up with a way to relegate the saving work of Christ Jesus to the category of irrelevant. We will never get ahead of the curve of sin and death on our own. Christus victor yesterday, today, and forever — once for all — in response to the same sin and death under whose influence we have been living from near the beginning.

All of this impinges on our shallow definitions of “old” and “new” and “change” and “progress.” And that is good, because hidden in those shallow definitions are misappropriations and the perpetuation of false understandings of the Truth, Way, and Life — Christ Jesus.

Anyway, here is a quote that reflects on what it is that is at the “heart of the matter.”

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“Many complain against technology.
Many accuse modern technology for all the woes in the world.
Is technology really to blame, or those who create technology and use it?
Is a wooden cross to blame if somebody crucifies someone on it?
Is a hammer to blame if a neighbor breaks his neighbors skull?
Technology does not feel good or evil.
The same pipes can be used for drinking water or the sewer.
Evil does not come from unfeeling, dead technology, but from the dead hearts of people.”
Source: St. Nikolai Velimirovich, From the Complete Works of Bishop Nikolai [in Serbian], Book 12

SORROWS

I listen to Handel’s “Messiah” while driving my car as part of my Advent discipline. One of the selections quotes Isaiah 53 — “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”

I am reminded that this is such a precise description of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. What is more, I am reminded of this invitation to embrace His sorrow as my sorrow and my sorrow as His. What is more, the sorrow of the world and of every person in it is His sorrow AND, through Him as I mature more and more, my sorrow. This puts my “sorrows” in a completely different context in which to be understood. It redefines intercessory prayer.

Life is filled with sorrows. Graves in all kinds of forms, if you like. And, “…even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

A wonderful essay can be found here, entitled, “St. Silouan of Mt. Athos: ‘I have many sorrows of my own, and they are my own fault…'” by Roman Savchuk.

I recommend it highly. It did, in my soul, what the Holy Spirit always does in my soul, simultaneously comforts and exhorts me. Not one or the other, but both/and. And, that is the whole point of the essay ! !

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos

The Inner Struggle – Faith and Doubt

I have mentioned, in a previous post, the pulsating point as a fitting image for spiritual transformation (The image comes via Fr. Seraphim of The Monastery of All Celtic Saints). The maturing of our faith is an example of the ongoing struggle – pulsating point – within our soul. Perhaps we witness the difference between faithless doubt and faithful doubt in the response of Zachariah and Mary to the angel Gabriel’s visitation. In essence, we journey with our face set toward the Heavenly Jerusalem – deification – working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We acknowledge our doubt not for the purpose of staying where we are but for the purpose of journeying further with God.

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They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 6.20-24)

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“True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So as to be fully alive, our faith needs continually to die.” from “The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works,” by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Kingdom of heaven is acquired by force

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8)

Truly a wonderful and often quoted verse to encourage the faithful. But, what does it imply?! The first indication of what the attainment of a “pure heart” involves occurs at the end of the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5.10-12)

And who are the persecutors? Are they people? Read Ephesians 6. They are spiritual forces of wickedness external to us and within us. In the most profound sense they are the “passions” at work within us. Those inclinations and drives that hinder the fulfillment of our union with Christ – theosis.

Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God is within us and that is where the warfare to attain it is waged. Our inner life is, among other things, an arena of combat. The acquisition of purity of heart is a violent journey.

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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11.12)

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“Suppose there to be a garden with many fruit trees and other sweet-smelling plants, and that it were all well tilled and laid out for beauty, and that it had also a small wall by way of hedge to preserve it, and suppose that a vehement stream goes through there, though but a little of the water dashes against the wall and saps the foundation, it gets itself a course, and little by little breaks up the foundation, and finds entrance and tears its way, and roots up all the plants, and mars all the tilling, and makes it fruitless. So is it with man’s heart. It has its good thoughts ; but the streams of evil also are always near the heart, desiring to cast it down, and to incline it to its own side. Then if the mind be ever so little light, and yield to unclean thoughts, behold, the spirits of error have found scope, and have entered in, and have overturned the beauties that were there, and have destroyed the good thoughts and laid the soul waste.

As the eye is little in comparison of all the members, and the pupil, small as it is, is a great vessel, because it sees at one glance sky, star, sun, moon, cities and other creatures, and likewise these things, seen at the glance, are formed and imaged in the little pupil of the eye ; so is the mind in the heart, and the heart itself is but a little vessel, and yet there are dragons, and there lions, and there venomous beasts, and all the treasures of wickedness ; and there are rough uneven ways, there chasms ; there likewise is God, there the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the apostles, there the heavenly cities, there the treasures, there are all things.” St. Macarius of Egypt (300-391), Homily XLIII

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Joshua crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho. But Saint Paul teaches: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the unseen powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,” (Ephesians 6.12). Those things that were written down are images and symbols. For Paul says elsewhere: “These things happened as an example; they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come,” (1 Corinthians 10.11). If, then, these things have been written down as a warning, well then!, why delay? Like Joshua, let us set out to war, attacking the greatest city in the world, namely wickedness, and let us throw down the arrogant walls of sin.

Would you look around for which path to take, which battlefield to choose? No doubt you will find my words extraordinary; nevertheless, they are true: limit your quest to yourself alone. In you lies the combat you are going to engage, within yourself the structure of evil and sin to pull down; your enemy emerges from the depths of your heart. It is not I who say this but Christ. Listen to him: “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy,” (Matthew 15.19). Do you realize the power of this enemy force that advances against you from the depths of your heart? Those are our real enemies. Origen (185-253), Homilies on Joshua, Number 5

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“If you want to serve God, prepare your heart not for food, not for drink, not for rest, not for ease, but for suffering, so that you may endure all temptations, trouble and sorrow. Prepare for severities, fasts, spiritual struggles and many afflictions, for “by many afflictions is it appointed to us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Acts 14,22); ‘The Heavenly Kingdom is taken by force, and the who use force seize it.’ (Matt 11:12) St. Sergius of Radonezh, Life, 10