Saturday, December 8, 2012

What do you want from Christ?

What do you want from Christ?

I think this passage will offer a wonderful meditation for us though our Advent journey.

Luke 18:35-43 The Healing of the Blind Man
"At that time, as Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God."

To provide some background, Jericho was the city which the jews had conquered with God’s help in the Book of Joshua as they paced around the walls blowing trumpets, and instead of using siege equipment they had relied on God’s mercy and faithfulness to bring down the walls. Jesus’ action of going to Jericho serves to connect us with the Old Testament, and point us to it’s fulfillment in Himself, the Son of Man. Just as God was present with the Jews in the Shekinah Glory of the Temple, so he comes to Jericho (Jericho being this world) again, but as the Word made Flesh (God’s promise amongst men, and with men as a man). On his journey there (which can be viewed as God coming down to humanity in the Incarnation) Jesus encounters a blind beggar on the way. The blind man, represents humanity, blinded to our knowledge of what is truly good and truly sinful by the fall of our ancestors. He recognizes Christ as the Messiah and calls out to Him. Jesus stops and has the man brought to Him and asks him directly “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks to see with his eyes, and Christ obliges. “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

This was a bold action by the beggar. If the blind man truly desires to see, asking to see, and being granted this will put an end to all that he knows and he may be forced to change his life completely (think of Saul becoming Paul as another example of this). Isn’t this our challenge when we are faced with the gospel? If we truly begin to listen to the words of Christ, and begin to live according to his statutes, we are shedding the cataracts upon our eyes. We may be forced into discomfort, but Christ never promised an easy life if we followed Him. Our generation loves comfort, and loves to ignore the gospel. It likes the idea of the Gospel, with feel a feel-good Jesus, but it does not like anything that sounds like self-sacrifice or suffering. Thankfully we have the fasts, to discipline our bodies and minds where they have grown lazy and fat. Charity, to force us back into reliance on God and not worldly things, and that we are called to humble ourselves before everyone. So what do we all want from Christ? Are we prepared to do what we need to do, once we are given it? Are we willing to make major changes in our lives to put aside our old life and enter into a new one? Remember your baptism! Embrace it! In our Baptisms we threw aside our blindness and spit upon the lies of the Devil! Cast off your boredom, your sleep and arise, the Bridegroom will come and we will not know his Hour! Fear afflicts all of us and draws us away from doing the right thing, but don’t despair, fight, and remember the words of Christ to the Beggar! “Receive what you have asked for, for your faith has saved you.” Trust, Hope, and Pray, and you will find a new faith awakened in you. Ponder this as we make our way toward the Feast of the Nativity over the next few weeks and God Keep you All!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tribulation and Struggle

Tribulation and Struggle

It’s amazing to see just how many people seek an easy out of any tough situation these days. Whether’s its held under the banner of being “non-confrontational” or a genuine attempt at apathy, no one seems to try anymore. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to this but, this is nothing new under the sun. Since the very first centuries, Christians have been finding ways to shrug off struggle and tribulation for comfort and ease. But Christ did not promise us a life free of suffering, free of strife. In Saint John’s Gospel, Christ speaks frankly on this matter, saying, we are to endure all manner of pain in this life, but in Hope, and Faith. This is a mark of a Christian, to bear the world’s scorn in Peace.

John 16:33
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

This seems like an impossible task for anyone, when our natural inclination is to kick the dust in front of us, complain, and be miserable in our endurance of whatever unpleasant ness may come our way. Some of us may even just call it quits (God forbid by taking our own life but, it can be as casual as numbing ourselves by frivolous entertainment).
The first step is accepting that we are called to face our afflictions and not avoid them (Baby steps, even the Desert Fathers would endorse). In doing this, we have done probably the hardest part, and have begun to open our heart and minds to the Holy Spirit.

A man of our day, Saint Padre Pio the Wonderworker was no stranger to the struggles of this life. He fought demons, he endured scorn and envy, was afflicted by physical pain, and bore unnumbered sorrows of the heart. But his teaching to those around him was very clear. Our life, as little imitators of Christ, is to endure in humility, everything the world has to throw at us, to our full measure. Whether it is the slander from lips of our brothers and sisters, the effects of disease and imperfection from the fall, or the assaults of the enemy.

However hard it may be, the seeking of worldly comfort and avoidance of pain is not congruent with a Life in Christ as Padre Pio explains:
“We must humble ourselves on seeing how little self-control we have and how much we love comfort and rest. Always keep Christ before your gaze; He did not come to rest nor to be comfortable either in spiritual or temporal matters, but to fight, to mortify Himself and to die.”

In order to sanctify ourselves, and climb the Divine Ladder, we must endure struggle:
“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

The more afflictions we bear and pass through in faith and hope, the greater we grow in our relationship with Christ. We enjoin ourselves further and further into His life, by suffering as He did:
"The more you are afflicted, the more you ought to rejoice, because in the fire of tribulation the soul will become pure gold, worthy to be placed and to shine in the heavenly palace.”

Only at our death will we be freed of struggle. Until then we must never give up the fight. As Saint Anastasius the Persian said to the Sassanian Shah Khoserau before his death, “We Christians fall, and we get up, and we fall and get up again, and we do this until our deaths, praying that we die standing on our feet.” May we struggle to the end in Hope and Joy.

Advent is upon us, let us look again at our relationships with Christ and His Body, preparing ourselves rightfully for the coming feast of the Word made Flesh, by taking up our crosses with a renewed vigor.

God Keep You All!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Pascha 2012!

Today is the Day of the Resurrection! A Blessed Pascha to you all!

For any readers who may not know what Pascha means or the origin of the term, here is and explanation of the term attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo:

"Pascha (Passover) is not, as some think, a Greek noun, but a Hebrew: and yet there occurs in this noun a very suitable kind of accordance in the two languages. For inasmuch as the Greek word paschein means to suffer, therefore pascha has been supposed to mean suffering, as if the the noun derived its name from His passion. But in its own language – that is, in Hebrew – pascha means Passover; because the Pascha was then celebrated for the first time by God’s people, when, in their flight from Egypt, they passed over the Red Sea. And now that prophetic emblem is fulfilled in truth, when Christ is led as a sheep to the slaughter, that by His blood sprinkled on our doorposts, that is, by the sign of His cross marked on our foreheads, we may be delivered from the perdition awaiting this world, as Israel from the bondage and destruction of the Egyptians; and a most useful journey we make when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this unstable world to His well-established Kingdom. And therefore surely do we pass over to the ever-abiding God, that we may not pass away with this passing world." - St. Augustine of Hippo

And abiding words on this glorious day from our Holy Father Gregory of Nyssa:

"This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! O glorious state, O sweet invitation! Who tarries in accepting this invitation? Joy is the task, jubilation the injunction, through which the judgment growing out of sin is suspended and sorrow is turned into happiness.

Every memory of our condemnation is totally wiped out. Formerly birth was with pain but now without. Formerly we were born as sons of men but now as children of God. Formerly we were sent down from heaven to earth but now the Heavenly One has made us heavenly. Formerly death ruled through the power of sin but now through life justice has got the upper hand. One person opened the portal of death; Another Person led life back. We lost life through death in former times, but now death has been conquered by life. We hid under the fig tree of shame, but now in glory we approach the Tree of Life. We were driven out of paradise for our disobedience, but now by faith we gain paradise. Again the fruit is offered us for our enjoyment at will. Once more the fountain of paradise parted four-fold by the streams of the Gospel, gives drink to the whole Church—so that the Church may cause the furrows of our soul to overflow, those furrows ploughed by the teaching of Him Who sowed the word--and that the fruits of virtue may multiply. What, then, shall we do? What, indeed, but imitate the skipping of the mountains and hills in the Prophet? For the mountains, he says, skipped like rams and the hills like young lambs (Ps. 114:4, 6).

Come, then, and let us rejoice in the Lord Who has broken the power of the enemy and has raised the sign of victory of the Cross through the overthrow of the adversary. Let us raise a battle cry. But a battle-cry is a shout of victory. Because now the battle line of the enemy has been cast down, he who has power over the evil hosts of demons has vanished and, being uprooted, has sunk back into nullity.

Let us proclaim that it is God, the great Lord and great King of all the earth , Who has blessed the crown of His Acceptable Year and has gathered us to this spiritual congregation in the Lord Christ Jesus, to Whom be the honor to the ages of ages."
- St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christós anésti!

Grab your favorite Lager and celebrate!

Friday, April 6, 2012

On the Passion of Our Lord

A Blessed Good and Holy Friday to all of you!

Here are a few words to consider as we worship and commemorate the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Saint John Chrysostom in one of his homilies on the passion of our Lord, speaks about the necessity of writing this mystery in our minds. By remembrance of that mystery, we are humbled and take honor in being called Christians.

“What could be equal to this [scene]? On that face which the sea, when it saw it, had reverenced, from which the sun, when it beheld it on the cross, turned away its rays, they spit, and struck it with the palms of their hands, and some even struck its head; giving full swing in every way to their own madness.  Adding to the insult of spitting at Him, they cried out in derision saying, “prophesy to us, you the Christ, who is he that smote you?” because the multitude called Him a prophet. Not only freemen, but slaves also were intemperate with this intemperance towards Him at that time.

These things let us read continually, these things let us hear aright, these things let us write in our minds, for these are our honors. In these things I take honor, not only in the thousands of dead which He raised, but also in the sufferings which He endured.

Let us always bear them in our mind; the crown of thorns, the robe, the reed, the blows, the smiting on the cheek, the spittings, the irony. These things, if continually meditated on, are sufficient to take down all anger.” - St. John Chrysostom

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, in typical Syrian fashion, compliments Chrysostom, by calling us to take the passion into our hearts, with tears of joy and sorrow. In this way, we find ourselves living a life in adoration of our Lord and His statutes. Through this disposition we prepare ourselves for the day in which we will meet our beloved God:

“We should meditate like this: by shedding tears every day, giving thanks to the Master for the sufferings that he suffered for you, so that in the day of his Coming your tears may become your boast and exaltation before the judgment seat.
Blessed is the one who has before his eyes the heavenly Master and his sufferings, and has crucified himself from all the passions and earthly deeds, who has become an imitator of his own Master.” - St. Ephrem the Syrian

And lastly, writing in the 18th century, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk says the suffering of Christ should call us to examine our own lives, and how we have fallen short of our Lord’s Mercy and Love:

"Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding." - St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Today is the day of the Crucifixion. Rejoice! For the suffering our Lord endured in his compassion, is our joy. By His death, he descends into Hades to loot it of all fear and despair. By faith we are preserved in peace and await His Glorious Resurrection.

Festal Beer Pairing:
Copper Ales at Sundown for His Precious Blood and His descent into the Tomb!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Saint Hesychios the Presbyter and Watchfulness

Here is a little bit on Watchfulness and what it means, and why we need to be attentive to ourselves and our relationship with God.

In the Byzantine tradition, the first three nights of Holy Week serve as reminders for us to be watchful over our hearts. These are called the Bridegroom services and they are based upon Jesus own words in his parable of the virgins and the bridegroom. The virgins were not expecting the bridegroom to arrive at the wedding feast at such a late hour. Some were prepared, having cautiously guarded their oil, whilst others had let their lamps burn through all their oil during the night. Only those who had oil were allowed to attend the wedding feast (See Matthew 25:5-13). Jesus makes it clear, He is the bridegroom, as the troparion (hymn) for the feast says:

Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night: blessed is the servant He shall find awake. But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. Beware, there-fore, O my soul! Do not fall into deep slumber, lest you be delivered to death and the door of the kingdom be closed on you. Watch instead, and cry out: "Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God! Through the prayers of the angels, have mercy on us."

We anticipate his return without knowing the hour of his entry. At this hour, we will have to give an account for every action, word and thought upon our meeting. This is why we must always be repentant for our sinfulness, humbling ourselves before his ineffable love.

We will look at what Saint Hesychios the Presbyter has to say about watchfulness. A man of great asceticism, Saint Hesychios was a monk and priest from the Monastery of the Burning Bush in Sinai. He lived during the 8th century, stressing the guarding of one’s heart as deliverance from the passions, and the invocation of the name of Christ as a defense against temptation.

Saint Hesychios tells us why we should be watchful:

"Watchfulness if practiced over a long period, completely frees us with God's help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions."

Watchfulness is guarding of one’s heart, the filtering of one’s mind, and controlling of one’s flesh. By these means, a person’s personal passions and temptations (insomuch as we can control them) are tempered or hacked away completely.  Saint Hesychios explains the nature of watchfulness:

"Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart. In this way, predatory and murderous thoughts are chopped down as they approach and what they say to us duly noted. By this, we can see just how delusive and insidious the demons are in trying to deceive our minds."

Saint Hesychios recommends to us his four methods of watchfulness. His first recommendation is that we diligently scrutinize the nature of our thoughts. Are they good? Are they innocent? Or will they lead us into a path of thought toward temptation? :

"One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation; for only by means of a mental image can Satan fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the intellect in order to lead it astray. "

His second instruction is to keep our heart at peace. What does this mean though? We should first strive to not allow our heart to be  invested in bad persons, or projects or commitments. Are you in an abusive relationship because of fear? Are you addicted to gambling because of the rush it brings? These are yearnings or “desires” that are associated by many of the fathers with the heart. By being still or at peace, we open our heart up to God and his calling:

"A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still. "

Hesychios says we should always seek help from God. Paramount to this, is the acquisition of humility. By God all things are possible says Saint Paul. Humility is the cornerstone of all virtues. Without it, anything we do is empty.

The other half of this coin is love. We call on God who loves us. It is by our renewal and our continual desire to deepen our relationship with Him, that we will grow into the persons we should be, and were created to be. We come to understand ourselves better once we have seen what God sees in us. Certainly what Saint John Chrysostom says can apply to many aspects of our lives, not just our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “When we begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out”

"A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help."

This last one may sound a bit macabre in our death fearing American culture. The thought of Death should not be one empty of God. That leads to depression and despair. But fear of death, as pertains to our judgement and knowing we must give account to Christ for everything. This last point goes back to the original image of the bridegroom. We must always be prepared. And what better way, than continually remembering our meeting with the Bridegroom? By being aware we could die at anytime, we are kept humble, charitable and repentant. All which help to keep us from sin and purify our passions.

"A fourth type is always to have the thought of death in one’s mind."

We've only a few days of lent to go, so, keep watch over your mind and your heart.  If you have gotten lazy about fasting, start fasting. If you have forgotten to read through scripture, do it! If you have not prayed much, begin now! If you haven't been to liturgy, then go! It's not too late! The Great feast is coming! Remember the wise thief, who at his last hour, asked for mercy. And our lord showed it. Remember the prodigal son. It is never too late!

Saint Hesychios Pray for us!

Have a Belgian wheat ale today. Hesychios would want you to.

Have a Blessed Holy Week!

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Repentence

Considering as it is Lent, we should consider the words of our Lord, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:12-25)

But what does this mean you ask? We should consider the Greek word Metanoia, which means a change of mind in a lasting sense, like a commitment. We should change our hearts and minds from seeking everything that is not God, to embracing, choosing the statutes, because they set us free. When you are able to not chose sin, you have gained freedom. This is the freedom the saints speak of. To be master of our base inclinations.
Because of the fall, we make all sorts of justifications for our pettiness, and inattentiveness to our hearts. We are bold enough to say to God, just wait for me until I'm doing x,y,z , then I will come to you. And by then, we have fallen into so many pitholes it must seem incredulous to the angels! But true boldness, as Chrysostom says, is admit one's fault, and turn away from it:

"Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness. Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance." - St. John Chrysostom

Augustine calls us to remember, that we don't know the time the bridegroom will come. As such, we should always watchful over our hearts.

“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” - St. Augustine of Hippo

And lastly, consider the advice of Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. Here he says that repentance softens the heart, and allows us to begin the work of  overcoming and fighting our passions:

"Know firstly that repentance, according to St. John of Damascus, is a returning from the devil to God, which comes about through pain and ascesis. So you also, my beloved, if you wish to repent properly, must depart from the evil one and from evil works and return to God and to the life proper to God. 

Just as hunters are not satisfied with merely finding a beast in the forest, but attempt through every means to also kill it, likewise, my brother sinner, you should not be satisfied with merely examining your conscience and with finding your sins--for this profits you little, but struggle by every means to kill your sins through the grief in your heart, namely, through contrition and affliction." - St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

May you all continue to have a fruitful and blessed Lent!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Suffering and the Cross by Saint John of Riga

Holy Martyr, John of Riga tells us, that when our suffering may seem unbearable, we should look to the Cross and Christ. In meditation and remembrance of his passion, we can see how one should suffer affliction. We see how Jesus, the God-Man, took bodily torture and death and endured it bravely. In his humanity, we see by example the way by which we are to bear our crosses.

The Cross also transforms. By the Crucifixion and Resurrection, His Cross, and our cross, our suffering, is transfigured from meaningless torture, to a means of enjoining with Christ. By being scorned, assaulted, and pitied, our faith either collapses under the weight of the cross, and we give into despair, or we are saved by it-- by embracing the life--the life in Christ, and lifting up our suffering to Christ. Thus our Cross becomes that same Cross of the Crucifixion which, is now called the Life-Giving Cross. Let us remember the apocryphal words of Saint Peter to his disciples in Rome :

"If it is to the cross I must go, then remember it is also by the cross you are saved. The tree of death is actually the tree of life. "

St. John of Riga writes:

"We can more easily bear our afflictions if we keep in mind the example of our Saviour. See with what peaceful and holy determination He goes to meet His passion. And then follow Him along the path of the Cross until, with His last breath, you hear from His lips the Divine words: It is finished. And then ask yourself: aren't you drawn by this example? Doesn't this make clear the commandment, He who wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. Doesn't this lead you to the conviction of that disciple who said, I cannot wear a crown of roses when my Saviour is wearing a crown of thorns?

At the cross of Christ, even the most suffering soul among us can find consolation: I have endured and even now endure much, but my Divine Saviour endured still more. If you find this example too lofty, read what the holy Apostle St. Paul says: Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Cor 11:25-27). See what he endured for Christ's sake; how many times he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned... and then understand how far we are from him." - St. John of Riga

"Everywhere the Cross is the sign of Christianity. A Christian can simply not be without his cross." - St. John of Riga

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On the Passions

I hope you are all having a Blessed Lent! Remember, Lent is not just sorrow and somberness. It is a “Bright Sadness” as Father Alexander Schmemann calls it. Amid the remembrance of the Crucifixion and our own lowliness we have the celebration of the Annunciation, which heralds the beginning of our Salvation, and the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection at our journey’s end! “Be of Good Cheer, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

Passions. I have mentioned these before, and I felt it might be good to clarify exactly what I mean by them. First off, this is no novelty of mine, but is a term used by many of the Holy Fathers concerning disordered desires. Passion comes from the Greek word Pascho, which means to suffer. In a sense, we suffer because of our passions (perhaps not all that noticeably either, which is part of their insidiousness). But isn’t passion a good thing? It’s good to have a passion for something, says the guy two offices down from you who bikes to work. Hiking, volunteering, or working, these are all good passions... But the term predates our relatively recent recycling of the term for something good or neutral.

Briefly looking at an English dictionary entry for passion I found the following definitions :
1. any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
2. strong sexual desire; lust.
3. a strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept,

What do these tell us about the word passion? All have the connotation of being bold. These are not tiny inclinations. And secondly, they are emotive, base, primal. They come from a very raw part of psyche. Drive is another word that comes to mind. They come from down deep within us, like the fires that fuel a steam engine in a great ocean liner. Sometimes, we may not even be fully aware of them.

Think of those very strong desires that are often marred by missing the mark. Love is mixed up with Lust. Overeating grows from a desire of cheap all you can eat buffets. Resentment is birthed from withholding forgiveness. Laziness, Sloth, from apathy for whatever task is at hand. They often start as subtle mixups, but overtime become ingrained and powerful pulls that drive a wedge between us and our ability to grow closer to God.

The 8th century monk, Saint Peter of Damascus tells us that every virtue lies between the straits of two passions:

“Each virtue lies between two unnatural passions. Moral Judgement lies between craftiness and thoughtlessness; self-restraint, between stubbornness and debauchery; courage, between overbearingness and cowardice; justice, between over-frugality and greed.” - St. Peter of Damascus

Our Holy Father, Saint Maximos the Confessor says, it is because of the fall, that we are subject to these disordered desires that rob of us of our divine glory. Otherwise all desire, all passions would be of a good design: 

“Impurity of soul lies in its not functioning in accordance with [divine] nature. It is because of this that impassioned thoughts are produced in the mind. The soul functions in accordance with the [divine] nature when it remains dispassionate in the face of provocations both from [worldly] things and from conceptual images of those things.” - St. Maximos the Confessor

The Great Ascetic Saint Theodore speaks of passions being aroused by logisimoi. Those thoughts that if allowed to linger in the mind become great tempters toward sin. It is in our best interest (even duty, if we can muster the strength to call it that) to fight these, and not let them stir our passions toward sin: 

“It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not the passions are going to harass and attack the soul. But it does lie within our power to prevent the impassioned thoughts from lingering within us and arousing the passions to [shameful] action.” - St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic

Saint Neilos of Sinai, a priest friend of John Chrysostom, says we should always be watchful of our heart and mind. Even if we have successfully fought and overcome a passion of say, lust or avarice, perhaps some new thing will creep in and arouse it. Say a new paycheck and the recent release of some new smartphone, whereby one purchase quickly becomes many more. Or a confrontation with scantly clad woman, soon becomes a brief fantasy involving many terribly shady situations. As Saint Anastasios the Persian says: "We Christians, fall, but we get up. And we do this until we can die standing on our feet."

“For if someone does not watch his mind attentively, he will find that, after he has cut down the passions, the images of past fantasies begin to emerge like young shoots. If he constantly allows these images to force their way into his mind and does not bar their entry, the passions will once more establish themselves within him; despite his previous victory, and he will have to struggle against them once again.” - Saint Neilos of Sinai

And lastly, Saint Mark the Ascetic confesses the prime injunction for Christians and the only 100% security against falling into sin; the acquisition of the Spirit of Peace. By the indwelling of One of the Holy Trinity, we are preserved from death. That spiritual death, that Christ says leads to total despair. 

“Peace is deliverance from the passions, and is not found except through the action of the Holy Spirit.”  - St. Mark the Ascetic

This my friends, is GRACE! The ministry/action/indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our hearts, in our minds.

Festal Pairing:

Today, March 1st, is the Feast of St. David of Wales (St. Eudocia if you are a Byzantine). He's a baller dude, who was ordained in the Holy Land and was a great ascetic. He convoked a synod in the 6th century that stamped out the last vestiges of Pelagianism in the British Isles. Have an Amber or Red Ale in his Honor!

Glory to God for All Things!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On the Christian Family and Martyrdom

How many of you have said to yourself "this isn't about me" or "that will never happen". Well, the devil has many snares set up for us. Many of them much subtler than we think.  Some of you may be in the position of having parents or family members who as Saint Nikolai Velimirovich says "want a secure life" for you and your siblings. In doing so, they fret and worry needlessly, and in their desires for your success, set you up for a life in opposition to Christ. Or maybe you are blessed with a wonderful household, in which case, keep this in the back of your mind, that you yourself don't lead your family away from Christ by seeking material success and societal honor. First a little about Saint Nikolai.

Saint Nikolai Velimirovich is a Russian saint from the early 20th century. He grew up in Serbia in the late 19th century and was ordained to Holy Orders. He eventually became a bishop and was known for his literary and oratory skills and was given the nickname "The New Chrysostom". He was imprisoned in Austria by the nazis and left Europe for the United States after the war. He reposed at St. Vladamir's Seminary in Pennsylvania. 

The saints he mentions are from 3rd century. Clement of Ancyra was a bishop and martyr for Christ. He was tried by Diocletian and eventually beheaded when he refused to renounce his faith. Euphrosyne was a Christian Woman of great piety and mother of Clement of Ancyra.

In our day, you usually hear these words from parents: "We want to secure the life of our child." That is why they work very hard to amass wealth, often unjustly, to educate their child in the vocation which brings the greatest physical security and material benefit. This is done by so-called Christians! They do this because their concept of a real life and the real security of life is erroneous. See, how a true Christian mother prepares her son for a real life. At the time of her death, Blessed Euphrosyne spoke to her son Clement of Ancyra:

"Do me the honor, my son, and bravely stand up for Christ and confess Him strongly and without hesitation! I hope, in my heart, that the crown of martyrdom will blossom on you in my honor and for the salvation of many. Do not be afraid of threats, nor swords, nor pains, nor wounds, nor fire. Let nothing separate you from Christ, but look up to heaven and from there await your great, eternal and rich reward from God. Let this be my reward from you, my sweet son, for my pain in child-bearing and effort surrounding your education that I may be called a mother of a Christian Man." - St. Nikolai Velimirovich

An Orthodox Priest tells us about the importance of the family and connects it with the monastic struggle. If the family is based in the love of Christ, then it can be just as nourishing as the life of a monk.

Normally, the type of spirituality most natural to married and non-monastic single people is the Eucharist. In this form of spirituality, Jesus Himself is our 'spiritual father' through the Eucharist and the priesthood, and the Church is our spiritual mother. Our families are our 'cells'. Just as Abba Moses the Black was told by his elder, 'sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything', so too for us non-monastics, our spiritual mother the Church teaches: stay in your families (which are the Church in microcosm) and your families will teach you everything. The three primary acts of the Church--prayer, fasting, charity--provide with the sacramental and liturgical cycle of church life a complete ascetic rule that is inexhaustible and perfectly adaptable to our strengths (or weaknesses). There is nothing spiritually limiting or restricting in the Eucharistic spirituality of the Church, no grace absent, no spiritual door closed.

In one of his many of homilies on the married life, our Holy Father John Chrysostom says the holiest of families, would rival the faith of the monks:

"Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers. If you are overtaken by poverty, remember Peter and Paul, who were more honored than kings or rich men, though they spent their lives in hunger and thirst. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks." - St. John Chrysostom

Martyrdom can take many shapes. But it has the same goal. The surrendering of our will to the Love of God. By the giving of our life in the death of the body in the name of Christ, we become like Peter, being led where he do not wish to go, and suffering death in the Name of Christ. It is a sacrifice, to give up our will for His. In doing so, we find His will, becomes our Will too; and our new life puts to the sword all the passions we have accumulated in our living in the world. Our Holy Father John reminds us that suffering with our ascetic struggle enjoins us to a life in Christ:

"How can we suffer for Christ, you ask? If someone accuses you falsely of anything, and if you bear it patiently, if you give thanks, if you pray for him; you do all this in humility, you do this for Christ. But if you curse him, if you speak against him, if you  attempt revenge, even if you do not go through with it, it is not for Christ’s sake, and you will suffer loss, and are deprived of your reward on account of your intention. It rests with us to either profit spiritually, or squander our blessings, by how we bear our afflictions. It depends not upon the nature of the affliction, but upon the disposition of our own hearts. Great were the sufferings of Job, yet he suffered with thankfulness; and he was justified, not because he suffered, but because in suffering he endured it thankfully." - St. John Chrysostom

Our Anonymous Orthodox Priest continues by saying that the goal Monasticism is not Monasticism in of itself, but holiness; the martyrdom of the soul and body. This continual self denial keeps our minds and hearts aligned with Christ and from falling prey to the passions. This is asked of not just a few Christians, not even of most Christians, but all Christians. As Paul says, We "Put on Christ" in our Baptism and we prepare to live a life with Him and in Him.

Above all, there is no ceiling on sanctity or holiness in the Church: Jesus' command in Mattthew 5 is addressed to all Christians: "Therefore, be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt.5:48). Monasticism, after all, is not an end in itself. The 'monastic ideal' is not monasticism itself but something higher than itself: martyrdom. Let us remind ourselves that monasticism began as a form of martyrdom, 'white' martyrdom; and martyrdom is nothing more or less than the total denial of oneself for the sake of Christ and the cross, a path of grace not limited to monks but open to all Christians.

Today is the feast of our Holy Father Saint Isidore of Pelusium. Look him up, he's pretty cool. I'd recommend a Golden or Blonde Ale as the beer pairing for this feast day. Enjoy and God Bless!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On the Heart

Here are a few quotes perhaps you can chew on in your mind over the next few days regarding the heart.

Saint Makarios the Great, is an epic ascetic of the Egyptian Desert. He is known for his battles with demons, austere piety, and his counsels on the Heart. This quote is amazing for its summation of just what lies within our heart. Within our conscience. Not only is the pit of our secret evils there, but so is the joy of joys.

"Within the heart are unfathomable depths. It is but a small vessel, and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there." - St. Makarios the Great

Saint Hesychios the Presbyter, another awesome dude from the desert, is known for his many sayings from the Philokalia. We may be surprised just what we find in our hearts, when we begin to apply the statutes to our lives. But don't despair, remember it is a choice we always have. To struggle against our temptations or follow them through til we no longer can stand in front ourselves and say we all far short of the mark.

"Just as someone in the midst of a crowd, holding a mirror and looking at it, sees not only his own face but also the faces of those looking in the mirror with him, so someone who looks into his own heart sees in it not only his own state, but also the black faces of the demons." - St. Hesychios the Presbyter

Saint Maximos the Confessor echoes what Saint Hesychois says. If you strive to follow the statutes, if you fight against your passions, then you will find the Holy Spirit will help you at every opportunity to Live a life in imitation of Christ.

"If, as St. Paul says, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, and all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in him, then all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in our hearts. They are revealed to the heart in proportion to our purification by means of the commandments."- St. Maximos the Confessor

And to back me up on this, Saint John Chrysostom:

"Once we begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out." - St. John Chrysostom

Have a Blessed Week Everyone!