On The Contemplation of Our Savior, The God-Man, in the Gospel

We are in need of purification so we may be illumined when we approach the Holy Scriptures. Certainly the raising of Lazarus is such a text. “Illumine our hearts O Master Who lovest mankind…”

John Henry Newman offers some reflection on this specific need at the beginning of his wonderful sermon on the raising of Lazarus.

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“Jesus said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto Him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how He loved him.” John xi. 34-36.

On first reading these words the question naturally arises in the mind—why did our Lord weep at the grave of Lazarus? He knew He had power to raise him, why should He act the part of those who sorrow for the dead? In attempting any answer to this inquiry, we should ever remember that the thoughts of our Saviour’s mind are far beyond our comprehension. Hardly do we enter into the feelings and meaning of men like ourselves, who are gifted with any special talent; even human philosophers or poets are obscure from the depth of their conceptions. What then must be the marvellous abyss of love and understanding in Him who, though partaker of our nature, is the Son of God?

This, indeed, is evident, as a matter of fact, on the face of the Scripture record, as any one may see who will take the trouble to inspect it. It is not, for instance, the text alone which raises a question; but the whole narrative, in which it occurs, exhibits our Saviour’s conduct in various lights, which it is difficult for weak creatures, such as we are, properly to blend together.

…on the whole there is quite enough in the narrative to show that He who speaks is not one whose thoughts it is easy to get possession of; that it is no light matter to put one’s-self, even in part, into the position of His mind, and to state under what feelings and motives He said this or that; in a word, I wish to impress upon you, that our Saviour’s words are not of a nature to be heard once and no more, but that to understand them we must feed upon them, and live in them, as if by little and little growing into their meaning.

It would be well if we understood the necessity of this more than we do… when we contemplate Christ as manifested in the Gospels, the Christ who exists therein, external to our own imaginings, and who is as really a living being, and sojourned on earth as truly as any of us, then we shall at length believe in Him with a conviction, a confidence, and an entireness, which can no more be annihilated than the belief in our senses. It is impossible for a Christian mind to meditate on the Gospels, without feeling, beyond all manner of doubt, that He who is the subject of them is God; but it is very possible to speak in a vague way of His love towards us, and to use the name of Christ, yet not at all to realize that He is the Living Son of the Father, or to have any anchor for our faith within us, so as to be fortified against the risk of future defection.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Sermon 10, “The Tears of Christ at the Grave of Lazarus”

Seek Wisdom and Pursue It

Fasting is only one of the Lenten disciplines. The Holy Tradition counsels us to regularize and intensify our discipline of reading and reflecting on Scripture and the lives and writings of the saints. In so doing, we are seeking to acquire not, primarily, more information but the very mind of Christ Jesus.

Jesus was very serious not just about repentance but also about illumination – knowing, understanding.

So, we seek not only to repent, but also to realize that the repenting is really also a “coming to know.” And, in accordance with the desire of our Lord, to live out the wisdom He shares with us.

The result, of the operation of both repentance and illumination, as I have said before, is the increase of love. The keeping of the greatest commandment. Jesus said that people would know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13.35). This lived love is the wise life – the illumined life.

So, the desire for knowing something and living it out are really inseparable. The knowing and the doing. The wise woman or man is one for whom this is recognizably true. Thy have been reduced to love. They have devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, among other things, and the foolishness and delusion of the self-full life has been crucified. This journey of being crucified with Christ of their foolishness and delusion was powerful and courageous wisdom. What has been raised up and set free to live in this world, for the sake of this world, is the new woman or man in Christ Jesus.

These are the women and men who are sought out by those who desire authentic life, fullness of life. The life of the wise one speaks (Psalm 51.6, 10, 13). It is a witness of “being wisdom bearing the fruit of behaving wisely.”

This is the Christ-life by grace, the wise life is foolishness to the world. And, of course, this is the hard choice. Choose this day (and everyday), wisdom or folly. Die to folly; be born and grow up into and as wisdom.

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3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3.3-8)

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2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1.2-7)

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Our hearts must constantly dwell on the thought of wisdom, our lips repeat its lessons. Let your tongue pronounce right judgements and the law of your God be in your heart. This is the way to understand that verse of Scripture: You shall speak of these things when you sit in your house and when you walk along the way, and when you rise. Let us, then, speak of the Lord Jesus, for Jesus is wisdom in person; he is the Word, the very word of God.

There is another text that says: Open your mouth and let it be filled with God’s word. To be filled with God’s word is to repeat Christ’s message and dwell continually upon his teaching. Christ should always be the theme of our conversation. Whenever we speak of wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak of virtue, it is of Christ we speak. When we discuss justice or peace, we are discussing Christ and when our talk is of truth and life and redemption, Christ is our subject, for he is a­ll these things.

Open your mouth, Scripture says, and let it be filled with God’s ­word. You must do the opening, but it is God who makes his voice heard. That is why David said: I will hear what the Lord says ­in my heart, and the invitation: Open your mouth and I will fill it is made by the Son of God himself. Not everyone can arrive at the perfection of wisdom that Solomon or Daniel attained, but upon all of us, according to our capacity, the Spirit of wisdom is ­poured out, provided we have faith. If you believe, you possess the Spirit of wisdom, and faith gives you the grace to speak out.

As you sit in your house, then, meditate unceasingly on the things of God and make them the subject of your discourse. By house we can understand either the Church or that secret place in our hearts where we commune with ourselves. Choose your words prudently for fear of sin and beware of falling through overmuch talk. Speak too when you are walking along the way, so as never to be idle; and as you walk speak now to yourself, now to ­Christ. How should you address him? Listen to what Scripture says: I ­desire that the men should pray in every place, lifting their hands in reverence, without anger or quarrelling.

Speak also, my friend, when you lie down, or the sleep of death may steal upon you. Be instructed once more by Scripture: I will not give sleep to my eyes nor allow my eyelids to slumber until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Overcome your natural inclinations and shorten the time you give to sleep, like David who kept the Lord in mind as he lay on his bed, waking early in order to hear Christ’s voice and perceive his light in the darkness. Do not wait for Christ to wake you; it is you who should rouse him by cherishing the thought of him even during sleep. If you do this, he himself will rouse you from slumber and wake you from the sleep of death. Speak of him then, when you rise, whether it is from your bed or from the grave, and so fulfil what the word of God commands. Source: St. Ambrose, In psalmis 36.65-66 (CSEL 64:123-125); from Word in Season II, 1st ed.

The Inexhaustible Spring

St. Ephrem the Syrian

St. Ephrem the Syrian

Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words? We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.

The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.

And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.

Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For if you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to harm.

Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains. What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on. Source

 

 

How do I Read the Bible? A Partial Reponse

Form and content.

These are facets of what Fr. Stephen Freeman has termed the “one storey universe.” Another way of putting it would be to simply say, “The Mystery of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.

Engaging the Scriptures is a matter of form and content and results in obedience that has form and content. When asked by those with whom I engage in spiritual direction, “How should I engage in the discipline of scripture reading?,” I respond by saying, among other things, “In a lectionary manner.”

The lectionary method of encountering the Word of God is nothing less than the best for a variety of reasons:

  • Comprehensive and well balanced
  • Complete
  • Mystery driven not utility driven — the hiddenness and inexhaustibility of the Word is revealed and ingested through  trusting perseverance
  • Proper pace and rhythm that deeply reveals the pace and rhythm of the Holy Spirit in my live and the world around me
  • Rehearsal and deeper consummate union with the life and ministry of Christ Jesus
  • Interrelatedness of the Word – one testimony not a bunch of testimonies
  • Consistent – not myopic or “spun”
  • Basically the same from one year to the next — resists my childish need to “be entertained,” “invent a new and better plan,” and “make the Gospel relevant,” demanding instead (thank goodness) that I yield to its long term relevance and transformative dynamism
  • What we do not just what I do – it is our practice and therefore legitimately my practice
  • Helps me repent and be healed of my tendency to respond to my “favorite passages” and either knowingly or unknowingly continue to stay in my little self-congratulatory passion driven world
  • Provides the opportunity to realize and experience the fact that it is always all about Christ Jesus the eternal Son of God who is the Word in and through ALL of the word
  • Etc.

Granted, there are several of these lectionaries in the world-wide church in the East and the West. And, granted, they are not perfect. But, they are a lot better than the alternative… Actually, truth be told, a non-lectionary way of reading Scripture portrays a completely different matrix of understanding of Scripture — its nature and usage.

Here is a wonderful reflection by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon that exemplifies, in my opinion all of the best aspects of a lectionary based practice of Scriptural reading. I offer it desiring that you avail yourself of not only this reflection but ALL of his “ponderings.” They have been nothing less than a challenging and life-changing blessing to me from the first day I began reading them to today. I give thanks for the ministry of Christ in and through Fr. Patrick. I also hope you are as blessed as I was in the realization just how great a treasure we have in the lectionary-based way of engaging the Word of God. Let’s hear it for the true heart beat and greatness of the Holy Tradition.

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings
October 13, 2013
(More of Fr. Reardon’s reflections can be found here)

Each year the Church’s Lenten reading of Genesis reaches its climax, just on the verge of Holy Week, with the story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. The liturgical chants relevant to that story suggest why: the story of Joseph is taken as a prefiguring analogue, or typos, of the events of Holy Week and Pascha. To sum them up, Joseph was the beloved of his father, sold for a price by his brothers, unjustly accused and imprisoned on false testimony, enduring all with patience, and, finally, forgiving his oppressors. Joseph’s story thus adumbrates the dramatic days of Holy Week; his reunion with Jacob, furthermore, foreshadows Jesus’ Paschal restoration to the One who sent him: “I ascend to my Father” (John 20:17).

Joseph’s significance in the History of Salvation, nonetheless, consists in more than these points of correspondence with the Gospel narratives, because his place at the end of the Lenten season brings closure to themes—and resolution to conflicts—introduced at the beginning of that season. Without Joseph, Genesis would be a completely different book. His story looks back and ties everything together. Joseph looks forward to Christ by looking backward to the whole of Genesis.

For instance, we begin Lent with the account of man’s God-given rule over the land: “”Be fruitful and multiply; fill the land (ha’aretz) and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the land (ha’aretz)” (Genesis 1:28). Then, at the end of Genesis, Joseph appears in history as “the man, the lord of the land, (ha’ish ‘adone ha’aretz)” (42:30). Joseph is filled with the same “Spirit of God” (ruach ‘Elohim) that first hovered over Creation (1:2; 41:28).

Because of Joseph’s wise rule, Egypt becomes a fruitful place—nearly an Eden—to which come people from “all the land” (col ha’aretz) to be fed (41:57; cf. 41:54). Under Joseph’s rule, “the land  (ha’aretz) brought forth abundantly” (41:47). This scene in Egypt picks up the theme of abundance early in Genesis: “And the land (ha’aretz) brought forth grass, the seed-yielding herb according to its kind, and the fruit-yielding tree-its seed in itself-according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (1:12).

Given the Holy Week context of the Atonement, there is a special significance in Joseph’s forgiveness of—and reconciliation with—his offending brothers. The crime of fratricide, early introduced in Genesis by Cain and extended through the vengeful mindset of Lamech, is overturned in the action of Joseph. Generations of fraternal contention are put right when wise Joseph, superceding Babel’s confusion of the tongues, suddenly breaks from Egyptian into Hebrew to exclaim, ‘ani Yoseph ‘achikem—“I am Joseph your brother” (45:4). In the full contextual narrative of Genesis, his words of forgiveness and comfort serve to amend the struggle between Ishmael and Isaac, and to soften Esau’s urge to murder Jacob. The fraternity of man is restored in the soul of Joseph.

It is not completely accurate to say that true fraternity is restored in Joseph, however, for the simple reason that in Genesis there never was any true fraternity; the sentiment and claims of brotherhood were violated from the beginning (4:8). So Joseph’s brothers, when they threw him into the pit, were simply carrying on the lethal tradition that had corrupted fraternity from the start.

Until Joseph, the Bible paints a landscape in which “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil (ra’ah) continually” (6:5). Indeed, with respect to his brothers, Joseph declared, “you meant evil (ra’ah) against me” (50:20). He, however, does not retaliate, thus breaking the evil cycle.

Why does he not retaliate? Genesis provides a hint: It is significant that immediately after identifying himself to his brothers Joseph inquires about Jacob: “Is my father still alive?” This is Joseph’s dominating concern: his father. What he does in this dramatic, redemptive scene, Joseph does with his father in mind. What he seeks, for himself and for his brothers, is reunion with the father. For Joseph, there is no true brotherhood except with this true fatherhood.

Joseph, then, emerges in Holy Scripture a living prophecy of Christ, inasmuch as he introduces into Salvation History the first example of thorough, unselfish forgiveness. He foreshadows the Atonement wrought by Christ, because he finds it in his heart to forgive his brothers for the sake of his father. To honor his father, Joseph makes himself—anew—brother to those who had rejected the claims of brotherhood.

The Goal of Fasting (or any other spiritual discipline)

“Why fast?”

Those of us who attended an worship over the last several Sundays and/or an Ash Wednesday service this past week, probably heard this question in some form or another, “Why fast during Lent?” The preacher/homilist probably attempted to make certain you understood the real point of fasting. At least I hope they did ! !

And what is that reason? The defeat of sin and establishment of true righteousness. Being more completely conformed to the likeness of Christ Jesus in all areas of our life.

Duh ! ! That sounds obvious enough.

Nonetheless you and I have, doubtlessly, had conversations with people whose teeth are set on edge by any talk of formal or “institutional” practices of spiritual discipline like fasting, almsgiving, and more intense prayer and scripture reading. Why? Because the lives of the people and church they hear that exhortation from and encountered did not reflect a lessening of sin and increase of righteousness. And, as a result they ran as far as possible away from any such disciplines and the church that sponsored them.

How can I blame them ? ! I can’t… The people they saw practicing these disciplines were not showing any signs of being any less mean and rotten. What they did on Sunday had nothing to do with how they lived their life Monday-Friday. Jesus had some harsh words to say about the very same behavior (see Matthew 6.1-24). But “before” He said those words, our Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah and other prophets, saying the very same thing. Today and tomorrow we read Isaiah 58. Here it is in total just because:

Isaiah 58
[1] “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
[2] Yet they seek me daily,
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
[3] `Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
[4] Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
[5] Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
[6] “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
[7] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
[8] Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
[9] Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
[10] if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
[11] And the LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.
[12] And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
[13] “If you turn back your foot from the sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
[14] then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

What am I to make of this? Well, first off, any exhortation to practice spiritual disciplines without taking the time to instruct the hearer about the real point of the discipline and its connection with real transformation is a waste of time and doing more harm than good. Spiritual disciplines are not about proving something to God. It is about the consummation of practical union with Christ Jesus, the defeat and abolition of sin and death in and around our life, and the freedom of Christ Jesus to make His appeal through us to those who remain alienated from God.

Here are some quotes from the Church Fathers, elders, and the worship heritage of the Church that reiterates this as the goal of our Lenten disciplines:

“I know a man who kept no long strict fasts, no vigils, did not sleep on bare earth, imposed on himself no other specially arduous tasks; but, recollecting in memory his sins, understood his worthlessness and, having judged himself, became humble – and for this alone the most compassionate Lord saved him; as the divine David says: ‘The Lord is near to them that are of a broken heart; and saves such as be of a contrite spirit’ (Ps. 34:18). In short, he trusted the words of the Lord and for his faith the Lord received him.” St. Simeon the New Theologian

“Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the [increasing] acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

“Fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.  In everything that we do, God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other motive.” St. Maximos the Confessor

“Going through the fast does not consist in merely going through the time, but in going through it with amendment of manners (behavior and motive).  Let us consider this; whether we have become more diligent; whether we have corrected any of our defects; whether we have washed away our sins?” St. John Chrysostom

“True fasting lies is rejecting evil, holding one’s tongue, suppressing one’s hatred, and banishing one’s lust, evil words, lying, and betrayal of vows.” St. Basil the Great

“While fasting physically, brethren, Let us also fast spiritually. Let us loose every knot of iniquity. Let us tear up every unrighteous bond. Let us distribute bread to the hungry. And welcome into our homes Those who have no roof over their head, So that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God.” From The Lenten Triodion, Wednesday of the first week of Great Lent

“Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow men. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.” St John Cassian

“While fasting physically, brethren, Let us also fast spiritually. Let us loose every knot of iniquity; Let us tear up every unrighteous bond; Let us distribute bread to the hungry, And welcome into our homes those who have no roof over their heads. So that we may receive great mercy from Christ our God!” The Lenten Triodion, Wednesday of the first week of Great Lent

“’This fasting,’ saith he, ‘if the commandments of the Lord are kept, is very good. This, then, is the way that thou shalt keep the fast. First of all, keep thyself from every evil word and every evil device, and purify thy heart from all the vanities of this world. If thou keep these things, thy fast shall be perfect for thee. And thus shalt thou do. Having fulfilled what is written, on that day on which thou fastest, thou shalt taste nothing but bread and water; and from my meals which thou wouldest have eaten, thou shalt reckon up the amount of that day’s expenditure, which thou wouldest have incurred, and shalt give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to one in want, and so shalt thou humble thy soul, that he that received from thy humiliation may satisfy his own soul, and may pray for thee to the Lord. If then thou shalt so accomplish this fast, as I have commanded thee, thy sacrifice shall be acceptable in the sight of God, and this fasting shall be recorded; and the service so performed is beautiful and joyous, and acceptable to the Lord.’” The Shepherd of Hermas

“Fasting is acceptable to God when abstention from food is accompanied by refraining from sins, from envy, from hatred, from calumny, from vainglory, from wordiness, from other evils. He who is fasting the true fast `that is agreeable’ to God ought to shun all these things with all his strength and zeal, and remain impregnable and unshakeable against all the attacks of the Evil one that are planned from that quarter. On the other hand, he who practices abstention from food, but does not keep self-control in the face of the aforesaid passions, is like unto one who lays down splendid foundations for a house, yet takes serpents and scorpions and vipers as fellow-dwellers therein.” St. Photios the Great

“Let us present a good fast, well-pleasing to the Lord! A true fast is alienation from the evil one; The holding of one’s tongue, the laying aside of all anger, The removal of all sensuality, Of accusation, falsehood and sins of swearing. The weakening of these will make the fast true and well-pleasing.” The Lenten Triodion, Tuesday of the first week of Lent

“Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being saved must be based on God’s mercy and His love for men.  Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.” St. John Chrysostom

Now you might be saying to yourself, “Father Thomas is saying I should be perfect when Pascha arrives.” Or “Unless I have some identifiable proof of my progress then I have failed and am the enemy of the Gospel.” God forbid that you this should be your conclusion. That kind of conclusion is the very misinterpretation of the Holy Tradition that is the point of this blog post. Push beyond the “this world” either or type conclusion to embrace another conclusion. This is what I believe St. Paul is asking the believers to do. What I do mean can be summed up by quoting St. Paul:

Philippians 3
[1] Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not irksome to me, and is safe for you.
[2] Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
[3] For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.
[4] Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
[5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee,
[6] as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.
[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.
[17] Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.
[18] For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
[19] Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
[20] But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
[21] who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Ephesians 4
[1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
[2] with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love,
[3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
[11] And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
[12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
[13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
[14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
[15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
[16] from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
[17] Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds;
[18] they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart;
[19] they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.
[20] You did not so learn Christ! —
[21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.
[22] Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts,
[23] and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
[24] and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
[25] Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
[26] Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
[27] and give no opportunity to the devil.
[28] Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.
[29] Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.
[30] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
[31] Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice,
[32] and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Let us heed the exhortation of our Lord through Isaiah, St. Paul, the Church Fathers and elders, and worship heritage that is our dearest treasure. Let us struggle together with understanding and directionality, not as uninformed wanderers whose life serves to hinder the progress of the Gospel in our own life and, perhaps, the life of others. Let us embrace the disciplines not with a self-centered desire to “prove something” to ourselves or the world but a humble and radical trust in the faithfulness and power of God to do all things that are good and perfect in our life as we also radically cooperate with Him. Let us cleave not only to Him with this intentionality, but to our brothers and sisters of the faith. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Heb. 10.23-24) Let us testify with our behavior not just our words that Christ Jesus is Lord and is able to transform/save those who commend their entire life into His hands on a daily basis. Let this be our Lenten prayer for one another.

Fr. Thomas

Stopping to Consider and Commit

My brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

For the sake of our growth into the full likeness of Christ Jesus by the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the benefit of others bothinside and outside the Body of Christ …

  • Let us endeavor to be attentive to the current objects of our attention by keeping track of and considering our current behaviors, words, and a regular examination of the aspects of our life – body, mind, will, and heart. In so doing let us ask the Holy Spirit to show us the current condition of our life in Christ so that we may both rejoice and repent in faith, hope, and love.
  • Let us be aware of the fact that the way we live affects our attention/conviction and our attention/conviction affects the way we live. (What we believe affects our behavior and our behavior affects what we believe.)
  • Let us begin, once we have some data, to ask the following questions in specific terms: “Why do I pay attention to what I pay attention to? And “How does it affect my way of life in life-giving and life-robbing ways?
  • Let us endeavor, by the grace that God provides, to be more regularly and consistently attentive to the Lord throughout the day by:
    • journeying together in a regular and consistent fellowship of accountability and encouragement under the authority of the Holy Spirit.
    • being attentive to the Word of the Lord and the work of God in and through the lives of our brothers and sisters among the saints.
    • being attentive to the aspects of a healthy spiritual life as communicated to us through the rhythms of the “Church Year” and commit ourselves to living in accordance with the themes of the season of Great Lent that we might more deeply live a resurrected life.
      • Scripture – personal and/or congregational according to seasonal emphasis
      • Prayer – personal and/or congregational according to a seasonal emphasis
      • Fasting – addressing, in a serious manner, our bodily appetites
      • Almsgiving – pouring out our life in some way on behalf of the poor/needy
      • It must be noted that our observance of these disciplines should not be based on our personal preferences or convictions of what is appropriate. It is not about what we want or would prefer to do, but about what we need to do. The decision regarding how we observe these disciplines should, therefore, for our salvation’s sake be the result of an authentic conversation with the historical tradition and our current life-giving fellowship of accountability and encouragement.
  • Let us count the cost, as Jesus encouraged us to do, for the sake of being able to build to completion not for the sake of never beginning to build.

Fr. Thomas

Suffering in the Flesh and Pre-Lent

We are getting ready to leave the season of Theophany (Epiphany) and enter into Great Lent. Both the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox traditions provide a specific “pre-Lent” time of preparation. There is great wisdom here. As human beings, we are designed to move from one activity or emphasis to another via a time of transition. Transition is designed to, first, keep the best of the past (even the worst can be the best if we submit it to Christ) and bring it into union with “things to come,” forming a unified journey of wholeness. Transition also, secondly, gives us the opportunity to ready ourselves for the “new thing” that God desires to do in our life. We can look/walk forward.

Extreme Humility

The pre-Lenten transition is a time designed to encourage us to embrace the truth that our inner life and outer life affect one another – what we do affects what we believe (our operative convictions) and what we believe affects what we do (our words and deeds). In the middle of this relationship of mutual affect, the Holy Tradition says, needs to be a specific discipline of life that is life-giving in both directions. There are inner disciplines that are designed to transform our words and deeds and outer disciplines that are designed to transform our inner life (thoughts, emotions, will, desires, etc.). There are four disciplines that, during the pre-Lenten mini-season, we are encouraged to begin to practice an observe throughout Lent. They are:

1 &2)Increased reading of Scripture and prayer that are designed to prepare us to die with Christ and be raised with Christ in the particular area of our life where it’s is needed and/or continue to establish that area where such dying and rising has already taken place.

3)Fasting to address the all too powerful domination of our bodily appetites that hinder our growth in Christ.

4)Almsgiving – pouring out our life in some specific way on behalf of the poor and needy.

These four disciplines are, in fact, ways in which we take the admonition of the apostles seriously:

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4.7-10).

The result is spiritual transformation in the Holy Spirit in due time. This is the reason we endeavor with all the strength that is in us to embrace the Holy Tradition in sincerity and truth – that we might begin to reign with Christ even now in the time of our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

With all of this in mind, I include in this post a reflection from the devotional series I have recommended many times before, “Dynamis.”

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

Earlier in this Epistle, Saint Peter declared that Christ suffered death “…in the flesh… ” purposely: “…to bring us to God…” (1 Pt. 3:18).  Now, when he says, “…with the same mind…” (1 Pt. 4:1), he urges us to embrace an intention similar to the Lord’s.

Be sure to note this expression of his, to ‘suffer in the flesh,’ which should not be applied solely to martyrs or confessors, for a vital truth would be lost.  Suffering is common to everyone, having many forms: persecution, injury, disease, financial reverses, even withdrawal from specific sins, vices, and indulgence.  While Saint Peter’s primary concern throughout this First Epistle is with direct, physical persecution; still he knew that ‘suffering in the flesh’ includes far more than afflictions imposed on Christ’s holy martyrs and confessors (vss. 2-6).  He knew well the ‘suffering in the flesh’ that comes whenever one indulges in or approves sinful living as ‘normal’ or acceptable, but then for Christ’s sake, withdraws and ceases to “…run…in the same flood of dissipation…” (vs. 4).  Learn from Saint Peter about the kind of ‘suffering in the flesh’ that comes when we withdraw from the “…flood of dissipation…” (vs. 4).

The chief Apostle here focuses on the sufferings that come to us when we have “…ceased from sin…” (vs. 1).  As we would expect, the Apostle counsels us no longer living “…in the flesh for the lusts of men…” (vs. 2).  We should avoid “…lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (vs. 3), having determined to withdraw from all indulgence.  Then, he turns to the social isolation that follows when we no longer run “…in the same flood of dissipation…” (vs. 4).  As The Orthodox Study Bible notes, Saint Peter referred to vices prevalent in Asia Minor “…where excessive drinking, along with unspeakable practices took place in connection with the worship of various deities….”  But these vices are well-known today even though they are not part of the worship of deities as in the first century!

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

Saint John of Sinai adds other insights to those of the Lord Jesus and Saint Peter, and he commends the pain of struggling for chastity and purity, both in our inner and outer life, especially now that we have vital hope of ceasing from sin (see 1 Pt. 4:1-2).  Thus, “…purity means that we put on the angelic nature.  Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart.  Purity is a supernatural denial of nature….He is pure…[who] expels fleshly love with divine love, and…has extinguished the fire of passion by the fire of Heaven.”

Saint John’s thought is not limited to sexual purity, which the ‘modern’ ear hears: “Chastity is the name which is common to all the virtues.”  In the struggle to gain purity, God’s Spirit helps us take the steps that necessarily bring pain: observe the passions, understand them, repent seriously, confess deeply, accept bodily hungers, abandon self-reliance, and struggle for unceasing prayer.  As, Saint John adds, “Let no one thoroughly trained in purity attribute its attainment to himself.  For it is impossible for anyone to conquer his own nature.  When nature is defeated, it should be recognized that this is due to the presence of Him Who is above nature.”  Indeed, we do not endure such necessary sufferings apart from God, but, rather, in Him.

I am caught in the depths of sins.  O Savior, draw me out of passion, and save me!

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Let us heed the exhortation as we make our way to Great Lent.

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

Delight in the Lord Through His Word

Let us endeavor to delight in the Lord by being attentive to His presence through being attentive to Him in and through His Word. This is, I believe what George Müller is encourageing us to do in this sermon excerpt… Enjoy…

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A New Year’s Address delivered  in 1859 (excerpted), By George Müller (27 September 1805 – 10 March 1898)

George Mueller

We have through the Lord’s goodness been permitted to enter upon another year, and the minds of many amongst us will no doubt be occupied with plans for the future, and the various spheres of service in which, if our lives be spared, we shall be engaged. The welfare of our families, the prosperity of our business, our work and service for the Lord, may be considered the most important matters to be attended to; but, according to my judgment, the most important point to be attended to is this: Above all things, see to it that pour souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you; the Lord’s work even may have urgent claims upon your attention; but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek, above all other things, to have your souls truly happy in God Himself. Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled conviction for the last five-and thirty years. For the first four years after my conversion I knew not its vast importance; but now, after much experience, I specially commend this point to the notice of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ. The secret of all true effectual service is, joy in God, and having experimental acquaintance and fellowship with God Himself.

But in what way shall we attain to this settled happiness of soul? How shall we learn to enjoy God? How obtain such an all-sufficient soul-satisfying portion in Him as shall enable us to let go the things of this world as vain and worthless in comparison? I answer, This happiness is to be obtained through the study of the Holy Scriptures. God has therein revealed Himself unto us in the face of Jesus Christ.

In the Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Ghost, He makes Himself known unto our souls. Remember, it is not a god of our own thoughts or our own imaginations that we need to be acquainted with; but the God of the Bible, our Father, who has given the blessed Jesus to die for us. Him should we seek intimately to know, according to the revelation He has made of Himself in his own most precious Word.

The way in which we study this Word is a matter of the deepest moment. The very earliest portion of the day we can command should be devoted to meditation on the Scriptures. Our souls should feed upon the Word. We should read it-not for others, but for ourselves; all the promises, the encouragements, the warnings, the exhortations, the rebukes, should be taken home to our own bosoms. Especially let us remember not to neglect any portion of the Bible: it should be read regularly through. To read favourite portions of the Scriptures, to the exclusion of other parts, is a habit to be avoided. The whole Divine volume is inspired, and by degrees should be read regularly through. But to read the Bible thus is not enough; we must seek to become intimately and experimentally acquainted with Him whom the Scriptures reveal, with the blessed Jesus who has given Himself to die in our room and stead. Oh, what an abiding, soul-satisfying portion do we possess in Him!

 Note: The entire sermon can be found at: http://christbiblechurch.org/muller_sermons/chapter_8.pdf

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Let us be encouraged by this great saint to read our Bibles according to a regular schedule. Such a discipline will facilitate our capacity and practice of delighting in the Lord and allowing Him to bear the fruit of His Life in our life by the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Thomas

Encounter with the Word in the Scriptures – Bread in the Wilderness

There is no end to the nourishment we can receive from the Scriptures.  This nourishment is, to be sure, for the mind (informational, intellectually integrative, and profound). But, it is also nourishment for the heart (Mysterious, alive, filled with personal consolation and challenge).

So nourished, we, with mind and heart united in the joy of the Lord encountered through His Word, are transformed daily in the inner and outer man. We live, in practical terms, the Way and the Truth that is the Living Christ Jesus. If our transformation is a journey then our encounter with the Word in the Word is an endless feast of beatific delight. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Our daily bread, His mercies, are new every morning. There will never come a day when, as it were, the Lord says, “Eat leftovers.”

Let’s hear what one of the great saints of the Church had to say about this endless feast of delight. St. Ephrem, the Syrian…

“Lord, who can grasp all the wealth of just one of your words? What we understand is much less than what we ­leave behind, like thirsty people who drink from a fountain. For your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning just as those who study it have many different points of view. The Lord has coloured his words with many hues so that each person who studies it can see in it what he loves. He has hidden many treasures in his word so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it.

The word of God is a tree of life that from all its parts offers you fruits that are blessed. It is like that rock opened in the desert that from all its parts gave forth a spiritual drink. As the Apostle says, All ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink.

He who comes into contact with some share of its ­treasure should not think that the only thing contained in the word is what he himself has found. He should realise that he has only been able to find that one thing from among many others. Nor, because only that one part has become his, should he say that the word is void and empty and look down on it; but because he could not exhaust it he should give thanks for its riches. Be glad that you were overcome and do not be sad that it over­came you. The thirsty man rejoices when he drinks and he is not downcast because he cannot empty the fountain. Rather let the fountain quench your thirst than have your thirst quench the fountain. Because if your thirst is ­quenched and the fountain is not exhausted you can drink from it again whenever you are thirsty. But if when your thirst is quenched the fountain also is dried up your victory will bode evil for you.

Be grateful for what you have received and do not grumble about the abundance left behind. What you have received and what you have reached is your share, what remains is your heritage. What, at one time, you are not able to receive because of your weakness, you will be able to receive at other times if you persevere. Do not have the presumption to try and take in one draught what cannot be taken in one draught, and do not abandon out of laziness what you may only consume little by little.” (From Sunday of the Fourteen Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, St Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron, 1.18-19)

A closing word from the Word:  2 Timothy 3.14-17 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Fr. Thomas

The Glorious Burden and Joy of Language

God communicates His grace in manifold ways.

I am in the midst of re-reading Your God is Too Safe, by Mark Buchanan. In Eugene Peterson’s foreword to the book, he says: “An accurate understanding of the formation of the Christian life requires three things: stories well told, Scripture sharply imagined, and language skillfully used.” He goes on to briefly unpack what he means.

Now, let me say from the start that I do not think for one minute that Eugene Peterson believes that those three constitute what we need for a complete understanding of the formation of the Christian life. They are, however three of the most important components that provide for that understanding.

I love words and the use of language. I especially love the use of language in the Scriptures. One of the reasons is that the Scriptures present me with the challenge and joy of beholding and participating in the Mysterious power of the Holy Spirit at work (the use of the “M” is intentional and should alert you to the idea of “sacramental”) in and through the spoken and written language and its translation from one tongue to another for the purpose of effective communication.

I just received, via email, Fr. Patrick Reardon’s latest pithy “Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings” on the subject of Scriptural language and translation. It is dated June 5, 2011 and is not up on his parish website yet. He does a great job of portraying the challenge and Mysterious power of God’s purposes that can be unlocked and encountered in the midst of wrestling with Scriptural translation. I was thoroughly blessed by the “pondering.”

I recommend it to you. I can be soon be found here.

Fr. Thomas