Faith – Works – Salvation

A while back, I published a blog on Faith vs. Works.  It wasn’t very good and it received some much needed criticism for its lack of patristic insight.  So, I thought I would give it another shot.

Probably the reason I got off track last time was because I started within the erroneous Western false dichotomy of faith vs. works.  This time, I won’t discuss the Western positions, Calvinism, Arminianism, Martin Luther, or any others.  The whole faith vs. works argument never existed in the East.  Nor do we teach salvation through works, as if we can earn our way to heaven.

SALVATION IN ORTHODOXY

Instead, here is how I understand Orthodox Soteriology:

God created man in His image and likeness with the purpose of eternally communing with mankind.  However, we fell into sin, shattering the image and likeness of God within ourselves, but not completely destroying it.  The nous, that is the spiritual organ (sometimes translated as mind/intellect in the Bible and the Fathers), was darkened and blinded by sin.  In that state, we could no longer truly commune with God.  For communion in the Orthodox sense is not simply fellowship, but union and oneness.  Death entered humanity through sin, and the creature that was created for eternal communion fell into decay. Continue reading Faith – Works – Salvation

The Oppression of Idleness

Be on your guard against idleness, O beloved, for it conceals a sure death… On [Judgement] Day, God will not judge us about psalmody, nor for the neglect of prayer, but because by abandoning them we have opened our door to the demons. Whenever they find room, they enter and close the doors of our inner chambers and of our noetic eyes,” subjecting us to their tyranny and impurity and holding us captive. [1]

St. Isaac’s warning is even more relative to us today, especially when we understand “idleness” not to be a state of twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing, but all of those moments that we waste our attention on things that God has not called us to, which happens perhaps hundreds of times a day.

Continue reading The Oppression of Idleness

The Next Step in My Journey

Over the years, I have purposely kept the details of my personal life vague in this blog.  I value privacy, both my own and others, and sometimes cringe when I see people share explicitly private details about their lives in public forums online.  However, I am about to embark on the next big step in life and I wanted to share a bit of what is to come and also how my readers can help.

I have received a blessing from my bishop and several priests and mentors whom I have known over the years to begin studies at seminary in order to fulfill my calling in the priesthood.  Last week, my wife and I moved up to Pennsylvania, and later this month, I will begin at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

I have not had much of a chance to write fresh material lately since I was working hard at getting our previous home ready to sell, getting packed, and then moving from North Carolina up to Pennsylvania with my wife.  It’s been good, but busy!

If you so desire, here is how you can greatly help me:

1. Please pray, pray, pray!  Anything that we do for God that is worthwhile will come with some resistance from the enemy, that especially goes for those who are pursuing a pastoral ministry.  The devil does not want more priests, and will do what he can to stop me.  I need you, my brothers and sisters, to hold both me and my wife up in prayer as we go through these exciting and challenging years.

2.  My wife and I agreed that the timing was right, and we have stepped out in faith that God will provide for us during our three years here at St. Tikhon’s.  We have been promised assistance with tuition and some living expenses, but we still need help.  In order to make donations easy, I have set up a couple of online gifting methods: a GoFundMe page and a PayPal link.  You can also email me for my physical address if you prefer to write a check.

With all of the theological studies and ideas bouncing around in my head, I am sure I will have plenty of inspiration for blogs.  The primary challenge will be finding time to jot those ideas down in a format that keeps with the current tone of my blog and doesn’t feel too academic.

Please pray for me and my wife (Jeremiah and Theophania) as we embark on this great adventure.  I will also continue to keep you, my readers, in my prayers.

Glory to God for all things!

Theology without the Lines

Imagine some centuries ago, a pregnant woman is placed in a dungeon.  She gives birth to a son while in this prison.  Having no windows except one near the top that allows some sunlight in during the day, the woman uses a pencil and paper pad, her sole possessions, and draws pictures for her son.

The pictures include things such as trees, flowery landscapes, mountains, and some animals.  The boy treasures these sketches for he has never seen the outside world.  Whenever the boy imagines the great outdoors, it is consequently in the form of pencil sketches.

One day, he is released from the dungeon.  Squinting in the bright sunlight, Continue reading Theology without the Lines

The Shipwreck and the Silence

To what then shall I liken our present condition?  It may be compared, I think, to a naval battle, fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight.

Do you see the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack?  With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out.  Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost.

To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.  From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other.

Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants.  Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.

To make matters worse, Continue reading The Shipwreck and the Silence

Ponderings on the Eucharist

When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we are participating in divine reality.  It is not merely a religious ceremony with symbolic gestures, but an active participation in the life of Christ.  The priest prays,

“Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts offered.

“Make this Bread the precious Body of Thy Christ…and that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ… Making the change by Thy Holy Spirit.

“Amen. Amen. Amen.”

We call upon the Father to send the Holy Spirit to not only transform the bread and wine, but the people as well, into the Body of Christ – into the very likeness of God.  But the change we are praying for does not happen automatically or magically.  It is something we must willfully engage in. Continue reading Ponderings on the Eucharist

Our King and Brother

When drawing close to the Promised Land, the holy patriarch Moses, being inspired by God, saw that the people would desire a kingly ruler. He therefore laid out rules for them, as is found in Deuteronomy:

You shall surely set a ruler over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as a ruler over yourself; you cannot set a foreigner over yourself, because he is not your brother. (17:15)

What does such a commandment have to do with those of us who live thousands of years after this was spoken? Everything, for it was ultimately portraying the image of Christ as our ruler.

Since the fall of mankind, the proper authority and hierarchy has been usurped by the passions. These serve as foreign rulers over each one of us. The Apostle Paul laments our condition when he writes to the Romans, Continue reading Our King and Brother

Avoiding Angry Streets

Do not pass through the streets of the hot-tempered and quarrelsome, lest your heart be filled with anger, and the darkness of delusion dominate your soul. [1]

Such a warning from St. Isaac the Syrian, when taken literally, is not particularly applicable for me. How often do I travel down streets filled with angry people? I wouldn’t even know whether or not the people on a street are angry since travel by vehicle mostly detaches me from my surroundings.

But I think the spirit of what St. Isaac writes here is even more applicable today than perhaps it was in his time. How often do we log on to Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media and see memes and rants from people who are outraged about something? How often do we see people arguing about politics or religion? How often are we sucked into those debates only to regret the amount of time and energy that we’ve wasted quarreling with a friend, family member, or total stranger? Even when I avoid commenting, I find that some “outrage” that a friend has shared often sticks with me throughout the day. I either share in his or her outrage or am annoyed at their anger.

It is the 21st century and I’m not going to suggest we unplug from social media, though that would probably be one of the healthiest things for our nation. What I would suggest, however, is that we unfollow those who often post things online that stir up our emotions, that includes friends, groups, and even news agencies. The latter have mastered the art of toying with our emotions under the guise of keeping us “informed.”

I have personally found great benefit from overhauling my social media usage this year. It has brought me more sanity, clarity of thought, and peace of mind throughout the day. I would encourage you also to join me in trying to avoid the “digital streets” of the outraged, the angry, and the quarrelsome. Continue reading Avoiding Angry Streets

Beating the Devil

I think there comes a point in every person’s life in which they feel they cannot keep fighting the same sin over and over.  Recently, a young man admitted that he was thinking about quitting church due to his addiction to pornography and being too embarrassed to keep confessing his sin every week to the same priest.  Such a story is not uncommon.

In the spiritual struggle, one of the devil’s most successful tactics is to convince people that resistance will inevitably fail.  As I wrote in The Warrior’s Heart, we must not ever give up.  Our struggle is the most important aspect of the battle with the passions; even more so than victory.

To those who feel hopeless, St. Isaac the Syrian writes, Continue reading Beating the Devil

The Promise in Leaf Buds

Were seasons to last years, and the full cycle of them a decade, still we could look upon a simple maple tree on the harshest winter day and witness the glowing red leaf buds.  They are both a promise and a reminder that spring will come and life will jubilantly leap forth, no matter how gray the sky or how cold the winter wind that strikes us.

In a similar manner, we have transcendent moments where we sense something invisible behind the visible beauty.  There is a Mover that quietly moves, a Muse that paints the sun-kissed sky as the glowing orb gracefully reclines in the west.  Our spirit leaps forth toward the heavens, aching, yearning, even weeping with the hope that there is something more.  This comforting pain in our transcendent moment is like our leaf bud upon the maple branch.

With the intrusive world of electronic media, war, disease, suffering, and injustice are flung into our faces faster than we can process their meaning, leaving us in a state of depression or hopelessness.  The world around us is being consumed by a dark chaos that threatens us as well.  These painful years are our winter months.  Though they seem unending, leaf buds are on the trees, and the promise will not be left unfulfilled. Continue reading The Promise in Leaf Buds

The Warrior’s Heart

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu – the life-long friend of Gilgamesh – is lying upon his sick bed, slowly dying of disease.  He laments,

“I shall not die like a man fallen in battle; I feared to fall, but happy is the man who falls in the battle, for I must die in shame.” [1]

Such a sentiment was also found on the other side of the world among the ancient Native Americans.  One Winnebago, passing along the wisdom of old, told his son,

“It is not good to die in the village.  This we tell all those who are growing up.  Do not permit women to journey ahead of you in your village.” [2]

The meaning of the saying is that a man should not grow old in the village, but rather die in battle.  It is a shame to outlive the women in the village and for them to “journey ahead” into the afterlife.

In a spiritual sense, I think this is an important attitude for Christians to have.  We will all die, but in whatever state God finds us, there shall He judge us. [3]  When I die, will God find me diseased and stricken with the passions?  Will sin be latched onto me and my members causing me to lie in spiritual idleness?  Or will I go down in battle against the passions?

Whether or not I conquer the passions in this life is not the point; it is whether or not I keep fighting.  Most of us will not win the war against our sinful desires and attain a completely dispassionate state in this life.  As many monastic fathers have told us, the continual battle against the passions does more good for us than if we were to be completely delivered. Continue reading The Warrior’s Heart

Raising Others to Virtue

A curious practice is advised by St. Isaac the Syrian.  He essentially tells us to speak what we want to see in others.  He writes,

When you meet your fellow man, constrain yourself to pay him more honor than is his due.  Kiss his hands and feet, often take his hands with deep respect, put them over your eyes, and praise him for what he does not even possess. 

And when he parts from you, say every good thing about him, and whatever it may be that commands respect.  For by these and similar acts, you draw him to good and make him feel ashamed because of the gracious names by which you have called him, and you sow the seeds of virtue in him.  Continue reading Raising Others to Virtue