The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170827

ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

St. Paul gives us his doctrine of the “two laws” at work in the life of man.

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members…. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death…. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 7:14-8:17).

Every human being is confronted with these two possibilities of human existence. Either a person chooses life by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit – the “abundant” and “eternal life” given by God in creation and salvation through Jesus Christ – or the person chooses death. The whole pathos of human existence consists in this choice, whether a person is aware of it or not. Christian spiritual life depends on the conscious choice of the “way of life.” To “choose life” and to walk in the “way of life” is the way that man shows himself to be in the image and unto the likeness of God.

For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not merely a part of man, was made in the likeness of God… for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul, receiving the Spirit of the Father and the fleshly nature which was also molded after the image of God…the man becomes spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and unto the likeness of God.

Ask yourself, do I realize that I have been made in the image and unto the likeness of God?
If you don’t, why don’t you?
Think about it!

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170820

The first reading assigned for the 11th weekend after Pentecost is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:2-12). In the portion of his letter that we proclaim, Paul is asserting his right as Christ’s legitimate Apostle. Paul was being criticized for not using the rights of his apostolate. Some were concluding that his non-use of such rights was proof that he was not really an apostle. Paul lists, besides his freedom in matters of food and drink, two other apostolic rights that he freely renounced – marriage and support from the churches.

Paul defends himself against the Corinthians. He doesn’t let the attacks of others stop him from professing Jesus Christ. An important point.

Our second reading is a parable that Jesus uses to respond to Peter’s question: “Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” Jesus’ response to Peter is summed up with these words: “My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way (that you treat others) unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Probably the corner stone of all of Jesus’ teaching is summarized in these words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This means that we must always judge our interactions with an understanding of how we treat others and, if they don’t treat us in the way we expect, we forgive them. Why? Because they don’t know what they are doing, according to Jesus. We are called to live in accord with our values and our beliefs and not base out actions on the actions of others.

We are called to embrace the Way of Jesus because we understand that it makes us truly the children of God. If we base the way we treat others on the way that they treat us, we are no better that them. We always treat others as we think God, in the Person of Jesus, would treat others. Again, this helps us grow as children of God. If we treat others as they treat us, we don’t grow as children of God.

This, I know, goes against the way our modern society lives. Too many people base their behaviors on the behaviors of others instead of on the basic values by which they have freely chosen to live.

A part of salvation is learning how to live by our beliefs. If we truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light, then we must freely chose to live in accord with His teachings and His way of living. We must choose to be children of God.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170820

I know that if you have been following this article you have come to realize that the “call to holiness” is many different things. First and foremost, however, the call to holiness is a call to a deeper union with God. Christian teaching tells us that there is a “possibility”, a “potentiality” of a “union” of man with God, of a direct “vision” of Him, of a “participation” in Him, through grace. For this to happen, however, humans must “cooperate” with God. Like all true relationships, there must be a mutual desire for real union.

Now we do know through the revelation make to humankind by Jesus, the Son of God, that God is always open for a real union with humans. So God Himself is never the real obstacle to deeper union. It is always humans who pose a barrier to greater union by their lack of trust and limited faith.

I do believe that it is difficult for Western Christians to develop real faith because of the approach we are schooled in to always seek real data – proof – for the things that we say we believe. As I always say to others, if I have proof about something I don’t have or need faith. I have faith when I believe in something that I cannot prove. Although Western Christians have tried to suggest that they can advance “proof” for God, these proofs are al-ways circular arguments and really don’t prove anything. And again, if I can prove God’s existence, why do I have to have faith? This approach only means that I have faith in my own ability to prove something and not faith in what I prove.

So the call to holiness is a call to have absolute faith in the existence of God and the relationship that He desires to have with humans.

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170820

I believe that for the Church, for the world, for mankind there is no more important, more urgent question to be asked that what is accomplished in the eucharist. In reality this question is mot natural to faith, which lives by the thirst for entry into the wisdom of truth, by the thirst for the logical (i.e., reasonable) service of God that manifests and is rooted in the divine wisdom. It is truly the question of the ultimate meaning and purpose of all that is real, of the sacramental ascent to where “God will be all in all,” and thus it is the question that, through faith, was constantly radiating as a mysterious burning in the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But that is exactly why it is so important to liberate this urgent question, to cleanse it of everything that obscures, diminishes and distorts it, and this means, first of all, those “questions” and “answers” who depravity lies in the fact that instead of explaining the earthly through the heavenly, they reduce the heavenly and

the other-worldly to the earthly, to this own “human, only human,” impoverished and feeble “categories.”
Indeed, with the summons “Let us stand aright. Let us stand in awe. Let us be attentive to offer the holy oblation in peace,” (the beginning of the Anaphora) we actually do enter into the “chief” part of the Divine Liturgy. But it is chief in relation to its other parts, and not in isolation and separation from them. It is chief because in it the entire liturgy finds its fulfillment, everything that it witnesses to, that it manifests, to which it leads and ascends. It begins that sacrament of anaphora (The deliberate repetition of a words or phrases – in this instance the repetition of words of Jesus), that would be impossible without the sacrament of the gathering, the sacrament of offering and the sacrament of unity, but in which – and precisely because it is the fulfillment of the entire liturgy – we are given the understanding of the sacrament that surpasses all comprehension but, nevertheless, manifests all and explains all. It is precisely this “relation,” the wholeness and unity of the eucharistic celebration, that we are reminded of, that we turn our spiritual attention to when the clergy summons us to “stand aright,” to “stand straight” or even to “be good.”

The Divine Liturgy, which is the work of the Church (i.e., people and clergy working together), truly is more than just the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
More to follow!

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170820

ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

Man, according to the scriptures, is created “in the image of God”. To be like God, through the gift of God, is the essence of man’s being and life. In the scriptures it says that God breathed into man, the “Breath [or Spirit] of life”. This teaching has given rise to the understanding in the Eastern Church that man cannot be truly human, truly himself, without the Spirit of God. Thus St. Irenaeus (3rd century) said in his well-known saying, that “man if body, soul and Holy Spirit.” This means that for man to fulfill himself as created in the image and unto the likeness of God – that is, to be like Christ Who is the perfect, divine, and uncreated Image of God – man must be the temple of God’s Spirit. (An aside. This is why the Eastern Church always talks about humans being a three-part composite: body, soul and Spirit. It was only in the west where humans were defined as body and soul. This is also why I believe that Freud came up with his tri-part division of the mind: Id, Ego and Superego).

If man is not the temple of God’s Spirit, then the only alternative is that he is the temple of the evil spirit. There is no middle way. Man is either in an unending process of life and growth in union with God by the Holy Spirit, or else he is an unending process of decomposition and death by returning to the dust of nothingness out of which he was formed, by the destructive power of the devil. This is how the Eastern Church’s spiritual tradition interprets the “two ways” of the Mosaic law: “I call heaven and earth to witness… that I have set before you life and death… therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for that means life to you” (Dt 30:19-20).

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170820

In discussing the formation of the New Testament (NT), one has to search the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Tradition, which is conveyed by the writings of the Fathers, gives us the context in which the NT was formed. Indeed, patristic citations and lists of books are the two main criteria for judgment of the canon. Yet neither criterion is totally satisfactory. For instance, when Clement of Rome, or Ignatius, or Polycarp cited a book that ultimately was recognized as canonical, just what authority was he giving to this book, since we do not know that the concept of either a NT or a canon was yet formulated? Past discussions simply assumed that these early Fathers had a concept of canonical and non-canonical. And, indeed, even later when there was a concept of a NT, we find strange phenomena in patristic citations. Origen cited 2 Peter at least six times. Yet in his canonical list, he doubted whether 2 Peter should be included. In other words, even a 3rd century, patristic citation of a book ultimately accepted as canonical does not mean that the Father thought it canonical. On the other hand, absence of a citation of a NT book (e.g., during the 2nd century) does not necessarily mean that the Fathers did not know the book or did not consider it of value. There would be little occasion to cite some of the shorter NT works like Philemon and 2-3 John.

We know from history that some apocryphal gospels, epistles and acts received acceptance for a certain period. Such sub-apostolic writings as 1-2 Clement, Didache, Hermas and Barnabas, continued to be considered as Scripture even into the 4th and 5th centuries. Codex Alexandrinus had 1-2 Clement. One can discern why such work were highly valued. Many of them bore names of disciples of the apostles (e.g., Barnabas was a friend of Paul; Clement was thought to be the Clement mentioned in Philemon 4:3 and a successor of Peter at Rome. Moreover, very early sub-apostolic works like 1 Clement and Didache, may well have been written before a NT work like 2 Peter. The real difficulty is not why such works were thought of as canonical, but why the Church did not finally accept them as canonical.

Hopefully my readers are beginning to see that a fundamentalistic approach to the NT is not really possible.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170820

Gregory lays down a crucial principle in his biblical analysis of Proverbs 8:22, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his ways with a view to his works.” Many early Christian exegetes (scholars who study the meaning of biblical texts) saw this text as pointing to the divine Word, “the true Wisdom.” If so, the text appears to text appears to teach that the Son was created, a problem for all who would affirm his timeless, eternal nature. Gregory solves the difficulty by teaching that when biblical texts such as Proverbs speak of the Son as caused or created, they are referring to the economy/dispensation of salvation. The Son, God’s Wisdom, is sent by the Father “with a view to his works,” that is, “our salvation.” Thus, those texts in which we find the Son described as caused or created “we are to refer to the humanity [assumed by the Son], but all that is absolute and unoriginate we are to reckon to the account of his Godhead.

So you see that when the Church, inspired and guided by God’s Spirit, came to the understanding that Jesus was God incarnate, they had many different issues to address. How can a timeless, eternal God come into time? So did Christ, the Word, always have a human nature?
What of those texts in which the Son is described as a servant? Can one who is truly God rightfully be described in such a fashion? Yes, Gregory replies, if the Son’s service is linked to his incarnation, “to birth and to the conditions of our life with a view to our liberation, and to that of all those whom he has saved, who were in bondage under sin.”

One by one Gregory leads his audience through the biblical verses that might pose a problem and, at first glance, appear to threaten Christ’s deity. The basic underlying principle remains the same. Some texts highlight “that nature which is truly unchangeable and above all capacity of suffering,” and others center on Christ’s “passible humanity…. This, then, is the argument concerning these objections, so far as to be a sort of foundation and memorandum for the use of those who are better able to conduct the inquiry to a more complete working out.”

All of this is intended to help you, my readers, focus on “Who You Think Jesus Christ is?”

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170820

This weekend, as I had indicated in the Bulletin last week, we also celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. It is a Marion Feast and, because it is our predominant celebration we still include the resurrection of Christ. We only include this feast in our weekend celebration so that we can celebrate it as a community. Why even do this? The feasts of Mary reinforce what we know about human life through the feasts of Jesus. The Church has purposely established six major feasts of Mary so that we know that what God revealed through Jesus is for both men and women. The Jesus message is for both men and women.

The problem is that we continue to use “masculine” language to express the meaning of God’s revelation through Jesus. Why? Because Jesus was a male. So, desirous that there be no confusion about the message, the Church also highlights the events in the life of Mary which are parallel events to the life of Jesus. Again why? So that there is no doubt whatsoever that God’s message is for both women and men.
This feast has elements of both “death” and “resurrection.” This feast is about the “death” and “resurrection” of Mary, a woman. Although I would agree that the Church seems to be male centered, the structure of our worship, that is the feasts, would tell us that the Church desires to assure us that men and women are equal in God’s Kingdom and that the Jesus message is for all.

Mary, we quickly learn, through the worship of our Church, is God’s revelation and she represents what is true about us if we accept the revelation of God through Jesus. Jesus does not reveal what is true only about men. He reveals what is true about all humans. Mary is the proof of this revelation.

So the Dormition of Mary reveals that, even though our human bodies will go through decay, our souls, spirits and personalities will continue after physical death. The small child that Jesus holds in the icon of the Dormition is the “ESSENCE” of Mary – her soul and her person. Just as her soul and person go into eternity, so it is true about us.

This, of course, is why our Church celebrates the Dormition of Mary as a major feast. It tells us that Who We Are continues forever in the life of God because this is what God revealed through Jesus, the Son! Just as Jesus reveals the existence of eternal life, so does Mary.

 

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170813

The first reading this weekend is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (4:9-16). In this passage Paul contrasts, with biting irony, the humiliations and sufferings of the apostles with the smugness of the Corinthians who, in forming factions, make pretense of a spiritual superiority over their fellow Christians.

Every supernatural and natural quality by which they may be distinguished is God’s gift. The Corinthians have lost the sense of their own indigence and spiritual poverty that is the basic disposition of the true Christian. They behave as though they have already reached the summit of perfection and are reigning in the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostles, on the contrary, have been made a spectacle of all the universe, like the basest of men, criminals condemned to die in the games of the arena.

From biting sarcasm Paul turns to tender pleading. He spoke sharply to bring about the amendment of the faction-split community. A father has a duty to correct his children and Paul has a relationship to the Corinthians not shared by any other preacher. He has begotten them in Christ.

Our second reading, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, retells the story of Christ curing a possessed boy whom His apostles were unable to cure. It is important to note that the boy’s father first brought the child to the Lord’s Apostles, believing that they had the power to cure the boy.

After the Lord cures the boy, the apostles ask Him why they could not cure the boy. Jesus’ response was: “Because you have so little trust…. I assure you, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed…. Nothing would be impossible for you.”

Trust is the most important sentiment we must develop if we are to have a true relationship with God. We must trust that He will never do anything to hurt us or punish us and that He will always be there to help us go through the struggles of life.

How do I learn how to trust God? By refusing to think of Him as a God who is without compassion for me in my struggles – by refusing to believe that His love is conditional. Our God unconditionally loves us and there is nothing we can do that will change His unconditional love.

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170813

As I think about the two great feasts that our Church celebrates in August, I am reminded that the call to holiness is a call to embrace a belief in (1) the fact that human life is a sharing in the life of God Himself, and (2) human life is eternal. The Fathers of the Church based their belief in the Jesus message because of His wondrous Resurrection from the dead. Why? Because it helped them wipe out one of humankind’s greatest fears, the fear of death.

So the call to holiness is a call to not fear death but, rather, to truly see it as a means of experiencing eternal life and growing in our union with our Creator. People only fear death because they don’t know what comes after earthly life. We know, through faith, that there is life after death and so, if we believe, we do not fear it as people do who have no faith.

People ask me how I can believe in life-after-death when I have no proof. If I had proof, I wouldn’t need to believe. I have something greater, FAITH IN A LOVING GOD.