Thinking, desiring and Acting

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The Three Powers

Christ caution in the sermon on the mount is not against repetition but against vain repetition which may be understood as saying the words of scriptures in our prayers mindlessly, thoughtlessly or saying them without striving for a life that embodies them.  That is vain repetition.  Repeating sacred words over and over is not vain repetition if they flow from the heart.  But saying even a single word heartlessly is.  Not only do we used repeated stories and words to drive into our hearts the truth of faith but we also use repeated motion. Consider Baptism.  In the Orthodox Christian tradition, we immerse 3 times into Baptismal waters.  It is because of the Holy Trinity but there is also another reason.  It involves our understanding how each of us overcome sin and experience healing.

A man thinks about his reputation, desire to be admired by others so he takes some opportunities to boast about some accomplishments.  A woman sees another woman feels jealous of her so she gossips about her to her friend.  A child remembers the ice cream in the freezer, craves it on a hot day and so he sneaks into the kitchen and spoon out a few bite.  Now, they may not know it but each of these common strugglers with their common struggles is revealing what the Saints of the Christian tradition identify as the THREE POWERS or THREE PARTS present in every human soul.

When God made man He created the soul to contain three parts or powers.  There is the INTELLEGENT OR RATIONAL POWER involving thoughts, knowledge and reasoning.  There is the DESIRING POWER involving yearning, longing and craving.  And then there is the INCINIVE OR ENERGTIC POWER involving energy, fervency and action.   So man as he is created to be in the garden would think about God that is his rational power.  He would long about God about whom he was thinking that is his desiring power.  And he would act on that longing by living in obedience to God that is his energetic power.  As long as these three powers of his soul thinking, desiring or acting were working normally life was paradise and man was happy.  It is not that the serpent was a game changer, it is what Adam and Eve allowed to happen inside of them after the serpent appeared.

How did these three powers work themselves out practically after the fall.  Do you ever do things you shouldn’t.  Ever say things you shouldn’t or think thoughts you shouldn’t or desiring some things best left undesired.  Ever feel conflicted like a part of you want one thing while another part wants another.  Ever act on an impulse where you later regretted.  Ever leave something Good undone or unsaid.  Ever feel that you are your own honest enemy.  Ever sin and ever wonder why?  It is because like me there is a breakdown in one or more of the three powers of your soul.  Thinking wrongly, desiring wrongly and/or acting wrongly.  This breakdown, this fragmentation, this inner conflict is our inheritance from the fall in the garden of Eden.  How do we know when our rational power is sick?  When we think wrong thoughts, we obsesses, reason poorly, loose touch with reality or we don’t pray because we are too busy thinking.  How do we know when our desiring power of our soul is sick?  We are controlled by craving and appetite, desires are extreme, we feel a bit animalistic.  We don’t pray because we are too busy craving.  How do we know when our energetic power of the soul is sick?  We are busy, super busy and out of balance or burned out or restless and lazy.  We don’t pray because we are too busy praying or too busy lounging.

Sometimes all three powers are sick together.  That was the Serpent’s plan to tempt Adam think about becoming God like apart from God.  And to desire that power in independence apart from God.  And to reach for that fruit and take a disobedient bite apart from God.  The temptation itself was not a game changer. Engaging the Serpent was.  Now we don’t think ourselves usually in terms of these three powers of the soul.  But there is not any hour of any day when they are not in play.  We think about something there is the RATIONAL, we form an attachment or an aversion to it, there is the Desiring.  And we put into a motion, a plan to acquire it or avoid it, there is the energetic.  When working according to nature, this is how we acquire virtue and grow, thinking on good things which nurtures a desire for good things which leads us to act on good thing. 

When not working according to nature, these three powers of the soul give the world as it is today.  From this tragedy, rises a question.  How then do we heal?  How are we restored to the same natural use of three powers of the soul?  THE SHORT ANSWER IS THE CHURCH.  The Church gives us the best chance for inner healing for salvation for union with God.  So that is why the Church begins with the Sacrament of Baptism.  How many times is a body of an adult or a child immerse into baptismal waters?  Three.  Is it because of the Holy Trinity?  Yes, but there is another reason why we immerse a human being three times in Baptismal water.  And it involves a whole understanding of the healing of the human person.   In Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends into the waters of the font and brings the literal presence of God in what we call GRACE.  That grace is healing grace.  When we immerse three times, we are bringing that healing grace into each of the three powers of the soul.  We immerse once so that grace can heal the rational power and help this person in their thought lives and their reasoning. We immerse twice so that Grace will heal the desiring power and help this person control and rightly channel their appetites.  We immerse a third time so GRACE will heal the energetic power and help this person to act wisely and to lead a well ordered life.

After the Sacrament of Baptism, should we fall in sin, we are given the sacrament of Confession.  In which, our merciful God forgives the misuse of the three powers of thinking, desiring and acting. And restores us to our Baptismal innocence, giving us a fresh start.  Finally, we are given a Sacrament of Holy Communion in which God gives us His very own life.  If Baptism is the beginning of the healing process, what is the end of the healing process?  IT IS CHRIST, OUR ONE AND ONLY EXAMPLE OF PERFECTLY HEALED HUMAN BEING.  The three powers within His human nature were perfectly integrated and in harmony, which is why everything about Him, His feelings, His reaction, His deeds and words were all perfect.  God became a person to show us what a person of God should be. Everything Christ is by nature we can become by GRACE.  His life becomes our life and that is what it means to be human.  A human who is comfortable with repetition.

Source:  Fr. John Oliver, Hearts and Minds podcast of Ancient Faith Radio.

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The Healing of the Paralytic and the Loneliness of Modern Man

Fr. George Calciu

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

John 5:2-4

What is most dramatic throughout this entire Gospel reading is the loneliness of the sick man. Did you hear it? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me (Jn. 5:7). The most tragic state a person can be in is loneliness, total isolation.

St. Cyprian of Carthage says that, “Each person falls in isolation, but we are saved in the community of the Church.” To be alone means to fall, to perish. Being alone means not thinking about anyone other than yourself, because you are overwhelmed by the surge of suffering in which you are being suffocated. You are depressed by the futility of life. This is because a life lived in loneliness, if you do not have God with you, is a futile, wasted life. Life lost its meaning back in that very moment when you became alone.

That sick man did not even have any family member or friend who would take him up when the water was stirred and throw him in, so that he would be healed. How many times do we find ourselves in a situation like that! How often are we lonely and sick, and we have no one to help us be healed, no one to deliver us from our suffering! Or perhaps in our loneliness and suffering we do not find anyone we can communicate with; or as the German saying goes, pain when shared becomes half as bad, but pain unshared is twice as hard.

That is how it was with this man. But Christ with great mercy asked him, “Do you want to be healed?”

We will see proof of this later, when the Savior meets him in the church and says, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (Jn. 5:14).

What also touches us and others is that in the very minute that Jesus healed the man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight whole years, instead of rejoicing that a man had regained his health, the scribes and Pharisees are angry, and say, “Why are you walking, why are you carrying your bed on the Sabbath?”

They didn’t say, “It’s great that you’ve been healed! Yes, go and thank God!” No, they were only interested in the formality of the law, which stated that it was forbidden to work on the Sabbath. They sacrificed a human being for the sake of observing this law.

And they asked him, “Who healed you?”

At first the healed man did not know how to answer them. But when Jesus met him in the church, he went to the Jews and said, “There, it was Jesus who healed me!”

This was not a denunciation to set the Jews after Jesus. This was the desire to announce for everyone to hear, “This Man helped me! He healed me! He was near me in my troubles!” We have to say it when someone has helped us. We have to testify to a miracle. Not in order to boast, but because we have been delivered from loneliness, sickness, and suffering! I have to say who helped me, who led me to the faith, who delivered me from sins and the cursedness of my heart—a priest, a believer, a friend… I have to say, “He saved me!” That’s how it was with this paralytic.

Beloved faithful! Modern society is isolating us more and more. The governments—not only the communist, but all governments—are more and more trying to isolate us, to make us more lonely, so that we would be less and less bonded with each other, so that we would not associate with each other, because all governments are trying to become totalitarian in order to control us. It is much harder to control tight communities of people than isolated individuals, and therefore governments are trying to isolate us.

The communists did this through force. The Westerners do not do this by force, they simply pronounce you unique, they say that you have rights, and you are independent. And this is so that you would become isolated, that you would not be attached to your parents, would not obey them if you are a child, so that you would not be in submission to anyone—after all, you are a free being.

Freedom falsely understood is rebellion against God; it is nihilism. That is how we have gotten to where we have gotten, to all of these crimes that are raging in the world. There are so many cities where fourteen-year-old children have murdered their teachers, friends, and parents. The human bond has been broken with the people next to us, with whom we live. Heartfelt relationships have been broken between me and my brother, me and my parents, between parents and children, between friends. We are becoming more and more alone in this exaggerated individualism, at the foundation of which lies the demonization of society.

Let us try to be united. Let us try to remain united by faith and love one with another, with Jesus Christ. Let us abide in unity in the Church, because the Church is the only positive social union. All other unions are leading us to self-destruction. They are all aiming to destroy the human being, to turn it into an instrument, an ordinary cog in this complicated mechanism of human society.

http://orthochristian.com/103292.html

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Our Thoughts about God determine our eternal destiny

destiny

If we consider some of the parables taught by our Lord Jesus Christ, we will discover that the right thinking about God is what really determines our eternal destiny.  One of these parables is the Parable of talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  In it the one talented man hides and buries his talents precisely because he thought of the Lord to be a cruel man. It reads in verse 24 of Matthew 25;

“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’”

Let’s draw some conclusions from this verse;

  1. This man hated the Lord, that is why he ignored his commandments. He considered Him to be his enemy par excellence. So his negation is his vengeance.  A lot of people today overlook God as if they did not see Him and pretend to be atheists.  Indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist.  The one talented man does not deny the existence of his Lord, he just hates him.
  2. If we hate the Lord or He is our enemy, then we don’t want to have a relationship with Him. All the complaining and grumbling of this man leads to severance of relationship with the Lord and man as well. If there is no love for God or if love for God does not burn in our hearts, then love for men will be dead too.
  3. Loss of love will ultimately lead to fear because we will turn to ourselves to solve the problem. Not being able to will lead us to the torment of fear. For the Lord says without me you can do nothing.
  4. It is interesting to note that the man does not accuse the Lord of being unfair. So he admits that there is a level playing field for all of them including the 5 and 2 talented men. His only problem then is what he thought about who the Lord is.
  5. Those who received 5 and 2 talents probably struggled with the knowledge of who the Lord is but they admitted their weakness and confessed their lack and as result sought to work out their problems within the context of community (Church).
  6. The one talented man made no effort to learn about God. He should have tried under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to learn about the Lord from scripture and Church Fathers.
  7. Rational thinking is what eventually led the man to his thoughts about the Lord. The logic of the world and the logic of God is completely different.  Much faith is needed and faith is the product of love.  As a result, this man finds himself in hell.

 

The story of the prodigal son is another parable where we learn how our thoughts about God determines our destiny.  What made the prodigal return is his thought about the goodness of the Father. He thought at least he will hire me as a servant.

Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other. Do not consider this strange. The son who loves his father will feel happy in his father’s arms, but if he does not love him, his father’s loving embrace will be a torment to him. This also is why when we love the man who hates us, it is likened to pouring lighted coals and hot embers on his head.

“I say,” writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, “that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love…. It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love.  Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it” (Homily 84).

God is love. If we really believe this truth, we know that God never hates, never punishes, never takes vengeance.  As Abba Ammonas says, “Love never hates anyone, never reproves anyone, never condemns anyone, never grieves anyone, never abhors anyone, neither faithful nor infidel nor stranger nor sinner nor fornicator, nor anyone impure, but instead it is precisely sinners, and weak and negligent souls that it loves more, and feels pain for them and grieves and laments, and it feels sympathy for the wicked and sinners, more than for the good, imitating Christ Who called sinners, and ate and drank with them.  For this reason, showing what real love is, He taught saying, ‘Become good and merciful like your Father in Heaven,’ and as He rains on bad and good and makes the sun to rise on just and unjust alike, so also is the one who has real love, and has compassion, and prays for all.”

     Now if anyone is perplexed and does not understand how it is possible for God’s love to render anyone pitifully wretched and miserable and even burning as it were in flames, let him consider the elder brother of the prodigal son. Was he not in his father’s estate? Did not everything in it belong to him? Did he not have his father’s love? Did his father not come himself to entreat and beseech him to come and take part in the joyous banquet? What rendered him miserable and burned him with inner bitterness and hate? Who refused him anything? Why was he not joyous at his brother’s return? Why did he not have love either toward his father or toward his brother? Was it not because of his wicked, inner disposition? Did he not remain in hell because of that? And what was this hell? Was it any separate place? Were there any instruments of torture? Did he not continue to live in his father’s house? What separated him from all the joyous people in the house if not his own hate and his own bitterness? Did his father, or even his brother, stop loving him? Was it not precisely this very love which hardened his heart more and more? Was it not the joy that made him sad? Was not hatred burning in his heart, hatred for his father and his brother, hatred for the love of his father toward his brother and for the love of his brother toward his father?  This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love; bitterness at seeing innocent joy; to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one’s heart. This is the eternal condition of all the damned.  They are all dearly loved. They are all invited to the joyous banquet.  They are all living in God’s Kingdom, in the New Earth and the New Heavens. No one expels them. Even if they wanted to go away they could not flee from God’s New Creation, nor hide from God’s tenderly loving omnipresence.

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Providence of God

provdence

why did God create His angels in grace, knowing in advance that some of them would offer resistance to God and would be eternally rejected by Him for their sin? Why did God settle Adam in Paradise, knowing that Adam would not live in Paradise for long, but would be expelled from it?  Why did God wish to anoint Saul to the kingdom, if He knew in advance that the latter would subsequently fall into iniquity and end his life wretchedly?  Why did Christ add Judas Iscariot to the circle of the apostles, knowing in advance that the latter would become a traitor to Him? What is the reason for such changes in God’s determinations?

The blessed Jerome responds to such questions thusly: “Would you like to learn the reason for such changes? Here it is: God does not judge future deeds, but present ones, and does not condemn anyone by His foreknowledge, although He knows that a good man may subsequently change into an evil one; at the same time, by His mercy he places man in the situation which he deserves at the present time, and thus gives him strength, in the case of a fall, to return to the true path by means of repentance.  Adam did not sin because God foresaw his sin, but the reason God foresaw it was because Adam was to sin on the basis of his free will.”

St. Ambrose says the same: “Adam did not sin because he received the commandment, nor did Judas sin because he was chosen to be an apostle, for God did not lay upon them the need: for one to transgress the commandment and for the other to become a traitor. Both of them, had they faithfully held on to their responsibilities, could have abstained from sin. Those of whom God knows that they will subsequently lead a virtuous life, are often evil in the beginning, while those of whom He knows that they will sin, are often initially good. You are presently standing, but beware lest you fall. The holy Apostle Peter fell – and you should be careful; Judas fell, in order to deter you from falling.”

No effort on our part can protect us without God’s help, but by the same token, God’s help without man’s wish (will) will not bring any benefit either, as we see in the examples of Peter and Judas. We should avoid one-sidedness: we should not remain indolent, placing all care upon God, but equally we should not believe that by dint of our own effort, without God’s help or will, we can do good. For God Himself does not do everything, in order not to leave us in idleness, but equally does not allow us to do everything, in order to protect us from pride and vanity. God leads us away from everything that may harm us, but He urges us towards everything that is beneficial for us and helps us attain it.

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Which Wolf Will You Feed?

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One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, ‘Grandpa, which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one that you feed.’

As we go about our lives, we can choose which of the wolves we want to feed. We can choose to feed the wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, and all those good things in every moment, or we can choose to feed the bad wolves. We have to remember that it’s not often one choice, one feeding of a wolf or the other, that creates what we see inside ourselves and what we see inside the world. It’s a long history of feeding one wolf over the other. It starts every day.

These wolves live inside us. Though one wolf – say, the good wolf – might at any given point in time be a little bit malnourished, we can always feed it. Though one wolf, the evil wolf, may be a little bit plump because of choices that we’ve made in the past, we can choose today to feed a different wolf.

It often turns out that what we see in the world from other people and from our circumstances is very much correlated with the wolves that we’re feeding inside of us and inside of other people. When we encourage other people, when we feed their good wolves, we see that. We see that in them, and we see that in the people they change, and they tend to want to feed other people’s good wolves. When someone’s bad wolf has been overfed, we tend to see that, and those are the wolves that bite us. Those are the wolves that hurt us, as opposed to those good wolves, which protect us and help us out along the way.

As you’re going about your days, as you’re going about your weeks, I hope that in those moments in which it seems so much easier to feed the bad wolf, you’ll choose instead to choose the one that you want to win, the good wolf.

http://www.wolfyoufeed.com

 

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Broken and Humbled

broken

Up to a certain point, our salvation depends on us.  It is up to us to say “yes” to Christ, so that He will have the right to enter into our lives and bring about our resurrection.  But because man has been given the gift of freedom, he must repeatedly affirm and provide proof of his complete and voluntary bondage to Christ.  God will not agree to take captive a heart that has not suffered, wept, and been broken.  He seeks only the heart that is broken and humbled (Psalm 50:17), for such a heart shows that it lives for nothing else but divine captivity.

From the moment we give God the right to enter our lives; His grace and power begin to operate, granting us divine knowledge grounded in experience.  Not that God’s grace was ever absent: it has been with us since baptism, but it was active in proportion to our voluntary death, to our spiritual labors, and to the extent that we are prepared to accept God.

Having voluntarily emptied ourselves (Philippians 2:7), we need to demonstrate our desire, our longing, if we wish to enter the place of God’s grace and power.  The first thing that God asks of us is that we should manifest our desire through all prayer (Ephesians 6:18).  This does not mean that we should make use of and endless variety of different prayers, because that would be something earthly.  Instead, it means that, in the end, our entire life should become a prayer, so that we “breathe Christ always.”  Thus it is not a question of reciting this or that prayer, but rather that everything within us should become a prayer, that we should be praying in everything, through all prayer.  Prayer is the assimilation of the intellect to God, the transformation of the intellect into God’s chariot (Psalm 67:17; Ezekiel 23:24).  Just as it is the proper function of my eyes to see, of my hands to feel, of my mouth to speak and sing to the Lord, so too the proper and primary purpose of the intellect is to pray.

But there is more, for Saint Paul does not simply say through all prayer; but through all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).  I make supplication to someone when I feel a deep need, when I feel that I am deprived, naked, persecuted, wounded, stripped of everything it is then that I turn to someone and seek help, assistance, and refuge.  Thus, through all supplication means that I have to recognize my utterly miserable condition, my state of hopeless, inner disarray; that I feel naked of God’s grace and deprived of His power; that I am not accomplishing works of power (Galatians 3:5; Ephesians 3:7), because the grace of God does not find a place through which to enter into me and do what it wills.  It wants to slap me, embrace me, blind me, and destroy me: to do whatever it wants.  But for that to happen, I have to become a perfect instrument in the hands of divine grace.

We can also seek God’s grace and power by means of fasting.  Fasting is a concrete, visible sign that separates us from all that is earthly, fallen, and demonic. Any slackening of the conscience, however slight, with respect to fasting, introduces an unhealthy relaxation into our entire being-body and soul- so that God is not able to speak to the heart of a person who does not fast.  Fasting drives away demons.  Fasting attracts the angels. Fasting makes the material spiritual.  But fasting also requires complete attention and focus, for it places us in a state of heightened expectation.  It means that now I live waiting for God, expecting Him in earnest, with patience, through all afflictions, with an empty stomach, an empty intellect, and an empty heart, knowing that they will all be filled by God.

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Goal of fasting in Christianity

fasting

What is the goal of Asceticism (mainly fasting)?  Asceticism is concerned with the inner transformation of the human person.   We are all created in the image and likeness of God.  God is free and He gives us free will.  We fell under the law of sin and became enslaved to our environment.  In order to restore His image in us which includes having a free will, we have to get rid of all the things that have authority over us.  We have to break that enslavement.  Fasting is the freeing of the will of man.  It is basically saying nothing in this entire world will have control over me.  Christ showed us how it is done by fasting 40 days and nights.

It is not only about food.  It is about everything that has control over us that gets in the way of our relationship with God.  It is about sin, lust, TV, social media, jealousy, envy, gluttony and so forth.  Fasting from food is emphasized because controlling the stomach is the entry to controlling all the other passions.  The devil deceived Eve in the garden through eating of the forbidden fruit.  We must also begin the work of our restoration through control of our consumption of food but that is only the beginning.  Fasting is the restoration of man into the full image of God.

So what we are saying is nothing will come between us and our relationship with God.  Fasting will lead us to becoming truly free if done in relationship with God.  Christ has an absolute free will.  Out of His own will, He sacrificed Himself.  So in order to grow to the full stature of the image of Christ, we truly have to be free people.  And so fasting is the restoration of this free will in us.  If fasting becomes ritualistic, then it stops becoming relational.  It stops being developmental.  We are not developing our humanity to become like Christ, if it is just ritualistic.  We will not be developing that sort of relationship that no matter what happens in the world, we will continue to have a relationship with God.

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TO LIVE THE TIME OF OUR LIVES IN PEACE, AND REPOSE IN REPENTANCE

Metropolitan Athanasios

The Orthodox Church ascribes enormous significance to time as the instrument of our salvation. Therefore the Church continually prays: “To live the time of our lives in peace, and repose in repentance, let us ask of the Lord.” How important it is that we should live the rest of our days in “peace and repentance”!

But in what kind of peace? The “peace” with which our relationship to Christ is bound. This is not just any peace, with no wars or cataclysms, nor is it a certain peaceful state in the soul. Here the Person of Jesus Christ Himself is named with the word “peace”. The apostle speaks of this: For He is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Thus, “in peace” means dedicating the rest of the time of our lives to Jesus Christ. How? In repentance—for it is not at all our merits and achievements that defend us before God is, but only our repentance. This is because—and this is an indubitable fact—there are no perfect, sinless people.

I would like to ask once again: What is it that justifies us before God? It is not our “perfection”, or “sinlessness”, since no perfect or sinless people exist; nor is it our having never made any mistakes, since neither are there any people who never make mistakes. Then what is left for us to do? Our justification is in our repentance of our sins, of our apostasy from God, that we are all spiritually damaged, that even our human nature itself is damaged—our nature is changed, perverted, its original state is lost; that the passions—those evil tyrants—and our sins changed in us the image and likeness of God as He created us in paradise to the point of being unrecognizable. But despite all of this, we still have boldness before the Lord Jesus Christ; for the Lord created all things for the sake of our salvation—it was His good will to take on flesh, to be baptized, to be born of the Virgin. None of these acts of the Lord were accidental and they all have deep meaning; they were all directed towards man’s salvation. The Lord took each of His steps for the sake of mankind’s salvation. Knowing this, we have boldness before the boundless love of God. And the aim of Christ’s coming to earth is to bring lost and perishing mankind back to Himself, so that we would “acquire” ourselves anew.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is revealed in the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord; we hymn this in the troparion for Theophany: “The mystery of the Trinity was made manifest…” How is this expressed? “The voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee…” that is, the voice of God the Father bore witness to the Son, “and the Spirit in the form of a dove”—the Spirit was in the form of a dove (the Holy Spirit was not a dove, of course, but in the form of a dove)—and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, baptized in the Jordan. This is a very important point: God the Father gave manifest testimony: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (Matt. 17:5); and then Jesus Christ began His saving preaching of the Gospel.

There exists a false opinion, especially among the heretics, that Christ was anointed as the Messiah at the moment of His baptism from the Father. This is an error, because Christ was perfect God and perfect Man from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Mother of God. The Gospels tell us about this. When the Theotokos conceived in her womb and came to visit Elizabeth the mother of St. John the Baptist, Elizabeth said, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk. 1:43). Do you see? The Most Holy Theotokos was still only carrying the Infant in her womb, yet Elizabeth called her the Mother of her Lord by the movement of the Holy Spirit; and not only her Lord, but also the Lord of the Prophet and Forerunner John, and the Lord of all people and the whole world. This means that at the moment of conception, before Baptism, Jesus Christ was perfect God and perfect Man.

By His Baptism the Lord sanctified such an important element as water, and by His Baptism He showed us the saving path—through receiving Baptism…

As Holy Scripture further shows us, after Baptism Christ was taken by the Spirit to the desert, to begin the ascetic labor of fasting. By this He showed us the spiritual path of Christian ascetic labor. When we say that the Lord fasted, we mean that He did not take any food or drink at all. There in the desert, the apostate from God, the devil, approached Him and tried to tempt Him thrice with the main passions and temptations—those three giants, the fore-parents of all the passions: vainglory, the passion for pleasure, and love of money.

The passion for pleasure consisted in the devil’s tempting Christ to command that the stones be turned into bread; after all, Christ had just finished a forty-day fast. Love of money was expressed in the devil’s tempting Christ with wealth, showing Him in the twinkling of an eye all kingdoms and their glory, saying, “All this will I give to you if you will bow down to me.” Vainglory consisted in the devil’s tempting Christ to jump from the pinnacle of the temple, and by remaining unharmed to show His divine omnipotence. Our Lord Jesus Christ put the devil to shame, rejecting all his attacks and temptations. Then the angels came to the Lord and ministered to Him as the God-man.

Thus the Lord Jesus Christ, having been victorious in the desert over the man-hating devil, goes to the world to preach the Gospel, saying, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). The Lord began preaching the Gospel with the words, “repent”. In Greek, the word “repentance”—μετάνοια—means “correction of mind”; the root of this word is νόος, or “mind”, and μετα, or “change”. The Lord calls us to change our mind, our way of thinking, and to acquire, according to the apostle, another way of thinking: But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). This “other” mind is nothing other than the mind of Christ and the mind of the Church. As we have already said, the Lord created all of this to show us that we need the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of confession, which He established. We also need to war daily with the passions, with “diabolical suggestions”, be they vainglory, love of pleasure, love of money, or any of the other passions. By saying, “Repent!” He shows us that the feeling of repentance should be based upon our ascetic labor; it should “dissolve” all our actions. If we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we simply must learn the feeling of repentance.

The Lord came to the world not just with the aim of making good people out of us, because we can also become good people without Christ—at least up to a certain degree. Christ appeared to this world so that by His Love He might make us children of God, as the apostle John the Theologian writes: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God (Jn. 1:12). And what does it mean to “become children of God”? It means that the Lord gave us the possibility to again become the “image and likeness of God”, to become what we were created according to His design. He gave us the possibility to again acquire the Father’s love and the whole beauty and dignity of human nature, which He by His mercy and love restored through His divine Providence. We can clearly see this divine Providence and design if we follow the whole yearly cycle of divine services and participate in all the major feasts established by the Church.

Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
Translation from the Russian version by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Diaconima website

08 / 08 / 2017

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Christ at the Center of our friendships

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Active members of the Church

active members

Active members are being saved and they are being made like Christ.  What does an active member look like?

  1. An active member of the Church stays in the Church.  A good example is the story of Doubting Thomas.  We all can somehow relate to his story especially people who are thinkers.  Because anyone who really thinks about their faith is going to experience doubt sooner or later.  Saint Gregory the Theologian says that the Trinity is a cross or a crucifixion for the mind.  It is not going to make sense.  One and three, virgin and mother, human and divine…How does this work?  It is a crucifixion for the mind.  So when Thomas hears that Jesus is risen from the dead, it is a crucifixion for his mind.  It is impossible.  How could this happen?  But what does Thomas do eight days later?  The Disciples are together and Thomas was with them and Jesus appears in their midst.  Despite his doubt, he stays in the Church.  He hangs in there with the community of God’s people.  We all may not have enough faith.  We may not be a very good Christian.  But Salvation is not based only on me.  Salvation is not only me and Jesus but it is us and Jesus.  Salvation is of the body.  We may get an infection with one of our hands.  Unless, it really gets bad, we don’t cut it off.  We hang in there and the body heals the infection.  We stay in the Church as someone who needs to be saved not as a Savior.  One of the mistakes, some people make is that they see a problem in the Church and say that they are the ones God is raising to fix it.  The Church heals itself by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  We are called to be saved in the Church not to be saviors.  Once we internalize this, life becomes much more peaceful.  We focus on us being saved. Saint Seraphim of Sarov says acquire peace and a thousand around you will be saved.  Without us knowing it, the Holy Spirit will flow through us to save thousands of people that is we acquire the Holy Spirit.
  2. Active members turn to God as their Father, turn to Jesus as their Savior and they turn to the Holy Spirit and are filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also turn to our brothers and sisters as family.
  3. We love and seek salvation in a particular community or in a particular Church family in which love, service and obedience are worked out.  Saint James said how can you say you love God whom you have not seen when you do not love your brother whom you have seen.  It does not mean that somebody who is abusive needs to be tolerated.  We have to speak the truth but it does mean that it has to be worked out.   We can’t say, oh, they are all a bunch of hypocrites over there.  Since this is our family, we have to work out in a particular community.  There are no lone rangers Christians.  Even hermits are connected to a community.
  4. We must be engaged in a therapeutic program.  In other words, we have to be actively seeking the salvation of our souls not in the sense of saying, oh, Jesus, do something and save me.  The fact is Jesus already do something.  What we have to do is engage the therapeutic program.  Therapy is the word used by the Church Fathers.  Most of what we call sin that is most of what we recognize as sin in terms of our outward actions is really not so much sin but the manifestation of the sickness inside us.  What is the sickness?  We don’t glorify God, we are not thankful, our thoughts are futile and thus our hearts are darkened.  To sin less, we have to heal our souls.  Classically, it is through confession and forgiveness.   But confession and forgiveness are bookends to a whole process.  It starts with fasting (asceticism) not only with food but the beginning to say no to ourselves that old man inside us.  It crucifies our self-will and egoism.  This thought that we know what is good for us.  The third thing is prayer. The inability to stop our passions will drive us to prayer because we don’t have the power to stop it.  The seed of repentance is in the fruit of sin.  When we fall, the very consequences of that sin can drive us to repentance.  The torment can be the very pain that drives us to the Father like the Prodigal Son.
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