31 July 2007

St. Joseph of Arimathea

The Noble Joseph
having taken your Most Pure Body down from the Cross,
wrapped it in a clean shroud
and anointed it with fragrant spices
and laid it in a new tomb.
But on the third day You arose, O Lord,
granting the world great mercy.

St. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin (the rulers of the Jews during the time of Christ). He was a secret believer who came to Jesus by night with Nicodemus (St. John 3). The two of them removed Christ's body from the Cross and laid it in Joseph's new tomb (Matt. 27:57; John 19:38). For his compassion for the Lord, the Jews bound and imprisoned him. The resurrected Christ appeared to him in his captivity to confirm and encourage his faith. The Jews eventually released Joseph, but banished him from the province of Judea. St. Joseph traveled to the extreme end of the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel. He spent some time with Apostle Philip in Europe, then he went to Britain, where, upon setting foot at the site of the now-ruined Glastonbury Abbey the staff he leaned on took root and began to bloom. This famous plant, known as the Christmas Thorn, survives to this day. St. Joseph, an exile forsaken by his people, was the first to bring the message of Christianity to the shores of Britain, beginning the tradition of faith there that lasted for centuries.

30 July 2007

More on Living Saints

So, I've been considering again the quotes from my last post; I'm also quite close to finishing The Mountain of Silence (Kyriacos Markides...excellent read, btw), where I've encountered many stories about the blessed Elder Paisios through the words of his student, Fr. Maximos. It's been very enlightening to me, and I'm very excited by many of the ideas in the book (for the record, I'm more excited by Fr. Maximos than Dr. Markides' thoughts, but that's going to have to keep for another post). Let's face it--theosis excites me.

Why is that? I assure you it isn't an ego trip; I'm not worthy of union with God. If I ever make it, it'll be entirely on His Grace and His Mercy, because I am a wicked, terribly sinful man. Nevertheless, the theology of theosis is one of the things about Orthodoxy that sealed the deal for me. Union with the Divine has to be the ultimate goal of any spiritual belief; Orthodoxy, quite simply and bluntly, provides human beings with the correct way of achieving this reality. It tells you what you have to do; it speaks with authority--the authority of holy elders, men and women, who have lived it, who have achieved theosis in this life. In other words, there are Saints.

But, the Saints aren't just people who've been dead a while; the Orthodox Church has living Saints (capital S is required). People like Elder Paisios (who is but recently reposed) have worked miracles and wrought wonders by the Grace of God. You can find people like that, who perform miracles because the Grace of the Holy Spirit works so completely in them, alive and well in Orthodox monasteries--particularly on Mt. Athos, but not just there. This was such an important thing for me...this was the evidence that my poor, beleaguered, rational mind needed to make sense of the claim of the Orthodox (believing firmly the doctrine of St. Irenaeus of Lyon) that "God became man so that man could become god."

Of course, we never become what God is in his nature, nor do we lose ourselves in his vastness--but we become what he is by his grace, like but not identical to what he is by nature. But this bridge between humans and the divine is absolutely essential to a healthy spirituality. And it is only found in the mystical theology of Eastern Christianity.

Pax vobiscum.

27 July 2007

Two Sayings on Freedom, from Elder Paisios

The elder said: "It is not freedom when we say to people that everything is permitted. That is slavery. To improve one must have difficulties. Let's take an example. We have a little tree. We take care of it. We place a stake and tie it with a rope. Naturally we don't tie it with wire because that way we would injure it. With their method they would not constrain the tree; and it doesn't develop properly otherwise. And look at the child. We limit his freedom from the beginning. When he is first conceived the poor thing is limited in his mother's womb and remains there nine whole months. Later he is born and immediately they swaddle him in a blanket, they tie him up, as soon as he begins to grow they set a railing, etc. All of this is necessary for him to grow. It appears to take away freedom, but without these protective measures the child will die in the first moment."

The elder said: "Freedom is good when the person can use it appropriately. Otherwise it is a disaster."
Truly, the wisdom of Elder Paisios is a great treasure of contemporary Orthodoxy. This is one of the things that I love the most about Orthodoxy--the Saints aren't just holy people from long ago. We have living, breathing, holy Saints even into the modern world.

This is one of the reasons I want to visit Mt. Athos.

12 July 2007

St. Matthew XI:12

"A diebus autem Joannis Baptistæ usque nunc, regnum cælorum vim patitur, et violenti rapiunt illud."

From the time of John the baptist until the present, the Kingdom of God has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.