The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170730

Eastern Christian spirituality is indeed centered in God; in fact, its very goal is communion with God, which is, it is believed, attainable through the accomplishment of His will. We clearly see this in the life of Jesus. He truly accomplished the Father’s will by revealing to humankind how to live this earthly existence. His primary task was to model how to live as a human being and how to deal with the various challenges of life. Jesus did this in a most superb manner. He showed us how to be what God wants us to be and to do what God wants us to do. Of course this requires us to believe that life puts us in the exact place we need to be in order to accomplish the task of becoming more like Jesus. It also means that God has willed to give us the exact combination of strengths and, of course, weaknesses to grow.

In the New Testament, the first letter of St. Peter refers to this fundamental command of God. He is attributed as saying: “…as He who called you is holy, be holy yourself in all your conduct; since it is written, ’You shall be holy, for I am holy.” That human beings should be holy by sharing in the happiness of God Himself is the meaning of union with God. We all are called “to be saints by becoming “partakers of the nature of God”. This is what Jesus meant when He said in His sermon on the mount, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now we know that we truly cannot achieve, in this lifetime, the goal of being perfect as the Father, but we can, at least, be engaged in trying to become like His perfection as found in the God-Man Jesus. This is accomplished by attempting to do the will of God. And His will is that we personally transform ourselves.
What Do You Think?

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 201707030

TOPIC: Theology of Liturgy
By Len Mier

Thy Kingdom Come: Social Justice and Salvific Outlook in the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great Part 3

This is a continuation of the thoughts that Len had on the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great.

Mystical Supper

St Basil goes on to tell of salvation’s history that “when the fullness of time had come, you spoke to us through your own Son, the very one through whom you created the ages. Although he is the reflection of your glory and the express image of your person, sustaining all things by his powerful word… that he emptied himself taking on the form of a slave…that he might conform us to the image of his glory.” (Catholic et al., 2006)

St Basil finishes his recounting of salvation history with the consecration of the Eucharistic elements into the Divine Body and Blood of our Savior. This culminates with the anamnesis where we remember all that He has done for our salvation, making the moment real for us at the present time.

From this point forward in the anaphora, the intercessions, the focus begins to beseech God in prayer for blessings and care for all mankind. This portion of the anaphora starts out, “Rather, may we obtain mercy and grace together with all your saints who have pleased you since time began.”(Catholic et al., 2006) If we are to believe that we are transformed by the Eucharist lying on the altar, which we are to receive, then we must believe that we are called to give mercy and favor to those around us. St Basil goes on to list in much detail those things we need to do and people for whom we are to pray.

“These petitions are cosmic, ecclesiological, and eschatological in focus as they concern ‘All of God’s creation, all salvation, all fulfillment.’ It is within such a spiritually profound context that particular people prepare to commune in and with a Body much larger than themselves in a fashion that should transform every dimension of their life and world.”(LeMasters, 2015)

Likewise hearing those petitions we are called to do the things for which we pray. By doing Philanthropia for our fellowman, just as God did for us, we are now transformed by the Eucharist we are to receive, we become transformed in to that which we partake. In fulfilling the petitions we just prayed we are bringing about salvation on this side of the Kingdom and making the other side of the Kingdom real and present. “In order to pray such socially charged petitions with integrity, the members of the Church must enact the very Philanthropia and compassion for which they give thanks and pray.”(LeMasters, 2015) We as believers are called to do what we pray in liturgy. This makes liturgy Philanthropia also.

As St Basil tells his listeners in his homily to the rich:

You showed no mercy; it will not be shown to you. You opened not your house; you shall be expelled from the Kingdom. You gave not your bread; you will not receive eternal life. (Schroeder, 2009)
St Basil called this the Philanthropia to others the same as the example of Christ’s Philanthropia and his kenotic self-emptying for the salvation of mankind as opening phrases in the anaphora state.

Conclusion
St Basil with his keen sense of care and concern for the poor developed a link between the ideas of salvation and the living out of Christian philanthropy. This is seen in his homilies, liturgy, and the Basiliad he established. By living out what we pray in St Basil’s anaphora we are called to share in God’s philanthropy to mankind by making present His kingdom here on earth through our philanthropy. If we are to become that God-like being through Theosis which is equated to salvation we must become philanthropic beings in the image of Christ as experienced in Eucharistic sharing of the liturgy. This sharing truly makes the Kingdom present in reality on both this side of the Kingdom and bringing forth that which is to come.

Brown, P. (2002). Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. Hanover, New England
[etc.]: University Press of New England.

Cabasilas, N., Hussey, J. M., & McNulty, P. A. (2010). A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy.
Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Press.

Catholic, C., Byzantine Liturgical, C., & Intereparchial Commission for Sacred, L. (2006). The
Divine Diturgy of our Holy Father Basil the Great. Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press.

Druzhinina, O. (2016). Ecclesiology of St. Basil the Great : a Trinitarian Approach to the Life of
the Church.

LeMasters, P. (2015). Philanthropia in Liturgy and Life: the Anaphora of Basil the Great and
Eastern Orthodox Social Ethics. St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 59(2), 24. Schroeder, C. P.
(2009). On Social Justice, St Basil the Great. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s
Seminary Press.

***************
Although we use St. Basil’s Liturgy mainly during the Great Fast (there are other times that is appointed that we do not observe), it is the Liturgy which St. John Chrysostom used to formulate the regular Liturgy that we use during the rest of the Liturgical year.
What is important to note, however, is that our worship of God should lead us to DO SOMETHING to make God’s Kingdom more real in our present world. Our worship should stimulate us to make every effort to make God’s Kingdom real in our world RIGHT NOW!
Think about it. The Eucharist is meant to not only draw us into some real “communion” or “union” with our fellowmen of our Parish Family through the power of the Holy Spirit, but also into communion with all of our fellowmen.
We don’t always think about the IMPLICATIONS of our worship. Our worship is meant to help us truly impact our “personal transformation”, helping us to become like Jesus.
Think about this!

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170730

I have, in this article, been exploring information about the Canon – that is the official collection – of the writings of the New Testament (NT). It is one of our beliefs that God’s Holy Spirit has guided the development of all things that pertain to the Church – the group of followers of Jesus – and the NT is no exception to this rule. The Johannine epistles may have been composed in the 90’s. They are the product of the same school of writing that produced the Gospel, but it is open to question whether they were written by the same Johannine disciple who produced the Gospel.
The epistle of James is a diatribe resembling the format of the Stoic diatribes; it was composed in the Jewish-Christian atmosphere and adapted to the form of a letter. It is a very difficult book to date on internal grounds, and the date traditionally given (the 60’s) is proposed on the basis of its claim to be the work of James, presumably the bishop of Jerusalem whose death occurred in the 60’s. Many modern scholars suggest pseudonymity; even in antiquity the question about the authorship of the epistle was raised, creating doubt about its canonical character.

The epistle of Jude, attributed to another brother of Jesus, is to be dated earlier than 2 Peter, for the latter copies from Jude with some very interesting theological editing. Here again, pseudonymity has been suggested; however, neither with James nor with Jude is there anything that would absolutely preclude the traditional authorship.

Eusebius, writing ca. 325, is the first to speak of the seven epistles called catholic. However, he himself was not sure of the canonicity of all of them, and general acceptance of the seven in the Greek and Latin churches did not come till the late 4th century. (We must remember that “catholic” in this context did not mean the Roman Church. The word catholic means “universal.”)

Of the seven catholic epistles, 1 Peter and 1 John were the first to receive general acceptance. Both seem to have been known by Papias and Polycarp. The Muratorian Fragment mentions two Johannine epistles; its omission of 1 Peter may be due to the poor preservation of the text of the Fragment. Origen accepted 1 Peter and a short epistle by John. These two appear in all subsequent lists.

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170723

Our first reading this weekend includes Paul’s exhortation to the Romans “to be patient with the scruples of those whose faith is weak.” He calls them to “please” their neighbors in order to build up their spirits. And then he even adds this sort of prayer: “May God, the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s advice, in essence, is to live like Jesus lived since that way of living increases your greater union with God. He says: “Accept one another, then, as Christ accepted you, for the glory of God.” We bring God glory when we live like He intended us to live. He has revealed to us how He intended humans to live. He gave us a model in the Person of Jesus. Like Jesus we are to love others as we love ourselves.

Our second reading, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, contains two of Jesus’ miracles, namely the curing of the two blind men and the curing of a possessed deaf-mute. The structure of this part of Matthew’s Gospel may be related to the theological development of the miracle. In this section he includes, in addition to the two miracles we hear about in today’s reading, the curing of the ruler’s daughter. The three miracles touch death, blindness and the loss of speech and hearing. Matthew’s intention is to present a comprehensive summary of the saving power of Jesus.

When you think about these two readings together, you realize that the message is twofold. When we attempt to live like Jesus we are cured of (1) any “blindness” that prevents us from seeing the world and ourselves as God sees us, and (2) any inability to “speak about” or “hear about” the love of God for us and all of His creation. I truly believe that something wonderful happens to us when we look at life in a manner that God does. Despite life’s challenges and struggles, we see the goodness in life and we understand that all the events of life are meant to help us spiritually grow and become more like Jesus – to become more aware of being God’s children, created out of unconditional love.

When we can truly state to ourselves that we know that God loves us, I believe we begin to find the meaning and purpose of life and also the beauty and wonder of life. Life becomes the joyful experience that God intends

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170723

Mystical Supper

In the last issue I began to raise the issue of when the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ – when Christ truly becomes present to us in the gifts of food, which represent human life.

The Western theologian’s of liturgy answer to this question is: at the moment when the priest pronounces the words of institution: this is my body… this is my blood. These words, for Western Catholics, constitute the “consecratory formula,” the formal, “necessary and sufficient” cause of the transubstantiation (changing of the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ). We, as Eastern Christians, reject this notion. Eastern Christians believe and affirm that the transformation is only accomplished through the Epiklesis, the prayer of the invocation of the Holy Spirit. These words immediately follow the words of Christ.

We must remember that we believe, as Eastern Christians, that God accomplishes all things in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Western Church established the reality of a “formula” by which the gifts are transformed because they envisioned a hypothetical situation. What if a bishop/priest should die during the liturgy at the anaphora. How do you deal with the gifts. Are they transformed or not. So, they reasoned, if the Amen is said to the words of Jesus, whether for the bread or wine, then those gifts are transformed.

The Eastern Church believes that this is all a mystery of faith and we cannot pin down when God decides to act. She professes her belief that God always acts in the Son (because he has a human nature and therefore is connected to the world) THROUGH the Holy Spirit which represents the power of God. So the Eastern Church states that she doesn’t know when the transformation takes place but she believes it can only happen after we (1) pray to the Father, (2) remember the words of the Son, and (3) invoke the Holy Spirit.

This approach, as you might guess, is in line with the Eastern Church’s understanding of how the Creed was originally expressed. In the Eastern version which we use, both the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father. In the Western version, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

A fine point? It all amounts to how we think that God works, even though we (i.e., Eastern Church) profess that we don’t really know HOW GOD WORKS. This is supposed to be a mystery, beyond our understanding.

The Spirituality of the Christian East –20170723

Spirituality in the Christian East means the everyday activity of life in communion with God. The term spirituality refers not merely to the activity of man’s spirit alone, his mind, heart and soul, but it refers as well to the whole of man’s life as inspired and guided by the Spirit of God. Every act of a Christian must be spiritual, every word, every deed, every activity of the body, every action of the person. This means that all that a person thinks, says and does must be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit so that the will of God the Father might be accomplished as revealed and taught by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Doing all things to the glory of God is the meaning and substance of life for a human being. This “doing” is what Christian spirituality is about.

Christian spirituality is centered in God; in fact, its very goal is communion with God, which is really only attainable through the accomplishment of His will. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus. The Father wanted Him to reveal to us how to live life, which includes how to deal with suffering, betrayal, hatred and disappointment. We know, from the life of Jesus, how He dealt with these human experiences. He always took responsibility for His response to the experiences of life. He chose to love, when hated. He chose to forgive when betrayed. He chose to be kind when He
encountered others in need. He chose to accept those who were rejected.

We all have the power to choose how we react to the experiences of life. One of the lessons that life calls us to be “master” is our own responses to the events of life. Our feelings are our feelings and no one can make us feel what we feel!

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170723

I have been sharing information about the “CANON” of the New Testament. In modern times, when the problem of authorship has been divorced from that of canonicity, the sharp distinction evident between the style of Hebrews and that of the Pauline writings has convinced most scholars that Paul was not the author. Catholic writers, influenced by the decree of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, have tried to protect the Paulinity of Hebrews by stressing that Paul used a scribe to write the epistle. Now, however, they are beginning to recognize that Hebrews probably has no real relation to Paul, other than that the author may have had some acquaintance with thought like Paul.

The same problem of authorship affects those epistles of Paul that are called the Catholic Epistles. Unless they were attributed to apostolic figures, there was reluctance to accept them.

In form 1 Peter is a treatise or even a homily associated with baptism (and perhaps with the paschal celebration) that has been adapted to the letter form – notice the continuing Christian preference for this genre. The work is purportedly written by Peter, and therefore a date before Peter’s death (ca 65” CE) has been traditional. Many non-Catholic scholars look upon the epistle as pseudonymous and suggest a later date. There are, however, no absolutely compelling reasons why either the traditional date or authorship must be rejected.

The problem with 2 Peter is much more difficult, for here we have a work that most critical scholars today, both Protestant and Catholic, recognize as clearly pseudonymous. The use of abstract theological language and the reference to a collection of Pauline letters suggest that this may well be the last of the canonical New Testament Books to have been written. Some non-Catholic scholars date it as late as 150 CE, but a date between 100 and 125 is quite tenable. The contention that the work must have been written before the death of the last apostle and the close of revelation implies an over-simplified view, not only of the close of revelation, but also of the apostles (a group wider than the Twelve).

So, as we can see, the New Testament, like other things in our religious history, is not as clear as we might expect. All this does, however, is call us to BELIEVE – to have faith. If everything was clear and without any confusion, we would not need faith. I would ask you: What is it that you do believe? Belief is not based on proof. It is based on what we accept!

CALLED TO HOLINESS — 20170723

I’m sure that if you have been following this article you have come to realize that the “call to holiness” is a call to become the person that God intended when He created you. It is a call to become a genuine human being who is making every attempt to grow in your likeness of God as seen in the Person of Jesus. It is a call to “put on Christ”, as we say during a person’s initiation into the Church.

I put on Christ when I make every effort to “think” and “act” like Jesus did when He was here on earth. I put on Christ when I begin to realize that this earthly life is given to me to learn how to unconditionally love others and myself.

Is this a challenge? It certainly is but there are no gains in life without certain challenges. Life’s challenges are meant to help us develop the courage, strength and fortitude to always place our trust in God regardless of how difficult the challenge might be.

One of the first steps we have to take, however, in this process is to become convinced that with God’s help we can truly accomplish this task. If you tell yourself you could never be more like Jesus, you never will. What we must say to ourselves is that: With God’s help I can accomplish the task of actualizing my potential to become more like God as seen in the Person of Jesus. God’s Spirit, which is within us, will give us the strength to accomplish what we desire to accomplish and believe we can accomplish.

One of the bad things about our society is that many have been fooled to think that “life is supposed to be easy”, that “pain is bad,” and that “challenges are bad.” This type of thinking paralyzes our spirits and keeps us from directing our attention to the task of spiritually growing and becoming the persons that God intended when He created us. Think about this!

Understanding Our Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church — 20170723

More on the second. With hands raised in prayer the Mother of God reminds us to Whom worship is due. It is the symbol of each Christian and also of the Church. It is the many forms of liturgy – the Divine Liturgy, Akathysts, Matins and Vespers –the prayers of a community of believers as well as personal prayers. It is the whole fabric of human existence at rest and at play, in daily tasks, in suffering and in celebration. All of these can become part of our prayer life if we so choose. As the Mother of God stands there in eternal prayer, she gives us Christians confidence of the closeness to Our Father, Who hears us and is merciful.

I have purposely spent more time on the meaning of the Annunciation in our Kyivan tradition, because it will help us make the necessary connections between liturgy and faith that was very obvious to the countless saints of the Kyivan Church, Orthodox and Catholic alike. Mary of the Sign focuses on Christ, the Messiah and Savior, and the Oranta reminds us of the centrality of worship to our Christian living.

From Images to Experience

The implications of the way Eastern theology sees the Annunciation are many. First of all it is liberating, because it recognizes all faculties of the human being — physical, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. And secondly, it places the invitation to holiness directly at the doorstep of personal discernment every time we confront life’s varied paths. Because thinking is a creative process, it is the real means to internalize Christ and His teachings in which liturgy through its prayer form is a soft spoken teacher. The saints show us how it is done.

The historical development of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from the Kyivan Church and before that from Byzantium can offer invaluable insight. Although it is a subject too large to be discussed here, suffice it to say, that the Kyivan aspect of our spirituality is a gold mine of spiritual wealth.

In the summer of 1999, the Sheptytsky Institute at the Mt. Tabor monastery in California concentrated on the homilies of the Kyivan Church. The participants were moved by the extent of the loving and merciful God permeating the homilies. At the same time they noted the absence of the fire-and-brimstone approach. And yet, the Church of Kyiv shows the tremendous commitment of her believers guided by their thought processes and discernment. It should be thought provoking for us today that so many of the ruling elite elected monastic life. Many women founded scriptoria for copying and disseminating books, herbaria for the healing arts, schools and so on. Besides St. Olha of the women saints of Ukraine, what do we know of Saints Irena, the wife of the Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, or Evfrozynia, the Princess of Polotsk, or of Paraskeviya, the sister of Prince Volodymyr Monomakh, or Anna also affectionately known as Yanka, daughter of the Kyivan Prince Vsevolod?

Truly, our Kyivan spirituality is a blend of Byzantine Spirituality with a touch of the Slavic experience.

FROM OUR DEACON CANDIDATE — 20170723

TOPIC: Theology of Liturgy
By Len Mier

Thy Kingdom Come: Social Justice and Salvific Outlook in the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great Part 2

Salvation as Theosis
The essential act in the celebration of the holy mysteries is the transformation of the elements into the Divine Body and Blood; its aim is the sanctification (salvation) of the faithful. (Cabasilas, Hussey, & McNulty, 2010)

Salvation is the mission of all mankind, its goal is to become one again with the Holy Trinity. This state is best described in the beginning of the book of Genesis that we are to be once again in the perfect image and likeness of God, or deification. This is also found in the writings of St Basil. “Through the ‘soul’s operations’ of ‘man,’ it is possible to deploy this potential and to develop it into likeness of God when ‘man’ becomes what he/she was supposed to be from the beginning of the world.”(Druzhinina, 2016)

Olga Druzhinina in her book Ecclesiology of St. Basil the Great: a Trinitarian Approach to the Life of the Church states clearly:

‘The mystery of salvation’ in St Basil’s thought is perceived as the gradual process of human education in which they are brought to perfection in their training for godliness where godliness is always connected to the love toward others.(Druzhinina, 2016)

Another dimension to Theosis and salvation is, “a life in communion with Jesus Christ will be characterized by generosity to the needy human beings in whom the Lord is present.”(LeMasters, 2015)

The anaphora: the basis for Philanthropia (Φίλάνθρωπίά)
St Basil’s liturgy as taken in my local parish setting does not do justice to the beauty and nature of this anaphora. Because of its length, many of the prayers are said in a quiet voice by the priest while the congregation sings their part of the liturgy, rendering the worshiper to read the anaphora to themselves or reading it outside of the actual liturgy in order to appreciate the meaning.

Paraphrasing Fr Schmemann, the predominate practice of the priest reading the prayers secretly in a voice inaudible to the people, often with the doors closed and curtain drawn, has the practical effect of the prayer being dropped from the church service. (LeMasters, 2015) It was only when reading the whole anaphora outside of the liturgy do you see the philanthropic and salvific themes emerge.

Liturgy in general tends to be separated from daily life for most Christians. We see liturgy as the work of the people only to worship God. This narrow view of liturgy can be reversed if we look at one line from one prayer in the liturgy. The line I am talking about is from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It has been stated, “There is a certain social ethic that is loaded into that phrase, when we remove the social aspect from liturgy we see a, ‘failure of correspondence between liturgy and ethics which amounts to an understandable separation between the sacred and the secular’. It is all too often true of Eastern Orthodoxy.”(LeMasters, 2015) This can be said of most liturgical Christian experiences.

Philanthropia is what St Basil was preaching in his homilies on social justice, the work of the people to see and care for the poor. The English word philanthropy is derived from this word and its understanding is clear to the modern reader. This Philanthropia is the strong social ethic that we as Christians must have for each other. This is the merging point of Christian ethics with that of liturgical theology.

Christian ethics is an ethics of the Great Supper because it is in eucharistic assembly, not in private prayer or study, that judgment, repentance, reconciliation, and God’s love are experienced in their full Kingdom signification.(LeMasters, 2015)

Beside St Basil, St John Chrysostom also spoke in terms of Philanthropia in his homily on Matthew 25:31-46, the last judgment, and in his homily on Second Corinthians, “The Hungry”.

It is a social order of simple living and care for one’s fellow man that St Basil envisioned in the Basiliad, his monasteries. Basil incorporated these themes into his anaphora, Petitions and prayers are not meant to be rhetorical exclamations poetic romanticisms, or supplications for God alone to hear; they are meant to penetrate man’s heart and mind and become impetus for agape in diakonia – love in practice. An invitation to the metamorphosis of the congregation as well as society.(LeMasters, 2015)

In the liturgy of St Basil he “unites thanksgiving and supplication throughout the liturgy in a way that proclaims God as supreme benefactor of the human race.”(Cabasilas et al., 2010)

From the very start of the anaphora we hear that we will “recount all your (God’s) mighty deeds in every age”(Catholic, Byzantine Liturgical, & Intereparchial Commission for Sacred, 2006) Basil in the anaphora elaborates God’s philanthropy to mankind in a recounting of those things He has done for us. Here is but a small list that St Basil gives us: the gift of filial adoption, the pledge of our future inheritance, and the First-fruits of eternal blessings given to us.

We are told that taking man from the earth formed him and honored him with your own image and placed him in paradise with the promise of immortal life and eternal blessings. God showed us the ultimate mercy after our own transgression of disobedience, and His banishing us from paradise and returning us to the earth from which we came. He provided us with salvation and rebirth in His Christ, not forsaking the work of his hands.

St Basil goes on to tell us God gave us the Law as an aid, and sent us servants and prophets to tell us of the salvation of which was to come.

(To be continued)