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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saving The Church

The New Testament presents the world with many truths, few however are of greater importance than a simple phrase uttered by Saint Paul to Saint Timothy when he said: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Tim 3: 14-15.

According to St Paul there is a conduct that is befitting for everyone who seeks a life of truth, and along with that conduct there is also one place where that life of truth must be lived out. The place serves as a container of truth and is none other than the church of the living God. According to St. Paul this true church is discernable by two traits: 1) Its unfailing perfection when it comes to doctrine or dogma (truth), and 2) its unfailing perfection holding up (pillar) that truth in word and deed throughout all of history. In other words, if a communion of Christians that call themselves the church are dogmatically wrong, or if they have ever faild  to hold up (pillar) that truth in word and deed from the time of Saint Paul until today, then that communion cannot be the what St. Paul calls the church. Why? Because the church according to the New Testament is the very body or incarnation of Christ by way of the Holy Spirit.  As the body of the Lord it cannot be anything other than turth at all times.

Nevertheless, this is an extremely problematic statement for the contemporary west where there are as many as 30,000 denominations (depending on how one numbers them) that call themselves churches. The plain fact is that each of these communions holds to different dogmas (dogmas), and many have not even been around for 100 years much less from the beginning.  This reality disqualifies them from what St paul is describing here.  Nevertheless, this simple truth seems to slip past most folks.  Instead, what we find in the west is a much more complex problem. It is true that most western Christians instictively see the errors in their churches, however, instead of realizing that this cannot be the church, and looking for the one church that has always been and always held on to the truth and is able to save them, they set out to save their church. In the west it is too often true that the individual is usually the savior of the church. Tom many Christians tell themselves, if only the church did this or that, or if only they beleived this or that then they would be a good church.

However, these words of Saint Paul insist that it is not us who save the church; rather it is the church that saves us.  She does not need to be rescued by us; we need to be rescued by her.  In fact, St paul tells Timothy that it is our conduct that neds to be shaped by her and for her. The Lord was serious when he promised that gates of Hades would not overcome his church (Mt 16: 18). The plain historical fact is that there is one body of Christ that existed from the beginning, has always possessed the truth, and still has it even now. It is this fact that drove the great 20th century Harvard historian Jaroslav Pelikan to her in his later years.

If we are to follow Saint Paul’s instruction we must ask ourselves what communion has always had the truth and never let go of it from St Paul’s time until today. Who could this church be? The Orthodox Church alone qualifies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Knowing vs. Being

St. Tikhon in his book, in the chapter on "The Gospel and Faith," says: "If someone should say that true faith is the correct holding and confession of correct dogmas, he would be telling the truth, for a believer absolutely needs the Orthodox holding and confession of dogmas. But this knowledge and confession by itself does not make a man a faithful and true Christian. The keeping and confession of Orthodox dogmas is always to be found in true faith in Christ, but the true faith of Christ is not always to be found in the confession of Orthodoxy... The knowledge of correct dogmas is in the mind, and it is often fruitless, arrogant, and proud... The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this." And he then quotes Blessed Augustine, who teaches: "The faith of a Christian is with love; faith without love is that of the devil" ("True Christianity," ch. 287, p. 469). St. James in his Epistle tells us that "the demons also believe and tremble" (James 3:19).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Orthodox Way of Life

The final goal of man is communion with God. The path to this communion has been precisely defined: faith, and walking in the Commandments with the help of God’s grace.

Saint Theophan the Recluse

The Orthodox way of life is not the normal way of life for most people in our society, yet, it is a most practical life for married people with families faced with the challenges of careers.  In fact, it is the way of living that will make your life less stressful and more meaningful. The purpose of life taught by the Apostles and the Church Fathers is one of finding union with God.  This is what the church means when it proclaims that Jesus came to save us and to open the gates of heaven for us.  He showed us how to live through His teaching and example. He showed us that we have nothing to fear in death. To begin, you must have faith in God and accept His love for you. With a little faith, you can begin to live the Orthodox way of life.

Below are 10 steps that will begin to open the door to the Orthodox way to you; they are taken from: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/TenPointProgram/TenPointProgram.html.

1. Praying Daily
Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.

2.Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments
Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.

3.Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church
Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of theChurch.

4.Using the Jesus Prayer
Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.

5.Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.

6.Being Watchful
Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.

7.Taming the Passions
Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn topractice the virtues.

8.Putting Others First
Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.

9.Spiritual Fellowship
Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.

10.Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers
Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Holy Thursday

On Thursday of Holy Week four events are commemorated: the washing of the disciples' feet,

The institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper,

The agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

Hymns of Holy Thursday

Troparion (Plagal Fourth Tone)

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!
Communion Hymn
Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hymns for Holy Wednesday

Exapostelarion of the Sacrament
In mercy, O Good One, cast Thine eyes upon the petitions of us who today are come together in Thy Holy Temple, to anoint Thy sick servants with Thine oil divine.

Troparion (Tone Fourth)
Thou who alone art a speedy succor, O Christ, manifest Thy speedy visitation from on high upon Thy sick servants; deliver them from their infirmities, and cruel pain; and raise them up again to sing praises unto Thee, and without ceasing, to glorify Thee; through the prayers of the Birth-Giver of God, O Thou who alone lovest mankind.

Since you have a fountain of healings, O holy Unmercenaries, you dispense cures to all in need, for you have been granted very great gifts from the ever-flowing wellspring of Christ our Savior. The Lord says to you who emulate the zeal of the Apostles, "Behold, I have given you authority over unclean spirits, so that you might drive them out and cure every disease and illness." Having truly lived according to His commandments, freely you received and therefore freely you give, healing the ailments of our souls and our bodies.

Look down, most pure Virgin upon the supplications of your servants, and crush the assaults of our enemies, delivering us from all affliction. You are the only sure and secure anchor that we have, and you are our protection. Never permit us who call upon you, our Lady, to be put to shame. Hasten to fulfill the entreaties of those who in faith cry to you: Rejoice, O Lady, helper of all, the joy and protection, and the salvation of our souls.

Prayer of the Oil
O Lord who, in thy mercies and bounties, healest the disorders of our souls and bodies, do Thou, the same Master, sanctify this Oil, that it may be effectual for those who shall be anointed therewith, unto healing, and unto relief from every passion, every malady of the flesh and of the spirit, and every ill; and that therein may be glorified Thy most Holy Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Holy Week Begins- by what authority?

  He was begotten—yet he was already begotten—of a woman. And yet she was a virgin. That it was from a woman makes it human, that she was a virgin makes it divine. On earth he has no father (Matt 1:20), but in heaven no mother (cf. Ps2:7). All this is part of his Godhead. He was carried in the womb (cf. Luke 1:31), but acknowledged by a prophet as yet unborn himself, who leaped for joy at the presence of the Word for whose sake he had been created (Luke 1:41). He was wrapped in swaddling bands (Luke 2:7, 12), but at the Resurrection he un-loosed the swaddling bands of the grave (cf. John 20:6-7). He was laid in a manger (Luke 2:7, 16), but was extolled by angels, disclosed by a star, and adored by Magi ( Matt  2:2, 7, 9-11).  Why do you take offense at what you see, instead of attending to its spiritual significance? He was exiled into Egypt (Matt 2:13-14), but he banished the Egyptian idols.

He had "no form of beauty" (Isa 53:2) for the Jews, but for David he was "fairer than the children of  men" (Ps 45:2), and on the mount he shines forth, be-coming more luminous than the Sun (Matt 17:2), to reveal the future mystery.(20) As a man he was baptized (Matt 3:16), but he absolved sins as God (John 1:29, Matt 9:2); he needed no purifying rites himself—his purpose was to hallow water. As man he was put to the test, but as God he came through victorious (Matt 4:1-11)—yes, he bids us to be of good cheer because he has conquered the world (John 16:33). He hungered (Matt4:2)—yet he fed thousands (Matt 14:20-21). He is indeed "living, heavenly bread" (John 6:51). He thirsted (John 19:28) yet he exclaimed: "Whoso-ever thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John7:37).

Indeed, he promised that believers would be-come fountains (cf. John 7:38). He was tired (John4:6)—yet he is the "rest" of the weary and the burdened (Matt 11:28). He was overcome by heavy sleep (cf. Matt 8:24)—yet he goes lightly over the sea, rebukes winds, and relieves the drowning Peter (Matt 14:25-32). He pays tax—yet he uses a fish to do it (Matt 17:24-27); indeed, he is emperor over those who demand the tax. He is called a "Samaritan, demonically possessed" (John 8:48)—but he rescues the man who came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves (cf. Luke 10:30).

Yes, he is recognized by demons (Luke 4:33-34), drives out demons (cf. Matt 8:16), drowns deep a legion of spirits (Mark 5:9), and sees a prince of demons falling like lightning (cf. Luke 10:18). He is stoned, yet not hit (John11:35); he prays, yet he hears prayer (cf. Mark 1:35; Matt 8:13). He weeps (John 11:35), yet he puts anend to weeping (cf. Luke 7:13). He asks where Lazarus is (John 11:34)—he was a man, yet he raisesLazarus (John 11:43-44)—he was God. He is sold, and cheap was the price—thirty pieces of silver (Matt26:15), yet he buys back the world at the mighty cost of his own blood (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pet 1:19). A sheep, he is led to the slaughter (Acts 8:32; Isa 53:7)—yet he shepherds Israel (Ps 80:1) and now the whole world as well (cf. John 10:11, 16). A lamb, he is dumb (Isa 53:7)—yet he is "word" (John 1:1), pro-claimed by "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness" (John 1:53). He is weakened, wounded (Isa53:5)—yet he cures every disease and every weakness (Matt 9:35).

He is brought up to the tree (1 Pet2:24) and nailed to it (cf. John 19:17)—yet by the tree of life he restores us (cf. Gen 2:9; Rev 2:7). Yes, he saves even a thief crucified with him (Luke 23:43); he wraps all the visible world in darkness (cf. Matt27:45). He is given vinegar to drink (Matt 27:48), gall to eat (Matt 27:34)—and who is he? Why, one who turned water into wine (John 2:7-9), who took away the taste of bitterness (cf. Exod 15:25), who is all sweetness and desire (Song 5:16). He surrenders his life, yet he has power to take it again (John10:17-18). Yes, the veil is rent, for things of heaven are being revealed, rocks split, and dead men have an earlier awakening (Matt 27:51-52).

He dies (Matt 27:50), but he vivifies (John 5:21) and by death destroys death (2 Tim 1:10). He is buried (Matt 27:60), yet he rises again (John 20:8-9). He goes down to Hades, yet he leads souls up (cf. Eph. 4:8-9), ascends to heaven (Mark 16:19), and will come to judge quick and dead (2 Tim 4:1) and to probe discussions like these. If the first set of expressions starts you going astray, the second takes your error away.

Gregory of Nazianzus- Third Theological Oration (para. 20).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Short Readings For Monday In The Sixth Week Of Lent.

            Thus says the LORD,

                        your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

            “I am the LORD your God,

                        who teaches you to profit,

                        who leads you in the way you should go.

            Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!

                        Then your peace would have been like a river,

                        and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;

            your offspring would have been like the sand,

                        and your descendants like its grains;

            their name would never be cut off

                        or destroyed from before me.”

            “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”

(Isaiah 48:17-19, 22 ESV)

            Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life;

                        he who despises his ways will die.

            Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,

                        and he will repay him for his deed.

            Discipline your son, for there is hope;

                        do not set your heart on putting him to death.

            A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,

                        for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.

            Listen to advice and accept instruction,

                        that you may gain wisdom in the future.

            Many are the plans in the mind of a man,

                        but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

            What is desired in a man is steadfast love,

                        and a poor man is better than a liar.

            The fear of the LORD leads to life,

                        and whoever has it rests satisfied;

                        he will not be visited by harm.

(Proverbs 19:16-23 ESV)