On Storms, Jesus, and Expectations

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land,[b] beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind,[c] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14.22-33)

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We are in need of purification and Illumination regarding our expectations about our life circumstances, our needs, our provider, and our provision. This is because we have a lot of preconceived notions and the content of our efforts about all these things that are, to put it bluntly, quite deluded. We get caught up in a dedication to having things turn out the way we think they should and when they don’t we become discouraged or think ourselves a failure or doubt God’s care. Disappointment in God, ourselves, others, society and humanity in general is a tricky and dangerous thing.

With such purification and illumination, for those who dare to embrace it in faith and exercise that faith in synergistic obedience in union with the Lord Jesus, comes deification.

Our perfect circumstance and provision is one in which we are in conscious synergistic obedient union with Christ Jesus by grace. The aspects of the circumstance will, at the appointed time in our life, cease to be of primary concern to us. For we will more deeply know more consummately that He is “the Son of God” and that “all manner of things [are and] shall be well.”

“When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19.25-26)

Dare we pray for such a day and life?! Where else can we turn? He has the words of eternal life Now that takes courage ! !

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…let us remember, if ever we fall into distressful temptations, that Jesus has constrained us to enter into their boat, wishing us to go before Him unto the other side; for it is not possible for us to reach the other side, unless we have endured the temptations of waves and contrary wind.  Then when we see many difficulties besetting us, and with moderate struggle we have swum through them to some extent, let us consider that our boat is in the midst of the sea, distressed at that time by the waves which wish us to make shipwreck concerning faith or some one of the virtues; but when we see the spirit of the evil one striving against us, let us conceive that then p. 436 the wind is contrary to us.  When then in such suffering we have spent three watches of the night—that is, of the darkness which is in the temptations—striving nobly with all our might and watching ourselves so as not to make shipwreck concerning the faith or some one of the virtues,—the first watch against the father of darkness and wickedness, the second watch against his son “who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or thing that is worshipped,” (2 Thess. ii. 4) and the third watch against the spirit that is opposed to the Holy Spirit, then we believe that when the fourth watch impendeth, when “the night is far spent, and the day is at hand,” (Rom. xiii. 12) the Son of God will come to us, that He may prepare the sea for us, walking upon it.  And when we see the Word appearing unto us we shall indeed be troubled before we clearly understand that it is the Saviour who has come to us, supposing that we are still beholding an apparition, and for fear shall cry out; but He Himself straightway will speak to us saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Matt. xiv. 27)  And if, warmly moved by His “Be of good cheer,” any Peter be found among us, who is on his way to perfection but has not yet become perfect, having gone down from the boat, as if coming out of that temptation in which he was distressed, he will indeed walk at first, wishing to come to Jesus upon the waters; but being as yet of little faith, and as yet doubting, will see that the wind is strong and will be afraid and begin to sink; but he will not sink because he will call upon Jesus with loud voice, and will say to Him, “Lord, save me;” (Matt. xiv. 30) then immediately while such a Peter is yet speaking and saying, “Lord save me,” the Word will stretch forth His hand, holding out assistance to such an one, and will take hold of him when he is beginning to sink, and will reproach him for his little faith and doubting. (Matt. xiv. 31)  Only, observe that He did not say, “O thou without faith,” but, “O thou of little faith,” and that it was said, “Wherefore didst thou doubt,” as he had still a measure of faith, but also had a tendency towards that which was opposed to faith.
Origen, Commentary on St. Matthew, Book XI, Chapter 6

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Illumination

Repentance opens up the space to receive Illumination, which is the gift of God’s grace to behold the truth of God, the creation, circumstances, and persons. As we accompany this illumination with our grateful obedience, in whatever, form is most appropriate, we are deified.

“Everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things; or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, ‘the truth of things,’ if only we have the eyes of faith to see it.” -His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, quoted in, Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer, p 185, edited by John Chryssavgis.

Readiness – Hear See, Understand, and Keep

Text: John 16.16-33

There are no parables in the St. John’s gospel. Strange. And yet it would be accurate to say that St. John’s gospel is deeply parable-like in character. All through the gospel, people are mystified, confused, hard-pressed, and bewildered by Jesus’ words and deeds. That is, after all, the purpose of a parable.

Some people think a parable is a story that seeks to make a point clear using everyday examples. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

“As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4.10-13)

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15.8-9)

Jesus was speaking to those who had a readiness of heart to hear and understand and follow. So, really, receiving, understanding, and living it out are all aspects of the same reality. Hearing the word and keeping the word cannot be separated (John 12.47; 14.21).

The prerequisite for receiving the gospel AND living it out is a readiness of heart. A perceived need and desperation. The cost of discipleship must be outweighed by the benefit to put it bluntly (see Philippians 3.8-10).

Understanding a parable — the Gospel — IS THE POINT, of the parable, but only for those who are ready for it. Yep, a paradox.

Understanding the gospel is not related to high intelligence, or years of seminary study.  One can understand only when the heart – the very life of the person — has been broken open to truth – by the Holy Spirit (see Mark 2.17).

It is the way of the Spirit. It is, therefore, a dangerous tendency to artificially attempt to make the gospel “easy to understand” or “easy to receive” or even “easy to follow.” Jesus didn’t fudge on this and neither should we.

“These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’” (John 6.59-65)

Let’s take a step farther into this mystery of readiness. Such openness is not, however, just a prerequisite. It is essential to our ongoing life of discipleship. We grow/maturity in our capacity to understand as well as what we understand. We need a “ready heart” or a heart that yearns to hear more and more.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, there are several times in which the priest says, “let us be attentive.” In addition, the priest prays this before the reading of the Scriptures appointed for the day:

“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.”

It is important to remember, then, that the Christian faith is a revelatory faith. Story after story in both the Old and New Testaments are about revelation, its prerequisite, and its fruit (illumination, purification, and deification). The narrative of the Scriptures are the “Church’s book.” It is certainly offered to the world. But, it is offered with the conviction that only those who are ready or “drawn by the Father” will hear and respond positively.

And, of course, the Scriptures are for those who do believe that they may mature in their faith, hope, and love, being transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. As we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to break our hearts open, to soften our hearts, to “purify our hearts,” then, we will be illumined. We will “see God” more and more and be conformed to His likeness from one degree of deification to another.

True Treasure: Righteousness of Life – Right Knowledge and Relationship

The change from a life in which the heart is directed (tyrannized and imprisoned) to one in which the heart directs (set free to direct) is another way of saying “salvation.” It is the change from a life that is really death and death-giving to a life that is really life and life-giving. For, indeed, the heart is the center of human being.

When we recognize and accept the dignity of our human nature in Christ Jesus we can enter into a right relationship with all things. The end of delusion and ignorance. The restoration of sight –  comprehending and knowledge – of the truth of all things; the form and shape of our right relationship with them is illumination. This illumination is fulfilled, through repentance in all of its forms, in our deification.

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, born true man without ever ceasing to be true God, began in his person a new creation and by the manner of his birth gave man a spiritual origin. What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can fittingly recount this gift of love? Guilt becomes innocence, old becomes new, strangers are adopted and outsiders are made heirs. Rouse yourself, man, and recognise the dignity of your nature. Remember that you were made in God’s image; though corrupted in Adam, that image has been restored in Christ.

Use creatures as they should be used: the earth, the sea, the sky, the air, the springs and rivers. Give praise and glory to their Creator for all that you find beautiful and wonderful in them. See with your bodily eyes the light that shines on earth, but embrace with your whole soul and all your affections the true light which enlightens every man who comes into this world. Speaking of this light the prophet said: Draw close to him and let his light shine upon you and your face will not blush with shame. If we are indeed the temple of God and if the Spirit of God lives in us, then what every believer has within himself is greater than what he admires in the skies.

Our words and exhortations are not intended to make you disdain God’s works or think there is anything contrary to your faith in creation, for the good God has himself made all things good. What we do ask is that you use reasonably and with moderation all the marvellous creatures which adorn this world; as the Apostle says: The things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For we are born in the present only to be reborn in the future. Our attachment, therefore, should not be to the transitory; instead, we must be intent upon the eternal. Let us think of how divine grace has transformed our earthly natures so that we may contemplate more closely our heavenly hope. We hear the Apostle say: You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ your life appears, then you will also appear in glory with him, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen. Source: From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great

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)

The Word Made Flesh Makes Us Divine (Authentically Human)

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

So, here we go again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inner Struggle – Faith and Doubt

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

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

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

The Core Significance of the Fulfillment in the Incarnation

Why the Nativity? Why the Incarnation? Here is what we have believed from the beginning regarding these questions.

“The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” Irenaeus (c. 130-200), Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface

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“The Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.” St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter I

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“Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.” St. Athanasius (296-373), Against the Arians, Discourse I, Paragraph 39

“For He was made man that we might be made God.” St. Athanasius (296-373), On the Incarnation, Section 54

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“For just as He in Himself assimilated His own human nature to the power of the Godhead, being a part of the common nature, but not being subject to the inclination to sin which is in that nature (for it says: “He did no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth), so, also, will He lead each person to union with the Godhead if they do nothing unworthy of union with the Divine.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395), On Christian Perfection

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“That which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus (321-390), Epistle 101

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“This Logos the Father in the latter days sent forth, no longer to speak by a prophet, and not wishing that the Word, being obscurely proclaimed, should be made the subject of mere conjecture, but that He should be manifested, so that we could see Him with our own eyes. This Logos, I say, the Father sent forth, in order that the world, on beholding Him, might reverence Him who was delivering precepts not by the person of prophets, nor terrifying the soul by an angel, but who was Himself—He that had spoken—corporally present amongst us. This Logos we know to have received a body from a virgin, and to have remodelled the old man by a new creation. And we believe the Logos to have passed through every period in this life, in order that He Himself might serve as a law for every age, and that, by being present (amongst) us, He might exhibit His own manhood as an aim for all men. And that by Himself in person He might prove that God made nothing evil, and that man possesses the capacity of self-determination, inasmuch as he is able to will and not to will, and is endued with power to do both.  This Man we know to have been made out of the compound of our humanity. For if He were not of the same nature with ourselves, in vain does He ordain that we should imitate the Teacher. For if that Man happened to be of a different substance from us, why does He lay injunctions similar to those He has received on myself, who am born weak; and how is this the act of one that is good and just? In order, however, that He might not be supposed to be different from us, He even underwent toil, and was willing to endure hunger, and did not refuse to feel thirst, and sunk into the quietude of slumber. He did not protest against His Passion, but became obedient unto death, and manifested His resurrection. Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer), mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son.” Saint Hippolytus of Rome (?-c.235), The Refutation of all the heresies, Book 10, Chapter 29

Upward Call – The Way Up is Down

“The earthly life of Christ in its entirety, from His appearance in the world to His ‘departure’ upon the cross, constitutes the path of his kenosis. The crucifixion, which is the pinnacle of self-emptying, makes manifest the extreme humility of God. The archetype of ‘Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ constitutes the core of St. Paul’s ‘gospel’ and his principle concern as he equips and consolidates the faithful [cf. 1 Cor. 2: 2; Gal. 3: 1]. He calls the faithful to keep this model before their eyes and to walk the same path. Whoever wants to be raised up to the sphere where Christ lives must beforehand follow Him on this path of humility and self-denying descent [see Eph. 4: 9-10].

Christ’s kenosis is the beginning and the condition of any spiritual ascent. It is offered to the faithful as a path of true life, which conquers death and brings to life in them ‘the fulness of the divine image’. Only ‘by the gift of the Holy Spirit’ can the faithful, as members of the Church, ‘know existentially, by actual experience’, this mystery of Christ’s kenosis.

Life lived in kenotic love, as revealed by the only-begotten Son of God, was given to man in the form of an injunction that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves [cf. Matt. 22: 37-40]… The commandment of the Heavenly Father was fulfilled by Christ in His kenosis. The kenosis of man, in its turn, is expressed above all by the keeping of the double commandment of love towards God and one’s neighbour. But it is impossible for man in his fallen state to fulfil adequately the divine and ‘exceedingly broad’ [Ps. 118/ 119: 96] commandment of the Lord. His mind and heart must be healed in order to become capable of rising to the height of the divine injunctions. Precisely for this reason man’s proper response to God’s call is repentance, which all the commandments entail, and through which man is healed.”

— Excerpted from Christ, Our Way and Our Life, by Archimandrite Zacharias, published by Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Press.

Upward Call

People ask me why I chose the name “Upward Call” for this ministry.  The saints have consistently spoken of the Christian life, as a journey, a pilgrimage. What is more, they speak of it as an “ascent” — a journey upward (glorification) by going downward (humility). The way up is down. Another way, it seems to me, of speaking of the “eye of the needle.” The faithful struggle that can, if we say yet another “Gethsemane yes”, inform the meaning and significance of any and all struggles we may face.

Jesus goes “up” to Jerusalem to be “lifted up” and “descend” into the grave to be “raised up.” There it is again — paradox.

The gospel for today and the reflection on it by St. Augustine is a good example of the witness of the New Testament and the saints regarding the upward call. The life of ascent.

[51] When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; [53] but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] And they went on to another village. Luke 9.51-56

 

The weight of our fragility makes us bend towards realities here below; the fire of your love, O Lord, raises us up and bears us towards realities above. We rise there by means of our heart’s impetus, singing the songs of ascent. We burn with your fire, the fire of your goodness, for it is this that transports us.

Where is it that you thus cause us to rise? To the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122[121],1). Nothing will bring us to it except the desire to remain there for ever. While we are in the body, we journey towards you. Here below we have no abiding city; we are constantly seeking our home in the city to come (Heb 13,14). May your grace guide me, O Lord, into the depths of my heart, there to sing of your love, my King and my God… And as I remember that heavenly Jerusalem my heart will rise up towards it: to Jerusalem my true homeland, Jerusalem my mother (Gal 4,26). You are its King, its light, its defender, its protector, its pastor; you are its unquenchable joy; your goodness is the source of all its inexpressible blessings… – you, my God and my divine mercy. Saint Augustine (354-430), Meditations, ch.18

And, of course, the passage that resonates in my deepest heart:

[7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.  [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3.7-16

Lord, grant me the grace to say my upward/downward “yes” today.