Why a Closed Communion Table? Part 2

akathist resurrection eucharist orthodoxOne of my greatest stumbling blocks coming into the Orthodox Church was the closed communion table. Growing up Protestant, my experience was that the table was open to anyone who considered themselves to be a Christian. Attending an Orthodox Church and not being able to partake of the Eucharist was difficult for me. I believe in Jesus, isn’t that enough?

My historical studies revealed just how unaware I was of Christian practices before the 20th century. I blogged about that previously; this blog will be focused more on the theological reasons for a “closed table.”

Perhaps the best place to start is with scripture and the questions:

  • When did Christians begin partaking of the Eucharist?
  • What is the Eucharist?
  • Why do Christians partake of it?
  • And finally, why is the table open only to Orthodox members in good standing?

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Developing Inner Prayer, Part 2

silence at ValaamGod does not need our prayers or praise. But we as His creatures, made in His image, must return to the Source of our being in order to become fully alive and filled with love. Two of the most important steps toward developing inward and outward prayer are realizing the great love of God and then putting our faith and hope in that love.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, “God Himself wishes and is ready to give you all that is needed for you to serve Him rightly, and to bestow upon you every blessing you need.” Continue reading

Developing Inner Prayer, Part 1

prayer at Valaam MonasteryThe convincing factor that led me to join the Orthodox Church was not the theology or the worship services, it was prayer. In only a few months, through the teachings of the fathers, I learned more about developing prayer than I had heard in my entire life. And I saw the fruit of it too.

My last blog focused on short prayers that one can say throughout the day. The most important of all of these is the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” As St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain teaches, “Preeminence belongs to the Jesus Prayer because it unites the soul with our Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus is the only door to union with God, which is the aim of prayer.” Continue reading

Prayerful Sighings

Colorful Tree canopyIt is not unusual for me during my prayer rule to say a handful of prayers and suddenly realize my mind has been completely absent from prayer – thinking about certain events or people. I’ve had times at the Divine Liturgy where several minutes go by, even a large portion of the service, and I realize I have hardly paid any attention to what is happening.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain writes,

And so it happens; the most assiduous recital of prayer can never be practiced without the thought darting away and wandering outside. Since this disturbs the prayer and makes it impure, there is no man who practices prayer, who is not chagrined by it and does not wish to be delivered from this incapacity. Continue reading

The Tale of Moral Progress

from http://krmenxa.deviantart.com/art/Evolution-53007718

image by krmenxa on deviantart

A concept that is so integrated into our subconscious that we do not even realize its presence within us is the modern lie regarding the progress of humanity. This legend states that over time, mankind is progressing and leaving the old, oppressive ways behind.

Certainly we have seen forms of progress in the past fifty years regarding technology and some civil issues. But do these things confirm that we are collectively evolving as a society? Or are we simply making a few corrections with one hand while driving society deeper into depravity with the other? Continue reading

The Unblindness of Love

Transfiguration of Christ iconLove is not blindness, it pierces through skin and marrow with x-ray vision; it looks upon the other and sees the deeper things of the heart.

Love is not blindness, it hovers over all the earth, seeking every soul that will empty itself to create a dwelling place; it is joyful with the most humble and smallest abodes.

Love is not blindness, it hears the hurtful words but sees the wounded heart below the surface, and loves it all the more.

Love is not blindness, it feels the tossed stones, the blazing fire, the piercing nails, the stinging bullets, the cutting sword, and untold pain, yet keeps reaching out with open arms.

Love is not blindness, it discerns beneath the rebellious dark heart, a soul’s child crying out for freedom from the tyrannical passions.

Love is not blindness, it seeks unity, the consummation of oneness in all, without consuming, destroying, or depersonalizing the object of its healing touch.

Love is not blindness, it cools the raging of the defiant heart with its gentle honey-caress, finding its home within all while all seek a refuge within. Continue reading

The Pitfall of Criticism

mtathos1Among the stewards [of St Panteleimon Monastery on Mt. Athos] was a certain monk, Father P., who was outstandingly capable, yet somehow always unlucky – his initiatives usually met with no sympathy among the fathers, and his undertakings often ended in failure.  One day, after such an enterprise had resulted in disaster, he was subjected to sharp criticism at the stewards’ table.  Father Silouan was present with the others but took no part in the ‘prosecution.’  Then one of the stewards, Father M., turned to him and said:

‘You are silent, Father Silouan.  That means you side with Father P. and don’t care about the damage he has caused the community.’

Father Silouan said nothing, quickly finished eating and then went up to Father M., who by that time had also left the table, and said to him,

‘Father M., how many years have you been in the Monastery?’

‘Thirty-five.’

‘Have you ever heard me criticize anyone?’

‘No, never.’

‘Then why do you want me to begin on Father P.?’

[from St Silouan The Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press]

A TURNING POINT

When I read the above narrative I had to stop and put the book down.  Could anyone claim to have known me for even thirty-five minutes and state they had never heard me criticize others?  Words of judgment, criticism, and condescension were part of my vernacular.  Granted, they were frequently used to be humorous or tout my intelligence (pride); I was convicted at that moment that many of my thoughts and words revolved around criticism. Continue reading

The Life-Giving Cross

Great Lent - Week 3

There is a beautiful irony in the language of the Orthodox Church.  While certain parts of Great Lent focus on the cruelty and brutality that Christ endured for us on the cross, most of our hymns point to the victory, freedom, and life achieved through what was once an instrument of torture and shame.

That is one of the things I admire about Orthodoxy: it does not seek to generate a service filled with emotion or warm fuzzies; instead, it is a spiritual experience.  Emotions are not bad, but they are temporary.  When a service aims to move people through emotional appeal, those who conduct it can be certain that people will fall away from or out of that emotional state, possibly as soon as they leave the parking lot.  The Orthodox Church changes and transforms us by offering an experience of God Himself.

The following are selections from the vespers service of the Adoration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross:


 

O Christ our God, of Thine own will Thou hast accepted Crucifixion, that all mankind might be restored to life.  Taking the quill of the Cross, out of love for man in the red ink of royalty with bloody fingers Thou has signed our absolution. Continue reading

Confronting Temptations

Elder Ephraim of Arizona, image from hellas-orthodoxy.blogspot.com

Elder Ephraim of Arizona, image from hellas-orthodoxy.blogspot.com

The Great Fast, also known as Great Lent, is just around the corner.  During this time, many Orthodox will begin eating a vegan diet.  Many of us will also make an effort to say a few more prayers each day and eliminate some distractions such as social media, television, and internet usage in order to create more time for prayer and spiritual reading.

These things of themselves do not save us.  Rather, they are the method which we use to open ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Those who are taking their spiritual struggle seriously during the Great Fast will likely find that the amount of demonic warfare increases.  This manifests itself in different ways: new distractions when we pull away from old ones, a barrage of thoughts that come during prayer and spiritual reading, and other temptations that wish to test our resolve.

Many of us wonder: why do I have to face these spiritual struggles?  Wouldn’t it be so much better if God could just wave a magical wand over us and make temptations go away?  Why do we have trials?

In answer to those questions, I will post the insights and stories of a God-bearing elder whose own elder was St Joseph the Hesychast.  He is from Mt Athos and currently is the elder of a monastery in Arizona.  His name is Elder Ephraim and this is from his book The Art of Salvation. Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 4

WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society; image from Wikipedia

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society

After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.

Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess? Continue reading

Assaulting God, Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

JESUS IS THE GREAT I AM

from https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/discovering-the-unburnt-bush-icon/When arguing with the Pharisees one day, we read in John 8:56 Jesus claimed,

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.

For fairly good reasons, the Jews scratched their heads, a bit perplexed. Here was a fairly young man, roughly 30 years old, claiming to have known Abraham. So, not knowing his exact age they argue, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?

Jesus said to them,

Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.

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Assaulting God, Part 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

THE FAMOUS 3:16 AND SPIRIT CHILDREN

from http://kmooreperspective.blogspot.com/2012/05/closer-look-at-john-316.htmlOne of the most popular verses in the entire Bible is also from St John’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In this we see a radical concept: Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. CS Lewis explains it quite brilliantly in Mere Christianity:

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in the modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds.

But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a… statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one…

What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.

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