27 June 2007

A Saying from the Fathers

"You must kill egoism. If you don't kill it yourself, then the Lord, hammer-blow after hammer-blow, shall send various misfortunes, so as to crush this stone." - St. Theophan the Recluse.

14 June 2007

A Thought on Tempting Thoughts

"A brother asked one of the Fathers, "What shall I do? My thoughts are always turned to lust without allowing me an hour's respite, and my soul is tormented by it." He said to him, "Every time the demons suggest these thoughts to you, do not argue with them. For the activity of demons always is to suggest, and suggestions are not sins, for they cannot compel; but it rests with you to welcome them, or not to welcome them. Do you know what the Midianites did? They adorned their daughters and presented them to the Israelites. They did not compel anyone, but those who consented, sinned with them, while the others were enraged and put them to death. It is the same with thoughts."

The brother answered the old man, "What shall I do, then, for I am weak and passion overcomes me?" He said to him, "Watch your thoughts, and every time they begin to say something to you, do not answer them but rise and pray; kneel down, saying, 'Son of God, have mercy on me.'" - Anonymous Desert Father

11 June 2007

Being Fishers of Men, Not Keepers of the Aquarium

In last Sunday's gospel lesson, we heard St. Matthew's account of the calling of the first disciples, Peter and Andrew.

"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his bother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (St. Matt. IV:18-20).
It must have been something, seeing the Christ walking about, teaching in his earthly ministry. Such a new and radical interpretation of the messianic vision as that taught by Jesus was certainly earthshaking; to leave one's life and livelihood, chasing after some itinerant rabbi from Nazareth...well, even to those of us who are convinced that Jesus was, in fact, the long-awaited savior of the world, this seems hard to fathom.

And yet, such was the faith of these men that they did just that.

In the Beattitude verses, also part of the lectionary readings from Sunday, we hear Jesus' teachings on the mount. This episode of Christ's public ministry draws inescapable comparison to the teachings of Moses that were delivered to Israel from Mount Sinai. On the new mountain of Israel, Christ, as the new Moses, delivers the new teachings that distinguish the New Covenant from the Old. Of all of these verses, one that stands out the most, at least, when juxtaposed against the account of the calling of the disciples, is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (St. Matt. V:6).

Righteousness, though, is a tricky thing. How do you know if you have it? The Fathers teach us that it is dangerous in the extreme to think that we might be righteous, because we will inevitably believe that we have been filled. Being filled in this manner, however, is not truly filling; it is like gorging on candy--it leads only to spiritual nausea, although it does leave the belly uncomfortably "full." We often feel very full from all that we "do." We attend services and do our daily prayers, we have icons in our houses, our offices, our cars. When coworkers ask why we are only having dressing-less salad for lunch, we announce with a posturing (that we hope sounds like the model of meek humility) that we are Orthodox Christians and it is a period of fasting for us. We "do things for the Church," and consider this the fullness of our experience as Christians following the True Way.

We do not stop to consider that we are, often as not, doing a very poor job of fishing for men--and settle for merely keeping the aquarium.

We go about our own lives, busying ourselves with our day-to-day concerns--temporal as well as spiritual (because we easily forget, living in the world of Western dichotomies, that this division is merely illusion, not reality)--and forget that we are called to do more than to just preserve the fullness of our ancient faith. Christ did not deliver the revelation of himself, of the fullness of our salvation, for the disciples to pass along only to those "worthy" of the revelation. Far from it! Thank God that we who are unworthy are able to be brought into the Truth! But we forget, to our great chagrin, that not all those who are seeking know where to look. It is a great sin if we make the mistake that our Protestant Evangelical neighbors make, and focus solely on our "own personal salvation" at the expense of our community.

What is truly unique, truly outstanding, and truly ministering to the soul about the Orthodox faith is that we are not out for our own salvation; the Church recognizes that we cannot be saved apart from our families, our friends, even our enemies. We are saved in the context of our actions--what might even be called the our "Web of Interactions." As such, we cannot afford not to share the Truth with those around us; as St. Paul reminds the fledgling Christian community of Ephesus, "In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts XX:35). We must remember that it is our duty not to merely be the city on the hill that cannot be hid, but that we must carry our light out into the world--that we must show Christ glorified and lifted up, so that he may draw all men unto him.

This is the hook by which we will bait those seeking after the Truth, if what we really want is to share the revelation of our faith with those in our communities, and in our families. Otherwise, we are failing at the commission of our God, and settling for doled out pieces of fish-food to those that are swimming in the aquarium.

May the Lord Jesus Christ our God, through the prayer of his all pure Mother and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Pax vobiscum.

05 June 2007

The Modern Death-Cult

I've been considering, as part of my longish article and/or head-start on a small book that I've been writing, the problems of post-modernism encountering an Orthodox, sacramental worldview. One of the things that most readily strikes me (and which I spent the majority of lunch writing about), is that the prevailing philosophy in the post-modern, scientific West is that of death-worshippers.

I know it doesn't seem that way at first, but bear with me here.

Consider one of the dictums that I take as axiomatic in our culture: Live life to the fullest. Seems pretty life affirming, doesn't it? Enjoy life as much as you can...but notice that the unspoken subtext there is because you are going to die. All of the sudden, it doesn't seem so life-affirming, eh? Consider a popular retirement/investment commercial which exhorts its viewers to "Live your dream"...where the unspoken subtext is while you can. All of these delightful ideas put into our heads by our wonderfully enlightened, scientifically educated, liberated society--are, in fact, tenets of a death-cult. The mythology of our rational postmoderns is fundamentally that of Aztek priests cutting people's hearts out on top of vast stone pyramids (and, while I'd love to flesh out this comparison more fully, I'm going to have to leave it unstated in the interests of time). Basically, by saying, "This life is all there is, so do whatever you can while you can," we have returned to the same death-enslaved mythology that held our entire human race captive from the expulsion from the Garden until the Resurrection of Christ.

You see, the Eastern Church pretty clearly teaches that human beings sin because we are going to die. This prevailing mindset of maximizing any form of pleasure you can because you're going to rot in the ground eventually is, almost exactly, the textbook definition that the Church Fathers give for sin. Moreover, it is precisely the enslavement to death that Christ came to overcome. As the Resurrection Troparion proclaims, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by Death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" It is that he defeated Death by himself submitting to Death. He has risen from the Dead, and broken the power of death--and has promised this also to those who love him and are partakers of his body and blood, to those in the mystical communion with him through the Church. Therefore, we have no need to fear death, those of us in Christ, and so are set free from the burdens of sin. We forget this, of course, and so still fall to temptations...but that doesn't change the reality of the promise.

The post-modern world, then, isn't so very different from the pre-Christian pagan world. The only difference is, it has denuded the already diminished witness of the Western Church and reduced it to irrelevancy--because, sadly, the broken churches of the West have forgotten the tenets of the ancient faith...and have forgotten what it means that Christ was victorious over Death itself.

Pax vobiscum.

04 June 2007

St. Kevin of Glendalough

Kontakion Tone 5
"Forsaking thy noble inheritance, and shunning all the crooked ways of this sin-loving world, thou didst apply thine obedient feet to the straight and narrow path of Christ, eagerly hastening throughout thy life toward the heavenly Sion, where with all the saints and the bodiless hosts thou criest aloud in ecstasy: Let every breath praise the Lord!"

Technically, St. Kevin is commemorated on 3 June, but since I was too busy to post yesterday, I decided I'd just do it today. St. Kevin was an Irish Celt, and a saint of the Church who lived to be 120 years old. He could communicate with birds and beasts, and he worked many, many miracles in his life.

The title of the post is a link to the OrthodoxWiki article on him. You never know, you may be enlightened or edified by it.

Pax vobiscum.

01 June 2007

Something to Ponder

"Poor human reason, when it trusts in itself, substitutes the strangest absurdities for the highest divine concepts."

-Saint John Chrysostom