"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, February 23, 2013

A Vision Of St. Andrew The Fool-For-Christ (10th Century)



O
nce, St. Andrew was sitting with his disciple Epiphanius, talking about the salvation of the soul. Just then, a demon approached Epiphanius and began setting traps to distract his thoughts, but did not dare to approach Andrew. Andrew cried out: ``Depart from here, impure adversary!'' The devil drew back and replied maliciously: ``You are my adversary, such as no other in all of Constantinople!'' Andrew did not drive him away immediately, but permitted him to speak. And the devil began: ``I feel that the time is coming when my work will be finished. At that time, men will be worse than I, as children will be even more wicked than adults. Then I will rest and will not teach men anything anymore, since they themselves will carry out my will in everything.'' Andrew asked him: ``In what sins do your kind rejoice the most?'' The devil replied: ``The service of idols, slander, malice against one's neighbor, the sodomite sin, drunkenness and avarice—in this we rejoice the most.'' Andrew further asked him: ``And how do you tolerate it when someone who first served you rejects you and your works?'' The devil replied: ``You know that better than I do; we find it difficult to tolerate, but we are comforted by this: we will probably bring them back to us—for many who have rejected us and turned to God have come back to us again.'' After the evil spirit had said this and much more, St. Andrew breathed on him and he disappeared.
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Saint Nikolai Velimirovch, The Prologue from Ohrid (From, Life of St. Andrew, written by a certain "Nicephorus in Constantinople")

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Christian Understanding of Freedom




by Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South (1978-2009) of blessed memory

P
eople generally use the word freedom in order to describe two things: the first and perhaps most persistent meaning of the term is simply lack of subjection to any kind of ownership or tyrannical authority, the lack of restriction of one’s actions, the absence of obstacles to self-determination or personal choices, the right to make up one’s own mind with regard to occupation, speech, assembly, religion and so on. Naturally, this kind of freedom is entirely desirable and, in many ways, our very nation came into being out of a deeply felt need for this. Although our democratic system of government has experienced many pitfalls and defects, and throughout the course of our history we have not always been able to achieve perfect freedom in the sense just described, it is none the less true that few would question the desirability for such freedom. Men are still willing to make enormous sacrifices – their very lives at times – for the ideal of freedom.

Christian teaching lies at the very heart of such an ideal. And in spite of the ups and downs of Church history, wherein even the Church has seemed to be an accomplice to agencies and forces that would deny this kind of basic right to the human race, it would be inaccurate to say that the Christian Church in most of its classical forms teaches that men are not destined to be free in this very sense. It is incompatible with Christian teaching to maintain that man should be shackled with restrictions against his personal freedom to pursue a way of life to his own choosing.

At the same time it appears also that freedom is being increasingly applied to a kind of license which says that man is not to be subjected to any kind of restriction that is not to his liking. Even when the common good demands the contrary he is somehow to be free to "do his own thing." The blame for much of the disorder and confusion of our own times could perhaps be laid to this concept of freedom: the near capitulation of our legal system in face of demands for freedom to peddle pornography, to sell drugs, to defy the law enforcement agencies of the cities, etc.

In this particular article it is not our intention to dwell on the matter of freedom as described above, making this a plea for law and order. Rather, we wish to present a general account of the Orthodox Church’s understanding of freedom, in light of Christ’s work of redemption, His "breaking the chains of hell and overthrowing the tyranny of hades."

Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" And those who heard Him said, "We are Abraham’s seed, and we were never in bondage to any man, how sayest thou, you shall be made free?" And He answered, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (1 John 8:31-34)

He said in another place, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also; and from henceforth you know Him, and have seen Him." (John 14: 6-7)

Jesus Christ is the truth about God and the truth about man, since He is both God and man. God’s real nature is completely revealed in the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, and the whole truth about man, his worth, value and dignity, are realized and made manifest to man in the Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth. And since man’s fundamental sin was and is godlessness or atheism, we then understand what is meant by the statement that "Christ came into the world to save His people from their sins."

An author once pointed out that, "Mankind is in bondage until Christ sets men free." St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans says, "For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what fruit had you then from those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now set free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and as your end, life everlasting." (6:20-22)

The deepest and most fundamental of the Church’s understandings of freedom is simply the freedom from sin and its wage or consequences. The understanding that Christ has given to men a freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter what the external circumstances of life may be, has provided the strength, the dynamism, the very life of the Church in the different periods of her bondage, her restrictions. There was the long three century persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire, and the very martyrs were witnesses and advocates of their freedom in Christ. The Moslem conquest and domination of much of the world that had been Christian, and the reduction of Christians to second-class citizenship, the restrictions against their proclaiming the Gospel, brought no despair to those who knew Christ and His truth. This lasted well into the nineteenth century in certain places. And in our own twentieth century, restrictions and persecutions, perhaps heavier and more severe than in any other time, in Communist lands failed to extinguish the light of Christian truth, and finally the most essential Christian freedom.

It is in Christ, as perfect Man, that man comes to the full realization of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. For man’s freedom is an Icon, an image of the Divine Freedom itself.

It is just when our freedom lies within the "opus Dei," the work of God, that it does not cease to be true freedom. The "Let it be to me according to thy word," of the Virgin at the Annunciation does not come from a simple submission to His will, but that very acceptance expresses the ultimate freedom of her being. In this sense, she was the first fruits of the intervention of God into human time and history, the first product of the Incarnation. She is the image of the Church, those who receive the Word of God and keep it, of those who would lose their life and gain it.

Christ, in becoming Incarnate, has permitted us, not to imitate, but to relive His life, to conform ourselves to His essence.

In each Christian’s response to God, in saying, "let it be to me according to Thy will," he identifies himself with the God-Man Christ, and in this way, the Divine Will, freedom comes as an expression of one’s own will. The will of God, His work, His freedom have become one’s own. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," says St. Paul. (Galatians 2:20)

None of the foregoing is said to diminish or to negate in any sense the validity and importance of all human beings, especially Christians, to seek, to work for freedom in the usual earthly, if you will, sense of the word: social justice, equality, and the right to pursue, unrestricted, a better life here and now for the human race. The Christian, if he takes his commitment seriously, can never be guilty of putting restrictions in the path of others, of coercing, of forcing. On the other hand, what has been said is conceived as a reminder that much of the Christian world, my own Church, has a long experience of this, has lived under repression in places where freedom, justice, equality, and the right to differ, were given lip-service, but were not realities. The hope of Christians, their consolation is based on a higher freedom, which only God can give, which our Lord Jesus Christ showed us.

C   C   C

From The Dawn
Newspaper of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America
October 1998

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Eulogius and the Invalid



I

n the wonderful book The Lausiac History by Bishop Palladius of Helenopol, a highly instructive story is told. A certain monk from Alexandria by the name of Eulogius was wondering which path of monastic exploit he should choose. He did not like the life in a monastery, and he could not resolve to live in seclusion. While he was thus deliberating, he saw an invalid – a man without arms and legs – lying abandoned in the market square. He only had a tongue so that he could beg from those who passed by. Eulogius stopped, observed the man for a while, and prayerfully made the following vow before God: "Lord, in Thy name I will take this man with me, and I will care for him until he dies, so that I will receive salvation through him. Give me patience to serve him!" Then he approached the invalid and said: "Would you agree for me to take you with me and care for you?" The man answered: "l will come with pleasure." Eulogius put the invalid on a donkey, took him to his humble home, and bestowed good care upon him. They lived like that for fifteen years.
One day the invalid fell ill. Eulogius did everything which the sick man needed: he washed him with his own hands and gave him the appropriate good food. Bur after those fifteen years, some demon had come into the invalid and made him so evil that he began to curse and revile Eulogius terribly: "Go away, you wicked scoundrel! You have stolen the money of other people and now you want to receive salvation through me. Take me back to the market square! I want to eat meat!" Eulogius gave him meat. Soon after that the invalid began to yell again: "l cannot stand this boring life any more. I want to see people. I want to be at the marketplace again. Why do you keep me here like a prisoner? Take me back to the place where you found me!" Sometimes the demon maddened him so much that he would have killed himself if he had had arms. Finally, Eulogius turned for advice to some monks and said: "What should I do? This man brings me to despair. Should I turn him out in the streets? I myself do not dare, because I made a vow before God; but he makes my whole life bitter and confuses me greatly."
They said to him: "The great one is still alive," (that is how they referred to St. Anthony the Great). "Go to him. Take a boat and the invalid with you; go to the monastery and wait for him [St. Anthony] to come from the desert. Ask his advice and do as he says, because God speaks through him."
Eulogius did as they told him and sailed up the Nile to the monastery of St. Anthony. The latter was in the desert where he lived, but he soon came to the monastery. It was in the evening, and many people were waiting for him. The Saint came out and, even though nobody had told him the names of the visitors, called out in the darkness: "Eulogius! Eulogius! Eulogius!" However, the monk from Alexandria kept silent, because he thought that St. Anthony was calling some other Eulogius who was known to the Saint.
Anthony repeated in a louder voice: "l am speaking to you, Eulogius of Alexandria!"
Eulogius was frightened and said: "Yes, what is your wish for me?"
Anthony said: "'What brings you here?"
Eulogius replied: "The One Who revealed my name to you has revealed my request to you as well."
Anthony answered: "l know why you came, but say it before all the brothers, so that they will know it, too!"
Eulogius said: "l found this invalid in the market square and made a vow before God that I would serve him in his misfortune, so that both of us would receive eternal salvation – l through him and he through me. Now, after so many years, he has begun to torment me in such an intolerable way that sometimes I think of throwing him out of my house. That is why I came to your holiness for advice on what to do."
Anthony told him sternly: "So you want to throw him out? But the One Who has created him will not throw him out! Do you really want to do that? Then God will raise another man, better than you, who will defend him." Eulogius was scared and kept quiet.
After that the Saint turned to the invalid and also rebuked him with stern words: "Wretched man, you are unfit for both the heavens and the earth! For how long will you resist God? Do you know that you are being served by Christ Himself? How do you dare to revile Christ? Did not Eulogius take on himself the obligation to serve you like a slave in the name of Jesus?"
In this way he reproved the invalid, too, and then he said to both of them: "Go in peace and do not leave each other!... God will soon take you to Himself. That is why the devil has tempted you: because you are close to the end of your lives, and you will soon receive your heavenly crowns. Do everything that you can, so that the angel of death will find you together!"
The two men went back home. Forty days later Eulogius died, and in less than three days after his death the invalid also passed away.

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Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev, The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation Volumes II & III (St. Xenia Skete, Wildwood:1994) pp. 36-39.