Archive | Meditations

Mission Monthly – July 2006

“It is no longer the moral, religious, spiritual condition of the people that is our concern, but their physical, practical economic conditions, as regulated by public laws. Thus is the Body-political more than ever worshipped and tendered; but the Soul-political less than ever.”

Thomas Carlyle, Signs of the Times, 1829

Look carefully at the date of this quote! It is almost two hundred years old and I am perplexed by what societal decline may have occurred in the early 19th century to call for such a report. I am also wondering what Thomas Carlyle would say about the world today!? What began with the Renaissance of the 13th century and intensified with the Enlightenment of the 18th century led to this early 19th century social commentary—of people becoming less concerned about their spiritual lives and more anxious about their physical lives. Sound familiar?

I was recently shown a new [to us] picture of my great-grandfather, the priest Anthony. It amazes me to look at this 100 year old picture. I am his descendent. His blood is in me. I am an inheritor of his life, yet I never knew this man. As a society we too can look at excerpts and pictures of history to catch a glimpse of our forefathers, their examples and what they stood for. We do this all time in the life of the Church as we are given the opportunity to remember each day a multitude of great and holy Saints! It would also be very good for us to study the history of social architects and the development of our Western society. We are inheritors of many things, not the least of which being how we have been formed as a society and how as individuals we think and act concerning “political” interests (meaning the policies of how things are done).

What is being discussed here are the policies of the soul and the policies of the body. Since our Lord Jesus Christ’s final words from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), life on earth has never been the same. Since the witness of the twelve Apostles has been preached, right believing followers of Jesus throughout the course of time have had a universal understanding of what “life in Christ” means. Simply put, Jesus came and established His Church which spread in a beautiful and influential fashion throughout the known world. This “Way” of life was intended to be the pathway leading all men to the Kingdom of God. The apostles and their successors were ordained for this purpose, and for the establishment of a conciliar voice witnessing to God’s continuing revelation and care for the souls of men. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, for over a thousand years, society was built upon this foundation of God’s love for His creation and through His Church “policies” were made to lead man in a heavenly direction.

These Christian policies included standards of belief and moral conduct which, by the 13th century and ever increasingly by the 18th century, were seen more and more as artificial restraints that only interfered with man’s pursuit of his own rational interests (and glory!). The first time I read the above quote a chill went through my body. It was a reminder of the [old] fire that rages in our society, raising what seems to be insurmountable forces and ideas that care virtually nothing for the soul and everything for the impulses of the body: what we eat, what we wear, what we feel, what tomorrow may bring. I am reminded of a telling bumper sticker I saw on our recent trip, “Religion ruled the world—it was called the dark ages.” Beloved, we have decisions to make—today. We all have been drawn into the policies of the body and are guilty of a great neglect of the policies of the soul. Today, with eyes wide open, it is easy to see how little societal care there is for the soul. The irony is that this lie has not brought us the physical, emotional, economic or legal freedom or security it has promised. It has only resulted in great confusion and, with a most profound sadness, a real loss of faith. What is needed is a renewed and urgent concern for the policies of the soul; and patience, with ourselves and each other, as we fight the good and necessary fight to restore our “soul” concern to its proper place.

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Mission Monthly – June 2006

“When the Spirit of God descends upon a man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then his soul overflows with a joy not to be described, for the Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever He touches. The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Many of us recognize the ending of this month’s meditation quote. Those who are familiar with St. Seraphim of Sarov have seen this statement (maybe with a slightly different translation) written on a scroll on many of his icons. It is often quoted by Orthodox priests and lay people when explaining the Orthodox view of evangelism—that is, evangelism begins with the witness of personal transformation. If I am trying to share my faith with someone and yet my life seems undistinguished and unaffected by the practice of that faith why would anyone care to listen to what I have to say?

Recently I came across this extended quote. It is the first time I recall seeing the greater context of St. Seraphim’s famous holy words. What is most striking is how “charismatic” this quote is. It is as charismatic as anything in Orthodox Christianity, and in fact I would argue that it is what true “charism” is! Most “cradle” Orthodox have no idea what (Protestant) “charismatic” Christianity teaches. I cannot say with any real certainty that I know much about this rather curious Christian denomination. One basic tenet I believe to be central to (Protestant) charismatic Christianity is the requirement of certain “spiritual gifts” as main indicators of one’s salvation, especially the “gift” of speaking in “tongues.” While I do not wish to raise more questions than I have answers for in this meditation this minimal background may help us to define words such as “charism” and “charismatic” in an Orthodox context.

This month we will be celebrating the Great Feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, fifty days after His Holy Resurrection. What was the purpose of this “coming?” Jesus Himself answered this question before it was even asked. The Holy Spirit will come to 1) bear witness to Jesus; 2) teach the disciples all things while bringing to remembrance all that Jesus said; 3) guide the disciples into all truth; 4) live IN His disciples (see St. John’s Gospel chapters 14-16). Nowhere in Jesus’ words do we hear anything about particular (or peculiar) gifts, especially as being “necessary” for one’s salvation.

St. Seraphim’s words provide great guidance and balance to what it means to be “charismatic.” Essentially every Orthodox Christian is a “charismatic” Christian! Anyone who has been to an Orthodox baptism or chrismation service knows that when anointing with Holy Chrism the priest proclaims, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit!” and the people answer back, “Sealed!” This “coming” of the Holy Spirit is the very same fulfilled promise which Jesus made to His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come and “be in you” (St. John 14:17). According to Apostolic Tradition, and according to Orthodox sacramental teaching, this formal act of God isthe act which begins the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man. In Apostolic times the formal act was completed through the laying on of hands. In our day it is through the Sacrament of Chrismation that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in men. The Gospel of St. John affirms the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ disciples prior to the indwelling at Pentecost, “you know him, for he dwells WITH you (St. John 14:17). In this way any follower of Jesus is justified in claiming the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Indeed the Holy Spirit is with them, but for the Holy Spirit to be IN a man he would need to submit to the formal mystery of Holy Tradition.

In so doing, however, there must be a real response to this great gift of God: our lives should be filled with joy in all things! And here is the true “connection” with one who has submitted his life to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit AND is actively pursuing a life transformed by forgiveness and repentance:the Kingdom of Heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit! This is not the drama of the “gift of tongues” or any highly emotional acts of charismatic Christianity, it is the simple and settled conviction that Christ and His Kingdom are among us—in our homes, our families, our jobs, our activities, our choices, our humility, our virtue, our struggles. This is true charismatic Christianity and, indeed, if we ever “acquire” it, it will be our salvation and the salvation of many around us!

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Mission Monthly – May 2006

“One great characteristic of holiness, is never to be exacting—never to complain. Each complaint drags us down a degree, in our upward course. By complaining, I do not mean the simple imparting of our troubles to others. Complaint savors always of a little bad temper, and a slightly vindictive spirit. The saints were never exacting. Contented with their lot, they never desired anything that was withheld from them.”

Charlotte M. Yonge

Holiness is often misunderstood, though it need not be. Simply put, holiness is that which reflects Him Who is Holy. We call God “Holy”—in Greek, “Agios” – which simply means “set apart” or “other than.” God as eternal, divine and uncreated certainly is set apart and other than man and the whole of creation which is temporal, material and created. He and His Word and His Spirit are therefore the Standards by which we are governed, taught and judged. Man becomes “holy” when by grace and action he reflects Him Who is Holy.

Sadly, holiness is often cynically perceived as self-righteous and judgmental because the world around us may not see the witness of love and “otherness” that should be reflected in the lives of Christians; especially in a society where there is —more and more—little differentiation between Christians and non-believers, and an active participation by many Christians in the dishonorable, immodest and immoral practices of the world. There is also a false notion that to have any sort of absolute conviction as to morality and the value of life is “politically incorrect,” wrong and even unloving. As Christians we must face these unfortunate realities of today’s social insanity, while standing firm in living and proclaiming Who we believe in and what we believe.

Having just ended what may very well have been the most beautiful Lent, Holy Week and Pascha of my life, I must admit to maybe being the most tired I have ever been following this season of our Church’s year. The many beautiful but long services, together with a growing congregation leading to longer Communion lines and more time dedicated to confessions, could potentially leave a priest feeling overwhelmed and discontented. Yes, even the priest is beset with temptations!

The inner life of every man must be vigilant, wise and discerning in order to recognize temptation and resist it! The inner life of every man must be convicted that his life in Christ is fully and completely subject to the will and providence of God: every commandment he is asked to follow, every teaching he is asked to believe, every word he is asked to pray, every discipline he is asked to undergo, every situation he is asked to face, every help he is asked to give, every exhaustion he is asked to endure.

What is often lacking is contentment. True contentedness is founded only in one source: thankfulness. While thankfulness can be an emotion, more importantly it is an attitude and an action. Man CAN choose to be thankful in any situation. Therefore we can conclude that any discontent one may feel is a direct result of one’s failure to choose to be thankful.

The Church’s journey to Holy Pascha is not just a guided tour through the tragic events of history surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For the true believer it is a holy time—a time “set apart”—to face the same human frailty and evil, and enter into the same victory and ascent as that of our Lord Jesus Christ: to die with Him and to rise with Him!This is what our Church, God’s Church, gives us and asks of us, in a special way surrounding the commemoration of our Lord’s Pascha and throughout the entirety of our lives as we are called to immerse ourselves in the Godly call of being saved. It is not a game or a performance. It is not a punishment or a carrot on a stick leading to a festive banquet. It is a chance for each of us to gain control of our lives in the context of all that is true and good and right and holy! And here we see holiness in the truest of forms: simply entering into that which is “set apart,” choosing to be thankful, joyfully entering into the faithfulness of each moment, and ascending to love God and serve our neighbor. May our successes and our failures be more than mementos of the time that has past, but rather building blocks to the character of holiness to which each of are called in our Lord’s Resurrection. Beloved, Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

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Mission Monthly – April 2006

“For a true Christian, death is but a sleep until the day of resurrection, or a birth into a new life. And in solemnizing every week the resurrection of Christ, and with it our own resurrection from the dead, let us learn continually to die to sin, and to rise with our soul from dead works, to enrich ourselves with virtues, and not to sorrow inconsolably for the dead.”

St. John of Kronstadt

During this blessed Season of Repentance, as I prepare for Holy Confession, I find myself contemplating a certain “missing of the mark” that I feel needs more attention—a sin that is neither grave nor gross, yet one that somehow reveals a certain failure and exposes an area of my life that needs to be nurtured and strengthened.

Several years ago I had to accept a very unique and personal challenge when the Patriarchate of Antioch instructed her churches to encourage the traditional practice of suspending all fasting for the full forty days from Pascha to Ascension. It had always been my practice, as is generally done in the Slavic traditions, to suspend fasting for only one week after Pascha—Bright Week. The instructions we received from the Antiochian Archdiocese were that fasting is permitted but not requiredon Wednesdays and Fridays following Bright Week until the Feast of Ascension. As I have followed this discipline I have begun to see the beautiful wisdom of this practice. As Jesus Himself said in Luke 5:34, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” The “ascetical” practice is not simply a free pass to eat whatever and however much we want, but rather it is a serious aid to help us sustain the joy and awareness of the presence of the Bridegroom in this season of Brightness—for the full forty days!

On the great day of Pascha we fervently exclaim, “Christ is risen!” and for the following week or two we easily exchange this joyful greeting with one another. But in the weeks that follow there is always a decline in enthusiasm and in the exchange of this holy greeting. How difficult it is to sustain joy! In just a few weeks we will be given another opportunity to strive for brightness throughout the entire season of Brightness!

But as I now prepare for Holy Confession, I see that I must take it even one step further and consider not only how well I’ve been able to sustain the joy of Pascha throughout the forty days but also throughout the entire year. Each week as we gather to celebrate Sunday Divine Liturgy we are “solemnizing” the Resurrection of Christ. Each Sunday essentially is a mini Pascha. Listen to some of the phrases of the Resurrectional Troparia that are sung in the eight tones throughout the year: “When Thou, O Immortal Life, didst humble Thyself unto death” (Tone 2). “Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad” (Tone 3); “Thou didst shatter death by Thy cross (Tone 7); “Having learned the joyful message of the Resurrection” (Tone 4); “From the heights Thou didst descend, O compassionate One” (Tone 8). These are awesome words and they are for us – to remind us to sustain our joy, or if we fail, to return again and enter into the eternal celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection!

“Come, receive the Light!” May the light that illumines our footpath as we process around the church on Pascha night be the light that illumines the course of our entire life! May we truly be alive in Christ, dead to sin, enriched in virtue, hopeful in times of sorrow and transformed from death to Life!

Beloved, “Christ is risen!”

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Mission Monthly – March 2006

“He learned to know the art of right living in two worlds at the same time.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovic on the Life of St. Sava of Serbia

What is this “art of right living in two worlds at the same time” such as St. Sava “learned to know“?I am so intrigued by this that I have chosen to read St. Nikolai’s “Life of St. Sava” as my first Lenten devotional reading. I imagine that the skilled practice of this “art” is a very rare skill, and that no one should even dare to presume to be a practitioner of it. Nevertheless it does seem to me to be at minimum a goal of tremendous importance for those of us called not to the monastic life but rather to life “in the world.”

As we begin our Lenten journey it is very important to remember that all our efforts have but one purpose: to prepare ourselves to enter into our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. Entering into is very different from simply remembering. Our God’s salvific action is not intended to be consigned to the realm of reminiscence or reenactment. None of us were present to experience first hand those tragically profound events of history, and in this we see one of the great mysteries of God’s Holy Church: our participation in Her life is participation in the realm of heaven itself. Our Divine Liturgy is not a recollection but rather a reality of true, heavenly worship. Upon our earthly altar sits the eternal King of Glory, Christ our True God. In Holy Baptism we die with Christ in order to rise with Him in the Resurrection. In Holy Chrismation we are “sealed” with the gift of the Holy Spirit now dwelling within us. In Holy Confession we speak directly to God in tearful sincerity that our sins be washed away by the true gift of forgiveness. We must understand that these and all our actions in the life of God’s Church are not mere external acts imposed upon us. They are a complete union—a harmonious joining of the eternal and temporal within the very essence of our lives! And so too is Holy Week and Pascha, where we again enter into the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God!

The season of Lent is often referred to in the Church as the “season of abstinence.” When we see and truly recognize the present reality of “the harmonious joining of the eternal and temporal within the very essence of our lives” we are helped to understand the very practical nature of our abstinence. Who cannot admit to the very real struggle that “worldly cares” often present to us, even when very natural and good responsibilities from time to time overwhelm us and disrupt our life in Christ? When we seem to be trying our hardest we still encounter the difficulties of maintaining the balance of right living in these two worlds. More often than not I find myself attending to my material needs at the expense of my spiritual needs. It is for this reason that this holy season of abstinence is given to us year after year, that by preparing for and entering again into our Lord’s Holy Pascha we will continue the good work of bringing proper order to our spiritual and material lives.

I am excited to begin reading the Life of St. Sava. He was a prince of the Serbian nation and a great spiritual leader of his people. His ordered life must have been one to behold. Jesus told His disciples, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). I don’t know that St. Sava achieved perfection but I do know that his life is sure to illumine my path. This Lent we are given another opportunity to truly seek perfection as Christians living in the world. Let us make the most of this blessed opportunity, that the truth of our natures might be revealed. For the fullness of our salvation is a two world reality—what a blessing it would be if we could indeed “learn to know the art” of living fully, and rightly, in both.

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