Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140112

To the third century, if not earlier, may be traced the roots of that symbolic interpretation of the Liturgy which was to become an integral part of the Byzantine tradition. The third-century Alexandrian theologian Origen, building upon an earlier tradition, developed a theology of the Christian mystery which profoundly influenced subsequent Eastern theology. The mystery is the reality of salvation, made present in a visible sign which both reveals and conceals it. Origen applies this sacramental principal to the whole of the Christian economy. Christ himself is the fundamental Christian mystery in whom God and man are united, so that the divinity is both concealed by the humanity, yet revealed by it to those who have eyes to see. Those who have faith see humanity, but believe in the God who indwells it.
The mystery who is Christ is presented to us in the Scriptures, the Church, and the mysteries/sacraments. In all three the literal, outward and apparent reality conceals an inner spiritual reality. We must learn to see in the letter of Scripture the spirit, in the Christian community the incarnate Word, and in her visible rites and ceremonies the saving activity of God.
I believe this is a very important point. In the Scriptures, if we truly take to heart what is written, we find the way to live, the spirit we must attempt to interject into all of our interactions with others. In the community we must come to see Christ. It is the second school (the first being the family) that we have to learn how to live like Jesus lived. The Christian community should teach us how to treat others so that when we go out into the world we can treat others like Jesus treated the people He encountered.
The eucharistic banquet is a symbol of the union of the soul with the divine Word of God, and prefigures the perfect union to which we look forward at the end of time. But the different aspects of the rite also have symbolic value, as well as the whole. The altar, for instance, is the symbol of our interior worship; the smoke of the incense represents the prayers offered by a pure conscience; the priest is a symbol of the apostles and the kiss of peace expresses genuine love. For Origen the Christian rite fulfills its prefigurations in the Old Testament, expresses the spiritual worship we are meant to offer now, and is the image and anticipation of the worship of heaven. But all this requires that those taking part in the rite be initiated into its true significance, which does not lie on the surface

Sunday January 12, 2014

At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, call You His “beloved son” and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You.

This weekend continues our celebration of the feast of Theophany. It is perhaps the greatest of the various manifestations God has made of Himself to humankind. It is the event that began Jesus’ ministry and, since we see Him as our Teacher and Master, we embrace with faith what it  reveals to us.
What does it reveal? It reveals to us that God, when he created humanity, did have an understanding of how humans should think and behave in order to understand the meaning and purpose of life on earth. It did reveal that this earthly existence is, in effect, a place where we can learn how to be spiritual, human beings.
How do we know this? Our reading    today from St. Matthew’s Gospel states this: From that time on Jesus began to proclaim this theme: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  So our earthly existence is all about learning how to be the spiritual-human beings that God intended when He created us.
This idea is reinforced by the message we receive from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. He states: Each of us has      received God’s favor in the measure in which Christ bestows it….till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son.” When we become one in faith and knowledge of God’s Son, we begin to understand how to live and learn how to be God’s children. God the Father called Jesus, the God-man, His beloved Son. In saying this God revealed to us that we  humans are His beloved children – sons and daughters – and He has brought us into existence at this time in order to: (1) complete His creation, and (2) allow us the greatest opportunity to spiritually grow.
It is my sincerest belief that each of us is born at a particular point in time and have certain people enter into our life for the purpose of helping us spiritually     develop our ability to be God’s children.
In the Divine Liturgy we articulate our understanding that God the Father so loved His world that He gave His Son so that the whole divine plan concerning us could be completed. The whole divine plan concerning us is this: We are given various opportunities in life and various people in order to help us come to a       true understanding of the meaning and        purpose of life. We believe that God wills all of us to come to the fullness of life and we believe that He has done everything possible, even coming into the world in the Person of His Son Jesus, to help us come to this understanding. His only    desire is that we might come to know Him as our loving and caring Father.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140112

As many have surmised, I have been encouraging through this article the practice of the presence of God as a means to become a vibrant Christian and, therefore, help the community to become a vibrant parish. This practice is one of the oldest approaches used by the Eastern Church to promote spirituality. It is an approach that promotes an awareness of God within and also interior peace. It is only in quiet that we can hear God speak to us and to sense His presence.
One author suggests that perhaps this is the reason God makes silences in every life: the silence of sleep, the silence of sickness, the silence of sorrow, and then the last great silence of death. One of the      hardest things in the world is to get little children to keep still. They are in a state of perpetual activity, restless, eager, questioning, alert. And just as a mother says to her child, “Be still,” and hushes it to sleep that it may rest, so God does sooner or later with all of us. What a quiet, still place the sick room is! What a time for self-examination! What silence there is in a house where a loved one has died! How the voices are hushed, and every footstep soft. Had we the choosing of our own affairs we would never have chosen such an hour as that; and yet how often it is rich in blessing. All the activities of our years may not have taught us quite so much as we learned in the silences of sickness, sorrow and death. So God comes, in his irresistible way, which never ceases to be a way of love, and says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”:
It must be understood that silent prayer cannot stand alone. It is intimately related to public worship. As one of the saints said, “There can be no closet prayer without common prayer.” It is common prayer that gives us the inspiration and enthusiasm to practice closet prayer.
What the Church hopes will happen is that when we come together for common prayer we will be motivated to continue that prayer at home during the rest of the week. The Divine Liturgy should inspire us, since it reminds us that we are joined to God and others in the common bond of life, to pray in private and continue  experiencing the presence of God.

Formulate a goal today!

Have you set any goals for the new year? I do think that it is important that we set, in particular, spiritual goals for the coming year. When we do this we are reminded that there is truly nothing more important than our spiritual growth. To do this will help you to become serious about your faith and spiritual life.

Think about this! Our faith tells us that life is immortal and that we will live forever and that how we spend the future is dependent upon what we learn during this lifetime. So, can we ever be too concerned about our spiritual life? Think about it.
Formulate a goal today!

Athanasius of Alexandria – 20140112

In a discussion of the idea of Theosis in the Bible, based largely on Maximos the Confessor, Jaroslav Pelikan (a noted author on the Eastern Church), points out that the idea goes beyond individual passages of Scripture. He writes:

The purpose of the Lord’s Prayer was to point to the mystery of deification. Baptism was “in the name of the life-giving and deifying Trinity.” When the guests at the wedding in Cana of Galilee … said that their host had “kept the good wine until now,” they were referring to the Word of God, saved for the last, by which men were made divine. When, in the Epistles of the same apostle John, “the Theologian,” it was said that “it does not yet appear what we shall be,”: this was a reference to “the future deification of those who have now been made children of God.” When the apostle Paul spoke of “the riches” of the saints, this, too meant deification.”  

Even when the objection is raised that often these texts are taken out of context, exegetes are not overly concerned. Even nowadays, Eastern theologians feel much more comfortable with the idea of  the   spiritual interpretation of Scripture.
Eastern theology is lived theology rather than analytical speculation. In fact, definite limits are set on human inquiry into things divine by apophatic theology, very characteristic of Eastern theology, that proceeds mainly by negation.
Apophetic theology is an approach to the study of God which proceeds by saying what God is not. It is an approach which believes that we can never truly know who God is, since comprehension of Him is truly beyond the capacity of our understanding. We can only, with any true assurance, say what He is not (example: God is not limited – He is beyond any limitations).
What theology is able to say about God and God’s dealings with humanity are mainly what these things are not rather than what they are.
The idea of theosis permeates much of the liturgy and prayer life in the Eastern Church. A good example is the Canon for Matins of Holy Thursday in which the church confesses in its worship: “In my kingdom said Christ, I shall be God with you as god.” The ancient liturgy of St. James proclaims:

Thou has united, O Lord, Thy divinity with our humanity and our humanity with Thy divinity. The life with our mortality and our mortality with They life; Thou hast received what was ours and has given unto us what was Thine, for the life and salvation of our souls, praise be to Thee in eternity.

For me personally, the Eastern approach is much more acceptable. Think about this! How presumptive of humanity to think that it can, in some way, define God. Our western society, because of the scientific approach, seems to need to define God. Let us not presume to know Who God IS. Let us praise Him!

The Spirituality Of the Christian East – 20140112

Christ is the new and true Adam of mankind, the head of the body of the Church. The Pauline affirmation of the Body of Christ is found frequently in patristic texts. Cabasilas summarized the tradition when he wrote that “We are joined to him in the same body and share his life and are his members.”  Then, Cabasilas also added a new expression: Christ is the heart of the mystical body, the intimate principle of the life forces of the Church and each individual Christian.
You will recall that it was Paul who first conceptualized the Church as the Body of Christ extended in time with Christ being the head and members of the Church the members of the body. In and through the Firstborn of all creation (Christ Jesus) the sanctification of the world ultimately results in the unity of the created order. The Fathers called this last state the final restoration of things, an idea which may be explained by the simple statement of Irenaeus: “In him, all became one’.
Think back on Sophronius’ Prayer for the Great Blessing of Water that we just prayed on Theophany. What the prayer says, in effect, is that all things have been made anew and united through the incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. We are joined together with all created things in worshipping Almighty God.
Maximus the Confessor often pondered and wrote about the consequences for the world of the victory of Christ over the forces of    disunity. For him, ’Christ is the center where all lines converge.’ True Byzantine church architecture places an icon of the Pantocrator (the creator of all things) in the very center of the church where it is seen as the center of all the other iconography and of the cosmic orb.
Eastern theology thinks of Christ as the principle of unity. The incarnation of God sustains the universe so that it does not collapse.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140105

CaptureIn this article I have been sharing ideas about how to practice the presence of God, an extremely important practice if we are to become vibrant Christians and, therefore, assisting our parish to become a vibrant community. Practice the presence of God by placing yourself deliberately before God every day in your prayers and especially during the Divine Liturgy, by praying the Jesus Prayer many times during the day, by wakefulness and inner attention to each word you pray, and by shutting the doors of the senses to be alone with God for a few minutes each day. It is by practicing the presence that the presence becomes real.
Recently a successful businessman shared with me his secret for preventing tensions (I have found that many high-powered businessmen, even men who are not religious, practice moments of meditation through-out the day to relieve tension). He needed to be renewed at least twice a day, he said, so he had a short period of meditation at 10 and 3 o’clock. This did not take the usual form of prayer for he did not think about his problems but dwelt upon God’s power and peace. He placed himself deliberately in God’s presence: he thought of the spiritual strength of Christ flowing into him. He reported that those few minutes a day spent practicing God’s presence resulted in complete renewal of energy and clarity of mind. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on three” (Isaiah 26:3)
“Close your cell door to your body, the door of your lips to words, the interior door to spirits. Hesychia is worship and uninterrupted service to God” (St. John Climacus).
Like a person in a telephone booth with the door open, we are bombarded daily by the many conflicting voices of the crowd. What we need is to close the door on the crowd daily and listen top the voice of God Who is trying so hard to speak to us.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for modern people to do is to become interiorly still. We usually have the radio or television playing and people around us, or we ourselves, are constantly talking on cell phones. We have to learn how to hear God speaking to us, knowing  that He does if only we believe.

A Look at the New Testament – St Paul – 20140105

In the major cities there were a number of Gentiles who were strongly attracted to Judaism but who were unwilling to convert to Judaism. Known variously in ACTS and other ancient sources as God-fearers, God-worshipers and God-lovers, they were Gentiles involved in but still on the fringe of Judaism. They often attended synagogue services and thus knew quite a bit about Judaism, its scriptures, rituals, festivals, yearnings and vision. Some became benefactors. No doubt they had Jewish friends. But the men did not get circumcised and households may or may not have observed Jewish food and purity laws.
That Gentile God-lovers were Paul’s primary audience not only is affirmed by ACTS and implied in his letters, but also makes good sense. The Gentiles to whom he had the most immediate access were the God-lovers whom he would find in synagogues. So when Paul arrived in a new city, he went first to the synagogue – not because his mission was to convert Jews, but because Gentile God-lovers would be there.
Paul sought to enlist these God-lovers into communities of Christ-followers either by creating a new community in that city or by integrating them into an existing community. Christian groups existed in some cities before Paul got there, including Ephesus and Rome. In others, they were Paul’s creation.
Other then synagogues, the other context in which Paul encountered  Gentiles was in his work. Paul supported himself by tent-making, an umbrella term that included making awnings, in great demand in the Mediterranean world, and perhaps more generally in making leather goods. Paul’s skill gave him great mobility and self-sufficiency. The basic tools could be carried in a waist bag. He could travel light and find a job in any significant city. No doubt Paul met some of his Gentile converts while working next to them in a shop.
This understanding of Paul’s audience should affect our image of how Paul preached Jesus. Because of modern images of preaching, we tend to think of Paul standing in front of a crowd, large or small, and proclaiming the Gospel. ACTS sometimes portrays Paul this way; he preaches in synagogues and even in a theater filled with 20,000 people. But it is unlikely that Paul preached in synagogues or to crowds of strangers who were completely unfamiliar with Judaism. What would his message, which make so much use of Jewish language and tradition, have meant to Gentiles who knew nothing abo0ut Judaism?
We need to imagine Paul’s approach as much more conversational. This, I believe, is essential if we are to come to a true understanding of Paul and of his writings, ministry and preaching.

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140105

The Orthodox attitude to the Papacy is admirably expressed by a twelfth-century writer, Nicetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia:
My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office. How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman   Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves.’
That was how an Orthodox felt in the twelfth century, when the whole question had come out into the open. In earlier centuries the Greek attitude to the Papacy was basically the same, although not yet sharpened by controversy. Up to 850, Rome and the east avoided an open conflict over the Papal claims, but the divergence of views was not the less serious for being partially concealed.
The second great difficulty was the Filioque. The dispute involved the words about the Holy Spirit in the NiceneConstantinopolitan Creed. Originally the Creed ran: ‘I believe … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and together glorified. This, the original form, is recited unchanged by the east to this day. But the west inserted an extra phrase ‘and from the Son’ (in Latin, Filioque), so that the Creed now reads ‘who proceeds from the Father and the Son’. It is not certain when and where this addition was first made, but it seems to have originated in Spain, as a safeguard against Arianism. At any rate the Spanish Church interpolated the Filioque at the third Council of Toledo (589), if not before. From Spain the addition spread to France and thence to Germany, where it was welcomed by Charlemagne and adopted at the semi-iconoclast Council of Frankfort (794). It was writers at Charlemagne’s court who first made the Filioque into an issue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original form.

The Great Schism is truly fascinating, lbeit, sad history and we are still living it.

Iconography and Worship

Till the fourth century portraits of Christ were rare. The earliest iconographic representations seem to have been of the apostles, especially of Peter and Paul, though Christ was shown in scenes from the Gospels.  Towards the end of the third century there appeared a kind of collective     portrait of Christ seated among the apostles, an image based on a common classical form depicting the teacher and his disciples, or a group of learned men gathered round their leader.
There is little doubt that Christians followed contemporary practice in having funerary portraits painted of distinguished church members. These portraits showed the bust of the person, facing forward, often enclosed within a medallion. There may have been some reserve on the part of the church leaders towards these images in the early centuries, for fear of idolatry. But when the pagan ancestor cult was  declared illegal at the beginning of the fifth century such portraits of saints survived to become portable icons