The Half Gospel of Spiritual Death

004 Ladder of Divine Ascent - ancient Russian icon croppedAlthough six hundred and three thousand armed [Israelite] men were said to have left Egypt, no more than two of these entered the promised land…many are said to be called but few are said to be chosen.  Bodily renunciation and removal from Egypt, as it were, will be of no value to us, therefore, if we have been unable to obtain at the same time the renunciation of heart which is more sublime and more beneficial. -Elder Paphnutius [1]

There are some Christians who believe that works of charity and social justice are the primary evidence of being a Christian.  They point to passages such as what is in Matthew 25 regarding the sheep and goats.  Some even attest that the Gospel boils down to nothing other than charitable works toward one’s neighbor.

But is that the entire gospel message?  I don’t believe so, Continue reading The Half Gospel of Spiritual Death

Illusionary Food and the True Bread

Thanksgiving Dinner by Ramon2002There was a man who had not eaten in days. Passing out from hunger, he dreamed he was at a luxurious banquet, surrounded by food of every kind. He ate every delicious meat, cheese, and rich food one could imagine. But his hunger never abated. The more he ate, the more tortured he felt. But what choice did he have?  He continued to gorge himself, never finding satisfaction.

This is a metaphor for the spiritual life. Continue reading Illusionary Food and the True Bread

Holy Martyrs Timothy and Maura

Orthodox_icon_of_Saint_Timothy_and_Maura_the_Martyrs_largeTimothy and Maura were a young couple who had been married for only twenty days.  They suffered during the reign of Diocletian (284-305).  Timothy was captured first and charged with being a Christian, which he confirmed.  It was discovered that he was a reader in the church, which means, among other things, he was responsible for the safekeeping of the Christian books and scripture.  Possessing such materials was a crime punishable by death.

When he refused to deny his faith and reveal the location of the sacred writings, he was then tortured so severely that even the torturers and the people watching asked the governor to ease up a bit.  The governor refused and only sat around devising even more cruel ways to torture brave Timothy. Continue reading Holy Martyrs Timothy and Maura

Not Naked, But Clothed in Glory

Harrowing of Hades Italy 1200 -croppedThe serpent found a second Eve in the Egyptian woman, and with words of flattery he sought to make Joseph fall.  But, leaving his garment behind him, Joseph fled from sin; and like the first man before his disobedience, though naked he was not ashamed.  (Bridegroom Matins, Canticle Nine).

Frequently during the course of Great Lent, as well as Holy Week, we look upon the example of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph.  Earlier in the same service, we sing,

Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, but his righteous son was seated in a chariot and honored as a king.  For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of Egypt, but he was glorified by God who sees the hearts of men and bestows upon them a crown incorruptible. (Canticle One)

And again,

[Jacob’s] wise and glorious son was enslaved in body but kept his soul free from bondage, and became lord over all Egypt.

And lastly, we reflect upon a different type of robe: Continue reading Not Naked, But Clothed in Glory

St. Gregory Palamas: The Approachable Genius

St Gregory Palamas Homilies by Mt. Thabor PublishingThere’s a tendency for us modern folks to feel that the teachings of the fathers of the church are too lofty and are unapproachable for the common person.  So, if we read at all, we stick to modern authors who distill the works of the fathers into something more intellectually palatable.

However, I don’t believe this watering down of the fathers is necessary.  Granted, some fathers such as St. Maximos the Confessor are quite lofty and can be difficult to understand at times.  There are also some modern Greek theologians who make me pull out my dictionary with every other sentence.

But besides these and a few others, most of the works of the fathers are quite approachable.  Why?  Because, as anyone who studies history knows, we are not so different than the people who have come before us.  Therefore, the issues that even the most ancient fathers address are quite similar to our everyday problems.  While there are new ways to sin (cyber theft, internet pornography, etc), these are still the same base passions with slightly different means.

Years ago, I heard somewhere that the true genius does not need to talk above everyone else, but is able to grasp the truth so effectively that he can explain it in a way that most ordinary people can understand.  Continue reading St. Gregory Palamas: The Approachable Genius

The Cross, The Suffering, and The Glory

Holy Friday iconIf any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34

These well known words by Christ are true for every Christian in every generation. Those who suffer for God take up their cross and follow Him. In the New Testament we are endlessly reminded that there is no way to the Kingdom of Heaven without suffering. To live the Christian life is to give up our ideas of comfort, security, and self-will in order to accept hardships, tribulations, and a cross.

The desert father, St. Barsanuphius, puts it so succinctly:

Pass over from the world, and henceforth mount the Cross, be lifted from the earth. Continue reading The Cross, The Suffering, and The Glory

The Prayer Flare

110921-N-XZ912-085NORFOLK (September 21, 2011) Members of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Seven (HSC-7) perform Search and Rescue (SAR) jumps for qualification on Wednesday night at Naval Station Norfolk. These qualifications help the navy with readiness and sustainability. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher B. Stoltz/Released)

Our house is nestled in a cove between two mountain ranges.  One in front of the house, and the other behind.  There are popular trails that follow the ridges of the mountains for those who enjoy a difficult hike.

The other night, we heard a helicopter circling nearby.  We peaked out a window and realized a hiker must have been injured and called for emergency assistance.  The helicopter spent some time maneuvering into the rescue area, which was near the ridge of the mountain slope.  It was night time and a storm was rolling in, so the task was both dangerous and difficult to navigate.  Continue reading The Prayer Flare

Self-Pity: A Quiet Snare

St-Theophan-Recluse-pravoslavie“Self-pity is the root of all our stumblings into sin. He who does not indulge himself is always steadfast in good.” – St. Theophan the Recluse

I recently experienced a minor grief – nothing compared to what many people suffer. However, during that time I realized one of the keys between healthy grieving and sinful despair is the focus of our thoughts. When I began dwelling upon, “I’ll never get to see her again,” or “She’ll never be able to make me laugh again like she used to,” I found it was quite easy to slip into despair. Continue reading Self-Pity: A Quiet Snare

Playing in Fire: A Parable

hills_of_fire_by_kkartA man wakes up in an unfamiliar field.  Sniffing the air, he detects something burning, only to realize that the “fog” obscuring the sun above him is in actuality a thick cloud of smoke.  Rising to his feet, he confirms the entire field is encompassed by a wildfire, which is quickly drawing nearer to himself.  There is a section of grass that has not burned straight ahead of him.  Peering into the distance, he sees that it is a path leading to a large body of water.  Luckily, there is a dock with a boat at the water’s edge.  The captain of the boat is untying the ropes from the dock while frantically beckoning the man in the field toward himself.

The man in the field feels a gust of wind and sees the fire surging closer to him.  Continue reading Playing in Fire: A Parable

What Do Icons Mean?

007-Trinity-icon-hospitality-AbrahamThe following is an article written by iconographer Michael Goltz. In it, he explains the theology of the icon, its use, symbolism, how/why characters are portrayed, etc. I hope it is as beneficial to you as it was to me.

The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church’s teaching. People are greatly influenced by what they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, has given us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church has elevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What the Gospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually. Continue reading What Do Icons Mean?

True Fasting – The Journey of Great Lent

From Pravoslavie - Russian celebration of "Mother of God, quick to hearken"“When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. Continue reading True Fasting – The Journey of Great Lent

The Casting out of Adam and Forgiveness Sunday

Casting of Adam out of Eden-ParadiseThis Sunday is called the Sunday of Forgiveness, in which we remember Adam and Eve being cast out of the Paradise of Eden. Though they initially wore no clothing, they were robed in garments of light and beauty. When cast out of Eden, they were clothed in skins of flesh, which signifies what is now our mortal, corruptible bodies.

Through transgressing the commandment of God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve broke the divinely appointed fast. Now we, having inherited corrupted human nature and contributing our own sins to it, are called to keep a new divinely appointed fast: that of Great Lent. Continue reading The Casting out of Adam and Forgiveness Sunday