Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Orthodoxy For Evangelicals

Below is a link to an excellent lecture given by Fr. Thomas Hopko at Wheaton college- it gets at the core of what makes Eastern Orthodoxy so attractive to serious Evangelicals.

From Shadow To Reality Ancient Christian Worship - Fr. Thomas Hopko Lectures - Ancient Faith Radio

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happiness Is?

"Every individual instinctively strives for happiness. This desire has been implanted in our nature by the Creator Himself, and therefore it is not sinful. But it is important to understand that in this temporary life it is impossible to find full happiness, because that comes from God and cannot be attained without Him. Only He, who is the ultimate Good and the source of all good, can quench our thirst for happiness."

St. Innocent of Alaska,

Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Enemy Within

Interview with Archimandrite Dionysios.

WIE: What is the ego?
When Satan, who was the first and highest angel, looked away from God and turned his attention to himself, there we had the first seed of ego. He took his spiritual eyes from the view of the Holy Trinity, the view of the Lord, and he looked at himself and started to think about himself. And he said, "I want to put my throne in the highest place, and to be like Him." That moment started the history, the reality and the existence of ego—which is not in fact a reality, but the refusal of reality. Ego is the flower that comes out from the death of love. When we kill love, the result is the ego.

WIE: What is the character of the ego? How does it manifest within a human being?
AD: When we don't trust. Ego is born when we don't trust others. When we're afraid of others, when we need guns against others, then we need to have an ego because we are in the wrong way of life. We think only of ourselves, and we see only our ego. But when we see each other, when we trust each other, there is no need for ego, no reason for ego, no possibility for ego.

WIE: So in the way you're speaking about it then, ego is the insistence on our separation, our independence?

AD: Yes, on our solitude. Our need to be alone, to have our own way of thinking that satisfies us and preserves our personality in the wrong way.

WIE: Putting ourselves first and foremost?

AD: Yes. And Christ said, "The last is the first." Because when you want to be the last and you choose the last seat, only then may you call the others friends of yours.

WIE: The ego, this sense of self-importance you've been speaking about, is often described in The Philokalia and other writings of the Christian mystics as the primary enemy with which the spiritual aspirant must wrestle in their quest for union with God. Why is the ego considered to be such a formidable adversary on the path?
AD: It is such a powerful enemy because it is the enemy within us. We are enemies to ourselves, like Adam and Eve in paradise. Of course, the snake talked to Eve. But she could have avoided him. The snake said to her, "The Lord lied to you," but if she would have trusted the Lord, she would not have started to talk to the snake. And Adam, too, lost his communication with the Lord and stayed with his ego. And the two egos worked together, Adam and Eve.

The real enemy is the ego. It is the enemy because it is against love. When I look at myself, I don't love others. When I want to occupy for myself what is yours, I become the killer of my brother, like Cain killed Abel. When I want to satisfy myself, this satisfaction is gained through sacrificing the freedom of the other. Then my ego becomes my lord, my god, and there is no stronger temptation than this. Because to us, this ego may seem like a diamond. It has a shine like gold. But whatever is shining is not gold. The ego is just like a fire without light, a fire without warmth, a fire without life. It seems that it has many sides and many possibilities—but what is this possibility? What is ego? Only the means by which I protect myself as if I were in a battle, as if every other person is my enemy, and the only thing I care about is winning the victory.

WIE: It has been said by some of the greatest spiritual luminaries that when one takes up the spiritual path in earnest, one often comes face-to-face with the ego in a way that one never could have imagined previously. In describing their encounters with the ego, many saints have characterized it as an almost diabolical force within that does not want the spiritual life, that does not want God, but that wants to do everything it can to obstruct our illumination, to undermine our firm resolve to stay on the path.
AD: Saint Paul writes beautifully about this event, this struggle inside the human heart. He says, "There is another law inside me telling me to refuse the will of God, to do things against Him, to refuse the grace. It tries to keep me in my past, in my old life, to take me far away from the Lord, to prevent me from following the Lord." This is why I said that the biggest problem in mankind is in each person, not outside of him. For this we need spiritual fathers. For this we need spiritual doctors. We need surgery; we need an operation; we need something to be cut in our heart.

We don't understand that this enemy that we have inside us is not our self; it's not our personality. It's only a temptation. This is the seed of the problem of the ego. We unite our personality, which is a priceless event, with our faults. We confuse our personality with our sin; we marry these two things, and we have a wrong impression of what we are. We don't know what we are, and we need someone to show us who we are; we need someone to open our eyes so that we can at least see our darkness.

There's a mystic, the greatest of the mystics, Saint Gregory Palamas. For thirty years, he was praying only this prayer: "Enlighten my darkness. Enlighten my darkness." He did not name the Lord because he did not feel worthy to name him. He did not address it to anyone, but he said this prayer day and night, more than he was breathing. Because all he knew in himself was his darkness. And he was talking to someone—to whom else?—to Christ, who said, "I am the Light." But he said only, "Enlighten my darkness."

WIE: Show me my faults?
AD: Or come to my darkness and burn it. Make fire in it and make light in it. The greatest thing we can do in our lives is to discover that by ourselves we are nothing. We are darkness. We are dust.

WIE: The ego is often characterized in the spiritual literature as a cunning and opportunistic adversary, capable of turning any situation to its advantage in its attempt to obstruct our spiritual progress. What do you feel is the most important quality within the individual that can help us to win the fight against the clever and ever changing ego?
AD: Repentance. Recognizing our mistakes and our sins, this is the highest thing that we can do. And not to recognize our sins in order to succeed at something else, but just to see the truth about ourselves. Saint Isaac, the great mystic of the Church, says that one who accepts, who understands, who recognizes his sin in front of the Lord, in reality, he is the highest. He is greater than one who has gained all the world, who feeds all the people, who makes miracles, who resurrects the dead. This man, the first one, is bigger because he can never fall down. He has a stability, a level, a place where he can talk to the Lord. He has a place where he can invite the Lord with his tears, with his repentance, with the understanding that he has done wrong. And straightaway he becomes clear. The light comes from him. He becomes a spiritual doctor, a teacher or father, because he's not afraid to recognize sins. It is not a problem for him to say, "Excuse me, it was my fault." This is the key to escape from all the drops of the devil.

WIE: Would it be accurate to characterize this quality you're describing—this willingness to face oneself honestly—as humility?

AD: Not humility. Humility is the result. It would be better to say "wisdom." We press ourselves to be humble. But to recognize my faults—what does that have to do with humility? I have to be humblein order to recognize my faults? No. I have to see them. It's an emergency. It's my way to exist for the next second. How can I exist with my faults for one second? In front of whom? In front of myself—how can I be with my faults, with my sins? I have to say, "I did it!"

Dostoyevsky expresses this so beautifully in Crime and Punishment. The main character, Raskolnikov, kills someone, and almost immediately he understands what he did. He doesn't recognize it by himself, but with the help of the strict hard words of a prostitute, Sonya, who says to him, "Look what you did." She guides him to go into the middle of the plaza, in front of all the people, to say what he did. And he does it. He confesses. He says that otherwise he could not exist, that he would have to commit more and more and more crimes. And he accepts the sentence of the court to go for at least twenty years to the hardest prison. And he goes, and there he feels the medicine of his heart. And he takes this medicine. We have problems in life because we don't want to accept or recognize our sins. And this is the key. What else do we have to offer to each other? Gold, money, lust, food? Long life? No. Only to recognize our sins and straightaway we have a new world.

WIE: You seem to be speaking about a kind of deep conscience that stirs when we face ourselves.
AD: It's love. Love is more than conscience. Conscience is something that says to you, "You do this, you do this, you do this." It's like we're under our own personal court. But love is something much more. Love makes us ready to pay for the sins of others. It's a much higher step. Not only to recognize our sins but also to be able to pay for sins for which we are not responsible, as Christ did. This is love.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the Middle of Lent

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 4: The Lenten Journey

    The third Sunday of Lent is called "The Veneration of the Cross." At the Vigil of that day, after the Great Doxology, the Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week-- with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. More than that, the theme-songs (hirmoi) of the Sunday Canon are taken from the Paschal Service-- "The Day of the Resurrection"-- and the Canon is a paraphrase of the Easter Canon.
   The meaning of all this is clear. We are in Mid-Lent. One the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity. Lent is our self-crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ's commandment heard in the Gospel lesson of that Sunday: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). But we cannot take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us. It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others. This is explained to us in the synaxarion of the Sunday of the Cross:
On this Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the honorable and Life-Giving Cross, and for this reason: inasmuch as in the forty days of fasting we in a way crucify ourselves.... and become bitter and despondent and failing, the Life-Giving Cross is presented to us for refreshment and assurance, for remembrance of our Lord's Passion, and for comfort.... We are like those following a long and cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if rejuvenated, continue their journey; likewise today, in the time of fasting and difficult journey and effort, the Life-Giving Cross was planted in our midst by the holy fathers to give us rest and refreshment, to make us light and courageous for the remaining task.... Or, to give another example: when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol-- the Life-Giving Cross-- and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King Himself, and to render glory to His victory.... All this in the midst of Lent which is like a bitter source because of its tears, because also of its efforts and despondency.... but Christ comforts us who are as it were in a desert until he shall lead us up to the spiritual Jerusalem by His Resurrection.... for the Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is the tree that was planted in Paradise, and for this reason our fathers have planted it in the midst of Holy Lent, remembering both Adams bliss and how he was deprived of it, remembering also that partaking of this Tree we no longer die but are kept alive....
Thus, refreshed and reassured, we begin the second part of Lent....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Starting Over Again

My first official move towards the Orthodox Church begins today. Today I set down my office as Presbyter in the Anglican Communion, and become a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. This move of mine has baffled many of my Anglican and Protestant peers, and it has also forced me to try to explain why someone whohas been in Christian ministry for over 10 years, with Masters in Divinity degree, as well as been a priest for 6 years should become a catechumen. I realize that it is really, really strange to the western mind, but nevertheless, let me try to explain.

The explanation begins with two presuppositions, or understandings on my part as well as on the part of the Orthodox Church. The first of these understandings is the conviction that the Orthodox Church has been given, and even now possesses the fullness of Christianity.The second is that the Orthodox Church cannot and should not try speak for any other branch of Christianity, except to say that they do not know what degree of this fullness of Christian group possesses.

This means then that when someone desires to come into her fold, and come under her oversight and protection, she has a responsibility to explain exactly what this fullness is with her own mouth, and thus give opportunity to each person to accept or reject the Orthodox Church. In a conversation with the local bishop he said to me, “we are not used car salesmen, pushing to close the deal. This means that it is a necessity to be honest and fair to all parties and to state the terms of this new relationship right up front. These terms are explained and made clear during the catechumenical period.

Personally,I am thoroughly convinced that these two understandings of the Orthodox Church are 100% true and accurate. I believe that the Orthodox church possesses the fullness of the faith brought to earth by our Lord, passed down to the apostles, taught to the church fathers, and retained and fought for by the undivided church of the first millennium, and I am also convinced that there is no telling what a person outside of her fold believes. Consequently, the catechumens te is essential for for everyone who desires to enter the Orthodox church, even one who has an M. Div.

What makes this difficult for westerners is a twofold problem. The first is a battle with ego, in that battle we hear a voice tell us that tells us that we may be part of a deficient Christianity; this wounds our ego deeply. In other words, the reality that the Orthodox Church possesses the fullness tells me that my Christianity may be deficient, and that’s not something I want to tell myself about myself. In fact, I want to tell myself that I am right and others are wrong (that is theego’s job).

The second problem is that this one voice of the church strips us of our individual ability to decide right from wrong apart from the whole church. This western pattern of ours began when the Pope of Rome broke away from the Orthodox Church because he wanted to make his own decisions, and later this approach multiplied with the protestant reformation, when everyone was told that they must decide what truth is all by themselves. However, the church Christ left the world knows nothing about teachings made by one person or one sect of the Church; it knows only one whole faith, without deviation at any point.

I for one know that I am self-deceived at many points, and I hope to learn how to decipher these delusions brought about by my ego. I also know that I desire nothing other than the faith of our Lord, the apostolic faith, the faith of the fathers, the faithof the undivided ecumenical church and her councils. Therefore, I gladly lay down my office, and sit at the church’s feet, as a little child, and begin this time in my life with a great big smile.