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Monday, April 24, 2006

Why Orthodox? comments needed!

I am in the very early stages of thinking about writing something about Orthodoxy primarily directed to the inquirer. There are so many books introducting Orthodoxy that I am wary of doing it. If it happens, I am going to approach a little different than the standard apologetic for Orthodoxy using historical and theological arguments. Those are great, and I don't think I would be there today if it weren't for those types of books (thanks Clark Carlton). However, as I have reflected on my journey as well as others, I realize that although the academic arguments are helpful there were other reasons that moved me along.

For example, part of the search that landed me in Orthodoxy was the struggle of the Christian life. Always looking for another book or formula that could help me lead the "victorious Christian life" left me frustrated. I was attracted to the mystical element of Christianity and that lead me to some of the early Fathers. I was struck by the depth of their spirituality and their love for God. As I read some of the lives of the saints, especially the more modern Russian saints (19th century), I wanted what they had. This is part of what brought me to Orthodoxy and has kept me there.

I know that there are a handful or converts out there. Why did you come to Orthodoxy and what keeps you? For those who grew up in the church, you are converts too. There was time that you had to embrace Orthodoxy for yourself. What kept you in the church? Please let me send me your comments below or at my email (mathis5fam@yahoo.com).

Christ is Risen!

In case your curious, click here and you can hear Christ is Risen! and the response in 250 different languages.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Date of Orthodox Pascha

I was asked by a friend to explain the difference in the date of Orthodox Pascha/Easter. Much of the article is a compilation of articles from Lewis Patsavos and Fr. Nabil Hanna. The date of Pascha has been controversial since the beginning of Christianity and early gave way to local customs. Some churches would celebrate on the actual Nisan 14, which was the actual date of the Resurrection, but it did not always fall on a Sunday. Other churches observed it on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover. By the 4th century, the latter practice prevailed throughout the Church; nevertheless, differences continued to exist.

In response to this ongoing problem, the First Ecumenical Council convened at Nicaea in 325 took up the issue. It determined that Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox-the actual beginning of spring. If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Pascha is observed the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March 21. Hence, the determination of the date of Pascha is governed by a process dependent on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon. Furthermore, since the best scientific observatories were located in Alexandria at that time, the Council assigned the bishop of Alexandria the responsibility of sending out a letter to all the Church, year by year, announcing in advance when the Resurrection would be celebrated that year. This way, the whole of Christendom was sure to celebrate together a glorious Pascha/Resurrection.

Another factor which figures prominently in determining the date of Pascha is the date of Passover. Originally, Passover was celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Christians, therefore, celebrated Pascha according to the same calculation-that is, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The correlation between the date of Pascha and the date of Passover is clear. Our Lord's death and resurrection coincided with Passover, thereby assuring a secure point of reference in time. This assurance lasted, however, only for a short time.

Events in Jewish history contributing to the dispersion of the Jews had as a consequence a departure from the way Passover was reckoned at the time of our Lord's death and resurrection. This caused the Passover to precede the vernal equinox in some years. It was, in fact, this anomaly which led to the condemnation reflected in Canon 1 of Antioch (ca. 330) and Canon 7 of the Holy Apostles (late 4th century) of those who celebrate Pascha "with the Jews." The purpose of this condemnation was to prevent Christians from taking into account the calculation of Passover in determining the date of Pascha.

Most Christians eventually ceased to regulate the observance of Pascha by the Jewish Passover. Their purpose, of course, was to preserve the original practice of celebrating Pascha following the vernal equinox, without having to rely on the local rabbi’s spotting of the new moon. Thus, the Council of Nicaea sought to link the principles for determining the date of Pascha to the norms for calculating Passover during our Lord's lifetime. They adopted, therefore, a solar calendar based upon the best scientific and astronomical data of the time. In fact they adopted the civil calendar of the Roman Empire which had been promulgated under Julius Cæsar (hence the name Julian Calendar), as refined under Augustus Cæsar.

Despite the intervention of Nicaea, certain differences in the technicalities of regulating the date of Pascha remained. This resulted occasionally in local variations until, by the 6th century, a more secure mode of calculation based on astronomical data was universally accepted. This was an alternative to calculating Pascha by the Passover and consisted in the creation of so-called "paschal cycles." Each paschal cycle corresponded to a certain number of years. Depending upon the number of years in the cycle, the full moon occurred on the same day of the year as at the beginning of the cycle with some exceptions. The more accurate the cycle, the less frequent were the exceptions. In the East, a 19-year cycle was eventually adopted, whereas in the West an 84-year cycle. The use of two different paschal cycles inevitably gave way to differences between the Eastern and Western Churches regarding the observance of Pascha.

A further cause for these differences was the adoption by the Western Church of the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century. This took place in order to adjust the discrepancy by then observed between the paschal cycle approach to calculating Pascha and the available astronomical data. The Orthodox Church continues to base its calculations for the date of Pascha on the Julian Calendar, which was in use at the time of the First Ecumenical Council. As such, it does not take into account the number of days, which have since then accrued due to the progressive loss of time in this calendar.

Pope Gregory promulgated his new calendar in 1582. The motivation of the calendar was to create a more accurate reckoning of the Pascha date. Roman Catholic lands adopted it fairly quickly, but Protestant and Orthodox lands did not. England, including what were then its American colonies, did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until more than 200 years later. Even then, huge riots erupted in the streets in England over this issue. Some of the Orthodox Churches adopted it for the fixed feasts in 1921. It was only in the 20th century that the Gregorian calendar became the standard civil calendar worldwide. Even so, however, many countries in Asia still use other calendar systems internally and utilize the Gregorian Calendar only for purposes of international trade.

Practically speaking, this means that Orthodox Pascha may not be celebrated before April 3, which was March 21, the date of the vernal equinox, at the time of the First Ecumenical Council. In other words, a difference of 13 days exists between the accepted date for the vernal equinox then and now. Consequently, it is the combination of these variables which accounts for the different dates of Pascha observed by the Orthodox Church and other Christian Churches. Some years Western and Eastern Pascha fall on the same date, most years it is a week apart, and some times it is more than a month apart. Until the total communion of Orthodox churches meet in synod there will be no change to the reckoning of the date. Even then their may be a struggle with the Gregorian calendar, because often the Gregorian Pascha date happens before Passover which is problematic as well.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Ladder Part 5

Step 13 On Despondency

Tedium of spirit

- Greek word is “akidia” tedium, distraction, boredom, despondency. This is a broad term which covers the continuum from boredom and distraction to depression or despondency.

- Path of tedium: loss of purpose, despair, then spiritual death

- St. John: “When dinner is ready, he jumps out of his bed. But now when the time for prayer comes, his body begins to languish once more again. He begins his prayers, but the tedium makes him sleepy and the verses of the psalms are snatched from his mouth by untimely yawns.”

- Same word used in the Prayer of St. Ephraim…”faintheartedness” interesting use because we pray first that God deliver us from sloth then faintheartedness. With sloth we become lazy with spiritual activity then comes faintheartedness when we give it up all together because it is of no use. One writer said that sloth is that we think our spiritual activity is useless, and faintheartedness is despair because we come to believe that God can do nothing for us.

How to Battle

  1. Perserverance in the course taken.

-labor through it. “real men of spirit can be seen at this time when tedium strikes, for nothing gains so many crowns …as a struggle against this.”

-importance of having a rule of prayer.

  1. Cooperation with others who are struggling.

-reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing.

-lives of the saints become important.

-deep relationships with other Christians.

- story of Moses with Aaron holding up his hands. Ex. 17:10ff

Fr. Cleopa of Romania on how to battle:

The Elder recommended meditation: reward and punishment, the Kingdom of heaven and hell; and also calling to mind the honorable memory of those who have taken part in the struggle. The means of grace against negligence are prayer, tears and faith. Again, the Elder would recount many examples from the lives of earlier spiritual warriors who happened to be led astray by negligence and lost the record of spiritual progress which they had gained through great fervour and ascetic labour. The Elder would say, "In my opinion, the other passions into which spiritual warriors are led astray are complications of indifference, because this erodes our attention and so opens the way to related and connected passions, and these take men captive."

We should not be negligent. Because negligence is the greatest danger for the soul of each man. It means you have no mercy for your own soul, and thus you’re in great spiritual danger. You didn’t do your [prayer] rule? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." You didn’t fast? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." Did you commit fornication? Negligence tells you, "It doesn’t matter." We should strive as much as we can and God will help us to be saved. The greater the temptations are, the greater the Grace of God will be and the greater the crown. But God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. If we have prayer and purity of soul and body, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and all great difficulties will easily be solved.

St. John “The singing of psalms and manual labor are my opponents by whom I am bound. My enemy is the thought of death, but what really slays me is prayer backed by a firm hope in the blessings of the future.”

Step 14 On Gluttony

“Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach; for when it is glutted, it complains of scarcity; and when it is loaded and bursting, it cries out that it is hungry.

-this is a tough one, because it does truly take moderation and control on our part. Unlike many of the other passions we can control by avoiding, not this one. We have to eat to live. We have to hold in check something we are exposed to each day.

-the Fathers often connect gluttony with impure thoughts, chastity and purity. This according to the Fathers could be called a gateway sin. When we allow this passion to remain uncontrolled and it spreads and infects and strengthens the other passions.

-The Prince of Passions

1. Unclean thoughts: “The mind of someone intemperate is filled with unclean longings.”

2. Talkativeness: “Stint your stomach and you will certainly lock your mouth, because the tongue is strengthened by an abundance of food. Struggle with all your might against the stomach and restrain it with all sobriety. If you labour a little, the Lord will also soon work with you.”

3. Mourning: “A full stomach dries up one’s weeping.”

4. Chastity: “The man who looks after his belly and at the same time hopes to control the passion of fornication is like someone trying to put out a fire with oil.” “Satiety in food is the father of fornication; but affliction of the stomach is an agent of purity.”

-This teaches us though that all the passion of interconnected. Defeat one and the others become easier.

The Ladder Part 4

Step 10 On Slander

St. John “Do not regard the feelings of a person who speaks to you about his neighbour disparagingly, but rather say to him: “Stop, brother! I fall into graver sins every day, so how can I criticize him?” In this way you will achieve two things: you will heal yourself and your neighbour with one plaster. This is one of the shortest ways to the forgiveness of sins; I mean, not to judge. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” (Luke 6:37)”

*What is Slander?

-speaking evil behind someones back…

Dangerous for Two Reasons:

  1. Hypocritical “It puts on the appearance of love and is the ambassador of an unholy and unclean heart.”

James 3:9,10

  1. Attitude and Motive behind it. It is judgmental.

James 4:11,12. When we judge we make ourselves equal with God.

“In addition to the harm that has already been identified, slander is the result of being judgmental. This provokes the wrath of God. There is only one Judge and by judging others we invite judgment. Not knowing what is in another's heart we also risk being terribly wrong in our view of others, as was the case in the Biblical story of the Publican and the Pharisee.”

“Do not allow human respect to get in your way when you hear someone slandering his neighbor. Instead, say this to him, “

‘Brother, stop it! I do worse things every day, so how can I criticize him?’ You accomplish two things when you say this. You accomplish two things when you say this. You heal yourself and you heal your neighbor with the one bandage.”

Step 11 On Talkativeness and Silence

We are uncomfortable with silence in our culture. One has the ability to surround himself with noise at all times. Even good noise—spiritual lectures or music—can become a distraction to the cultivation of silence in our life. It is only through silence that we develop the ability to hear the voice of God.

St. John “He who has become aware of his sins has controlled his tongue, but a talkative person has not yet come to know himself as he should.”

-talkative is to the mouth like gluttony is to the stomach.

James 3

Matthew 12:33-37

Step 12 On Falsehood or Speaking the Truth

Lying is truly anti-God. God is truth and when we lie, we act contrary to God Himself.

--most of us probably do not outright lie but we often exaggerate or shade the truth.

--the more that we live in falsehood the more disconnected we become from the truth.

One writer comments that “the exaggerations, the excuses, the out and out lies are bad enough, but what's worse is the lack of remorse, or sense of any wrongdoing.”

Also, “The greatest spiritual danger is that every lie attacks the heart making it weaker. This makes the heart less able to fight against evil. As the heart grows weaker, it grows more confused, less able to distinguish between truth and lies.”

Truth is a major aspect of our own holiness and purity, the more truthful we become the more of God’s grace we invite in our life and become like the truth.

1 Pet. 3:10


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Ladder Part 3


Step 7: Mourning

What is mourning?

1. Not just repentance – but a sober view of the nature of reality.

Mourning is the ability to see the life and moral state of the world clearly; then seeing ourselves as contributors to the pain and sadness of this world. Human suffering and even death are a result of sin. When we look at the world around us we can not become judgmental over its condition because we have added death to this world. Not only do we accept responsibility for the evil in the world, but we allow ourselves to suffer with others, directly or indirectly, through prayer. This is part of our duty as a Christian as we have united ourselves into Christ.

See the following: Rom. 8:17, 2 Cor. 1:15; Phil 1:29; Phil 3:8; Col 1:24; 1 Pet 4:12

2. Sorrow for the lack of the fullness of God in our lives.

This sorrow is a result of the thirst we feel the fullness of God’s Kingdom and His presence in our lives.

- Not seeking a pleasure centered life. St. John suggests: "Think of your lying in bed as an image of the lying in your grave; then you will not sleep so much. When you eat at table, remember the food of worms; then you will not live so highly. When you drink water, remember the thirst of the flames; then you will certainly do violence to your nature...Let the thought of eternal fire lie down with you in the evening and get up with you in the morning. Then indolence will never overwhelm you when it is time to sing the psalms."

3. Physical Tears

St. John invents the following Greek word to describe the affect of physical tears: Charmolypi “joyful sorrow”. Repentant person is like a child who cries but smiles in the middle of his tears.

He refers to three types of physical tears that we experience in this life: 1. Contranatural---from fear or anger 2. Natural – result of human feelings. 3. Supernatural – from God; renewal of baptism;

This gift of tears is often referred to among the Fathers as a second baptism. St John is no exception: “Greater than baptism itself is the fountain of tears after baptism, even though it is somewhat audacious to say so. For baptism is the washing away of evils that were in us before, but sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. As baptism is received in infancy, we have all defiled it, but we cleanse it anew with tears. And if God in His love for mankind had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.”

Here it is clear how the earlier steps of renunciation, detachment, exile, obedience, penitence, and remembrance of death are necessary in order to understand mourning. All of this helps us to prepare for that day when we will stand before God and have to answer for what we did or did not do in this life.

Step 8: Meekness

In order to understand meekness, it helps to understand that meekness is the solution to anger. So to be meek we must put aside anger.

Why do we get angry? One author states: “It's usually because we put too much emphasis on the importance this world, how we appear to others and how we are treated. It is the result of being overly prideful: thinking too much of ourselves and of what we can be or do. All right, so you don't see yourself as some conceited megalomaniac but let's be honest here. What is it that spurs your temper? Is it when someone says something to offend you? Perhaps that is because you concern yourself too much with what others think of you. Is it when someone disagrees with you? Do you always have to be right? Is it when things just don't go your way? Perhaps you are pursuing too much perfection in this world”.

Meekness is the answer to anger.

St. John gives two big tips on accomplishing this. The first step is to not respond when spoken to in an angry way. The next step toward meekness is to not let yourself think angry thoughts against those who speak in anger to you.

Step 9: Malice (Remembrance of Wrongs)

Step 9 is a daughter of anger and St. John describes her this way: "Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is the keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul."

Anger for one tends to spill over to anger for all.

St. John recommends several things to end anger. He advices us to reject the feelings once they begin. This requires attentiveness to oneself (another virtue). Another is realize that the ultimate cause of the hurt being done to you is not the individual but the evil one. Also meditate on what Jesus suffered at the hands of many.

Evidence of healing: when you hear that catastrophe has happened to one who has hurt you and you weep and suffer for that person.

Jonah - Fish Tales and Good Friday


Jonah is one of the most familiar Old Testament prophets. Although his book is not large in scale like Isaiah or Jeremiah, the story of Jonah is so engaging and even entertaining that it is told and retold. Most young children learn the story of Jonah early on in their religious education. Even within the life of the church, Jonah plays a significant role. His prayer in the belly of the great fish is Ode Six of the canonical odes that make up the matins canon. Also, the book as a whole is read on Holy Saturday. Unfortunately, the story of Jonah can become too familiar and therefore the Christian can lose sight of its meaning. The purpose of this essay is to explore the meaning of the book of Jonah. A brief summary of the book will be given, then the multiples themes that occur in the book will be discussed, and finally the overarching message will be examined.

Jonah a prophet of the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II, was called by God to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah runs from God by boat to the farthest reaches of the known world in Tarshish. Once on the boat a storm arises; the men determine it is supernatural and they look for a cause by drawing lots. The lot falls to Jonah and he explains his desertion of God’s call. He asks to be thrown over board. A great fish swallows Jonah where he stays for three days and nights. Within the belly of the fish, he cries out to God in prayer and repents. The fish spits Jonah on land where he immediately goes to Nineveh, and he cries to the people, “Forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” This is enough for the people to repent and God does not destroy the city. Jonah becomes angry because of their repentance and the reader learns the reason for Jonah’s original desertion of God’s call. He dislikes Nineveh and was hoping that God would destroy them, but he knew that God would show mercy if they repented. Jonah did not want mercy because of Nineveh's reputation and their constant threat to the people of the Northern Kingdom. God rebukes Jonah and causes a plant to grow up and shade Jonah from the scorching sun. However, God also provides a worm to kill the plant. Jonah then gets extremely angry over the destruction of the plant. God uses this object lesson to show Jonah that he more concerned over the life of a plant than that of another person.

Within the book of Jonah multiple themes of God’s providence, the consequences of sin, and the forshadowing of Christ are apparent. Along with several themes, a brief summary of the Fathers approach and use of Jonah will be included. Several of these sub-messages seem unrelated, but when taken in light of the ultimate theme of God’s great mercy the book’s connections are clearer.

Jonah is one of the few books of the Old Testament where the reader sees someone from the covenant nation of Israel go on a missionary journey to a pagan country. Early in the life of Israel, during the Mosaic period, it is evident that God’s design for Israel is to be a separate people through which He will have a special relationship that ultimately blesses all nations. Israel’s uniqueness in calling and lifestyle was to draw other nations to the one true God. In many ways, Israel forsook this calling, but thankfully for humanity it was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. However, there are times in the nation’s history where some within the pagan nations come into the fold of Israel by the example of their worship. Ruth the Moabite is a good example of one who converts to the people of God due to the witness of her mother in law. Within the pages of the historical books, one will occasionally see groups of people or individuals come into the commonwealth of Israel. Sadly, the people of God were more often chasing after pagan gods rather than drawing pagans to the worship of the one true God. The book of Jonah is a great exception. It is a missionary book, albeit Jonah was begrudging about his task. He barely preached a message to the people of Nineveh, but God used him to save a pagan nation from destruction. The image of the Jewish Jonah reaching out to bring in a Gentile people is a type of what happened in the life of the early church. The early church was Jewish but through missionary efforts the Gentiles were grafted into the people of God.

God’s sovereignty is also evident within the pages of Jonah. Jonah runs from God’s purposes, yet he finally repents and God’s plan of salvation is accomplished. Even through the weaknesses of man, God is able to work and even accomplish miraculous deeds in impossible situations. This is a great lesson that should bring comfort to each Christian; God will accomplish His work even if circumstances point toward a different outcome. He is in control and truly sovereign over His creation.

Jesus uses the image of Jonah as an image of Himself. In Matthew 12:39-40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This image of Jonah becomes a type of Christ’s descent into Hades and eventually resurrection. This is the image that the Fathers of the Church continually turn to when they speak of Jonah. Jonah is a type of Christ’s death and resurrection. The matins canon at the Exaltation of the cross pictures Jonah’s arms outstretched in prayer forming a cross that gives power over death. Jonah’s prayerful image of the crucifixion was the power that burst Jonah forth from the belly of the fish.

Another Father of the church should be mentioned because of his allegorical approach to Jonah. It is related to the typological interpretations, but takes the images a step further in order to display salvation history. Methodius of Olympus (d. 311) in his treatise on the resurrection uses Jonah as an image of the first man Adam fleeing from God because he is found naked of the life of God. The ship is an image of earthly life, and Jonah’s casting from the ship represents the fall of man from life to death. The sea and the fish represent time and the carnal life swallowing man and holding him hostage from life eternal. However, Jonah’s expulsion from the fish represents God’s act of salvation and raising man from death to life through the power of the resurrection.

Each of the themes above point to the ultimate message of Jonah. Jonah message is a message of God’s mercy. God does not merely show mercy on a select group of people, but on all. Jonah knew this and in chapter 4 it becomes clear that Jonah’s motive for running is that he did not want God’s mercy poured out upon his enemy Nineveh. After Nineveh repents Jonah in anger says to God, “Therefore I fled previous to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm”

Jonah had proclaimed this in his famous prayer from the belly of the fish when he concluded:

“Those who regard worthless idols, forsakes their own Mercy, but I will sacrifice to You with voice of thanksgiving. I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”

Idolatry is a rejection of God, and therefore His mercy. The image is of God pouring out His mercy but mankind turning a blind eye toward God to follow after something that has no mercy. Man can not run from God without consequences, because in doing so man cuts himself off from the very life of God. Jonah becomes an image of this in his book. Jonah runs from God, in a sense forsaking his own mercy offered by God not only for himself but also for the people of Nineveh. Jonah soon discovers that rejecting God has consequences, and he soon lands in the belly of a great fish. After three days, he realizes this and prays his famous prayer accepting God’s mercy once again . He then obeys God and God’s mercy is poured out upon the people of Nineveh. However, Jonah must be instructed again with a lesson with the gourd plant. Jonah shows pity to a plant over people. Yet God desires to always show mercy to mankind. God is a God of mercy and it is by His mercy that mankind is saved. One of the most common prayers of the Church is “Lord, have mercy!” The Church knows that God is merciful and He liberally pours His mercy upon mankind. That prayer is an acknowledgement and acceptance of man’s need for mercy.

As stated earlier Jonah is read on Holy Saturday, and his prayer is used as Ode Six and this message of mercy comes through clear in the hymns of the Ode on Holy Friday. The Church on Holy Friday is experiencing the burial of Christ. Jesus has died as the ultimate expression of God’s mercy to mankind. The refrain of Ode Six in the canon is as if Jonah is preaching the lesson he learned so long ago. Jonah speaks to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Christ:

“Falsely, and in vain do you guard, O watchmen, for you have neglected your own mercy.”

Unbeknownst to the soldiers, the body they are guarding is the body of the Son of God who died to bring God’s mercy to all mankind. Their guarding is in vain because Jesus will rise again in victory pouring out mercy to the whole human race. Trying to keep Christ in the tomb is a rejection of the mercy He brings to the world. Once again Jonah’s life typifies this message. Jonah’s descent into the fish while being an image of Christ also illustrates how far and deep God’s will reach to save. He will even raise Jonah from certain death to save Nineveh, and the Son of God went to the depths of Hades and back again to save mankind from the clutches of death.

Jonah is a short book, yet contains a powerful message. It is one that has been appropriated by Church and used in her hymns and writings to convey God’s love for man in that He would send His own to Son to die and raise again to bring mercy to the world.

The Ladder Part 2

Step 4: Obedience

-Obedience ultimately the burial place of the will, because you submit your will and desires to someone else.

-St. John is insistent that without obedience no one will attain heaven. Fr. John Mack comments “We do not obey so that we may fulfill some external set of rules and thus earn God’s favor and love…Our obedience does not earn us anything. Rather the act of obedience changes us and makes us ready to receive the love [and grace] which God has already given to mankind in Christ.”

-Obedience cuts off our self-will and pride. Obedience is the cure for pride. (Mat 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.)

-It must be remembered that St. John was originally writing to monastics. One way that monastics fulfilled obedience was by being totally obedient to their abbot or spiritual father.

*How do we fulfill obedience as no-monastics? (Suggestions by Fr. John Mack)

-obey those in authority

-obey father confessor

-submit to family and friends

-emulate saints

-listen to spiritual friends (especially before embarking on spiritual goals)

-canons of the church: fasting periods

Step 5: Repentance

-Repentance: metanoia – to change one’s mind. To say what I am doing is sin, and then change what I do.

What are things that we can do to help use repent?

-pg. 33 St John second paragraph.

-One motivation is to remember the seriousness of sin…it cuts us off from the life of God

Step 6: Remembrance of Death

“The man who lives daily with the thought of death is to be admired, and the man who gives himself to it by the hour is surely a saint.”

“Someone has said that you cannot pass a day devoutly unless you think of it as your last…This, then, is the sixth step. He who has climbed it will never sin. ‘Remember your last end, and you will never sin (Sirach 7:36).’”

This is a virtue that I do not remember thinking much about before becoming Orthodox. Yet it is one which constantly appears in Orthodox literature. American society in general has become so sanitized in their view of death that it either becomes forgotten or becomes a realm of fantasy that is only seen on television. In the past, people died in the homes of their communities. Plagues might strike community. Infant mortality was higher. Animals were killed regularly by families in order to provide food for the family. I am thankful for modern life, and that we no longer have to worry about some of those things, but it has removed the daily remembrance of death from our vision.

St. John “Anyone who wishes to retain within him continually the remembrance of death and God’s judgment, and at the same time yields to material cares and distractions, is like a man who is swimming and wants to clap his hands.”

-Remembrance of death is not a morbid fascination or desiring of death

St. John, “Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death.”

-In the evening prayer of St. John Damascene, we are enjoined to look at our bed as at a coffin, not knowing whether or not we shall rise on the morrow.

St. Theophan the Recluse: sees this as a way to soften your heart to God’s grace; use deaths of others to remind you of your own fate.

Imagine what happens after death—the judgment, hell, and even heaven

Prayer of Chrysostom:

Lord, accept me in penitence. Lord, do not leave me. Lord, do not lead me into temptation. Lord, grant me good thoughts. Lord, grant me tears, remembrance of death, and humility. Lord, grant me the thought of confessing all my sins. Lord, grant me patience, courage, and meekness. Lord, implant in me the root of blessings and the fear of you in my heart. Lord, grant that I may love you with all my mind and soul and that I may do your will in all things. Lord, deliver me from contentious men, from the devil, from bodily passions and from all unholy deeds. I know, O Lord, that you act according to your will; may your will also be in me, a sinner, for you are blessed unto all ages. Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Ladder Part 1


The Ladder

Background: Written

Saint John Climacus was a 6th century monk and abbot of the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt, the same location where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

-inspired by the image of Jacob’s ladder.

-monastic spiritually is only different in degree not kind. We all must follow the same basic path toward God. The difference between monastics and secular Christian is the degree to which we can apply the truths or commandments of the gospel.

-divided into three parts. 1. The Break with the World 2. The Practice of the Virtues (Active) 3. Union with God (Contemplative)

-the following study relies heavily on Fr. John Mack's Ascending the Heights which is a worthy addition to a copy of the Ladder.

Step 1 On Renunciation of Life

“of all created and rational beings, endowed with the dignity of free will, some are friends of God, some are His true servants, some are useless servants, some are entirely estranged, and there are some who, for all their weakness, take their stand against Him.”

Who are you?

“Withdrawal from the world is a willing hatred of all that is materially prized, a denial of nature for the sake of what is above nature.”

-a matter of focus; what are we living for? What is our motivation? Earthly or eternal.

*If we have an eternal perspective, what does that change about the way that we live?

-St. John speaks of this not only in terms of more spiritual virtures but even in physical ones, and that our bodies react violently when we try to subdue it.

-must remember our goal….union with God and enjoyment of the presence of God for all eternity. Not to be better fasters or better humanitarians, but to be united with God.

*What motivates us to turn our backs on the world?

-we are not alone on the journey, but have Christ to strengthen and motivate us throughout (2 Cor. 5).

-we have each other “do not separate yourselves from the church assemblies.”

Jhn 15:11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and [that] your joy might be full.

Jhn 10:10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly.

Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me; “We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?” I replied to them: “Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the divine services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness, and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Step 2 On Detachment

*Is there anything that you hold to tightly to? Anything that would pain you to give up? Anything earthly that consumes your attention?

*What are things that we can become easily attached to?

- As a personal illustration, my grandfather gave me an expensive pen as a graduation present several years back. Believe it or not, I still have it. Actually, I found it a couple of months ago. Because of the cost of the pen and the sentimental value attached I began using it again; however, I found myself constantly worried about its condition and whereabouts. One day, I realized this ridiculous situation that I was in, but it made me aware of how attached we can become to so little.

*How do we unattach ourselves?

“Let us aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all you comes upbourne by the angelic hosts”

-John also warns of attachement to the praise of men.

-to be free from the concern for things and for the opinion of others is a great gift that St. John calls to be cleansed of grief.

This is the second step, and if you take it, then do as Lot did, not his wife, and flee.”

Step 3 On Exile

Exile is a separation from everything, in order that one may hold on totally to God…an exile is a fugitive, running from all relationships with his own relatives and with strangers.

1 Pet. 2:11

Matt. 10:37, 38

John 15:18ff

*What does this say about our relationships with other?

This does not mean that we reject relationships. In fact, we are saved in the context of community with each other. We are called to love one another, and if we are married we are called to love sacrificially. Relationships must be put into proper perspective. They must not take the place of God in our lives, or allow our relationship with God to be hindered.

Run from places of sin as from the plague. For when fruit is not present, we have no frequent desire to eat it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ladder of Divine Ascent Outline

Here's the original outline I used for our class in discussing the Ladder. I picked this up from another teacher and I think it is a helpful way to categorize and think about what St. John Climacos was doing.

The Thirty Steps of the Ladder of Divine Ascent

I. The Break With the World

1. Renunciation

2. Detachment

3. Exile

II. The Practice of the Virtues

A. Fundamental Virtues

4. Obedience

5. Repentance

6. Remembrance of Death

7. Sorrow

B. The Struggle Against Passions

(a) Non-physical Passions

8. Anger

9. Malice

10. Slander

11. Talkativeness

12. Falsehood

13. Despandency

(b) Physical & Material Passions

14. Gluttony

15. Lust

16-17 Avarice

(c) Non-Physical Passions

18-20. Insensitivity

21. Fear

22. Vainglory

23. Pride (also Blasphemy)

C. The Higher Virtues

24. Simplicity

25. Humility

26. Discernment

III. Union with God

27. Stillness

28. Prayer

29. Dispassion

30. Love


Monday, April 03, 2006

Weep! Motivation for Repentance

In prepping for a class on the virtues of "mourning", I remembered an article that I had read several years ago, impacting my understanding of the problem of evil, suffering, and repentance.

The essay is from a book edited by Fr. Seraphim Rose entitled "Russia's Catacomb Saints". It is an interesting and sobering book as it tells the stories of Orthodox Christians persecuted in Soviet Russia.

One of the persons highlighted is a Russian philosopher named I.M. Andreyev. He appears to be a brilliant man who was persecuted by the Soviets and eventually made it to America where he lived his final days. The following excerpt is from his life and describes an essay that he wrote entitled "Weep!".

"This article, entitled simply "Weep!" and dedicated to the memory of Dostoevsky...tells simply of one of the cold and senseless crimes of a large American city. A 29 year old mother in New York City, in a fit of rage, beat to death her two month old son, leaving him unimaginably deformed; and she expressed no regret over her crime. Andreyev describes the wounds suffered by the small body with sickening clinical detail--and then stops, knowing that many readers will protest against such 'uneccesary' details. 

'People have become deaf to sufferings. They either do not hear or do not wish to hear about what is done, not in a nightmare, but in reality.' He calls to the Orthodox conscience of his readers. 'All for one and one for all are guilty: this is the essence of the social ethic of Christianity...We are all guilty, for we are sinful; we do evil, contribute our evil to the universal storehouse of evil. 

"And this evil accumulates into an immense universal energy of evil and seeks for its incarnation the vessels of bodies without grace, and when it finds them it becomes incarnate in them and they perform great evil deeds...Let each one think of himself...What were you doing on that eveing when this unbelievable but authentic evil deed was performed?

Perhaps it was your sin, your immoral deed, your malice, which turned out to be the last little drop which caused the vessel of evil to overflow. This is the way we must reflect, if we are Christians...

"'Weep, brothers and sisters! Do not be ashamed of these tears! 

 Weep! And let these tears be the fount in which the Lord will baptise the child-martyr, who was probably unbaptized, being chrismated--in place of oil--with his innocent child's blood. 

 Weep! Let your tears also be a fount of a different energy, an energy of good that fights against the energy of evil, which by its power will save at least one child from innocent tortures and at least one criminal mother from an unforgiveable sin. 

 Let these tears also awaken many of the indifferent...Do not be ashamed to weep with tears of grief, compassion, and repentance.'"


Sobering words...

First Post

okay, I've finally succumbed to the blogosphere. My initial intention is not to try to share any wisdom with the world (lacking in the dept.), but to have a place to post lessons and links from my teaching responsibilities at St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox church in Louisville KY. I currently teach Adult Sunday School and help our priest with Catechism duties. I am a convert to Orthodoxy from the Baptist/Evangelical world, and will probably post some things about that journey as well.

As for the title of the blog, it comes from a Patristic metaphor that is used in two ways.

First, it enlightens the inner relationship of the God/Man Jesus Christ. The Church has always upheld that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. One image for explaining this is the sword in the fire. Place a sword in fire and it glows read hot and takes on the properties of fire while still remaining a sword. Hence, Christ is fully man and fully God without compromising the elements of either.

Secondly, the image is used to describes man's spritual union with God. Unlike the eastern religions, man does not lose personality when uniting with God. Man becomes god by grace while remaining man.

If I can contribute anything, hopefully it will be to help seekers Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike to place their sword in the fire.

Theron Mark

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