All My Cares

“Just as I am without one plea…”

All my cares are “laid aside” as I behold and approach the altar of God set in the wilderness (or ruins if you prefer the urban image) of my everyday life. And where are these burdens/cares laid? They are placed into the love scared hands of Jesus. Oh that my own care-ridden and inconsistent asceticism/obedience by this “laying aside” would blossom into humility. Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner. Indeed, “I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But, Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy…”(1)

Beloved:  “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5.5b-7)

“Just as I am without one plea…” without one excuse or objection.

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” (Psalm 26.4)

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(1) “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” (BCP, 1928)

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Soooo Much Always “On the Way”

I am a pilgrim on “The Way.” I am a fellow combatant in the arena of salvation. I bring nothing to the table, so to speak except my fragile “yes”. “… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” I am no more than a faithful struggler but I am at that at least. I am a son of God and an inheritor of the riches of God my Father, by grace. I am learning what that identity means and to live out that identity in relationship with all things.

I find that the most powerful resource in this journey is not, primarily, the consideration of what I have attained but what is yet to be attained. Not how far I have come but how far I have to go. The inklings of what has been accomplished and how far I have come are for the purpose of “pressing on” in the creative work of God – the artistry of God.

The more I consider myself and my life in Christ in these terms the more I can hear the Lord’s voice and the the Lord can speak and act through me.

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9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

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The higher holy men advance with God, in the dignity of virtues, the more accurately do they discover that they are unworthy; because while they become close to the light, they find out whatever escaped their notice in themselves, and they appear to themselves the more deformed without, in proportion as that is very beautiful, which they see within. For every one is made known to himself, when he is illumined with the touch of the true light, and by the same means as he learns what is righteousness, he is also instructed to see what is sin. Hence is it that though our mind is often benumbed with cold in converse with men’s doings, though it sins and is ignorant in some points, though it regards some sins as though they were none; yet when it raises itself by the compunction of prayer to aim at things above, having been roused by the eye of its compunction, it returns to observe itself with greater vigilance after its tears. For when it deserts itself in neglect, and is torpid with fatal lukewarmness, it fully believes that idle words or unprofitable thoughts are of lesser guilt. But if warmed by the fire of compunction, and touched by the sudden breath of contemplation, it starts from its lukewarmness, it soon begins to dread, as grave and deadly offences, those things which but a little before it believed to be trifling. For it avoids, as most atrocious, all things which are in the very least degree hurtful; because, namely, being pregnant with the conception of the Spirit, it no longer allows any vanities to enter in unto it. For from that which it beholds within, it feels how dreadful are those sins which clamour without; and the more it has advanced when raised up, the more does it shrink from the grovelling pursuits, in which it sank prostrate. For nothing in truth supports it, but that which it has beheld within, and it endures the more heavily whatever thrusts itself on it from without, the more it is not that which it beheld within; but from those inward objects which it has been able to catch a glance of, it forms a standard for judging of those outward things which it has to bear with. For it is rapt above itself, when it contemplates sublime objects, and now beholding itself, by going out of itself more freely, it comprehends more minutely whatever remains to it, of itself, under itself. By which means it is wonderfully brought to pass, as was before said, that it appears the more unworthy to itself, by the very means by which it is rendered more worthy; and that it then feels itself far removed from uprightness, when it is approaching near it. Whence Solomon says, Ihave tried all things by wisdom, and said, I will become wise, and it departed the farther from me. [Eccles. 7, 23] For wisdom which is sought after is said to depart far off, because it seems higher to a person approaching it. But those who do not seek it, think themselves the nearer it, the more they know not also its standard of uprightness; because, living in darkness, they know not how to admire the brightness of the light, which they have never seen, and since they do not tend towards the comeliness of its beauty, they willingly become more deformed every day in themselves. For whoever is touched by its rays, his deformity is more manifestly pointed out to him, and he finds the more truly how much he is distorted in sin, the more keenly, from considering the highest objects, he beholds how far distant he is from uprightness. Source: “An Exposition on the Book of Blessed Job,” Book XXXII, Section 1, by St. Gregory the Great

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I have only just begun to comprehend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I come to “know and to live” through my experience of repentance. Revelation or illumination is the prerequisite and fruit of repentance. By them, deification occurs. This is the journeying experience of salvation.

In actuality, every time I hear someone truly articulate it or display it, it is as if I am hearing it for the first time. Its freshness and soul boggling infinity of depth, width, and height brings tears to my eyes and opens up an infinite spaciousness and infinitely fullness of spaciousness with me all over again, and it moves me again as if for the first time. I enjoy a contentment and security and “wellness” (Julian of Norwich) that wells up from down deep. Simultaneously, all of this is not just issuing forth from within me but pressing on and into me from all sides as well.

And, I realize anew that am more able to talk about the faith than I am able to actually live it. I yearn afresh for the consummation of my own personhood, everyone else’s, and the renewal of the whole creation. Lord, have mercy.

The promise of more of the fullness and consummation of the love of God I know now, draws me forward. I am amazed, astounded, and so captivated by the grace of God.

Prayer: Lord God, the sacrifices acceptable to You are a broken and a contrite heart. In these O God, You delight. Grant me to be intensely aware of your mercy and deliver me from being conscious of my own righteousness. Glory be to God now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.

Clothed In Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Make a bow.’

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Let Go of Accusation and Find Peace

It is useless to accuse those around us and those who live with us of somehow interfering with or being an impediment to our salvation and spiritual perfection… Spiritual or emotional dissatisfaction comes from within ourselves, from inexperience and from poorly conceived opinions we do not want to abandon, but which bring on doubt, embarrassment, and misunderstanding.  All of this tires and burdens us, and brings us to a sorry state.  We would do well to comprehend the Holy Fathers’ simple advice: If we will humble ourselves, we will find tranquility anywhere, without having to mentally wander about many other places, where we might have the same, or even worse, experiences.  Elder Ambrose

God is Able

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding him in your ignorance as powerless? Is he, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as his incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and he will receive your repentance, as he accepted that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion.” St. Peter of Damaskos, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge

Lent – Becoming More Him The Lover and Less Me The Judger

We get great satisfaction out of judging. We get great satisfaction out of solving. We get great satisfaction out of measuring. We have a need to know who is worthy and who is unworthy to help us navigate life.

You might even say, at some point, satisfaction turns into our sense of what fulfillment and love mean. The Word of God warns us that there is a line where one becomes the other. Where our identity get wrapped up in our ability and need to engage in these things. Richard Rohr said, “Our lust for certitude and our need to be right is what keeps us in conflict.” Well said.

The Scriptures and collect for today (and others just like it I could list but will not) in the Western Church run speak of a way of life that is exactly the opposition of judging, solving, and measuring. They speak of a God who loves and of His people who love. They do not speak of the suspension of a sense of right and wrong but of way completely different way of responding that does more to defeat wrong than any other alternative. A way of coming to understand and relate to right and wrong that does not end up robbing us of life instead of fostering life. After all, when did worthiness become the standard?? Thank goodness it was not the standard that governed whether or not He would go to the cross!!

Collect
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.

35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.

36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.

37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.

38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.

39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.

40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The protests we throw up in reaction to understanding these passages (and other ones too) in any sort of practical sense as meaning just what they are saying are like a hermeneutical tsunami ! ! Certainly Jesus and St. Paul and the Old Testament writers could not have really meant for us to actually DO this ! ! What they REALLY meant was …

Solving, measuring, judging, etc. But now it is not others. Now it is God we are judging.

Now don’t get me wrong. The hearing and doing of these MUST be in the context of the Body of Christ across time and space and we can fall off into the ditch of literalism that is just as dangerous as the ditch of “explaining it all away.” What is required is a narrow path between these extremes. A path of impossibility. A path that is desperately in need of God’s wisdom at every moment. For indeed, doing these things (living this life) is impossible for man. But, it is perfectly possible for God. Or, to put it more aptly, for “The God-man.” For Christ Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.

St. Paul spoke The Mystery of possible impossibility when he said, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” St. Paul was/is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

St. Innocent of Alaska (1797-1879), in his classic, Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven, says,

“…without the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only to enter the kingdom of heaven but even to take a single step toward it. And therefore we must seek and ask for the Holy Spirit and have Him within us, just as the holy apostles had Him. But how we can receive or obtain Him, we shall soon see.”

It is Christ-indwelling in the person of the Holy Spirit, Who does all things in and through St. Paul. In and through you and me. What is require is humility. And, of course, humility at with all of this, is not what he think it is…

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk said,

“Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding. Ascribe the good that you do to God alone. Do not think about the sin of a brother but about what in him is better than in yourself …. Flee from glory, honors and praise, but if this is impossible, be sorry that such is your lot. Be benevolent to people of low origin. Be freely and willingly obedient not only to those above you but to those below …. The lowlier we are in spirit, the better we know ourselves, and without humility we cannot see God.”

“For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible …. Love believes and hopes …. It is ashamed of nothing. Without it, what is the use of prayer? What use are hymns and singing? What is the use of building and adorning churches? What is mortification of the flesh if the neighbor is not loved? Indeed, all are of no consequence …. As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed.”

We can, of course, take issue with St. Tikhon’s statements based on a belief that the institutional Church has gotten it all wrong and his words reflect a shame-based spirituality, etc, etc.  Be that as it may be or may not be. I agree, the institutional church and its members have fallen short of the glory they espouse to be sure. Reading the writings of the saints requires great care. But, the beautiful essence of what he said, when rightly understood and applied, still stands.

The Christ-ian life is not about “figuring it out.” No about doing good stuff in the name of Christ even our of what we would call a spirit of gratitude. The Christ-ian life is about “abiding in and being abided in” with a spirit of gratitude. It is about letting go of “my” life and receiving Christ’s life as my real life. That means Christ Himself performs in and through us what He comes us to perform. It means the criteria for wisdom is not solving, measuring, and judging but abiding faithfully and co-operating in the doing of Christ regardless of how the world solves, measures, and judges.

You may ask, “But how in practical terms?”

I say, “I don’t know. I see through a glass darkly. But, I see at least this much. All I know is this is the way. It does not suspend unconditional love or boundaries. It mysteriously upholds and fulfills them both.”

And that is an upward call that requires in my life a lot of transformation. The reality of this truth and the infinite saving beauty of it, I have only just begun to comprehend.

“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6.16)

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
‘This is the way, walk in it,’
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30.21)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14)

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.  Grant me to walk in this Way more than I have before.

Experts (White Washed Tombs) or Fellow Strugglers in Need of Unceasing Mercy?

ladder of divine ascentThe Divine Liturgy reminds us of the danger of insensibility and addresses the danger efficaciously when it proclaims, “let us be attentive.” Inattention comes in many forms and goes by many names. Here the counsel of St. John of the Ladder in this regard…

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Step 18
On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body.

1. Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which from long sickness and negligence lapses into loss of feeling.

2. Insensibility is negligence that has become habit; benumbed thought; the birth of presumption; a snare for zeal; the noose of courage; ignorance of compunction; a door to despair; the mother of forgetfulness, which gives birth to loss of the fear of God. And then she becomes the daughter of her own daughter. (Loss of the fear of God is the daughter of forgetfulness, which is the daughter of insensibility. Then loss of the fear of God in turn gives birth to insensibility.)

3. He who has lost sensibility is a brainless philosopher, a self-condemned commentator, a self-contradictory windbag, a blind man who teaches others to see. He talks about healing a wound, and does not stop irritating it. He complains of sickness, and does not stop eating what is harmful. He prays against it, and immediately goes and does it. And when he has done it, he is angry with himself; and the wretched man is not ashamed of his own words. ‘I am doing wrong,’ he cries, and eagerly continues to do so. His mouth prays against his passion, and his body struggles for it. He philosophises about death, but he behaves as if he were immortal. He groans over the separation of soul and body, but drowses along as if he were eternal. He talks of temperance and self-control, but he lives for gluttony. He reads about the judgment and begins to smile. He reads about vainglory, and is vainglorious while actually reading. He repeats what he has learnt about vigil, and drops asleep on the spot. He praises prayer, but runs from it as from the plague. He blesses obedience, but he is the first to disobey. He praises detachment, but he is not ashamed to be spiteful and to fight for a rag. When angered he gets bitter, and he is angered again at his bitterness; and he does not feel that after one defeat he is suffering another. Having overeaten he repents, and a little later again gives way to it. He blesses silence, and praises it with a spate of words. He teaches meekness, and during the actual teaching frequently gets angry. Having woken from passion he sighs, and shaking his head, he again yields to passion. He condemns laughter, and lectures on mourning with a smile on his face. Before others he blames himself for being vainglorious, and in blaming himself is only angling for glory for himself. He looks people in the face with passion, and talks about chastity. While frequenting the world, he praises the solitary life, without realizing that he shames himself. He extols almsgivers, and reviles beggars. All the time he is his own accuser, and he does not want to come to his senses—I will not say cannot.

4. I have seen many people like this hear about death and the terrible judgment and shed tears, and with the tears still in their eyes they eagerly go to a meal. And I was amazed how this tyrant, this stinkpot of gluttony, by complete indifference, can grow so strong as to turn the tables even on mourning.

5. As far as my poor powers and knowledge allow, I have exposed the wiles and weals of this stony, obstinate, raging and stupid passion. I have not the patience to expatiate on it. He who is experienced and able in the Lord should not shrink from applying healing to the sores. For I am not ashamed to admit my own powerlessness, since I am sorely afflicted with this sickness. I should not have been able to discover its wiles and tricks by myself if I had not caught it and held it firmly, probing it to make it acknowledge what has been said above, and plying it with the scourge of the fear of the Lord and with unceasing prayer. That is why this tyrant and evil doer said to me: ‘My subjects laugh when they see corpses. When they stand at prayer they are completely stony, hard and darkened. When they see the holy altar they feel nothing; when they partake of the Gift, it is as if they had eaten ordinary bread. When I see persons moved by compunction, I mock them. From my father I learnt to kill all good things which are born of courage and love. I am the mother of laughter, the nurse of sleep, the friend of a full belly. When exposed I do not grieve. I go hand in hand with sham piety.

6. I was astounded at the words of this raving creature and asked her about her father, wishing to know her name, and she said; ‘I have no single parentage; my conception is mixed and indefinite. Satiety nourishes me, time makes me grow, and bad habit entrenches me. He who keeps this habit will never be rid of me. Be constant in vigil, meditating on the eternal judgment; then perhaps I shall to some extent relax my hold on you. Find out what caused me to be born in you, and then battle against my mother; for she is not in all cases the same. Pray often at the coffins, and engrave an indelible image of them in your heart. For unless you inscribe it there with the pencil of fasting, you will never conquer me.’ Source: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 18, St. John Climacus (579 – 649)