"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Purpose of the Incarnation Established Before the Fall

"[The incarnation of the Logos] is the blessed end on account of which everything was created. This is the divine purpose, which was thought of before the beginning of creation and which we call an intended fulfillment. All creation exists on account of this fulfillment, and yet the fulfillment itself exists because of nothing that was created. Since God had this end in full view, he produced the natures of things. This is truly the fulfillment of providence and of planning. Through this there is a recapitulation to God of those created by him. This is the mystery circumscribing all ages, the awesome plan of God, superinfinite and infinitely preexisting the ages. The Messenger, who is in essence himself the Word of God, became man on account of this fulfillment. And it may be said that it was he himself who restored the manifest innermost depths of the goodness handed down by the Father; and he revealed the fulfillment in himself, by which creation has won the beginning of true existence. For on account of Christ, that is to say, the mystery concerning Christ, all time and that which is in time have found the beginning and the end of their existence in Christ. For before time there was secretly purposed a union of the ages, of the determined and the Indeterminate, of the measurable and the Immeasurable, of the finite and Infinite, of the creation and the Creator, of motion and rest – a union that was made manifest in Christ during these last times."

Maximus the Confessor, Questions to Thalassium 60 (PG 90:621)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Three Mysteries of Renown

"Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death."

St. Ignatius of Antioch [γνάτιος], (also known as Theophorus [Θεοφόρος] "God-bearer" (+107), was the 3rd bishop of Antioch, after the Apostle Peter and Euodios, whom Ignatius succeeded around AD 68. Ignatius was most likely a disciple of both Apostles Peter and John) The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 19, Three Celebrated Mysteries: Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The King's Banquet

There was once a very great man, a king and a dignitary of the most prestigious order.  He was singularly the most important figure in the entire history and character of his race.  Even with consideration of his great rank and prominence set aside, he was, by virtue of his remarkable personal character, a man of distinction most well-bred and kind, courteous, and generous to all men regardless of their rank or station in life.  He was king, but he was also friend to every man and woman in his kingdom – such was the goodness of the man.
Our king had a son who everyone knew to be the very image and likeness of his father.  In every area of learning, commerce, statesmanship, and personal character the prince was as outstanding as his father the king.  What’s more, the king’s paternal affection for his son was a model to all, as was the son’s love for his father. 
One day the king decided to put on a great banquet at his estate in honor of his son who had proven himself to be a capable and compassionate heir to his father’s throne.  Out of the kindness which all knew to be common to him, though such kindness is by no means ‘common’ at all, the king decided to invite all his fellow countrymen, rich and poor alike.  He had the royal banquet hall decorated in grand style and made all the necessary arrangements for the finest of food and accommodations for his guests.  It was fitting, of course, that all attend this auspicious occasion this great royal banquet in honor of the son of the king with its opportunity to demonstrate both fidelity and appreciation which were rightly due to such a grand sovereign as they were graced to have over their daily affairs.  So one would think.
When finally the day for the royal affair drew near enough, and everything had been made ready, the king sent out his servants to make personal invitation to all throughout the countryside.  But because all indeed knew of the king’s gentleness and his good nature some indulged themselves to make excuse for their absence.  One said, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.”  And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.”  And yet another said, “I have just married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  Some had placed their children in activities which conflicted with the time of the royal banquet.  Others simply preferred to indulge in activities, entertainment and pleasures which pleased themselves rather than bothering to please the king.  After all, had not the king forgiven many a man and woman their waywardness in the past?
When the day for the grand occasion finally arrived, though the king’s heart was made heavy by the excuses of so many of his countrymen, he never-the-less, for the sake of those faithful whom he yet expected to come, and for love and honor of his son, opened the doors of his royal palace to all.  It was a picture perfect day for such an excellent festivity.  The royal hall was beautifully appointed and the tables themselves were heavily laden with every imaginable select dish and morsel.  Everything was made beautiful and rich and all for the sake of the king's son and those who would momentarily arrive to show him their faithfulness and devotion.  When the hour arrived the king bade his servant to ring the great bell in the palace tower to announce the beginning of the feast and to call the stragglers to make haste.  The royal hall was nearly empty and the king grew deeply troubled and fearful that perhaps some great enemy had dealt foul play to his beloved citizens.  Yet what could he now do but begin the feast lest his beloved son be dishonored rather than honored.
And thus the banquet began, even with only a handful present.  Those few persons lowered their heads and offered thanksgiving for the bounty which lay before them and then they sat and began to feast sumptuously, with thanksgiving.  Slowly, more did indeed begin to arrive and seat themselves at the great table.  Among them were those who ate as though they had no manners what-so-ever, though at great expense the king had made sure that every one of his subjects had access to the finest education and training.  Others sat and began making demands and mistreating the servants of the King, mindless of whose presence they were in.  Yet others came dressed slovenly, with no attempt at all to attire themselves fittingly for such a grand occasion.  Some among the people and the number had grown to a fair crowd by this time though by no means in contrast to the number of subjects in the King’s dominion actually talked among themselves and laughed and snorted while the king was attempting to address them with words of wisdom and encouragement, and to heap praises upon his beloved and worthy son.
One can only suppose that the king’s well-known forbearance and kindness made it easy for the brutish among the guests to forget the proper behavior one ought to demonstrate in the presence of a king.  Perhaps if the king had been a scoundrel, or exceedingly cruel and demanding in the past then the people would have attended in full number, with great attention to promptness, attire, and conduct.  But then again, after all, had not the king forgiven many a man and woman their waywardness in the past?
So this is the end of the story.  We all know very well that obedience out of fear has nothing to do with love and respect don’t we?  Genuine love and respect must come freely – they must come from the heart.  And, of course, there is no guarantee that though a king, or a God, should show great love and respect for his subjects, impartiality in his judgements, and kindness and long-suffering in all his dealings, that his subjects will show love and respect in return, is there?  But then, those subjects who do love and respect their beloved sovereign, it is they who reap the true and sure benefit of the king’s love; and who dwell securely and peacefully in the land with no fear for the future.  
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Excerpt from a homily delivered at St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A., May 23, 1999

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Greater The Love, The Greater The Sufferings Of The Soul

"Since the days of my youth I have loved to reflect: The Lord ascended into heaven and awaits our coming; but to be with the Lord we must be like Him, or like little children lowly and meek and we must serve Him. Then, according to the words of the Lord, 'Where I am, there shall also my servants be' – we, too, shall be with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. But now this day my soul is very downcast and dejected, and I am unable to lift an undistracted mind to God, and I have no tears wherewith to bewail my evil deeds: my soul is withered away and spent with the night of this life.

"O, who shall sing me the song that I have loved since the days of my youth – the song of the Lord's ascension into heaven, of His love for us, of the vigil He keeps for our coming? To this song would I hearken with tears, for my soul wearies on earth.

"What has befallen me? How came I to lose joy, and shall I attain to that joy again?

"Weep with me, all ye wild beasts and birds. Weep with me, forest and desert. Weep with me, every creature created by God, and comfort me in my grief and sorrow.

"In this wise I reflect in my soul: if I who love God so little am so violently heartsick for the Lord, how exceeding great must have been the grief of the Mother of God when she was left on earth after the Ascension of her Lord.

"She put not in writing the tale of her soul's affliction, and we know little of her life on earth, but this much we must suppose – the abundance of her love for her Son and her God reaches beyond our understanding.

"Her heart, her every thought, her entire soul were wrapped up in the Lord; but to her was given something further – she loved mankind and prayed ardently for people, for newly-converted Christians, that the Lord might sustain them, and for the whole world that all might be saved. This prayer was her joy and comfort on earth.

"We cannot fathom the depth of the love of the Mother of God, but this we know:

"The greater the love, the greater the sufferings of the soul.

"The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God.

"The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer.

"The More perfect the love, the holier the life."

(from Saint Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony, Monastery of St. John the Baptist: Essex, 1991, p. 364-366.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Inner Silence vs. Feeding the Hungry

Priests burdened with pastoral cares are torn. On the one hand they know that there is no profit in gaining the whole world, and losing one's own soul. On the other there is the Lord's injunction, 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.' 'Freely ye have received, freely give.' Parallel with this goes the idea that the vital need for mankind is to KNOW THE TRUE GOD. But how are we to find Him? So then, if KNOWLEDGE of God is to continue on earth, it is imperative that people should not go astray like sheep without a shepherd. This knowledge is so important that St. Isaac of Syria makes a fearful statement, difficult to understand and painful to grasp: 'Do not liken them that work signs and wonders and powerful deeds in the world with them that elect to fast and pray in the desert. Prefer inner stillness rather than feeding the hungry in the world, and the conversion of many peoples to the worship of God.'
Prefer the apparent inaction of inner silence to feeding the hungry? There are two kinds of hunger - physical and spiritual.  '. . . Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beer-sheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.' Now in our day we see dismay everywhere, and increasing despair. More books are published than ever before but, alas, most of them are syncretic, attempting to conjoin heterogeneous elements into a single whole - elements in their very core contradictory and in practice incompatible. Thus our ever-increasing confusion. St. Isaac of Syria believed repentance and the silence of the anchorite to be a surer way to knowledge of God and life in Him. And it is just this - now so rare in the world - that for him was the most important thing of all. The loss of true knowledge of God - given to us by Christ and the Holy Spirit - would damage the whole world irreparably.
I have met many people who were going through a serious crisis on the plane of the spirit. In talking with them I would remember my own crisis which continued for years - years of maximum stress for me. When prayer won the battle in me I abandoned my artistic profession to enter the Theological Institute in Paris, where the students were serious and the professors of the requisite high standard. But prayer 'stifled' me day and night, and so I left the Institute to go to Mt. Athos, where the whole of life is concentrated on divine service and prayer. To attend courses on church matters was impossible for me, since to put my whole mind on the subjects being taught impaired my earlier total striving for God. I realized that if I hungered to know God, I would have to give myself to Him in a greater degree than I had devoted myself to my painting. Divine eternity enthralled me. All the same, on leaving France I took care to burn my boats so that, if I began to have doubts, I should not be able to return to my former life. I did have a moment of temptation - making my way from the sea up to the monastery I was assailed by the thought: Here you are, volunteering for life imprisonment! And that was the one single occasion in my whole life when for an instant my heart hesitated. I am recalling it now though in the course of many decades I have never once looked back on the past. Ahead of me, far distant, lies what I seek, and only a few fleeting days are left to me. My soul has dried up among the vanities of this world, and I need the living waters the proceed from my Creator and 'flow to life eternal'.
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Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), On Prayer, (Essex, 1996) pp. 105-106.