How great are the benefits conferred on man through the advent of Christ

Even though we have become disciples of Christ Jesus, it is important to continue to heed the exhortation that spurred us to die with Christ and be raised with Him. We need to continue to be spurred on to faith and good works.

Let the exhortations of St. Clement of Alexandria accomplish this purpose…

——————-

“Sweet is the Word that gives us light, precious above gold and gems; it is to be desired above honey and the honey-comb.”

For how can it be other than desirable, since it has filled with light the mind which had been buried in darkness, and given keenness to the “light-bringing eyes” of the soul? For just as, had the sun not been in existence, night would have brooded over the universe notwithstanding the other luminaries of heaven; so, had we nor known the Word, and been illuminated by Him; we should have been nowise different from fowls that are being fed, fattened in darkness, and nourished for death. Let us then admit the light, that we may admit God; let us admit the light, and become disciples to the Lord. This, too, He has been promised to the Father: “I will declare Thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church will I praise Thee.”

Praise and declare to me Thy Father God; Thy utterances save; Thy hymn teaches that hitherto I have wandered in error, seeking God. But since Thou leadest me to the light, O Lord, and I find God through Thee, and receive the Father from Thee, I become “Thy fellow-heir,” since Thou “weft not ashamed of me as Thy brother.” Let us put away, then, let us put away oblivion of the truth, viz., ignorance; and removing the darkness which obstructs, as dimness of sight, let us contemplate the only true God, first raising our voice in this hymn of praise: Hail, O light! For in us, buried in darkness, shut up in the shadow of death, light has shone forth from heaven, purer than the sun, sweeter than life here below. That light is eternal life; and whatever partakes of it lives. But night fears the light, and hiding itself in terror, gives place to the day of the Lord. Sleepless light is now over all, and the west has given credence to the east. For this was the end of the new creation. For “the Sun of Righteousness,” who drives His chariot over all, pervades equally all humanity, like “His Father, who makes His sun to rise on all men,” and distils on them the dew of the truth. He hath changed sunset into sunrise, and through the cross brought death to life; and having wrenched man from destruction, He hath raised him to the skies, transplanting mortality into immortality, and translating earth to heaven–He, the husbandman of God, “Pointing out the favourable signs and rousing the nations To good works, putting them in mind of the true sustenance;” having bestowed on us the truly great, divine, and inalienable inheritance of the Father, deifying man by heavenly teaching, putting His laws into our minds, and writing them on our hearts. What laws does He inscribe? “That all shall know God, from small to great;” and, “I will be merciful to them,” says God, “and will not remember their sins.” Let us receive the laws of life, let us comply with God’s expostulations; let us become acquainted with Him, that He may be gracious. And though God needs nothing let us render to Him the grateful recompense of a thankful heart and of piety, as a kind of house-rent for our dwelling here below.

…it has been God’s fixed and constant purpose to save the flock of men: for this end the good God sent the good Shepherd. And the Word, having unfolded the truth, showed to men the height of salvation, that either repenting they might be saved, or refusing to obey, they might be judged. This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those that obey, glad tidings; to those that disobey, judgment. The loud trumpet, when sounded, collects the soldiers, and proclaims war. And shall not Christ, breathing a strain of peace to the ends of the earth, gather together His own soldiers, the soldiers of peace? Well, by His blood, and by the word, He has gathered the bloodless host of peace, and assigned to them the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His Gospel. He hath blown it, and we have heard. “Let us array ourselves in the armour of peace, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and taking the shield of faith, and binding our brows with the helmet, of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” let us sharpen. So the apostle in the spirit of peace commands. These are our invulnerable weapons: armed with these, let us face the evil one; “the fiery darts of the evil one” let us quench with the sword-points dipped in water, that, have been baptized by the Word, returning grateful thanks for the benefits we have received, and honouring God through the Divine Word. “For while thou art yet speaking,” it is said, “He will say, Behold, I am beside thee.” O this holy and blessed power, by which God has fellowship with men! Better far, then, is it to become at once the imitator and the servant of the best of all beings; for only by holy service will any one be able to imitate God, and to serve and worship Him only by imitating Him. The heavenly and truly divine love comes to men thus, when in the soul itself the spark of true goodness, kindled in the soul by the Divine Word, is able to burst forth into flame; and, what is of the highest importance, salvation runs parallel with sincere willingness–choice and life being, so to speak, yoked together. Wherefore this exhortation of the truth alone, like the most faithful of our friends, abides with us till our last breath, and is to the whole and perfect spirit of the soul the kind attendant on our ascent to heaven. What, then, is the exhortation I give you? I urge you to be saved. This Christ desires. In one word. He freely bestows life on you. And who is He? Briefly learn. The Word of truth, the Word of incorruption, that regenerates man by bringing him back to the truth–the goad that urges to salvation t He who expels destruction and pursues death–He who builds up the temple of God in men, that He may cause God to take up His abode in men.

Cleanse the temple; and pleasures and amusements abandon to the winds and the fire, as a fading flower; but wisely cultivate the fruits of self-command, and present thyself to God as an offering of first-fruits, that there may be not the work alone, but also the grace of God; and both are requisite, that the friend of Christ may be rendered worthy of the kingdom, and be counted worthy of the kingdom.

Excerpted from The Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 11, by St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215)

Receive the Light and Become the Light

The Song of Simeon
[25] Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

[26] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
[27] And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law,
[28] he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
[29] “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,simeon rembrandt
according to thy word;
[30] for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
[31] which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
[32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.” (Luke 2.25-32)

At baptism, a candle burns – the Paschal candle – representing Christ Jesus as “the light of the world.” From this candle is lit another candle, representing the newly baptized as “the light of the world.”

We receive the light and, by grace, become the light.

“Come receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night, and glorify Christ, Who is risen from the dead!”

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

Blessed Simeon prefigures this wonderful mystery.

—————————–

Who is there today who, as he holds a lighted candle in his hand, does not immediately think of the old man who today received Jesus in his arms, the Word in the flesh, the light in the wax, and who bore witness that he was the light that shines upon all nations? The old man was himself a burning flame that enlightens and gives witness to the light, he who, in the Holy Spirit with which he was filled, came to receive, O God, your love within your Temple (Ps 47[48].10) and bear witness that you are the love and light of your people…

Rejoice, just old man; look now at what you had once foreseen: darkness has disappeared from the world; the nations walk by your light (Is 60.3). The whole earth is filled with the glory (Is 6.3) of this light which, in the past, you used to hide in your heart and which today illumines your eyes… Embrace the Wisdom of God, O blessed old man, and may your youth be renewed (Ps 102[103].5). Receive the mercy of God in your heart and your old age will know the sweetness of mercy. “He will rest in my bosom”, says Scripture (Wsd 1.12). Even when I give him back to his mother, he will continue to dwell with me; my heart will be filled with his mercy and, even more, the heart of his mother… I give thanks and rejoice for you, full of grace, for you gave birth to the mercy I have received; the candle which you prepared I am holding in my hands…

And you, brethren, look at the candle that burns in the hands of Simeon; light your candles with his light… Then, not only will you bear a light in your hands, but you yourselves will be a light for others. A light in your hearts, a light in your lives, a light for your brothers and sisters. Source: Blessed Guerric of Igny (c.1080-1157), 1st Sermon for the Purification, 2-3

————————

How long did Simeon wait for the fulfillment of what was spoken to him by the Holy Spirit?! How long?! He waited in trust. He persevered in trust.

He, on that day, held Christ Jesus. Today, Simeon, the Word of God to you is fulfilled.

Simeon has always been a light to me — an inspiration.

I must ask myself these same questions, on a daily basis, in each situation. “Am I waiting on the Lord in trust to fulfill all that He has spoken to me?!” “Do I seek receive and be this Light of fulfillment? Where is the darkness in me that seeks to hid or frustrate the shining forth of this light? Lord, have mercy!”

Lord, I hear that You desire to present Yourself to me in and through each person and circumstance for me to receive and hold. Grant me grace to seek and serve You in all persons and, in so doing, to receive You into the arms of my heart and hold You. Grant me to “be and do Simeon” in each and every encounter.

Indeed, “Lord have mercy!”

“Where are We Headed?”: Pascha – Ascension – Pentecost

arrowWe are approaching the end of the season of Pascha in the western church. The feasts of Ascension and Pentecost will soon be upon us. It is important, therefore, to be reminded of the way of life that is supposed to be borne out in and through the Church and her members as a result the resurrection of Christ Jesus. To put a not too fine point on it, “Where are we headed?” The Holy Tradition proclaims and facilitates an answer: We are to become partakers of the divine nature in the person of the Holy Spirit; daily live out the grace of our baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus and more consummately manifesting our union with God the Father in His Son – in other words, to grow up into the likeness of the Son by the same Spirit; and to have Christ Jesus make His appeal through us to the world and continue His ministry in the world.

The season of Pascha initiates this message. The grace proclaimed and communicated through Ascension and Pentecost continue it and bring it to fruition. Once again, St. Macarius the Egyptian speaks eloquently regarding this trajectory. I must admit that his allegorical application of the prophecy of Ezekiel to the disciple was new to me. I found it to be wonderfully enlightening as I consider the meaning of Pascha, Ascension, and Pentecost. Here is the segment of Homily I articulates, “where we are headed.”

HOMILY I – An allegorical interpretation of the vision described in the prophet Ezekiel

1. The blessed prophet Ezekiel relates a glorious and inspired vision or apparition which he saw, and his description is that of a vision full of mysteries unspeakable. He saw in the plain a chariot of Cherubim, four spiritual living creatures. Each living creature had four faces, one the face of a lion, another the face of an eagle, another the face of a calf, and the fourth the face of a human being. To every face there were wings, so that there were no hinder parts to any of them. Their backs were full of eyes; their bellies likewise were thick set with eyes ; there was no part about them that was not full of eyes. There were also wheels to every face, wheel within wheel. In the wheels there was a Spirit. And Ezekiel saw as it were the likeness of a man, and under his feet as it were a work of sapphire. The Cherubim-chariot J and the living creatures bore the Master who rode upon them. Wheresoever He chose to go, it was with face forward. Beneath the Cherubim he saw as it were a man’s hand supporting and carrying.

2. And this that the prophet saw was in substance true and certain, but it signified and foreshadowed something else, mysterious and divine – a mystery hidden verily from ages and from generations (Col. 1.26) but in the last times made manifest (1Pe. 1.2) at the appearing of Christ. The mystery which he beheld was that of the soul, that was to receive her Lord, and to become a throne of glory (Ma. 25.31) for Him. For the soul that is privileged to be in communion with the Spirit of His light, and is irradiated by the beauty of the unspeakable glory of Him who has prepared her to be a seat and a dwelling for Himself, becomes all light, all face, all eye; and there is no part of her that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. That is to say, there is no part of her darkened, but she is all throughout wrought into light and spirit, and is full of eyes all over, and has no such thing as a back part, but in every direction is face forward, with the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of Christ mounted and riding upon her. As the sun is of one likeness all over, without any part behind or inferior, but is all glorified with light throughout, and is, indeed, all light, with no difference between the parts, or as fire, the very light of the fire, is alike all over, having in it no first or last, or greater or less, so also the soul that is perfectly irradiated by the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of the face of Christ, and is perfectly in communion with the Holy Ghost, and is privileged to be the dwelling-place and throne of God, becomes all eye, all light, all face, all glory, all spirit, being made so by Christ, who drives, and guides, and carries, and bears her about, and graces and adorns her thus with spiritual beauty ; for it says, the hand of a man was under the Cherubim, because He it is that is carried upon her and directs her.

3. The four living creatures which bore the chariot were a symbol of the ruling factors of the soul. As the eagle is the king of birds, and the lion of wild beasts, and the bull of tame ones, and man of creatures in general, so the soul also has its ruling factors. They are the will, the conscience, the intelligence, and the faculty of love. By these the chariot of the soul is controlled, and upon these God rests. According to another interpretation the symbolism is applied to the church of the saints in heaven. As it is here said that the living creatures were exceeding high, and full of eyes, and it was not possible for anyone to apprehend the number of the eyes, or the height, because the knowledge of these was not given ; and as it is with the stars in the sky, to see and wonder at them was given to all men, but to know and apprehend the number was not given ; and with the plants of the earth, to enjoy them was given to all, but it is impossible for anyone to know the number of them ; so with regard to the church of the saints in heaven, to enter into it and enjoy it was given to all who will but strive, but how to see and apprehend the number is reserved for God alone to know. The Rider, then, is conveyed and carried by the chariot or throne of the living creatures which are all eye, or, in other words, by every soul that has become His throne and seat, and is now eye and light. He is mounted thereon, and governs her with the reins of the Spirit, and guides her according to His understanding. For as the spiritual living creatures went not whither they were minded to go, but whither He that sat upon them and directed them knew and willed, so here it is He that holds the reins and drives by His Spirit, and they go accordingly, not by their own will when they are minded to go through heaven. Sometimes, discarding the body, He drives and takes the soul in thought through heaven; sometimes, when so it pleases Him, He comes into the body and its affairs; sometimes, when so minded, to the ends of the earth, and discovers to the soul mysteries revealed. Oh, the noble and good and only true Charioteer! In like manner shall our bodies also be privileged at the resurrection, the soul being thus pre-glorified even now, and mingled with the Spirit.

4. That the souls of the righteous become heavenly light, the Lord Himself told the apostles, when He said, Ye are the light of the world (Ma. 5.14) He first wrought them into light, and ordained that through them the world should be enlightened. Neither do men light a lamp, He says, and put it under the bushel, but on the lampstand, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men. (Ma. 5.15, 16) In other words, Hide not the gift which ye have received from Me, but give to all that are minded to receive it. Again, The light of the body is the eye ; if thine eye be full of light, thy whole body is enlightened, but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body is dark. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness. (Ma. 6.22,23; Lk. 11.34)) As the eyes are the light of the body, and, so long as the eyes are well, the whole body is enlightened, but, if any accident befalls them and they are darkened, the whole body is in darkness, so the apostles were set to be the eyes and light of the whole world. The Lord therefore charged them by this saying, If ye who are the light of the body, stand fast and turn not aside, behold, the whole body of the world is enlightened ; but if ye who are the light are darkened, how great is that darkness, which is nothing less than the world. So the apostles, being themselves light, administered light to those, who believed, enlightening their hearts with that heavenly light of the Spirit by which they were themselves enlightened.

5. And being themselves salt they seasoned and salted every believing soul with the salt of the Holy Ghost; for the Lord said to them, Ye are the salt of the earth (Ma. 5.13), meaning by earth the hearts of men. They administered in the souls of men the heavenly salt of the Spirit, seasoning them and rendering them free from corruption and from going bad, instead of that unsavoury condition they were in. Flesh, if it be not salted, corrupts and is filled with ill savour, so that everyone turns from the evil odour, and worms creep into the corrupted flesh, and there dwell, and feed, and burrow; but when the salt comes, the worms that dwell there are destroyed, and the offensive smell is at an end; for it is the property of salt to kill worms and to banish an ill smell. In the same manner, every soul that is not salted with the Holy Ghost, and does not partake of the heavenly salt, which is the power of God, corrupts, and is filled with the ill odour of bad thoughts, so that the countenance of God turns from the dreadful odour of the vain thoughts of darkness, and from the passions that dwell in such a soul. The evil and dreadful worms, which are the spirits of wickedness, and the powers of darkness, walk up and down in it, and dwell there, and burrow, and creep, and devour it, and bring it to decay. My wounds stink and are corrupt, says the Psalm. (Ps. 38.5) But when the soul flies to God for succour, and believes, and asks for the salt of life, which is the good Spirit that loves mankind, then the heavenly salt comes, and kills those dreadful worms, and banishes the ill savour, and cleanses the soul by the effectual working of its power, and thus the soul is made sound and free from deterioration by that true salt, and is restored to being useful and serviceable to the heavenly Lord. That is why in the Law God, using a figure, commanded that every sacrifice should be salted with salt. (Le. 2.13) from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921

Illumination — The Teacher Draweth Nigh — Salvation Dawns

Saturday Advent 1 – December 8, 2012

Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ … He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.  Moreover, the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Psalm 147
1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;*
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

 Matthew 9.35-38 — 10.1, 5-8
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity … These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.

Reflection:
There are two images side by side in today’s readings. Learning and nourishment. Of course, they are related. Of course, learning is nourishing. Learning, properly applied, leads to prosperity and we feast on the fruit of that prosperity with gladness.

But I am not drawn to taking those associations further.

The image that stays with me is the person who languishes in the darkness of ignorance of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and the adversity it brings. The ignorance leads to adversity and the adversity leads to deeper ignorance. A downward spiral without an intervention. Without a light that begins to shine in the darkness (see Isaiah 9.1-7 and Matthew 4.12-16).

The teacher and the student; or, perhaps the master and the disciple; or the nation and its need for a wise and just leader who will lead them in the way. All of them are used in the Old and New Testaments.

I can’t help noting the oft’ used saying that does not originate in the Judeo-Christian tradition but the Buddhist:  “When the disciple is ready, the master will appear.” But, in reality, the Isaiah reading for today basically says exactly the same thing: “When the adversity of ignorance has served its purpose, the teacher/master will appear, for at that point, the student/disciple will be ready to listen, learn, and live a changed life. No longer will he or she desire to lean on their own understanding but, will instead, yearn to be taught.” (see Proverbs 3.1-8) So, although, the Buddhist saying does say what it says and what it says is true, I don’t have to resort to it for my inspiration. Buddha is not my yearned for teacher because he cannot lead me in the way that is ultimate truth and offers the fullness of life. For that, I need Jesus and my fellow students/disciples. Together we form a school for saints (see the Prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict).

That this should be the image that sticks with me today should not surprise me. I am, at my very core, a student. I love learning. I love sharing knowledge and insight. I love the struggle to take the fruit of the “lecture hall” into the “lab” and learn how to do in life what I know in my head. I have known competent and incompetent teachers. The difference between them is whether or not they can actually help me live what I have learned and in doing so have actually taught me something. And, it must be said, the student who has truly learned (lives the knowledge) is destined to struggle to become the teacher for some yearning student. Perhaps that is the hardest part of learning – teaching what I have/am learned(ing) and attempting to live on a practical basis. The Lord does, we hear in the Gospel reading, send out the twelve (the word Apostle means “sent out” and thus, the Bishop is THE guardian and teacher of the faith – the Apostle – in the midst of the faithful that represents the apostolic calling in which we all have a share). This challenge makes living what I have learned seem simply in comparison. Passing on what I have received (see 1 and 2 Timothy and other passages in St. Paul’s letters to his students/fellow disciples). Therein lies the rub ! !

There is a profound “rightness” in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the day beginning at sundown not at dawn. The tradition reminds me that I began my journey not with the light but with the darkness. It was into that darkness that the light comes (shines) and ushered me into the light to live in the light. In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions, Evening Prayer begins, most traditionally, in the darkened sanctuary. The “Phos Hilaron,” the earliest Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today, is sung at the lighting of the lights that heralds the advent of the teacher/master who will enlighten us (save us).

O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee

Later, some form of prayer for the light and the identification of Christ Jesus as the light Who meets us in the darkness and leads us into the Light is recited.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Columbanus (540 – 615), the Irish abbot, not to be confused with St. Columba, knew what it was like to be a learner and sought after teacher/master, in his “Instructions” gives us a glimpse into his inner life and his yearning for learning and teaching:

How blessed, how fortunate, are those servants whom the Lord will find watchful when he comes. Blessed is the time of waiting when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe, who fills all things and transcends all things.

How I wish he would awaken me, his humble servant, from the sleep of slothfulness, even though I am of little worth. How I wish he would enkindle me with that fire of divine love. The flames of his love burn beyond the stars; the longing for his overwhelming delights and the divine fire ever burn within me!

How I wish I might deserve to have my lantern always burning at night in the temple of my Lord, to give light to all who enter the house of my God. Give me, I pray you, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my God, that love that does not fail so that my lantern, burning within me and giving light to others, may be always lighted and never extinguished.

Jesus, our most loving Savior, be pleased to light our lanterns, so that they might burn for ever in your temple, receiving eternal light from you, the eternal light, to lighten our darkness and to ward off from us the darkness of the world.

Give your light to my lantern, I beg you, my Jesus, so that by its light I may see that holy of holies which receives you as the eternal priest entering among the columns of your great temple. May I ever see you only, look on you, long for you; may I gaze with love on you alone, and have my lantern shining and burning always in your presence.

Loving Savior, be pleased to show yourself to us who knock, so that in knowing you we may love only you, love you alone, desire you alone, contemplate only you day and night, and always think of you. Inspire in us the depth of love that is fitting for you to receive as God. So may your love pervade our whole being, possess us completely, and fill all our senses, that we may know no other love but love for you who are everlasting. May our love be so great that the many waters of sky, land and sea cannot extinguish it in us: many waters could not extinguish love. (Source:  Celebrating the Seasons , pg. 12-13, Canterbury Press, 1999)

May this saying be fulfilled in us also, at least in part by your gift, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I come away from these readings being reminded of:

  • the adversity of ignorance and the darkness it spawns in my own life and the life of others.
  • the joy of literally (not figuratively) hearing the knock on my door, opening the door, and having the person standing before me say, “I am here.”
  • the responsibility to maintain a dynamic and consistent relationship with my Spiritual Father the Lord has provided that is, by His grace, the “voice of Christ” in my life in concert with the voice of Christ in my life.
  • the joy of learning and I know the joy of teaching.
  • the sometime necessary adversity of ignorance that I must, painfully, walk in so that my pride can be killed and the ever-present struggle that learning involves that give substance to the joy of learning and teaching – of experiencing the truth and walking in the way it proclaims and the life that is Christ Jesus.

Lord, thank you for your Word to me… Come Lord Jesus – teacher and master – Lord and God.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee, O Lord”

Fr. Thomas

“Mirror, Mirror …”

I have been encountering mirrors lately. So, I thought I would reflect on them a little (pun intended). As I have considered them it occurs to me that mirrors can be a great aid to understanding the themes of Theophany which are to: “receive the light, ever more fully live in the light, and continue to be becoming more fully bearers of the light by the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Let me rephrase and expand this statement a little in terms of the Orthodox gospel reading for the feast, the baptism of Jesus. The baptismal narrative is multifaceted. Basically, but not exclusively, the baptism of Our Lord is concerned with:

  • revelation and repentance
  • the universal and the personal character of salvation – the light of Christ is offered freely to each and to all
  • how the inner and outer life of man is purified and shines with the radiance of the glory of Christ

What, in essence, are mirrors? They are communicative instruments. They communicate by reflecting. This fact is both an accurate representation of the work of the Holy Spirit and, I believe, a conviction that is a misunderstanding of His work.

First, the misunderstanding. I have heard the analogy of the disciple as a mirror many many times in sermons and retreats. (I may, unfortunately, have used it myself. I can’t remember.) Essentially, the analogy is one that seeks to communicate the importance of being a light to the world – “let your light so shine before men…” So far, so go. However, the analogy breaks down at this point. A mirror is not inhabited by the light. A mirror is not united with the light – without separation and without confusion. The mirror is unaffected by the light. The light simply bounces off the mirror. That is how it “shines” or “offers light to the world.” We are not supposed to be mirrors of the glory of God. We are intended to, by grace, actually become light to the world. It is Christ in union with His Body who are part of the entire light that God offers to the world. (God’s creation and the bodiless hosts also shine with the light of His glory according to their kind.) There is a BIG difference.

Now the accurate representation. Mirrors reflect. In terms of the disciple. Life is the mirror. God holds the mirror in such a way as to have what it is reflecting off of it point directly into our eyes. The nitty gritty circumstances, relationships, our deeds, our words, and inner landscape that make up our life act, quite often, as a mirror. They reflect. They reflect many things but I am going to focus my attention on just two things. The most important thing they reflect is God. And, because they reflect God, they show us to us. We have the opportunity to really behold ourselves. The important question of the Theophany season is, “Will we receive what we are shown, allow what is shown to change and establish us in Christ, and allow the light of Christ Himself to shine forth from us into the lives of others?” (see James 1.23 and 1 Corinthians 13.12)

There are several ways of responding to the us we behold in the mirror. Think, for a minute, about what you do when you see your image reflected in a mirror of some kind. What process do you go through? Some questions:

  • Do you say, “Man I’m good! As a matter of fact, I’m the best!”
  • Do you instantly look yourself over and adjust things so you will “look better” to/for others?
  • Do you see a finished product or a work in progress?
  • Do you see possibilities or impossibilities?
  • Is looking in the mirror a prelude to trying harder or trusting acceptance?
  • Do you receive the image you see as an indication of the truth that brings with it an opportunity to delight in aspects of what you see that are the very living Christ Himself within you as well as realize an opportunity to grow in other aspects of your life where you do not see Christ?
  • Is beholding an opportunity to condemn or delight?

Mirrors are a very good example of how Theophany works. It is a time to see. To see what is revealed – the truth in Christ Jesus. Where is Theophany taking us? Straight into Great Lent ! ! Lent is the season devoted to faithfully addressing what we see in the mirror by the grace of God. The journey of transformation includes delight as well as sorrow – a joyful sorrow. It is a season in which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in establishing those areas that shine with the glory of Christ and addressing those that do not. We see Christ and we don’t see Christ. We learn how to rightly handle the truth that God shines directly into our eyes.

Onward, in due course, toward Great Lent walking in the light …

Fr. Thomas