Who Receives Our Attention

Who do we pay attention to? To whom is our focus offered? It is those from whom we hope to receive some gain or benefit? Didn’t St. Paul quote Jesus as saying, “…it is more blessed to give than to receive?” So, although we are giving our attention we are actually fishing for something for ourselves. There really is no cost. This would be a form of caring that isn’t real caring.

——————-

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. (Luke 6.32-34)

The Lord said: “Whoever welcomes this little child on my account welcomes me.” (Luke 9:48) The smaller our brother is, the more Christ is present. For when we welcome a great personality, we often do so out of vainglory; but the person who welcomes someone unimportant, does so with a pure intention and for Christ. He said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” And again: “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:35.40) Since he is talking about a believer and a brother, no matter how unimportant he is, Christ comes in with him. Open your house and welcome him.

“He who welcomes a prophet because he bears the name of prophet receives a prophet’s reward.” Thus, the person who welcomes Christ will receive the reward of Christ’s hospitality. Do not doubt his words, trust them. He himself told us: “In them, I am presenting myself.” And so that you do not doubt them, he decreed the punishment for those who do not welcome him and the honors for those who do welcome him (Matthew 25:31ff.). He would not do this if he were not personally touched by honor or scorn. He says: “You welcomed me into your house; I will welcome you in the Kingdom of my Father. You freed me from hunger; I will free you from your sins. You saw me in chains; I will let you see your liberation. You saw me a stranger; I will make of you a citizen of heaven. You gave me bread; I will give you the Kingdom as your inheritance that is entirely yours. You helped me in secret; I will proclaim it publicly and I will say that you are my benefactor and that I am in your debt.”

Saint John Chrysostom (c.345-407), Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, no. 45

Advertisements

Let Us Be Attentive

“The principal thing is to walk before God, or under God’s eye, aware that God is looking at you, searching your soul and your heart, seeing all that is there. This awareness is the most powerful lever in the mechanism of the inner spiritual life.” -St. Theophanes the Recluse

Let Us Be Attentive and Struggle On Toward the Goal

The faithful struggle requires a certain intentionality and attentiveness. We must, as the wise author of Proverbs says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.” [Prov. 4.23] Such wisdom — knowledge of the attitude we need in order to press forward and the behavior consistent with the attitude —  is essential to the faithful struggle.

Here is what one of the Church Fathers has to say:

“Be attentive to yourself, lest an unlawful word come to be hidden in your heart” [Deut. 15-9]…”Be attentive to yourself,” it says. Each of the animals by nature has from the God who has constructed all things the resources to guard its own structure. And you would find, if you observed carefully, that most of the non-rational animals have without training an aversion to what is harmful, and again by a certain natural attraction, they hasten toward the enjoyment of beneficial things. Therefore also God who is educating us has given us this great precept, that as this comes to them by nature, it comes to us by the help of reason, and as they are set right without reflection, we may accomplish this through the attentive and continuous care of thoughts. And guarding strictly the resources given us by God, let us flee sin as the non-rational animals flee harmful foods but pursue justice as they pursue nourishing grass. So be attentive to yourself, that you may be able to distinguish what is harmful from what is healthful. But attentiveness is of two kinds: on the one hand we can gaze intently with the bodily eyes at visible things, and on the other hand by its noetic faculty the soul can apply itself to the contemplation of incorporeal things. If we say that the precept refers to the activity of the eyes, immediately we would find it to be impossible. For how could one grasp the whole of oneself with one’s eye? For neither can the eye be used to see itself, nor to reach the head, nor to see the back, nor the face, nor the arrangement of the internal organs deep within. Now it is impious to say that the precepts of the Spirit are impossible. It remains therefore to hear what is prescribed as applying to the activity of the mind. Be attentive to yourself, that is, observe yourself carefully from every side. Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard yourself. You walk in the midst of snares [Sir 9.131.] Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places. Therefore observe everything, “that you may be saved like a gazelle from traps and like a bird from snares” [Prov 6.5]. For because of keenness of sight the gazelle is not taken by the traps, whence also it gives its name to its own sharp-sightedness; and the bird by lightness of wing ascends higher than the plots of the hunters, when it is alert. Therefore, see that you do not show yourself as worse than the non-rational animals in guarding yourself, lest when caught in the snares you become prey to the devil, taken captive by him into his will [2 Tim. 2.26]. Excerpt from “On the Human Condition,” by St. Basil the Great

 

 

Great and Holy Thursday — God and Man Suffer and Love as One

St. Ephrem helps us as we seek to identify with and participate in the suffering-love of the God/Man who was/is/will identify with our suffering and participate in it “for the life of the world.”

“The evening before our Lord gave himself up to death he shared his own body with his Apostles and offered them his blood, with the command that they were to do what he had done in order to keep the memory of his Passion alive. Then a strange thing happened. Earlier Jesus had charged his disciples not to fear death. Do not be afraid of those who have power to kill ­your body, he had said. But now he himself showed fear, and ­begged to be spared the cup of suffering. Father, he prayed if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. How are we to explain this?

The answer is that our Lord’s petition was wrung from the human weakness he had made his own. There was no pretence about his incarnation; it was absolutely real. And since the donning of our poor humanity had made him puny and defenceless, it was only natural that he should experience fear and alarm. Eating to alleviate hunger, showing weariness after exertion, and revealing human weakness by the need for sleep were all the effects of his taking our flesh and clothing himself with our infirmity. Consequently when the moment of death drew near, he necessarily experienced the ultimate frailty of our human condition; he was gripped by a dreadful horror of ­dying.

It was then that Jesus said to his disciples: Stay awake and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And in answer to our question he might well say: ‘When you are afraid, it is not your spirit that trembles but your human ­weakness. Remember then that I myself tasted the fear of death in my desire to convince you that I truly shared your flesh and blood.’

A further answer to our question is that Jesus wished to teach his disciples how to commit themselves to God both in life and in death. His own divine knowledge made him supremely wise, yet he prayed for what his Father judged to be expedient. How much more ought we ignorant men to surrender our wills to God’s omniscience!

We may also tell ourselves that we too were in our Lord’s mind as he prayed. In time of temptation our minds become confused and our imagination runs riot. By persevering in prayer Jesus was showing us how much we ourselves need to pray if we are to escape the wiles and snares of the devil. It is only by constant prayer that we gain control of our distracted thoughts.

Finally, there is our Lord’s desire to strengthen all who are afraid of death. By letting them see that he himself had expe­rienced fear he would show them that fear does not necessarily lead to sin, provided one continues to resist it. This is the force of our Lord’s concluding prayer: Not my will, Father, but yours be done. He is saying: ‘Yes, Father, I am ready to die in order to bring life to many.’” Source: St Ephrem of Syria, Diatessaron 20.3-4, 6-7 (CSCO 145:201-204); Word in Season II, 2nd ed.

Plumb the depths of your heart and from that Holy of Holies, watch and pray by the power of the Holy Spirit…

Fr. Thomas

“Infused knowledge full of love”

St. Vincent de Paul

In my last post I offered the biblical figure of Job as an example of attentiveness and responsiveness to God’s presence and work or “sacred study.” To be a grace-filled participant in one’s own salvation.

In this post I would like to offer another practical example: St. Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity.

In 1633 a French peasant priest, Vincent de Paul, and an wealthy widow, Louise de Marillac, established the Daughters of Charity in response to the desperate needs of the poor in seventeenth century France.

Vincent de Paul expressed his vision for the Daughters of Charity in this way:

“Let us seek out the poorest and most abandoned among us; and recognize before God that they are our lords and our masters, and that we are unworthy of rendering our little services to them.” St. Vincent De Paul

The website of the Daughters of the Northeast Province of the United States articulates their worldwide mission in this way:

“From the very beginning, the community (sometimes referred to as “Sisters of Charity”) was to serve the needs of the poorest and most abandoned in society. Today we have the same focus – to serve Jesus Christ in those for whom no one else cares. Prayer and community life are essential elements for our vocation of service in the areas of education, health care, social and pastoral services.”

 As I noted previously, “There is a difference … between what we mainly understand in the head, which may not result in LIFE; and what we understand from the heart and a union with the LIFE-giving Holy Spirit.” What we seek in our life as disciples and as the Church is not “…more information about God, but the practical knowledge of God – a knowledge we seek to integrate more and more into our everyday life. This knowledge of God actually BECOMES our life!!”

Daughters of Charity

In an address to the Daughters of Charity during his lifetime, Vincent de Paul offered this reflection on Matthew 11.25-27 which gives you and I the opportunity to delve deeper into the mystery of attentiveness and sacred study:

“You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to the childlike” (Mt. 11.25)

“My daughters, if only you knew the delight God takes in seeing a poor village girl, a poor [religious] Daughter of Charity speak to him lovingly, oh!, you would walk with even greater confidence than I could advise you. If you knew how much science you would draw from it, how much love and sweetness you would find in it! There you would find it all, dear daughters, because it is the fountain and spring of all knowledge.

Where does it come from that you see unlettered people speak so fluently about God and explain mysteries with more understanding that would a doctor? A doctor who has no more than his doctrine really speaks about God according to the manner his knowledge has taught him; but a prayerful person speaks in an altogether different way. And the difference between them comes, my daughters, from the fact that the first speaks out of a knowledge that is simply acquired, but the other from an infused knowledge full of love, in such a way that the doctor in this comparison is by no means the more knowledgeable. And he is obliged to keep quiet wherever a person of prayer is present because she speaks of God in a very different way than he is able to do.” Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

Fr. Thomas

What Does Attentiveness and Sacred Study Look Like in Real Life?

In my last two posts, “… let us be attentive” and “Sacred Study – Journey into the Truth” I attempted to portray one aspect of the Spirit-filled and directed Way which is the very life of the reigning Christ Jesus within us and in our midst as the Church and individual believers. My emphasis was on the role of attentiveness, remembrance, and openness to and commitment to addressing the transformative questions the Holy Spirit brings before us.

One might ask, “What does that look like in real life?” A fair question… Today, in the assigned readings from “The Two Year Lectionary Patristic Vigil Readings,” St. Gregory the Great addresses this very question. He gives the example of Job. Job was faithfully attentive; had a spirit of remembrance; and was open to honestly addressing the probing questions put before him by the Holy Spirit in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances.

How can I do better than St. Gregory?! Here is his reflection …

“When Job lost everything, at Almighty’s God decree, to pre­serve his peace of mind he remembered the time when he did not yet possess the things he had now lost; in that way, by realising more and more clearly that once he had not had them, he would the more easily moderate his grief over their loss. For indeed whenever we lose something it can be a great consolation to call to mind the days when we did not have it.

So, then, the blessed Job, wishing to cultivate patience as he bewails his losses, carefully considers to what state he is now reduced. To enhance his peace of mind he ponders yet more closely his origins, saying as he does so: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return whence I came. In other words, the earth produced me naked, and naked will receive me back when I leave it. Since therefore the things I have lost were only what I had received and must leave behind, what have I lost that really belonged to me? But then, because consolation derives not only from thinking about one’s condition but also about the Crea­tor’s uprightness, he is right to add: The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased the Lord, so has he wrought.

He well says, as it has pleased the Lord. For since in this world we have to put up with things we do not like, it is necessary that we should accommodate our best endeavours to him who cannot will anything that is unjust. If therefore we know that what is just and equitable pleases the Lord, and that we can suffer nothing but what is pleasing to him, then all our sufferings must for that reason be justly and fairly imposed: and it would therefore be very unjust of us to grumble at them.

We should note that, having got all that right, Job ends by praising God. This was so that his adversary might realise, over­come by shame at seeing Job’s plight, that his own attitude in his prosperity is one of contempt for God, the same God to whom even this man, now fallen on evil times, can never­theless sing a hymn of praise. We should realise that the enemy of our race can smite us with as many of his darts as there are temptations for him to afflict us with. For we do battle daily; and daily his onslaught of temptations rains down on us. But we in turn can fire our darts against him if, while buried in our tribulations, we will but react in humility. Thus Job, although suffering in material things, is still a blessed and happy man.

We should not think that our champion merely receives wounds without inflicting any in return. Indeed, every prayer of patience offered by the sufferer in God’s praise is a dart turned against the enemy’s breast: and a much sharper blow is thereby struck than the one sustained. For the man in his afflictions loses only earthly goods, whereas in bearing humbly with his afflictions he has increased many times over his stock in heaven.”St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 2.17.30-18.31 (SC 32bis:203-205); “Word in Season VII”

Job was attentive to the Lord’s presence and work in the midst of his circumstances, difficult and seemingly void of the Lord’s presence and provision. He was open to the Holy Spirit’s challenge to ask salvific questions in the midst of the very same circumstances and “go the distance” in faithful obedience to what the Lord revealed to him.

God Bless you today and everyday with the grace to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being conformed to the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ like unto Job,

Fr. Thomas

“… let us be attentive!”

“… let us be attentive!”

Three times, in the course of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, worshippers are given this exhortation.

First, just before the reading of the Gospel. Second, at the beginning of the Anaphora (the Great Thanksgiving). And third, after communion before the post-communion thanksgiving.

It is a call away from distraction to single-minded-hearted attention. It is a call out of slumber and sleep of distraction and illusion into the truth of alertness. In other words, “Wake the heck up and pay attention!!” It is a call to remembrance. Paradoxically, this call to remembrance is not a call to retreat into the past or into the future, but into the present. It is the call to be as fully present as possible to God who is fully present to us.

The liturgists of the early Church were offering us the exhortation of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:

“Therefore it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5.14-17)

One of the fruits of sin is forgetfulness or distraction. Indeed, the concept of “remembrance” is one of the cardinal themes of the Holy Scriptures.

The Passover meal is the great feast of remembrance.

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten.’ This day you are to go forth, in the month of Abib. And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. And you shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ (Exodus 13.3-8)

In Deuteronomy we hear,

“Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day: lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, `My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.  Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 8.11-20)

The voice of the prophets agree,

“The way of the Godly is straight; and the way of the Godly is prepared. For the way of the Lord is judgment. We hope in Your name and in the remembrance of You, which our soul desires at night. My spirit rises early in the morning to You, O God, for your commands are a light upon the earth.”  (Isaiah 26:7-9)

Jesus says, in the context of the Last Supper,

“Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22.19)

When we forget, we walk in foolishness not wisdom. What does the great verse from the book of Proverbs that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” mean if it does not mean, simply put, “walk constantly (unceasingly) in the awareness of God’s presence and work?”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is often quoted regarding the danger of forgetting God. In his Templeton Address he says,

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The Templeton Address” March 1983)

Forgetting God in the course of our everyday life – the mundane things – is not trivial. It is not just a personal foible. It is one of the most effective tools of the devil, the flesh, and the world. Forgetfulness of God has, according to Solzhenitsyn, changed the course of nations and, therefore, of the history of the world!

To the voice of this 20th century Russian prophet, if I can call him that, let me add two more voices.

First, St. Theophan the Recluse, the great 19th century Russian elder.  He reminds us that prayer is, in essence, being attentive to God.

“The recollection (or remembrance) of God is mentally standing before God in the heart. Everywhere and always God is with us, near to us and in us. But we are not always with Him, since we do not remember Him; and because we do not remember Him, we allow ourselves many things which we would not permit if we did remember. The more firmly you are established in the recollection of God, the more quiet your thoughts will become and the less they will wander. Remembrance of God is something that God Himself grafts upon the soul. But the soul must force itself to persevere and to toil. Work, making every effort to attain the unceasing remembrance of God, and God, seeing how fervently you desire it will give you this constant remembrance of Himself. To succeed in this remembrance it is advisable to accustom oneself to the continual repetition of the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ holding in mind the thought of God’s nearness, His presence in the heart. [If one prays the Jesus Prayer when one is idle for a time, while driving, doing dishes, etc., will help greatly in building prayer in the heart and mind.] To pray does not only mean to stand in prayer. To keep the mind and heart turned towards God and directed towards Him…this is already prayer.” (St. Theophan the Recluse “The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It”)

“I have explained to you briefly two aspects or two levels of prayer, namely: prayer which is read, when we pray to God with the prayers of others, and one’s mental prayer, where we ascend mentally to God through contemplation of God, dedicating all to God, and often crying out to Him from our hearts.1

But this is still not all. There is a third aspect or level of prayer, which makes up true prayer, and for which the first two aspects are only preparation. This is the unceasing turning of the mind and heart to God, accompanied by interior warmth or burning of the spirit. This is the limit to which prayer should aspire, and the goal which every prayerful laborer should have in mind, so that he does not work uselessly in the work of prayer.” (St. Theophan, “Homily 3, On Prayer”)

Second, St. Justin Popovich, 20th century theologian, writer, and critic of the church’s life. He reminds us of the struggle that attentiveness requires.

“It is by the ascesis of faith that the treatment and cure of a soul which is sick with the passions is begun. Once faith begins to live in a man, the passions begin to be uprooted from his soul. But ‘until the soul becomes intoxicated with faith in God, until it comes to feel faith’s power,’ it can neither be healed of the passions nor overcome the material world. There is both a negative side to the ascesis of faith, freedom from sinful matter, and a positive side, oneness with God.

The soul, which was dispersed by the senses among the things of this world, is brought back to itself by the ascesis of faith, by fasting from material things and by devoting itself to a constant remembrance of God. This is the foundation of all good things. Freedom from enslavement to sinful matter is essential for advancement in the spiritual life. The beginning of this new way of life is found in the concentration of one’s thoughts on God, in incessant pondering on the words of God, and in a life of poverty.

Through faith the mind, which was previously dispersed among the passions, is concentrated, freed from sensuality, and endowed with peace and humility of thought. When it lives by the senses in a sensual world, the mind is sick. With the help of faith, however, the mind is delivered from the prison of this world, where it has been stifled by sin, and enters into the new age, where it breathes in a wondrous new air. “The sleep of the mind” is as dangerous as death, and it is therefore essential to rouse the mind by faith to the performance of spiritual works, by which man will overcome himself and drive out the passions. ‘Drive out self, and the enemy will be driven from your side.’

In the ascesis of faith, man is asked to act according to a paradox that denies understanding: ‘Be dead in your life, and you will live after death.’ By faith the mind is healed and acquires wisdom. The soul becomes wise when it stops ‘consorting shamelessly with promiscuous thoughts.’ ‘Love of the body is a sign of unbelief.’ Faith frees the intellect from the categories of the senses and sobers it by means of fasting, by pondering on God, and by vigils.

Intemperance and a full stomach cloud the mind, distract it, and disperse it among fantasies and passions. The knowledge of God cannot be found in a body that loves pleasure. It is from the seed of fasting that the blade of a healthy understanding grows–and it is from satiety that debauchery comes, and impurity from excess.

The thoughts and desires of the flesh are like a restless flame in a man, and the way to healing is to plunge the intellect into the ocean of the mysteries of Holy Scripture. Unless it is freed from earthly possessions, the soul cannot be freed from disturbing thoughts, nor feel peace of mind without dying to the senses. The passions darken the thoughts and blind the mind. Troubled, chaotic thoughts arise from an abuse of the stomach.

Shame and the fear of God steady the tumult of the mind; the lack of this shame and this fear disturb the balance of the understanding, making it fickle and unstable. The mind is only on a firm foundation if it keeps the Lord’s commandments and is ready to endure suffering and affliction. It is enslaved by the things of life, it is darkened. Collecting himself through faith, a man awakens his intellect towards God, and by prayerful silence cleanses his mind and overcomes the passions. The soul is restored to health by silence. It is therefore necessary to train oneself to silence–and this is a labor that brings sweetness to the heart. It is through silence that a man reaches peace from unwarranted thoughts.

Faith brings peace to the intellect and, in bringing it, uproots rebellious thoughts. Sin is the source of restlessness and strife in the thoughts and is also the source of man’s struggle against heaven and with other men. “Be at peace with yourself, and you will bring peace to heaven and to earth.” Until faith appears, the intellect is dispersed among the things of this world; it is by faith that this fragmentation of the intellect is overcome. The wandering of the thoughts is provoked by the demon of harlotry, as is the wandering of the eyes by the spirit of uncleanness.

By faith the intellect is confirmed in pondering God. The way of salvation is that of the constant remembrance of God. The intellect separated from remembrance of God is like a fish out of water. The freedom of a true man consists in his freedom from the passions, in his resurrection with Christ, and in a joyous soul.

The passions can only be overcome by the practice of the virtues, and every passion must be fought to the death. Faith is the first and chief weapon in the struggle with the passions, for faith is the light of the mind that drives away the darkness of the passions and the strength of the intellect that banishes sickness from the soul. Faith bears within itself not only its own principle and substance, but the principle and substance of all the other virtues–developing as they do one from the other and encircling one another like the annual rings of a tree. If faith can be said to have a language, that language is prayer. (St. Justin Popovich [Trans. Asterios Gerostergios], Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, (Institute For Byzantine And Modern Greek Studies, 1997), pp. 123-127)

The ascesis that salvation requires is the struggle (warfare) to live “in the present” and “in The Presence,” and to “be present.” To be attentive and awake is to become open, receptive, and responsive to God, others, and the world around us. In essence, it is to live “in spirit and in truth”; to obey the command of our Savior to do what can only be done if we are all of these – to love.

Fr. Thomas

Listen Up and Live it Out

Stop… Listen…

Just listen…

Don’t just quit talking. Listen…

Don’t be on your way to the next thing… Focus. Concentrate. Listen…

Listen to what follows… Listen deeply to it about 6 times and then just be quiet and listen some more without the words… (Refer back to them if you need to, but only for the purpose of listening more deeply…)

**Try listening to this with others as well…

————–

Ephesians 5.10

“…try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Sirach 6.32-37

“If you are willing, my son, you will be taught,
and if you apply yourself you will become clever.

If you love to listen you will gain knowledge,
and if you incline your ear you will become wise.
Stand in the assembly of the elders.
Who is wise? Cleave to him.
Be ready to listen to every narrative,
and do not let wise proverbs escape you.
If you see an intelligent man, visit him early;
let your foot wear out his doorstep.
Reflect on the statutes of the Lord,
and meditate at all times on his commandments.
It is he who will give insight to your mind,
and your desire for wisdom will be granted.”

A reflection by Patrick Henry Reardon on the example of Enoch, an example of one who sought to hear, listened, heard, and lived what he heard:

{In the Genesis 5, we have the} “..first biblical genealogy we draw special attention to the figure of Enoch. The Epistle to the Hebrews, after it gives its initial definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1), begins the famous list of the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1), those “elders” who “obtained a good testimony” by exemplifying such faith (11:2). Early among these is Enoch.

Living before Noah, Abraham, and Moses, Enoch was participant in none of the covenants associated with these men. Not a single line of Holy Scripture was yet written for him to read. Much less did Enoch ever hear the message of salvation preached by the apostles.

Yet, he was so pleasing to God by his faith as to be snatched away before his time, not suffering that common lot of death from which the Almighty spared not even His own Son.

What, exactly, did Enoch believe, that he should be such a champion of faith, an example for the Church until the end of time? The Epistle to the Hebrews explains: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). This was the sum total of all that Enoch’s faith told Him—God’s existence and his own duty to seek God in order to obtain the singular blessing that Holy Scripture ascribes to him.”

A reflection by a holy elder on the subject of listening:

“Question yourself as to whether this faith is within you, or perhaps you are led by worldly wisdom. And if you leave all things in the hands of God, behold! You have acquired faith and undoubtedly, without any question, you will find God to be your helper. And so, even should you be tried a myriad of times and should satan tempt you to abandon faith, prefer death a thousand times more and don’t obey worldly wisdom. In this way the door of the mysteries will be opened to you and you will be amazed how the chains of worldly wisdom previously bound you. Now you will fly with divine wings above the earth and breathe the new air of freedom, which, of course, others are deprived of. If, however, you see that within you, you are governed by worldly wisdom, and in the smallest danger you lose hope and despair, know that you have not yet acquired faith, and consequently also hope, in God.” (Excerpted from the book- Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit.)

Psalms 105.1-4

“O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works!

Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength,
seek his presence continually!”

Colossians 3.15-17

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

“Wisdom… Let us be Attentive!”

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

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

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

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

People:  And also with you.

Priest: Let us pray.

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

Priest: Peace be with you.

People: And also with you.

Priest: The Holy Gospel of ……..

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

Psalm 78.1-8

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

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

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

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

“Speak Lord, for your servant listens.”

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

Fr. Thomas