"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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Transform Your Society And Be Transformed



W

e must learn first of all that we ought always to pray and not to faint. For the effect of prayer is union with God, and if someone is with God, he is separated from the enemy. Through prayer we guard our chastity, control our temper, and rid ourselves of vanity; it makes us forget injuries, overcomes envy, defeats injustice, and makes amends for sin. Through prayer we obtain physical well-being, a happy home, and a strong, well-ordered society. Prayer will make our nation powerful, will give us victory in war and security in peace; it reconciles enemies and preserves allies. Prayer is the seal of virginity and a pledge of faithfulness in marriage; it shields the wayfarer; protects the sleeper, and gives courage to those who keep vigil. It obtains a good harvest for the farmer and a safe port for the sailor.
Prayer is your advocate in lawsuits. If you are in prison, it will obtain your release; it will refresh you when you are weary and comfort you when you are sorrowful. Pray is the delight of the joyful as well as solace to the afflicted. It is the wedding crown of the spouses and the festive joy of a birthday no less than the shroud that enwraps us in death.
Prayer is intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible. It satisfies our yearnings and makes us equal to the angels. Through it good prospers, evil is destroyed, and sinners will be converted. Prayer is the enjoyment of things present and the substance of the things to come... Past history furnishes thousands of other examples beside these which make it clear that of all the things valued in this life nothing is more precious than prayer. I wish we could already turn to prayer itself; but we would rather add a little to what has been said, and consider how many diverse good things we have received from Divine grace, for the gift of which we should make a return to our Benefactor by prayer and thanksgiving.
Now I think that, even if we spent our whole life in constant communion with God in prayer and thanksgiving, we should be as far from having made Him an adequate return as if we had not even begun to desire making the Giver of all good things such a return.

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 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient Christian Writers: The Lord's Prayer; The Beatitudes (Paulist Press, New York, 1954) pp. 24-25.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How to Change The World



A
 friend once asked, "Are we only to be focused on our own personal salvation? Or is there not a bigger picture that we are also called to participate in – in the life of the Church and the world around us, in politics and to stop abortion and the like? Don't we have to do both?" 

"Personal salvation" is such a loaded phrase. It has such specific meaning to a large segment of our society  that to avoid misunderstanding I don’t use it much. Anyway, is there any such thing as “personal salvation”? Jesus Christ was not incarnate, crucified and resurrected for me, but for us. We are such a ‘me’ centered people that we even reduce salvation to its impact on me alone.

Our beloved Lord, and of course the Fathers, tell us that if we focus first and foremost on fulfilling, as best as we are able, through the Sacraments of the Church, and through prayer and ascesis, the Two Great Commandments, we will be who and what we ought in the greater Church and world around us. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets," (Mt. 22:37-40).

Part of that change we hope to see made in the world around us is certainly fleshed out as we struggle to love our neighbor – our debtor, he who slaps us on the right cheek and steals our coat... 

I honestly don't think we can act dispassionately, in the sense the Fathers use the word, having a divine consequence in the world around us, unless we first put our own place at the foot of God. It is certainly a great mystery. But it is not such a mystery when we consider that unless we ourselves are collectively transformed into the Children of God, we cannot begin to hope that we will have any positive effect on anything. Our present drive to change the Church, to improve the world, to elect the right candidate and promote the right party is all simply borne out of our passions.

I suppose that the Martha and Mary pericope are most instructive in this. “Now it came to pass, as they went, that He [Jesus] entered into a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word. But Martha was encumbered with much serving, and came to Him and said, "Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me." And Jesus answered and said unto her, "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her," (Lu. 10:38-42).

Perhaps if we strive to be "Marys" we will, without our even knowing it, also become well-balanced "Marthas"? Love to all my brothers and sisters!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

We Must Pass Through The Valley

Y
ou can’t rise up, you can’t be spiritually resurrected until you go down into the valley of suffering and repentance... Only then will you know God’s forgiveness. And knowing God’s forgiveness, you can forgive everyone everything... When you have entered into that experience, then you will not only know that you have an eternal soul within you, but you will also find the Kingdom of God within you. And having the Kingdom of God within you, you will seek and love God above all. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says, “He who does not know the Kingdom of God within him will not recognize the spirit of anti-christ.” To this we could add that such a person will not be able to differentiate between slick Christianity and suffering Christianity, between worldly Christianity and otherworldly Christianity. When we know the Kingdom of God within us, we will seek to make our home, not in this world, but in the world to come.

Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Unless You Become As Little Children




V
erily I say unto you, unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 18:3

These words of our Lord Jesus Christ are so often overlooked. What could they tell us? How might they help lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven where we may behold, for all of eternity, the blessed vision of our Beloved, the King of Glory?
There are occasions when kernels of truth and "spiritual" insights may be gleaned from the ordinary. Consider these short quotations from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry', The Little Prince. I was late in coming to appreciate this little book, but thanks to a dear friend, and "not everyone has a friend", I will now never forget it simple truths.

“All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it.”

“To forget a friend is sad. Not everyone has had a friend.  And if I forget him, I may become like the grown−ups who are no longer interested in anything but figures.”

“I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”

“Here is my secret. It's quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

“But the conceited man did not hear him. Conceited people never hear anything but praise.”

“For, to conceited men, all other men are admirers.”

“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.”

“Grown-ups love figures... When you tell them you've made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? " Instead they demand "How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? " Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”

“No one is ever satisfied where he is.”

“Language is the source of misunderstandings.” [compared to our actions, which reveal our true heart]

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

“If you were to say to the grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them, "I saw a house that cost $20,000." Then they would exclaim, "Oh, what a pretty house that is!”

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

"What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we can all enjoy them... Happiness doesn't lie in the objects we gather around us. To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes.”

I