What God Finds to Be Beautiful

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matthew 26:10)

Today, the Wednesday before Pascha (Easter), we remember this event in which the soul of a harlot was saved through tears and repentance, and the soul of a disciple of Christ was lost forever through greed and envy.

This is the only place in the Gospels that I know of that our Lord and God states something is “beautiful” to Him.  That causes me to stop and ponder: what does God find to be beautiful?

The Psalmist writes, “A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise.” (Psalm 50/51)

When we fall down at the feet of Christ in genuine repentance, it is a beautiful thing for invisibly we are re-establishing inward communion with the God of love, grace, and beauty.  An inward roadway is opened to the heavens for the angels, the saints, and the Lord Himself to descend within us and carry us upward into the heights of heaven, making us adopted children of the most high God.

Suffering to Enter The Bridal Chamber

I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there.  Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me. (Canticle Nine, Holy Tuesday Matins).

O Bridegroom, surpassing all in beauty, Thou hast called us to the spiritual feast of Thy bridal chamber.  Strip from me the disfigurement of sin, through participation in Thy sufferings; clothe me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty, and in Thy compassion make me feast with joy at Thy Kingdom. (ibid)

The door of the bridal chamber is open; God’s wedding feast has been prepared within; the Bridegroom is at hand and calls us.  Let us then make ready. (Canticle Three, Holy Tuesday Great Compline)

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ…And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. (1st Corinthians 1:5,7)

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10)

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:29)

There’s a cleansing power in suffering that the false prophets of the worldly gospel refuse to acknowledge.  While forms of American “Christianity” teach health, wealth, and physical beauty, our Lord calls to us from the cross, blood dripping from His holy Body, “Join in my sufferings that you may partake in life.”

There are two roads before us: the “good life” of pleasure and amusement that the world offers us (sometimes cloaked as Christianity) and the road of the cross,  of suffering, and of death.  But through the death of this latter road, we find resurrection in this age and the age to come.

Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelations 22:20)

The Impossibility of Repentance

Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.

In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it. Continue reading The Impossibility of Repentance

Understanding Theosis

Perhaps the most scandalous doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church for heterodox Christians is that of theosis, which is often translated as divinization.  It is the means of salvation that has been taught since the time of the apostles, but most Christians have never heard of it, and even some Orthodox are unfamiliar with it.

BECOMING GODS

It is written, Ye are gods, in Psalm 81/82 and in 2nd Peter 1:4 we are called to be partakers in the divine nature.  As I have written in the past, we cannot partake in the divine nature without either pulling that nature down to something less than divine or being elevated to it.

St. Athanasius states,  The Word of God… assumed humanity that we might become God, [1] St. Macarius wrote that those Christians who struggle and conquer are kings and lords and gods [2], and countless other fathers from both East and West have taught this doctrine. Continue reading Understanding Theosis

Remember Who You Are

One of my favorite movies as a child was Disney’s The Lion King.  In the movie, there is a character, Simba, who has left his royal family to be raised by a pig and a meerkat.  He fills his days with play and singing “Hakuna Matata,” which means “no worries,” but in actuality, is practiced as “no responsibility and no need to ever grow up.”  He pursues a life of selfish play, which is interrupted when his father, who is in the heavens, reminds him to “Remember who you are.”

We, like Simba, have left the divine royalty and sonship to which we have been called and have wasted our lives in fruitless play, sinful passions, and the pursuit of the “good life” this world offers.  Our Father in Heaven is calling us to remember who we are, and in the words of St. Macarius, I find that reminder.  He says, Continue reading Remember Who You Are

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.