Struggling with Hope

In my last blog, Struggling Toward Salvation, I discussed how in Orthodoxy I had to let go of the idea of “blessed assurance,” that salvation is taken care of and now I can just sit back and enjoy life.

In my own reflections, and in discussions with several friends, I have seen a great deal of discouragement.  Once we begin to recognize our pitiful, sinful state, a feeling of hopelessness can easily grip the heart.  But such hopelessness is not godly.

Our fear of God and the Day of Judgement is meant to be reverential and not anxious.  So, while we do not go through this life feeling like we are already saved and the struggle is done, we do persevere in the hope that God, through whatever hardship and trials encounter us, is actively saving us. Continue reading Struggling with Hope

Struggling Toward Salvation

In Eastern Orthodoxy, I am confronted with an uncomfortable fact: the work of my salvation is in progress.

In my Protestant years, I basically learned, “You’ve already been saved, everything is done, now go and enjoy life.”  But Orthodoxy confronts me with an entirely different path of salvation.  Here, I am taught that God accomplished everything on His part to save me.  But now I must do my part.

It is not enough to say, “I am a son of God!” or “Jesus, I want to go to Heaven!”  I must live like a son of God, like a heavenly creature. Continue reading Struggling Toward Salvation

Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts, Part 2

In 1990, a great holy elder in Romania named Paisius, fell asleep in the Lord.  Recently, a wonderful collection of his stories and teachings was published by St. Herman Press entitled A Little Corner of Paradise, and, I must confess, reading this beautiful collection brings me to a Paradisaical corner.

In one section, he is counseling some women who have come to him, one of whom is struggling with despondency and blasphemous thoughts.  He says to her:

What is this about despair and despondency?  Despondency, despair — this is the greatest sin.  Don’t say, “I won’t be saved, I’m praying in vain.”  No — say, “Where are these thoughts coming from?  Oh, no.  With the help of our dear Mother of God, I will be saved.”  The door of Paradise is open, my dear, if we want to enter; God does not force anyone.  He may sometimes drag someone in — by sending an illness or a difficulty, but God loves him who gives willingly. Continue reading Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts, Part 2

Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts

“When I was a novice monk, for a certain period of time, the devil brought to me such blasphemous thoughts even when I was in Church, and I grieved over them a great deal.  Whatever I had heard spoken by others, when I had been a soldier, swear words, curses and so forth, the devil would bring to my mind about the Saints.

“My Spiritual Father would say to me, ‘These thoughts are from the devil.  The fact that a person is grieved over these impure thoughts which go through his mind about the holy and sacred things, this alone is already proof that they are not his own but, rather, come from outside.’  I, however, continued to be distressed by them…

“One day during the Divine Liturgy, at the Trisagion Hymn, I, with the other monks, was chanting quietly the Trisagion Hymn of Neleos.  Then I saw a huge and fearful beast with a dog’s head entering from the door of the Litye.  Flames were coming out of its mouth and its eyes!  He turned and gave me two gestures of a curse, because I was chanting Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us. Continue reading Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts

An Ancient Icon of the Presentation of Our Lord

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel.
-Luke 2

And as we sing in one of our services:

It is not the elder who holdeth Me but rather I hold him.  For he asketh Me to dismiss him.
An explanation of the Presentation icon:
There are the familiar figures of Joseph the Betrothed and Mary the Theotokos. Joseph is holding two pigeons as the purification sacrifice. The Mother of God is passing the Christ child to Symeon. We see an altar with a Eucharistic chalice and Christ over the altar/chalice, signifying that it is of Him that we partake when receiving the Eucharist. Symeon held the Lord in his arms, and we hold Him within us when receiving divine communion.
Continue reading An Ancient Icon of the Presentation of Our Lord

Faith and Doubt

…strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3)

Blessed Theophylact, commenting [1] on this passage writes,

This means that Christ will make His abode in your hearts, not superficially, but in the depths thereof.  How does this happen? “By faith.”

Herein lies a problem for modern man: I believe we are truly a generation of people who severely lack faith, myself included.  In practical matters, we turn to science for all explanations, ignoring the spiritual element that at times may be the cause for that which science can measure and detect.

In religious matters, we are perhaps faring even worse.  Popular authors who write about Christianity appear edgy to their readers by embracing doubt, as if it were something novel and virtuous.  One such author wrote a book subtitled To Believe Is Human, To Doubt Is Divine. Continue reading Faith and Doubt

The Incarnation and the Church

I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15)
 
He [the Father] put all things under His [the Son’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)
 
Today is the Leavetaking of the Nativity of our Lord. Today, among other passages, we are given these two to reflect upon. A critical part of the incarnation is the establishment of the Body of Christ, the church, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” and “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
 
It is fashionable these days to reject the church and claim to love Jesus instead. But as one early Christian said, you cannot have God as your Father without having the church as your mother.
 
Our Lord did not come to establish a better philosophy, a holy book, or a group of people loosely associated with His name, but rather to bring men out of the captivity of sin and death and into the ark of salvation, His body, the church. The church is the hospital for the soul, filled with spiritually sick people who are moving toward healing and wholeness through partaking in the mysteries of grace.


Nativity icon is from the OCA’s website.

The Christmas Story in Color

I found this Christmas icon in a group of old Russian icons.  I thought I’d share it here on my blog for the benefit of those who enjoy iconography.  It tells the Christmas story/drama in a pictorial fashion.  As Michel Quenot said, “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words”.

I haven’t figured out every detail of it, but here’s my best shot at it:

Starting at the top left: we have the annunciation in which the archangel Gabriel is telling the Theotokos (Mary) the good news of the salvation of the world.  I’m not too sure who the figure to the far left is who is holding a scroll.  My guess would be righteous Simeon from who states in Luke 2:29-32, Continue reading The Christmas Story in Color

In Harmony with Nature

There exists within us this internal Way, or as some of the Eastern ancients called it, the Tao.  St. John Cassian records one desert father speaking of this internal Way that was still quite strong in the pre-Flood days.  People could walk into the woods and know which plants were edible, which were toxic, and which were good for medicines.  The knowledge was intuitive, and did not necessarily have to be taught.  Humans simply flowed with this internal rhythm.

The animals sensed when man was flowing with the rhythm of this internal Way and were at peace with him.  It was not until after the great Flood that we see animals fearing mankind, Continue reading In Harmony with Nature

Who Is at My Gate?

beggar at a wall“[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

I remember hearing Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory say, God has saved everyone, but not everyone is working out their salvation. God greatly desires the salvation of every person, and He strategically places things into our lives in order to assist our attaining to that salvation.

That lesson is something I noticed the last time I read the well known parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s Gospel. The second verse of the parable states,

But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate. (Luke 16:20).

Why was Lazarus laid at the gate of the rich man? Because God wanted this selfish person to see his neighbor, a fellow Jew, wasting away in hunger in order that the wealthy man would take care of him.

There can be no repentance or salvation without works to prove it. Not that our works save us, but they are the proof that our repentance is sincere. If this rich man was never given a way to repent of his selfishness, then at the Final Judgment he could say, “You are right, God, to condemn me as selfish. But you never gave me a way to change; You never put someone in need in my path to do good works.” Continue reading Who Is at My Gate?

Lessons from the Art of War: The Five Factors

the-art-of-war-coverA few year ago, I read in one of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church that it would greatly benefit Christians to read books on warfare because it would teach us to engage the enemy in spiritual battle. Those who have experience in combat likely understand this better than myself.

I just recently acquired a copy of the ancient Chinese classic The Art of War and have been impressed with it. Everything in it must be understood allegorically, which is a bit tough for me at times. But Lord willing, I will perhaps extract a few of the more easily grasped gems. Continue reading Lessons from the Art of War: The Five Factors

A Lesson on Greatness

rabbit_of_pushistik_by_mechtaniya

I.

Willie speaks.

Is it wrong, the wish to be great,
For I do wish it so?
I have asked already my sister Kate;
She says she does not know.

Yestereve at the gate I stood
Watching the sun in the west;
When I saw him look so grand and good
It swelled up in my breast.

Next from the rising moon
It stole like a silver dart;
In the night when the wind began his tune
It woke with a sudden start. Continue reading A Lesson on Greatness