Open

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.(Rev. 3.20)

Jesus answered“If anyone loves Mehe will keep My wordMy Father will love himand We will come to him and make Our home with him. (Jn. 14.23)

Let your door stand open to receive Christ, unlock your soul to him, offer him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, every one. This true light shines on all, but if any close their windows they will deprive themselves of eternal light. If you shut the door of your mind, you shut out Christ. Though he can enter, he does not want to force his way in rudely, or compel us to admit him against our will.

Born of a virgin, he came forth from the womb as the light of the whole world in order to shine on all. His light is received by those who long for the splendour of perpetual light that night can never destroy. The sun of our daily experience is succeeded by the darkness of night, but the sun of holiness never sets, because wisdom cannot give place to evil.

Blessed then is the person at whose door Christ stands and knocks. Our door is faith; if it is strong enough, the whole house is safe. This is the door by which Christ enters. So the Church says in the Song of Songs: ‘The voice of my brother is at the door.’ Hear his knock, listen to him asking to enter: ‘Open to me, my sister, my betrothed, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is covered with dew, and my hair with the moisture of the night.’

When does God the Word most often knock at your door? When his ‘head is covered with the dew of night’. He visits in love those in trouble and temptation, to save them from being overwhelmed by their trials. His head is covered with dew or moisture when those who are his body are in distress. That is the time when you must keep watch so that when the bridegroom comes he may not find himself shut out, and make his departure. If you were to sleep, if your heart were not wide awake, he would not knock and go away; but if your heart is watchful, he knocks and asks you to open the door to him.

Our soul has a door; it has gates. ‘Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, eternal gates, and the King of glory will enter.’ If you open the gates of your faith, the King of glory will enter your house in the triumphal procession in honour of his passion. Holiness too has its gates. We read in Scripture what the Lord Jesus said through his prophet: ‘Open for me the gates of holiness.’

It is the soul that has its door, its gates. Christ comes to this door and knocks; he knocks at the gates. Open to him; he wants to enter, to find his bride waiting and watching. –from a commentary on the psalms by Ambrose of Milan. Celebrating the Seasons, by Robert Atwell.

“Our Report”: Who Has Believed Our Report?

The core of the Gospel is the birth of a “new being” a “new man” in Christ Jesus. The Church Fathers and Mothers proclaim, that He became like us in every way — human — without ceasing to be fully Divine; so we might become like Him in every way — partakers of His divine nature (energies not essence), that we might be fully human.

We become, by our baptism, completely His offspring. There is no inconsistency between Christ Jesus and us.

It would be like having an apple tree whose branches bear oranges. The tree and the branch do not share the same nature. The Mustard Seed Iconbranch must be an apple branch to bear the apples that are the fruit of the apple tree. Complete at-one-ment. Complete union. Complete harmony.

To continue the little analogy. For you and me, who, in our fallenness have ceased to be apple branches and become orange branches, we must die to our orange-ness and be reborn to our apple-ness.

Our witness (martyrdom) is dying to what is false and being raised (reborn) and growing up into what is true. The result is our “good and perfect report” that goes out into the world. It is the report of the truth of the Gospel. This is our one and only “sermon.” What is true of the tree is true of the branches. What is true of Christ is true of us. And, as a result, the fruit of the tree is born out.

The report of our life (apple tree life) goes out (apples). It is the report of Christ Jesus (the fruit of the apple tree). And, it is received by those who have hearts that are ready to receive it (People who want oranges will not eat our apples and people who do will.).

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. (John 12.37-41)

Here is the way St. Gregory the Great articulates this mystery.

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“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12.24)

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'” (Mt 13.31). This small seed is for us the symbol of Jesus Christ, who, sowed into the garden where he was buried, rose from it shortly after, through his resurrection, as a big tree.

One could say that when he died he was like a small seed: a small seed because of the humiliation of his flesh, but a big tree because of the glorification of his majesty. He was like a small seed when he appeared completely disfigured before our eyes; but like a large tree when he rose again like “the most handsome of men” (Ps 44[45].3).

The branches of this mysterious tree are the holy preachers of the Gospel, of whom one of the Psalms indicates the reach: “Their report goes forth through all the earth, their message, to the ends of the world“ (Ps 19.5; cf Rom 10.18). The birds rest on these branches while the souls of the just, who have been raised up above earth’s attractions on the wings of holiness, find in the words of these preachers of the Gospel the consolation they need in the sorrows and difficulties of this life. Saint Gregory the Great (c.540-604), Homilies on Matthew, ch.13

Witness – Participation in the Life of God

As you know, the word witness corresponds to the Greek word “martyr” in the New Testament. And, there are occasions in the New Testament when martyrdom is the meaning even though other words are used. The passage from 1 Peter is a good example.

The meaning is clear. We participate in the life of God and receive this one and only life that is life, by dying to death portraying itself as life. Jesus made it clear on some many occasions that when we die in this way, we live. We know life because we know “Christ and Him crucified.”

It needs to be understood that such dying is not simply the relinquishing of evil intention or actions. It is the pursuit of virtuous intentions and actions. This includes, obviously, active identification/participation in the lives of others through such things as the famous “seven works of mercy”:

  • To feed the hungry
  • To give drink to the thirsty
  • To clothe the naked
  • To shelter the homeless
  • To visit the sick
  • To visit the imprisoned
  • To bury the dead

But let’s not limit it to seven. How about just being a non-judgmental listening ear? How about watching the kids of a mom who needs to spend some time caring for herself? How about making progress on that “honey do” list without being nagged? How about hoping against all of the signs that someone will never change and continuing to invest ourselves in their life in appropriate ways? Or how about letting go of saving people, in the name of Christ Jesus, and joining Christ Jesus in His saving of them? How about …?

It needs to be added that our appropriate suffering in the flesh – martyrdom – is not self-chosen. It is not doing “what seems right in our own mind.” It begins and ends with the revelation of the Holy Spirit and the confirmation of the Body of Christ. The action results from appropriate adjustments and grace of the same Holy Spirit and support of the same Body of Christ. All of this is what makes such an authentic obedience possible.

These are the deeds of a martyr. This is also what it means to be “suffering in the flesh.” These are the deeds of Christ Jesus.

Let’s remember that the 1 Peter, in which this passage about “suffering in the flesh” appears is also the one in which the apostle proclaims us to be “partakers of the divine nature.”

Here is a wonderful “Dynamis” reflection on the matter. (By the way, I recommend reading this grace-filled daily reflection. “Dynamis” has blessed me for almost 20 years! It owe a great degree of my understanding of the Holy Tradition to this wonderful publication.)

Here also is a reflection by St. Thomas Aquinas on the matter at hand…

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Suffering in the Flesh: 1 Peter 4:1-11, especially vss. 1-2: “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”

Earlier in this same epistle, Saint Peter declares that Christ suffered death “in the flesh” purposely, in order “to bring us to God” (vs. 3:18). Now, when he tells us to “arm [ourselves] also with the same mind” (vs. 4:1), he is urging us to embrace an intention similar to the Lord’s.

We should not read the expression “suffered in the flesh” as applicable only to martyrs and confessors, for a vital truth would then be lost. Suffering is common to everyone and takes many forms: persecution, injury, disease, financial reverses, rejection. While Saint Peter’s primary concern throughout his first epistle is with physical persecution, he is well aware that suffering in the flesh extends beyond the afflictions imposed on those who died for Christ.

This suffering may also come to one who has indulged in sinful living, but now withdraws for Christ’s sake and ceases to “run . . . in the same flood of dissipation” (vs. 4). As we would expect, the Apostle advises us against living “in the flesh for the lusts of men” (vs. 2). We should avoid “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (vs. 3), determined to avoid all such indulgence.

But social isolation may follow when we choose to stop living “in . . . dissipation” (vs. 4). According to The Orthodox Study Bible, Saint Peter is talking about the vices then prevalent in Asia Minor, “where excessive drinking, along with unspeakable practices, took place in connection with the worship of various deities.” Let us bear in mind that these vices are well known today, even though they are no longer part of the worship of any deities!

As a fledgling disciple, Saint Peter learned the captivating power of a sinful mind. Christ tells us that “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mk 7:21-23).

Among the Fathers of the Church, Saint John Climacus commends the pain of struggling for chastity and purity, especially since we have a vital hope of ceasing from sin (1 Pt 4:1-2). “Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature. . . . He is pure . . . [who] expels fleshly love with divine love, and . . . has extinguished the fire of passion by the fire of heaven” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, 15.1-3, 7, p. 104).

Keep in mind that Saint John does not limit the virtue of chastity to sexual purity, but rather asserts that “chastity is the name which is common to all the virtues.” In our struggle to gain purity, God helps us take certain steps that are necessarily accompanied by pain. We observe our passions, repent sincerely, and confess thoroughly; we undertake fasting, abandon self-reliance, and strive for unceasing prayer.

“Let no one thoroughly trained in purity attribute its attainment to himself, for it is impossible for anyone to conquer his own nature,” Saint John cautions. “When nature is defeated, it should be recognized that this is due to the presence of Him who is above nature.” Indeed, we never endure such sufferings apart from God, but rather in the presence of His love.

I am caught in the depths of sins. O Savior, draw me out of passion, and save me! – Orthros for Sunday of the Prodigal Son

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The Cross exemplifies every virtue

Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.

If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. From a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

 

 

 

The Witnesses to Christ Jesus

My spiritual father gave me what has turned out to be the best counsel of my life. He said, “Everything begins and ends with and in Christ Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega. It is all about Christ Jesus. Therefore, through Him all reveals its deepest and truest meaning. All things are to be received and related to in and through Christ Jesus.”

Jesus, in the gospel of John (actually in all of his writings), makes this point in terms of how everything “witnesses to Him.” Specifically, the witness of John the Forerunner, the works He performs, the Father, and the Scriptures. These are not the only witnesses. Later, Jesus will speak, through St. John in His first Epistle, of blood, water, and the Holy Spirit as witnesses to Him.

I glean from this that “all things” glorify the Lord. The witness to Christ Jesus crucified and raised. ALL things. That includes circumstances, our mortality, our relationships. ALL things.

The question is not IF they do. They question is, “Am I willing to adjust my life enough (repent) to embrace the truth that they do and live according to it?!”

If I do, illumination will occur. I will “see” how they do to the extend I need to in order to relate to them “in spirit and in truth.” I will have the sense or understanding of Christ Jesus regarding them.

All things possess the capacity, by the grace of God, to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus — the glory of God. Christ Jesus is “everywhere present and fillest all things” in His dying and rising. In as much as these qualities can be found in all things by the grace of God, they are to be sought. In and through all things, I can die with Christ Jesus and be raised with Christ Jesus.

Everything is an aspect of the baptismal moment. This is the significance of the Holy Eucharist. The fulfillment/consummation “at all times and in all places” of our baptism.

In this Mysterious Way, through Christ Jesus, I am able to be in authentic reconciliation and union not only with Christ Jesus, but with all things and all persons as well.

And, in this way, I become the witness I receive: “And you also will bear witness, because lyou have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15.27 NKJV)

I become more and more deified.

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31“If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. 32“There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

33“You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34“But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35“He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

36“But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.

37“And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.38“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.

39“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. 41“I do not receive glory from men; 42but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43“I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? 45“Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47“But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”(John 5.31-47)

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Searching the Scriptures in and for Christ Jesus

1 Peter 1:1-2,10-12; 2:6-10, especially vs. 1:10: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.” 

Saint Theophan the Recluse offers two prescriptions for overcoming the disease of ignorance in the heart. “First and most necessary is prayer,” he says, “by which we must implore the Holy Spirit to pour His divine light into our hearts.”

Second, we must probe “deep for the knowledge of [truths], in order to see clearly which of them are good and which bad. We should judge them not as the world and the senses do, but as they are judged by . . . the Holy Spirit . . . the word of the divinely inspired Scriptures, or that of the holy fathers and teachers of the Church” (Unseen Warfare, p. 90).

If we read the Scriptures with the Church, if we search them, praying to the Spirit to bestow right judgment upon us through these divine texts, we will find healing. In these verses, Saint Peter reveals three ways that we heal the disease of ignorance by searching the Scriptures: the restoration of true perspective, the correction of ingratitude, and relief from forgetfulness.

Searching the Scriptures restores our right perspective on life. Secular humanism refers to a world devoid of God, or marginalizes God as an idea confined to people with a particular interest in religion. Scripture, by contrast, approaches God as the primary actor amidst all of human history. He alone offers salvation to all nations, and He alone makes sense of everything that bewilders us.

Note how widely these two views differ! Saint Peter, speaking to his fellow Christians, calls us pilgrims and sojourners (vs. 1:1, 2:11), for he accepts that we belong to a kingdom “not of this world” (Jn 18:36). He sees us as an elect people (1 Pt 1:2; 2:9) who are brought into existence by the actions and love of God (vs. 1:2). We are not merely a group of individuals who happen to come together for religious rituals. Ours is no chance gathering, but an integral part of a plan by which God addresses the sin, sickness, ignorance, and confusion in history.

Christians are not the first people to whom God disclosed His plan to restore all things. The Old Testament prophets received many foresights. As Saint Peter says, they “inquired and searched carefully” into the plan of God (vs. 1:10). Further, by “the Spirit of Christ who was in them,” they were able to foretell “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (vs. 1:11) His triumph over death.

We know that the revelations to the prophets are fulfilled (vs. 1:12 and 1 Cor 10:11)! Consider the great privilege we have received as Christians, for we are the first to know the whole truth. The generations before us did not receive the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ; they only glimpsed, through the ancient prophecies, the truths now known to us in detail.

The honor we have received humbles our mind and fills our heart with gratitude, for God has made us into His people. We have good reason to “stand aright” and offer “a sacrifice of praise,” in the words of the Divine Liturgy. Scripture heals ingratitude!

Finally, as Saint Peter says: we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,” for we have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (vs. 2:9). Saint Peter reminds us how ancient Israel, once called to be the people of God, was “cast away” (Rom 11:15), while we, “who once were not a people . . . are now the people of God” (1 Pt 2:10).

Let us read the Scriptures to be healed of our forgetfulness. We remember that we “have obtained mercy” (vs. 2:10). We come to Holy Scripture for perspective, and discover mercy!

“Illumine our hearts, O Master, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge.”  – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
Source: “Dynamis” reflection for January 23, 2015

Theosis — Christ-likeness

“The mystics keep telling us that the goal of prayer and the goal of our hidden life which should itself become more and more of a prayer is union with God.  We use that phrase often, much too often, to preserve the wholesome sense of its awe-fullness.  For what does union with God mean?  It is not a nice feeling we get in devout moments.  That may or may not be a bi-product of union – probably not.  It can never be its substance.  Union with God means every bit of our human nature transfigured in Christ, woven up evelyn underhillinto His creative life and activity, absorbed into His redeeming purpose, heart, soul, mind and strength.  Each time it happens it means that one of God’s creatures has achieved its destiny.

And if men and women want to know what this means in terms of human nature, what it costs and what it becomes, there is only one way – contemplation of the life of Jesus Christ.  Then we see that we grow in wisdom and stature not just for our own sakes – just to become spiritual – but that His teaching, healing, life-giving power may possess us and work through us; that we may lose our own lives and find His life, be conformed to the pattern shown in Him, conformed to the cross.  Those are the rich and costly demands and experiences that lie before us as we stand and look at the Christ-child setting up a standard for both simple and learned, teaching the secrets of life; and what they ask from us on our side and from our prayer is a very great simplicity, self-oblivion, dependence and suppleness, a willingness and readiness to respond to life where it finds us and wait, to grow and change, not according to our preconceived notions and ideas of pace, but according to the overruling will and pace of God. Evelyn Underhill, Light of Christ, pg. 45-46

Choose This Day: The Great Divide

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24 NKJV

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8 NASB

“There is no other day. All days are present now… This moment contains all moments.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Theosis – The Aspect of Illumination

The Christian life is a life of union with God – theosis. It has three facets: purification, illumination, and deification.

Here are two passages of Scripture that have been helpful to me in this regard:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4.12-17 NKJV)

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What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world… He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. (John 1.4-5, 10-13 NJB)

Here is a wonderful reflection on illumination authored by Rob Des Cotes, a spiritual director, retreat leader and pastor of Imago Dei.

Enjoy.

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Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  (Ephesians 5:13 NIV)

Between 1980 and 1994, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and in particular the ceiling and accompanying lunettes by Michelangelo, underwent a major restoration.  The findings of an earlier investigation in 1979 revealed that the entire ceiling of the chapel was covered with a grime of candle smoke, wax and soot.  Previous restorations had also left their marks on the frescoes where layers of varnish and glue that had been applied to many areas had darkened and become opaque, veiling the light’s capacity to properly reflect the original colours.  The final restoration revealed colours and details that had not been seen for centuries.Daniel unrestored

The concept of light being buried under the opaqueness of dirt is also a theme that Martin Laird explores in his book Into the Silent Land where he writes on the power of prayer to restore our original light.  Lairds thesis is that, “Contemplative practice helps remove that which obscures the hidden self.”

The idea that truth is not something that we have to aspire to but something that is already buried within us also resonates with Paul’s teaching in 2Cor. 3:18 where he speaks of the glory we increasingly reflect the more we come to God with “unveiled faces.”  Laird too finds agreement with the apostle’s imagery when he writes,

  • The discipline of contemplation is not a technique but more of a surrendering of our deeply imbedded resistances.  It allows the sacred within us to gradually reveal itself. Out of this letting go emerges what Paul calls our hidden self (Eph 3:16).

Jesus assures us that “the kingdom of heaven is within” (Luke 17:21). But we also know that there is much in our lives and in our self-understanding that obscures its light.  Contemplative prayer helps remove these self-defining veils so that the Holy Spirit can lead us to the simple truth of our “unveiled” self—the purity of heart by which we come to see and reflect more truthfully our oneness with God (Mat. 5:8).  This is what Laird suggests when he claims,

  • Union with God is not something that needs to be acquired as much as realized. Because of our unity with Christ, the reality of our oneness with God is already the case. The more we realize this to be true the more we can become ourselves just as we are.

Laird speaks of the foundational lie that veils and distorts our true self—that we tend to  look to the creature for truth rather than to the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As a result of this misdirection of love we confuse our own dimly reflected light for God’s Light, and we end up living a much different narrative than the one God intended for us.

We are caught between two worlds—our self-reflected identity and our God-reflected identity in Christ.  Though we are in the process of being born again we still cling, in many ways, to the lies of our old, autonomous self.  Laird speaks of animals who have lived most of their lives in cages who, once released into the wild, still live as if they were caged.  They are free but they do not know it.  This also mirrors our spiritual reality as Christians.  We are free, but the memory of the cage still remains.  This is why it is so important to come to God each day in prayer.  If nothing else it reminds us over and over again of our essential unity with Christ.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus taught us.  Our light is not something that lies ahead of us or that we must somehow become.  It is actually hidden beneath us.  We do not need to achieve or aspire to this reality as much as to simply rest in it.  As we allow God’s truth to reveal to us the simplicity of our creatureliness—of our lives as something received more than something we create—we too will be more fully illuminated by His light.  “Everything exposed by the light will become visible,” as Paul teaches.  “And everything that is illuminated will itself become a light.”

FOR PERSONAL CONSIDERATION AND GROUP DISCUSSION:

  1. Like the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, what are the layers of soot and wax that prevent God’s light from fully reaching you? How does prayer help “remove all that obscures the hidden self?”
  2. How does your sense of spiritual direction change when you consider that “union with God is not something you need to achieve or aspire to but something you simply need to rest in?”
  3. In what ways do you see yourself like the animals Laird describes who, though free, still act as if they are living in a cage?  What are some of the lies that cause you to lose your sense of unity with Christ?

FOR PRAYER:  Present yourself each day to God for the healing, or “unveiling,” of your heart.  Welcome His exposing light so that you will more truthfully reflect it in your life.  Let the Lord break down any illusion you have of being separate from Him.

Baptism – The Eternal Moment of Deification

The gospel text for Theophany (Epiphany) in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the baptism of Jesus. One might ask, “Why?”

It is important to realize that baptism is the profound Mystery of our salvation and the manifestation of the gospel to the whole world as part-and-parcel of our salvation. Since this is the case, it is important to explore this Mystery and how it is “lived out.” The living out of it is, in fact, our life of discipleship.

In this regard, St. Nicholas Cabasilas (1322 – 1391), a well known theological writer and mystic of the Orthodox Church would be worth reading. His two treatises, Life in Christ and A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, are classics of Eastern sacramental theology.

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“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father… And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1.12-14, 16 RSV)

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“Your love, Yahweh, reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the clouds;
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God,
Your judgments like the mighty deep.

Yahweh, protector of man and beast,
how precious, God, Your love!
Hence the sons of men
take shelter in the shadow of Your wings.

They feast on the bounty of Your house,
You give them drink from Your river of pleasure;
yes, with You is the fountain of life,
by Your Light we see the light.” (Psalm 36 JB)

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That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the infinite river that gladdens the city of God being bathed in a poor little stream; of the eternal and unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world!

He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, he who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, Hippolytuscame to be baptized because it was his will. And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.

The beloved Father begets love, and the immaterial Light generates light inaccessible. This is he who was called the son of Joseph and in his divine nature is my only Son.

This is my beloved Son. Though hungry himself, he feeds thousands; though weary, he refreshes those who labour. He has no place to lay his head yet he holds all creation in his hand. By his suffering he heals all sufferings; by receiving a blow on the cheek he gives the world its liberty; by being pierced in the side he heals the wound in Adam’s side.

And now, please pay close attention, for I want to return to that fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters as they gush out.

The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world, to come to us men and cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility. Now if we become immortal, we shall also be divine; and if we become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be heirs along with Christ, after the resurrection of the dead.

So I cry out, like a herald: Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures. In short, this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude and becomes an adopted son. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun and radiating purity and, above all, he comes as a son of God and a co-heir with Christ.

To him be glory and power, to him and his most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, both now and for ever. Amen.

Excerpted from discourse on the Theophany by pseudo-Hippolytus (170–236)

Theophany: Behold the Man — Foolishness or Wisdom?!

Theophany (Epiphany) is the season of the church year in which we focus our attention on manifestation. The manifestation of God to the
world.

That which is hidden is unveiled for all to see. At least those who have eyes to see.

Several passages are traditionally critical: 1) the message of the angels to the shepherds; 2) the visitation of the Magi; 3) the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River; 4) the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and the lifting up of Jesus’s on the cross for all the world to Adoration of the Magisee.

It is very important, in my opinion, to notice the linkage between Pilate’s words and the prophecy in the book of Zechariah:

12 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13 “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ (Zechariah 6.12-13)

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1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. 4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”

8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19.1-15)

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Theophany involves the juxtaposition of the wisdom of the kingdom of this world and the wisdom of the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul speaks of this juxtaposition in ways that reveal it to be a collision, not a friendly encounter.

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18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written,
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
9 but just as it is written,
“THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD,
AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN
ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”
1For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 1For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1.18–2.31)

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The wisdom of the Kingdom is madness to the world.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), speaks of this collision. This location where the manifestation takes place. This place where we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith, or not…

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“They prostrated themselves and did him homage”

God’s intention was not only to come down to earth but to become known there; not only to be born but to be recognised. In fact, it is with this recognition in mind that we hold this celebration of the Epiphany, the great day of his manifestation. For it was today that the Magi came from the East in search of the Sun of Justice at its rising (Mal 3,20), he of whom we read: “Behold a man whose name is the Orient,” (Zec 6,12 Vul.). Today they have adored the Virgin’s newborn child, following the guidance of a new star. What great cause for joy do we not find here, my brethren, as also in those words of the apostle Paul: “The kindness and generous love of God our Saviour have appeared,” (Tit 3,4)…

What is this you are doing, you Magi? What is this you are doing? Are you adoring an infant at the breast in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can a child such as this really be God? Yet, “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Ps 11 [10],4) while you are looking for him in a common stable, held in his mother’s arms! Whatever are you doing? Why are you offering him gold? Could such as one as this be king? Where, then, is his royal court, his throne, his crowd of courtiers? Can a stable be a palace, a crib a throne, Mary and Joseph members of his court? How on earth could wise men be so crazy as to adore a baby, as contemptible by reason of his age as for the poverty of his family?

Mad? Yes, they have become so in order to be wise. The Holy Spirit has taught them already what the apostle Paul would later proclaim: “Whoever would be wise, let him become a fool. For since the world, in all its wisdom, did not come to know God in his Wisdom, it has pleased God to save those who believe through the foolishness of the Gospel we proclaim, (cf 1Cor 1,21)… And so they prostrate themselves before this poor child; they do him homage as to a king; they adore him as a God. He who outwardly guided them by a star has cast his light into the interior of their hearts. Source: St. Bernard, 1st Sermon for the Epiphany

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How could it be stated more succinctly and precisely, “Mad? Yes, they have become so in order to be wise.” The Shepherds, the Magi, the Martyrs (witnesses), you and me my brothers and sisters – the Mad men and women the sane ones in a mad, mad world.

Rise, My Beloved, Press on in Hope, Ever Ascending — Today

My wife and I watched the ball drop in New York City. Not in person of course, but on TV. We watched the festivities in Nashville and in San Francisco. In each and every case, people were asked, in one way or another what they hoped for in 2015. After all, isn’t that what a New Year’s resolution is, a commitment to invest in the hope for a better tomorrow?!

But, the better tomorrow is really about how we live TODAY, isn’t it? After all, today is the only day in which we can live.

So, I would ask, “What is your today resolution?” OR “How do you intend to invest yourself — attitudes and actions — to living differently right NOW?!”

Today is the day that ANY and EVERY resolution is either accomplished or put off once again. Today is the day.

The end — the Omega, Christ Jesus — the fulfillment for which we hope, encounters us not tomorrow, not in the past, but in the present, today, right now. Christ Jesus doesn’t call us into tomorrow. He calls us into the fulfillment of the Eternal Now — the consummation of His life in us and our life in Him which is, already accomplished and being fulfilled. When?? Today.

This is the day the Lord has made, not tomorrow.

Today is the acceptable time — the kairos “full-filling” the chronos — clothing it as it were from within and without with incorruptibility, though appearances may not confirm it (faith confirms it). Today is the day of salvation my brothers and sisters, not tomorrow. The invitation to engage in life in this way redefines concepts such as “when” and “how much” and “progress.”

Happy New Year? Well, Okay, yes…

But, I say Happy New Today ! !

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Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Hear my cry.
Give heed to the voice of my supplication,
My King and my God,
For to You will I pray, O Lord.
In the morning You shall hear my voice;
In the morning I will stand before You,
And I will watch. (Psalm 5.2-4)

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Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Habakkuk 3.17-19)

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Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5.1-5)

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Isaiah says,
“There shall come the root of Jesse,
And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles,
In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.12-13)

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A READING FROM THE COMMENTARY ON THE SONG OF SONGS BY ST GREGORY OF NYSSA

How should we interpret the words, Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains? Perhaps they foresee the divine plan, spoken of in the Gospel and foretold by the prophets, whereby the Word of God became visible to us by his coming in the flesh. See, there he stands, looking through the windows, peeping through the lattices. The Word unites humanity to God methodically, step by step. First he enlightens us through the prophets and the precepts of the law; for we take the prophets to be the windows admitting the light and the network of the law’s commands to be the lattice. Through both of these steals the brilliance of the true light. Afterward comes the full illumination when by union with our nature the true light shines upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. First the light of the ideas contained in the prophets and the law shines upon the soul through windows and lattices apprehended by our minds, filling it with a desire to see the sun in the open air. Then the desire is fulfilled.

Rise up my companion, my fair one, my dove, and come. How much the Word teaches us in these few words! We watch him leading the bride to the heights along the ascending path of virtue, as though up a flight of steps. First he sends her a ray of light through the windows which are the prophets and the lattice which is the precepts of the law, calling her to approach the light and to become beautiful as she takes on in the light the form of a dove. Then when she has taken on as much of the divine beauty as she can, as though she had not yet received any part in it, he draws her once again from the beginning toward the supreme Beauty in which she is to share. As a result her desire becomes more intense the further she advances toward what is continually being revealed to her. Moreover, because of the surpassing greatness of the blessings she is always receiving by his grace who surpasses all, she seems to be making the journey for the first time.

And so, after she has risen the Word again says ‘Rise’ and after she has come he says ‘Come’. One who has thus risen never lacks the opportunity to rise further and one who is running toward the Lord never reaches the end of the space available for the divine race. We should always be rising and those whom the race is bringing close to the goal should never stop. Each time the Word says ‘Rise’ and ‘Come’ he gives the power to ascend to still loftier heights.

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But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work. (2 Thessalonians 2.13-17)

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And so, we are eager to awaken the dawn of today with hope…

“Awake, my glory! (my whole being)
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!” (Psalm 57.8)