"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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Grace Proceeds Above All From Brotherly Love

Nowadays men's hearts have grown proud, and only through affliction and repentance can we arrive at salvation, while as for love – it is rarely attained.
The great St. Antony said, "I no longer fear God but love Him." He said this because his soul was flooded with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who testifies to this love, and then it is impossible for the soul to speak otherwise. But to those who have not this immense grace, the holy Fathers teach repentance; and repentance is not far removed from love, whose coming depends on simplicity of heart and humility.
If a man thinks kindly of his brother, deeming that the Lord loves him – and especially if he believes that the Holy Spirit dwells in his soul - that man is close to the love of God.
One of you may protest: he does nothing but discourse on the love of God. But what else should we deliberate on but God? Did He not create us that we might live eternally with Him and behold His glory? When a man loves, his desire is to talk of the object of his love; and then habit enters in – if you make a habit of thinking of God, you will always carry God with you in your soul. If you are forever thinking of earthly matters, they will absorb your mind. Make a habit of meditating on the Lord's sufferings, or on eternal fire, and they will become engrained in your soul.
God helps us in what is good, while the enemy incites us to evil, but this depends also on our own wills; we must constrain ourselves to do good, but with moderation and knowing the measure of our strength. We must study our souls to know what is salutary for us: it may be more profitable for one man to pray, for another to read or write. It is a good thing to read but it is better to pray without distraction, and better still to weep: to each as it is given to him by the Lord. To be sure, when we rise from sleep we must render thanks to God, then repent and pray our fill. Next, we should read to rest the mind, and after that pray again, and then work. Grace proceeds from everything that is good. But above all from brotherly love.
One Easter-time after Vespers I was on my way back from the Monastery to where I lived at the mill, and by the roadside stood a laborer. When I drew level with him he asked me to give him an egg. Not having any, I returned to the Monastery, got a couple from my spiritual father and gave one to the laborer. He said, "There are two of us at home." I gave him the other egg also, and afterwards I wept with pity for the poverty-stricken people, and felt compassion for the whole universe and every living creature.
Another time, also at Easter, I was walking along from the main gates of the Monastery to the new Transfiguration block when I saw a little four-year-old boy running towards me with a happy face – the grace of God gladdens the hearts of children. I had an egg on me, which I gave to the child. He was delighted, and ran off to show his present to his father. And for a little thing like that I received great joy from God, and took a love for every one of God's creatures, and my soul sensed the Divine Spirit. Reaching home, seized with pity for the world, I prayed long to God, weeping many tears.
O Holy Spirit, dwell in us always!
It is good to be with Thee.
But it is not always this well with my soul: grace is lost through pride and then I fall to lamenting, as Adam lamented his lost paradise, and I cry,
Where art Thou, Oh my Light? Where art Thou, my joy?
Why hast Thou forsaken me? My heart is heavy.
Why hast Thou hidden Thyself from me?
And my soul is sorrowful.
When thou camest into my soul, Thou didst consume my
sins with fire.
Come now again into my sou1,
and again consume my sins with fire,
for they conceal Thee from me as clouds conceal the sun.
Do thou come and rejoice me with Thy coming.
Why tarryest Thou, O Lord?
Thou seest how my soul languishes, and I seek Thee in tears.
Where hidest Thou Thyself?
Indeed, Thou art in every place,
but my soul sees Thee not, and aching and in sorrow seeks Thee.
In like manner the Most Holy Virgin, and Joseph,
sought Thee, sick at heart, when Thou wast a young lad.
What thoughts passed through her sorrowing mind
when she found not her beloved Son?
Likewise did the hearts of the Holt Apostles grow heavy at the death of their Lord, mourning that their hope was lost. But the Lord appeared to them after His Resurrection, and they knew Him, and rejoiced.
So now does the Lord manifest Himself to our souls, and the soul knows Him by the Holy Spirit. Simeon of the Wonderful Mountain was a child when the Lord appeared to him, and he had not known Him before, but when the Lord appeared to him, He knew Him by the Holy Spirit.
The Lord gave the Holy Spirit on earth, and by the Holy Spirit the Lord and all things heavenly are made known; whereas without the Holy Spirit man is but sinful clay.
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Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 372-375

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Intoxicating Cup of Anger


In life as it is now, it is impossible to have perfect and lasting peace. It is natural, considering our sinfulness, that discord and quarrels appear among people; but that does not mean that once having quarreled we should remain in perpetual strife. We have sinned! We have quarreled! Now, let us be reconciled!. . . Unfortunately, few are those who make peace after a fight and return to living like brothers. Even fewer are those who forgive their irreconcilable enemies from the heart and put up with them. Too often strife remains among people to grow and gain strength until it brings them a harvest of eternal death. There are then three kinds of relations possible between those who have quarreled: 1) strife, 2) mutual reconciliation, and 3) long-suffering and forgiveness for the enemy who may be irreconcilable.
Let us first look at the case of mutual animosity. Why do people usually quarrel? – for being insulted by hurtful words, because of rumors and slander, for posts and jobs, for money and property, preeminence and honors. Whatever the reasons for the quarrel may be, the animosity created by it begins to poison the soul unrelentingly. The Poor man once having surrendered to strife loses sweet spiritual peace and is tormented by malice and helpless anger. He becomes restless and nervous, and burns with a satanic hatred; happiness leaves his heart. He seeks a way to get revenge and thinks that he will regain peace only after destroying his enemy. This, however, is only one of the devil's lies: the evil one is inducing him to commit more and more crimes which fail to give him peace and make him even more miserable. When looked at from the outside, the cup of anger seems full with a drink promising satisfaction; but when we drink it, the intoxicating liquid only stuns us for a moment until we carry out the revenge, and afterwards it may lead us to despair and moral exhaustion.
Thus, once deceived by the devil one seems powerless to overcome his anger and again seeks to be drunk with its giddiness, finding some perverted pleasure in the deep sorrow which anger brings. If anger is not uprooted in time – while it is still a small sapling with weak fibers in the earth – it is not easy to be defeated later, when it becomes a large tree with strong roots; then it turns into an incurable satanic venom. This is why the Word of God advises: Let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil, (Eph. 4:26-27); otherwise, if you once lose control of the fire, you will never be able to put it out.
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Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, The Meaning of Suffering, and, Strife and Reconciliation (Saint Herman Brotherhood, 1994) pp. 66-68.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"For God So Loved The World"

We are told in the sacred Gospel of John (3:16, 17), "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him."

These holy words are often used by some Protestants to teach that as long as you "believe", in the simplest and most rudimentary sense, you receive, as consolation, eternal life. From the Orthodox perspective we would certainly agree that if you remember anything from this Gospel reading, remember foremost that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." But we would, no doubt, elaborate upon the depth and breadth of God's action more so than man's. Yes, God's love for man is immeasurable and is manifest as the ultimate blessing upon humankind. Yet, to "believe" is more than an intellectual action, based upon potential gain.

So just how much does God love His creation?  What does it mean that "God so loved the world?"  Let's consider this.  How much could you love a man who scorns your overtures of love, shows derision toward your acts of kindness, treats rudely and with ridicule your every overture of peace and friendship?  How much could you love the woman who wrongs you at every opportunity and returns every loving gesture with contempt?  How much could you love the person who resorts to the most ruthless violence against you who took you bodily and mocked you, and struck you, who tore out the hairs of your beard from your face, and whipped your back until you were at the very edge of death?  This, of course is what was done to the Lord of Glory God in flesh Jesus Christ our Lord. And... He loved.

But what of the people, or perhaps we ought to say 'the beasts', who would do such a thing?  Mankind the crowning glory of God's creation;  the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of created beings.  Man the reason endowed and rational being, who had become so distorted, so twisted and deformed; his soul so gnarled and inwardly contorted, that he would turn upon his own Creator with unbridled disdain and deranged brutality.  That, my brothers and sisters, is the description of you and me, as a fallen people who no longer look toward our Creator with the soft and gentle eyes of beloved children looking to their Father... looking and seeing with eyes of love.  Now there could remain only the dark eyes of desperate and tormented creatures who look at one others with lust, envy, and distrust, with a thirst for self-gratification what can this other one do for me?  Fellows have become commodities to one another, fit to be used and discarded, fit to be utilitarian at best, and to be enemies if need be.  And if one keeps another from indulging his passions, he is utterly and eagerly 'disposable'.

Fallen man is not a pretty sight.  But he is particularly and astoundingly hideous in contrast to what he was created to be – in the very image and likeness of God Himself he was created.  A God who loved even these self-distorted, ugly and vile creatures so much that he gave Himself out of selfless love as a ransom for them that's what it means when we read, "God so loved the world." 

St. Paul says, "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For [even though] one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners (while we were become such vile creatures), Christ died for us."

And now that we know just how much God loves us, that He loves us even though we were turned away from Him and the very most pathetic and hideous of creatures, we must certainly wonder why He would love us so? 

He loves us so precisely because He is God!  He created us from the very beginning in His own image, and in His own likeness to be "like" Him.  And God has not left us to destroy ourselves in our sin, but He has reached down from heaven to man, and taken us by our unworthy and defiled hands, and raised us up to Himself – even to the heights of heaven.  St. Paul says that we, the prodigal sons, have again become His children, and as such we are His heirs, partakers of grace; partakers of a heavenly calling; partakers of Christ and of the Holy Spirit; and if we hold fast the beginning of our faith He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them we might become partakers of the divine nature itself, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. So now we may be restored, and once again look to our Creator with the eyes of a loving and trusting child, and at each other as brothers and sisters all the offspring of the King of Kings.

So, my beloved brothers and sisters, if we are restored in Him and to Him, if we are once more children of the King – how should the princes and princesses of the King of Glory conduct themselves? 

God did not send His Son into the world to judge us. If there is condemnation to come upon us, it is the condemnation which we bring upon ourselves, our own acts testifying against us.  No... Christ came to us to save us from ourselves, to restore us to Himself in that loving relationship which was intended from the very dawn of creation, that we might even rise to the heights of His own glory. 

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From a Homily delivered  September 13, 1998

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Watch


Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don't know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.

"How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?" the father asked.

"My father and my lord," replied the son, "how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?"

"Good, my son," remarked the king. "Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life."

"Father," replied the son, "that's impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?"

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: "Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head."

The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.

When he returned to the castle, the father asked, "My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?"

"I saw nothing."

"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" said the king.

"Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people, animals..."

"I didn't notice any of that," said the son. "All my attention was focused on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life."

"Quite right, my son," said the king. "Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations."

The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (I Cor. 16:13). 

The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one's faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud... All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart. And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that "man's heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions."

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one's inner life, i.e., the soul. 

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.

(by Archbishop John Maximovitch, Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus) and taken from
ORTHODOX AMERICA, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3, September-October, 1993