24 September 2008

The Difference

I spent several years being depressed.

I suppose this is not uncommon to say anymore, with the massive number of Americans who are on psychoactive drugs for anxiety and depression. I was on some, for a while, but I quit taking them because I said to myself one day "I will not cheat the pain away with pills." I was enamored, really, with my own feelings. I wanted to feel everything, experience everything that came my way--pleasure, pain, whatever. Chasing the experience was what I wanted.

I wrote bad poetry about the experiences; the sense of loss, of the pain of the soul being forced to live in a modern world, without touchstone or baseline or values. I idealized (and idolized) myth and symbol. I worshiped at the altar of my own clever, creative vanity. And the circumstances of my life were an unending source of misery to me.

When I ask myself if things have changed, I am presented with an interesting conflict of opinion. Certainly many, if not all, of the problems that I have in my life now are exactly like those I had before. My sins, the passions that beset me, they are largely the same. So, what is different? Why am I no longer a morose, depressed person who sees all leading to a hopeless end?

The only answer that presents itself is: the cross.

My shift of perspective, my willing submission to Christ, makes the difference. Sure, I am still a sinner. I am still a passionate man. But I no longer glory in sin, or boast of my passions; I am grieved of them in my meditation. I do not want them anymore--and what a difference that makes. When I stopped wishing that the God of the Ages would just countenance me, and let me be what I want, let me do what I want, that is when the depression went away.

I know, it seems counter intuitive to modern folks. Not getting your own way--or, rather, learning to not want your passions--is the way to overcome depression, anger, and anxiety. Learning to want the will of God, for us to live in chastity and holiness of life, that is how we overcome the hell of our feelings, emotions, and reasonings.

God help me, the Cross has made all the difference.

Pax vobiscum+

23 September 2008

The Holy Martyr Iraida

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Iraida lived at Alexandria. One time, having gone to a well to draw water, she saw a ship at the shore, upon which were situated a large number of men, women, clergy and monks, all fettered in chains for their confession of the Christian faith. Having cast aside her water pitcher, the saint voluntarily joined in with the prisoners for Christ, and fetters were placed on her too. When the ship arrived in the Egyptian city of Antipolis, Saint Iraida was the first to undergo fierce torments and was beheaded with the sword. After her, the other martyrs sealed their confession of faith in Christ with their blood.

18 September 2008

The Holy Martyr Ariadna

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyr Ariadna was a servant of Tertillos, a city-father of Promyssia (Phrygia) during the reign of the emperor Adrian (117-161). One time, when on the occasion of the birth of a son the master made a sacrificial offering to the pagan gods, the Christian Ariadna refused to participate in the impious solemnity. For this they subjected her to beatings, and suspending her, they lacerated her body with sharp iron hooks. Then they threw the martyr into prison and for a long while they exhausted her with hunger, demanding worship to the gods. When they released the saint from prison, she left the city, but Tertillos sent pursuers after her. Seeing that they were chasing her, she ran, calling out to God that He defend her from her enemies. Suddenly through her prayers there opened in the mountain a fissure, and Saint Ariadna hid in it. This miracles brought the pursuers into confusion and fear, and they in their depravity of mind began to strike one another with spears.

The above Synaxarion reading for today almost seems to illustrate on of my favorite Psalms (34 in the LXX):

Judge them, O Lord, that do me injustice; war against them that war against me. Take hold of weapon and shield, and arise unto my help. Draw out a sword, and shut the way against them that persecute me; say to my soul: I am thy salvation. Let them that seek my soul be shamed and confounded. Let them be turned back, and be utterly put to shame, they that devise evils against me. Let them become as dust before the face of the wind, an angel of the Lord also afflicting them. Let their way become darkness and a sliding, an angel of the Lord also pursuing them. For without cause have they secretly prepared for my destruction in their snare, without reason have they cast reproach on my soul. Let a snare come upon him, which he knoweth not; and let the trap, which he hath hidden, catch him, and into that same snare let him fall. But my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, it shall delight in His salvation. All my bones shall say: Lord, O Lord, who is like unto Thee? Delivering the beggar from the hand of them that are stronger than he, yea, poor man and pauper from them that despoil him. Unjust witnesses rose up against me; things I knew not they asked me. They repaid me with evil things for good, and barrenness for my soul. But as for me, when they troubled me, I put on sackcloth. And I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer shall return to my bosom. As though it had been a neighbour, as though it had been our brother, so sought I to please; as one mourning and sad of countenance, so humbled I myself. Yet against me they rejoiced and gathered together; scourges were gathered together upon me, and I knew it not. They were rent asunder, yet not pricked at heart; they tempted me, they mocked me with mockery, they gnashed upon me with their teeth. O Lord, when wilt Thou look upon me? Deliver my soul from their evil doing, even this only-begotten one of mine from the lions. I will confess Thee in the great congregation; among a mighty people will I praise Thee. Let not them rejoice against me that unjustly are mine enemies, they that hate me without a cause, and wink with their eyes. For peaceably indeed they spake unto me, but in their wrath were they devising deceits. And they opened wide their mouth against me; they said: Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it. Thou hast seen it, O Lord; keep not silence. O Lord, depart not from me. Arise, O Lord, and be attentive unto my judgement, my God, and my Lord, unto my cause. Judge me, O Lord, according to Thy righteousness; O Lord my God, let them not rejoice against me. Let them not say in their hearts: Well done, well done, our soul. Let them not say: We have swallowed him up. Let them be shamed and confounded together who rejoice at my woes. Let them be clothed with shame and confusion who speak boastful words against me. Let them rejoice and be glad who desire the righteousness of my cause, and let them that desire the peace of Thy servant say continually: The Lord be magnified. And my tongue shall treat of Thy righteousness, and of Thy praise all the day long.
Lord, have mercy on me and defend me from the enemies of my soul!

Pax vobiscum+

11 September 2008

The Way of the Cross

So many people are spiritually thirsty these days. That should come as no surprise; the consumerist wasteland of American society has done a number on contentment, happiness, family life, and local community. Things are reduced to items for consumption—and when we’re not buying iPods and cheaply made off the shelf clothing for the latest fad, we’ve begun shopping the so-called “marketplace of ideas” for answers to the longings of the soul that cannot ever be totally shut off or filled by any material goods.

American religion has failed to supply the need. At churches and worship centers across this nation, especially the giant megachurches, the careful attention to market forces, recruitment philosophies, and tailoring messages to be most appealing to a modern audience have done nothing more than amplify the spiritual emptiness of modernity. And, predictably, after the show lights have dimmed, the smoke faded, and the mirrors broken, people are left wanting. What they want, they do not know, but they want it all the same. Some give up on God, concluding that if He was really all powerful, people wouldn’t be able to get away with some of this charlatan hucksterism in His name. The proliferation of these kinds of “ministries” that prey on people’s essential need for God are proof to them that God does not exist—and if he does, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

But the God that so many people believe in these days is just another lie. The Jesus so many want to believe in—the one that is your buddy, your homeboy, who wants nothing so much as for you to live a peaceful, happy, carefree life—is nothing more than an idol. In fact, the idea of penal substitution—where Christ is sacrificed to appease the affront of sin to an angry God—is nothing more than a return to paganism, where we do what we can to appease an essentially wrathful deity in hope of material blessing. Such a god cannot be said to love anyone—and that is not the God of Christianity. Our God is a loving God—he does all things for each. But the one thing he will not do, out of his deep love and respect for all of us, is control us. He will not take away our passions and compulsions for sin. He desires us to learn to love him through obedience, and we would not learn to be obedient to his will if he replaced our will with his.

This, then, is the Way of the Cross—that we must crucify ourselves, our desires, our wants, our self will, so that He may shine through us and live in us. We have to give up everything that we are—our minds, our bodies, our souls. We are called to give up anything that gets in the way of that—be that our dreams, or our career plans, or, yes, even our families. Even the basic animal desire for sex has to be given over—either to the mutual crucifixion of marriage, or to the monastic life (because, as the Lord told us, some will become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom). In the end, we come out to the good in the trade; in exchange for everything we are, we get to be by grace everything He is by nature. We get eternal communion with the living God, in the presence of whom there is no sickness, sighing, or sorrow. We become the inheritance of His Kingdom, which will have no end.

But the road to get there is long, hard, and yes, even painful. We are selfish beings; we want what we want and we want it now. This can be all the more difficult if what we claim to want is the Love of God, but we want it the easy way. We don’t love him enough back to clean ourselves up a little to be in his presence. His condescension to become a man, to be crucified to defeat the curse of death which has enslaved our race since the Fall—that’s not enough for us. No, we expect him to just accept that we’re flawed and put up with our sins, rather than repenting of them and trying to change our lives, hearts, and minds to try to live a sinless life. We spurn his great gift, by demanding more.

The way of the Cross is a paradox. It is suffering and death in life, and Life and light in death. This is a heavy thing, a great mystery. We cannot understand it, but if we trust in it, without reservation, that is true Faith. We walk the path before us, trusting the one who showed it to us, that it will lead where he says it will. We do that, ultimately, without any theological, philosophic, or rational arguments; not that those things don’t have a place in our spiritual lives, but they are not the primary focus. They are tools to help us along the way, not the Way itself.

My friends, if we truly desire to follow Christ, we would take whatever suffering we meet in this world, and suffer it gladly, because we would rejoice knowing that we were permitted to suffer as did our Master. “The servant is not greater than his Master,” said the Lord; let us remember that, when we think that we are already good enough to eat at His table.

Pax vobiscum.