Political Philosophy (MiniBlog #3)

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Many know I consider myself a Libertarian; in reality it is more like a quasi Libertarian. However, I am open to changing my views if a better political philosophy were to present itself. So far Libertarianism is the best especially in regards to foreign policy and civil liberties. I am not likely to stop being Libertarian on those two issues, which lead me to Libertarianism to begin with.

I am open to hearing new political philosophical views if one can show me one that is practical to American life in the 21st century. This means Monarchy is out…period. Do not preach to me Monarchy please. Many Orthodox condemn Libertarianism as not being compatible with the Faith. However, they only preach against it. They never offer alternative views that aren’t Monarchy.

I am a sinner. I do not have it all figured out. I wrestle with the context of 21st century life in America as an Orthodox Christian. I am a thinker. I am a man living in the world, so I engage the best I can in my society.

So if you are Orthodox then let us talk. What are some alternative political philosophies that you consider compatible with the Church’s teachings outside of Monarchy? I am not done learning and growing. I never will be. I just wrestle with the tension of being an Orthodox Christian in 21st century like everyone else.

As Orthodox Christians, we are exiles in a foreign land indeed. Our allegiance is to Christ and His Kingdom first and foremost! I wish sometimes I could be a monk on Mt. Athos who could ignore all these worldly concerns that distract us from theosis, but I am a man in the world and I must be concerned. We must pray for our leaders no matter our political atmosphere for it is good to do. So that being said I hope this post prompts convicted civility and dialogue that is edifying and respectful.

Epilogue: I find many have wrong preconceived notions of Libertarianism. This site is explains those mouths and truths of Libertarianism:

http://mises.org/daily/2616

The Airplanes

ImagePREFACE: A few days ago I wrote a blog about the Orthodox understanding of thoughts and how they negatively affect us. I have decided to follow up with the next few thoughts from Fr. Maximos on how to combat the logismoi. I want to make it clear that blog post from a few days ago as well as this one are not to be taken as instructions, but as information. I am not a priest, an elder, bishop, or spiritual director of any sort. I am merely a fellow sinner trying to work out my own salvation. I share these ruminations with you in order that you may do further study and speak to your spiritual elder about the implementation of what you read here. These thoughts are to enlighten and prompt thinking. If one takes action I highly recommend it be under the guidance of a gracious priest or spiritual director. Also, reading this post without first reading the one mentioned above will leave one with many holes. I highly recommend reading it first before reading this one. 

Many read my latest blog post titled “An Avalanche” which covered the topic of the logismoi in Orthodoxy spirituality. This wisdom came from reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“. In the chapter following the one where Father Maximos speaks on the logismoi, we see Fr. Maximos give a strategy, so to speak, about how to combat the logismoi. Kyriacos brings the topic back up at one point in the chapter and Father talks about how a pilgrim came to an Athonite elder and pleaded with him to help him combat his logismoi. This young man was distraught over the attack the logismoi would wage against him particularly during the Divine Liturgy. They would fill his mind with horrible thoughts about God and His existence. While the young man and the elder talked an airplane flew over Mt. Athos. The elder used this moment to teach the young pilgrim that an airplane flying over above us is what the logismoi indeed resemble. He said to the pilgrim:

If we don’t allow a logismos to land inside the depths of our hearts and minds, then even if we see it and hear it, even if it bothers us for awhile by it presence, we should never be afraid of it. We must not wail and beat our chests because an airplane passed over the roof of our house. Only when that airplane crashes on our house should we worry” (page 135).

The point of the story about the elder and the pilgrim is this: the best way to combat the logismoi is to in fact ignore them the same way we would ignore an airplane flying over our house. In fact, we would probably not even notice an airplane flying over our house today due to all the distractions or from being use to hearing one and ignoring it. The holy elders state that it is for the best to ignore the logismoi when it whispers or even shouts at us.

Fr. Maximos says ignoring the logismoi “is the healthiest and most productive method to head them off right at their inception. Ignore them completely. Never open up a dialogue with these intruders” (page 135). And they are indeed like intruders are they not? I know my mind is constantly bombarded with logismoi, particularly ones that tell me to lust. I know the lack of boundaries these thoughts have! I would never in my right mind invite an intruder into my house, give him coffee and treats, and converse with him while he held us at gun point while robbing us! It is the same with our logismoi! Why in the world would we allow these dark, evil thoughts filled with craziness to enter our minds and hearts to steal our peace and joy? But yet, we often succumb to their commands do we not? I know I do. They are powerful enemies in the fight for our salvation! Fr. Maximos goes on to say:

Do not interact with them either out of curiosity or out of overconfidence. It is a tactical error. It’s like starting a dialogue with a mortal enemy who is much more clever than you. if you pay attention to a logismos you must realize that it will become increasingly bolder. It will begin to invade your heart with louder and louder noise. The best strategy in confronting a logismos, therefore, is to completely disregard it. Do not focus on what it tells you and urges you to do” (page 135).

Father gives another illustration that if someone is out in your yard urging you to come out and fight and is throwing every curse word in the book at you that the best way to keep yourself safe is to remain strongly boarded up in your house with doors and windows locked tight. Showing this type of indifference to the logismoi is what the holy elders said is the best way to fight them. Just keep them out…period!

Father Maximos then discusses that there are exceptions to this rule. He mentioned what is called adversarial methods for when fundamental principles of the Faith are being attacked by the logismoi that is attacking you. He pointed out that such a case would be when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He did not ignore him, but fought him back with Scripture. Fr. mentioned how the saints who have reached the stage of complete union with God and freedom from their passions can debate and defend such logismoi. However, he strongly suggested that a novice (meaning all most all who read this myself included) should not attempt to do this, but to remain in our steadfastness to ignore the logismoi completely! Having this attitude of complete indifference is far better for us at this stage of spiritual development.

Kyriacos then takes the conversation further by asking Fr. Maximos what he should do if he cannot chase away the negative logismoi and is at the point of surrendering to it. This is where Fr. Maximos recommended a game that the holy elders left us. This game is when you introduce or inject into your mind what they called a “splitting logismos”. Fr. says, “That means grab onto another logismoi and shift your focus on that.” This method is one I tried implementing today in fact. I had some random thoughts pop in my mind throughout the day, usually very sinful thoughts tempting me, and I would focus my mind to a song, a drum beat, or to what was being said by others. I simply focused my mind on something else. I was not always successful, but I did find that it helped me a great deal. Fr. goes on to say:

In cases when the logismoi refuses to retreat, the advice of the elders is to shift your focus to something else, even to something foolish or irrelevant. It is a ploy to trick the mind. Think about something ridiculous instead, for the sake of undermining the power and energy of the logismoi that torments you. By using this method you can gradually reduce the energy and force of the logismos. Next time it returns it will be weaker” (page 137).

One other form of combating the logismoi is hard, manual labor! Fr. Maximos points out the spiritual effort of a hard day’s work when it comes to fighting the logismoi. Of course, we do not have to do hard physical labor, but I think having a job one loves and cares about can serve in its place. A job to keep us busy so to speak. It is like the old saying that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. This indeed will ring true for us if we are lazy and not working. We open our minds up to more attacks. Of course if one does not have a job one can find a hobby or things that involve physical labor outside to substitute for this method of combat. The monks and holy elders understood this. That is why they pray and work, pray and work. It serves to aid in overcoming the logismoi.

The Most Effective Weapon

Kyriacos at one point ask Fr. Maximos why he had not yet mentioned prayer and if prayer would be helpful in fighting the logismoi. Fr. explains to him that it is indeed the most effective and most powerful tool in combating the logismoi, especially the Jesus Prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Fr. says:

Keep in mind that participation in the mysteries and tradition of the Ecclesia is a form of spiritual nourishment that penetrates our inner world and empowers our soul to overcome the logismoi. This kind of spiritual work is what we call in one word askesis, meaning prayer, fasting, confession, communion, the study of the word of God and of the life of the saints, sleepless nights in all-night vigils and so on. All this leads to the strengthening of the soul through its embrace, as it were, by Divine Grace. This is the path that the soul takes in order to attain spiritual health” (page 138-139).

This call to imply the most effective weapon against the logismoi does not come without discernment and warning about when to use it. Fr. says that a person should never resort to praying, or to the Jesus Prayer, right after we are assaulted by a logismoi. He in fact states that doing so could have the opposite effect. Here’s why:

It may lead a person to extreme psychic turmoil and to a loss of self-mastery. Old Paisois [Father’s spiritual elder and teacher] used to tell us that when confronted with a logismos, whoever resorts to repeating the Prayer very rapidly resembles a terrified soldier in the heat of battle. He holds his rifle tight to his chest, paralyzed with fear. To reassure himself that he is not afraid he repeats ‘Holy virgin help me, Holy Virgin help me.’ And he shakes from head to toe, sitting there completely immobilized and unable to fight or even breath…

Before a person begins to pray, when confronted with a troublesome logismoi, a rational mastery over the situation must  be developed. Again, if at all possible, the best way is to emply the strategy of complete indifference[emphais mine]…

Pray, but not while in a state of panic. Not right at the moment when you are waging war against a logismos that immobilizes you. Under such conditions you become highly vulnerable to the machinations of the enemy. Prayer does its work at the deepest recesses of the human heart and leads to true spiritual health. But prayer should not be an alternative to using our reason and willpower in confronting the logismoi. It should not be practiced in a state of panic. Otherwise we will behave like the paralyzed solider of old Paisios” (page 139).

I feel that that is indeed wise of us not to pray right in the heat of battle. I wanted to share what Fr. had to say about that for I feel it is important to our spiritual development and health not to become paralyzed nor to treat prayer in such a manner.

Closing Thoughts

So far we have discussed how we can ignore the logismoi, engage it in battle under the guidance of a experienced spiritual elder/teacher, introduce the splitting logismoi, partake of the Mysteries of His Church for our well-being and freedom, and yield the weapon of prayer. Fr. Maximos says, “Regular and systematic prayer is the best practice for the attainment of spiritual health. It assists the mind to defend itself against intrusive logismoi. When our heart is guarded by prayer then no image or negative logismoi that comes our way gets imprinted on it.”

I think Father is right! I just remarked today in class to a new friend at work who happens to be Catholic that I struggle so much with prayer and how thankful I am that monks and nuns pray for us all the time. Our spiritual lives benefit greatly from a system of prayer or what many may know as a Rule of Life/Rule of Prayer. I highly recommend starting a Rule of Prayer and keeping it simple such as: wake up, cross myself, pray the Trisagion prayers, pray the Jesus prayer as it comes to mind during the day, then at night the Trisagion prayers again. Do not overburden yourself, but keep it light. Once you work the spiritual muscles they will become stronger.

To recap, few other ways to fight the logismoi are:

  • The reading and studying of holy texts: the Bible, Gospels, and lives of the Saints. These nourish us with grace and help us to fight the passions. They energize us and sustain us (page 141).
  • Splitting logismoi
  • A systematic, active, living prayer life
  • Attend sacred rituals of the Ecclesia, participation in Her Mysteries.
  • Repentance
  • Confession
  • Holy Eucharist
  • Not going to places of temptation or addiction
  • IGNORING THEM COMPLETELY AND NOT FEELING GUILTY FOR THEIR ATTACKING YOU!!!

Above all, we must also learn that God gives us battles to fight for us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fr. Maximos says, “The logismoi play an important role in the spiritual development of human beings…Quite often, negative logismoi serve God’s plan. Not that God Himself sets them up, but because it may be the only way for proud individuals to attain humility. The logismoi…can offer us extreme grief, bitter experiences, and pain.”

God’s mission is to reunited us with Him, to heal our souls from the disease of sin, and to rekindle the heart within us that communes with Him. His plan is to liberate us from the passions and the things that prevent us from union with Him. The logismoi may indeed serve in aiding us in our salvation and working it out. They will serve to knock us on our butts and to seek Him in all that we do so that we may be saved and healed.

These airplanes fly all around us, attempting to strike our houses, our minds, and to bring us down through guilt and weariness. God will not forsake us! He has given us wisdom through His Church on how to ignore these airplanes we call logismoi and fight the fires in our minds that they leave after crashing.

Do not fret when you hear the buzzing of the airplanes. They are just airplanes after all. Why be afraid?

An Avalanche

ImageMany of you know that I have been reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence”. I am greatly enjoying his journey with the spiritual elder, Father Maximos. At one point, they are discussing what Christ came to do while He was here and what His real mission was. Father Maximos says:

What the Ecclesia primarily teaches is the means through which a human soul may attain Christification, its saintliness, its union with God. The ultimate goal is to become perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to become one with God. Christ didn’t come into the world to teach us how to become good fellows, how to behave properly, or how to live a righteous life in this world. Nor did He come to offer us a book, even if this book is called the Bible or New Testament…He came to the world to give us Himself. To show us the Way toward our salvation.”

Kyriacos remarks having heard this before and mentions that it is Satan who seeks to prohibit us from communion with God and seeks to prevent us from reaching our destination of union with the Holy One. Kyriacos is curious as to how Satan does this, what are his means and ways to prohibit us from reaching union with God. Father tells Kyriacos that the most used tool of Satan is preventing us from union with God is what the holy elders have called “logismoi” (sounds like ‘logos me’). A simple reading and understanding of this Greek word would render it “thoughts”. However, Father Maximos has this to say:

Logismoi are much more intense than simple thoughts. They penetrate into the very depths of a human being. They have enormous power. Let us say…that a simple thought is a weak logismos. We need to realize, however, that certain thoughts, or logismoi, once inside a human being, can undermine every trace of a spiritual life in its very foundation. People who live in the world don’t know about the nature and power of logismoi. That is, they don’t have experience of that reality. But as they proceed on their spiritual struggle, particularly through systematic prayer, then are they able to understand the true meaning and power of this reality” (page 118).

I for one have found the language I need to describe my crazy thoughts within the Orthodox spiritual life. Have you ever laid in bed at night seeking to fall asleep, perhaps praying while trying to fall asleep, and just get bombarded by thought-after-thought? Sometimes these thoughts are intentional thoughts: what to do the next day, reflection upon events from the past day, agendas, etc. Sometimes these thoughts are not thoughts we think. Evil thoughts even! If you have experienced the bombardment of crazy thoughts at any time then you have experienced what the holy elders call the logismoi.

The Holy Fathers speak of the Fall of man creating a divide, a chasm, between man’s mind and man’s heart. This divide is what brings about the logismoi. Our mind is a crazy house while living disconnected from the heart, what the Fathers call the Nous. The Nous is the source of our being, our personhood as I wrote in my previous blog. The logismoi constantly bombard our hearts and minds to prevent us from experiencing union with God. Father Maximos is sure to point out that not all logismoi are bad. He speaks of how it is wise to speak with a experienced spiritual elder who can guide one in the discernment of one’s logismoi.

Kyriacos ask Father how it is that the logismoi can prevent us from reaching God. Father says:

Let us say that a logismos is a thought of a special quality and power intensity…There is something mysterious about a logismoi. Its impact is similar to the sting of a needle when you go to the doctor to receive a shot. When negative logismoi manage to enter into your spiritual bloodstream they can affect you in the same way that a needle, full of poison, penetrates you and spread the deadly substance throughout your body. Your spiritual world becomes contaminated and you are affected on a very deep, fundamental level. Your entire spiritual edifice can be shaken from its very foundation” (page 119)

We can see from this wise Father’s words that these thoughts can be very destructive, very detrimental to our spiritual well-being. A logismoi can be so powerful that it can leave us feeling helpless against its power. These thoughts are faced by all! Even the Saints throughout the ages. They have become masters over their logismoi through Theosis and spiritual regimens prescribed to them by their spiritual leaders.

Our logismoi pushes us towards committing a sinful act! The demons haunt us with the logismoi and compel us to commit these sins because God is gracious and loving and will forgive anyways. Then when this sin comes about and we have committed it we feel the wild, crazy thought that says God is a mean kid in the sky waiting to burn up dirty little sinners with His holy wrath. This is the crazy world of crazy thoughts, crazy logismoi!

Things were not always like this! Prior to the Fall we lived in a state of constant prayer, constant union with God. Once the Fall occurred and the rift between man and God came into existence so came with it the logismoi to replace what was continual, constant prayer. This is the existential crisis of our existence today! Our hearts were once innocent and pure, but once the rift came to be the heart became bombarded by these logismoi, which are themselves the barrier between us and union with God.

The best way to combate the logismoi is through ceaseless prayer. The lives of the Saints and holy elders testify to this. They also identified for us the 5 stages in the development of the logismoi that goes contrary to God’s law and goodness. I believe that Father Maximos points out the stages in order for us to be aware of how these crazy logismoi can destroy us. Knowing your enemies tactics is half of the battle, right?

5 Stages of Development for Logismoi

  1. Assault Stage– this is the stage where the logismoi first attacks our mind. We must take care to know that this do not leave us accountable. Everyone in history of mankind since the Fall experiences the logismoi. Father Maximos says, “The quality of our spiritual state is not evaluated on the basis of these assaults.” We will always be attacked by myriads of logismoi. We do not sin in this at all. We have no need to feel guilty for these thoughts plaguing us. Pleading questions like “Why do I have these thoughts?” and “Why me?” are born out of our egoism. This obsession, Father says, is a tool used by Satan to bring us down. These logismoi come to us because we are humans……period! Do not beat yourself or obsess over these logismoi. You are human; you will experience them always.
  2. Interaction Stage– this is what I call the conversation stage. This is where we begin to open up a dialogue with the logismoi. If the logismoi engaged you to lust after someone, which may be a bombarding thought that I and other men can and do face, then in this stage you begin to say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “What will happen if I do?”, “Who will know?”, or “Who is gonna get hurt?”. Father Maximos points out that even in this stage there is no accountability or sin, but that if one is weak to begin with then the actual sin is not far from being committed.
  3. Consenting Stage– this is the stage where you give the logismoi your consent to do what it urged you to do like in our case above, lusting. We make the decision that brings about the beginnings of guilt and accountability. We say, “Okay, I am going to do this!” Father Maximos says, “It is the beginning of sin. Jesus was referring to this stage when he proclaimed that if you covet a woman in your mind you have already committed adultery in your heart. The moment this decision is allowed to take root in your heart, then you are well on the way to actually committing the act in the outer world.” He says that this stage is still consent and desire; no action has yet to be taken. If we pray and ask for God’s help and invoke His name we can defeat this stage without going on to the next.
  4. Captivity Stage– if we aren’t able to be freed from the previous stage then defeat has come and the act has been committed. Father says we become hostage to the logismoi. The power in it is seen in the moment of succumbing to the logismoi. Once that happens the logismoi comes back in greater power the next time and is harder to resist, which just goes on and on getting harder to resist each time. This is called captivity because it takes a hold of us in a way we have a hard time being freed from.
  5. Passion/Obsession Stage– “The logismos has become an entrenched reality within the consciousness of the person, within the nous. The person becomes a captive of obsessive logismoi, leading to ongoing destructive acts to oneself and to others…” says Father Maximos. The holy elders say that this stage is “like giving the key of our heart to Satan so that he can get in and out any time he wishes.” This stage is the stage of self-destruction. We can reason and understand, but we are helpless for our hearts are captive to the evil. The logismoi possesses and controls us.

These are the 5 stages: assault, interaction, consent, captivity, and passion. Father Maximos says that “they unfold and grow within us sometimes gradually, sometimes like an avalanche.” However, there is healing from these that come from the grace of the Holy Spirit and through cooperation with Him via asceticism.

These thoughts are indeed like an avalanche! I have witnessed all 5 of these stages; I have found the language of Orthodox spirituality to describe perfectly how our thoughts bombard us, sometimes for the good, but mostly for the bad. We are not held eternally by these thoughts. The avalanche does not cover us forever. The warmth of the Light of Christ burns brightly and reverently to melt away at this avalanche! It is not an easy battle, but there is a way of overcoming. I have not yet read further in the book, but Father Maximos does lay out a battle plan so to speak. We are not left hopeless in the wake of the avalanche of logismoi.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica once said:

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.

Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed.”

Nothing speaks to the power of the logismoi like Elder Thaddeus’ wise words. We did not cover the spiritual regimen that Father Maximos goes into later in the book, but I feel that knowing that the logismoi is real and how it seeks to consume us is half of the battle. The regimen may not be something we need to cover, but something I urge you to speak about with your spiritual father and how to combat it. I will say that learning to pray and enter into one’s heart is the beginning of fighting the logismoi as Jesus gives you strength and light to climb out of the avalanche. He has given us tools to combat these bombarding logismoi. Take hold of the tools and wisdom of the holy elders given to the Church. The avalanche can be overcome!

PART TWO HERE!

Tin Cans with Nothing Inside

ImageLast week one of my classmates for the training at Sitel asked me about my degree. When we did our introductions my partner mentioned that I hold a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership. He told me how he was not of faith, but was an agnostic and that he really can’t know. He asked me a few questions about Orthodoxy and told me how his grandmother did not try to scare him to Christ by preaching about hell to him. I told him we Orthodox would never preach what I call “Escapist Theology” (for me this means two things: those who believe in rapture and/or those who preach get-out-of-hell-free sermons). I have since heard him remark several times to others in the class about his agnosticism and what not.

Later that week, I also watched a video with Fr. Hans Jacobse debating an atheist where the atheist asked about how we determine truth and what is real, etc. Yet another case of “how do we know?” being asked.

Last week I also began reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“, which journals his travels and time spent with Father Maximos, a monk and spiritual elder from Mt. Athos who mentors Kyriacos on his journey from being a materialist atheist to being open to spirituality and faith as he explores many traditions.

It is at this point that I was beginning to hear a lot about how do we know God. This kept cropping up in my life this last week or so and has prompted much though in my life, so I thought I’d write about it. How do we know God? How do we observe reality? In the book, Kyriacos mentioned a criteria for this that a fellow professor had made known to him. The three ways we know reality is:

  1. The Eye of the Senses (empirical, science)
  2. The Eye of Reason (Philosophy, logic, math, [I also add theology])
  3. The Eye of Contemplation (systematic and disciplined spiritual practice to open upthe intuitive and spiritual faculties of the self)

Kyriacos says, “These are the three different and unique order of reality with their own legitimate and distinct domains, laws, and characteristics that cannot be reduced into one another.”

Now, let’s skip ahead to a conversation Kyriacos has with Father Maximos about this very subject of knowing. Father Maximos remarks at one point, “God,  you see, loves to be investigated by humans.” What Father meant by this is that God wants to be searched for and found. He does not expect us to commit to fideism. Kyriacos follows up that statement by asking, “…If God indeed urges us to be inquisitive, how are we then supposed to conduct our research? Are we to turn to science, to philosophy, or to theology as our starting point” (page 42)?

Father Maximos makes a point about how if we want to study things like the stars then we use a telescope. He says, “Everything must be explored through a method appropriate to the subject under investigation. If we, therefore, wish to explore and get to know God, it would be a gross error to do so through our senses or with telescopes, seeking Him out in outer space. That would be utterly naive, don’t you think?” He goes on, “It would be equally foolish and naive to seek God with our logic and intellect” (page 43).

In his book, “The Sickness Unto Death”, existential philosophy Soren Kiekegaard writes, “”Is it such great merit or is it not rather insolence or thoughtlessness to want to comprehend that which does not want to be comprehended?” This is what Father Maximos means by our logic and reason being lacking means to explore God. How do we, finite human, with our finite logic and reason explore that Other that lies outside the bounds of our logic and reason? It is quite absurd to think these are means to explore God on their own.

Father Maximos still firmly believes that we are to study God and come to know him, but it was Kyriacos’ question of how that carries the conversation forward between them. Father answers that with, “Christ Himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts” (page 43).

Our existential foundation, according to the Holy Elders, is indeed our hearts. Mind you, our hearts are the center of our being, the place where our personhood lies. It is the “center of our psychonoetic powers, the center of our beingness, of our personhood. It is therefore through the heart that God reveals Himself to humanity” (page 43). Those who wish to know God, to see Him, to live in communion with Him, cannot do it through logic, theology, reason, science, or by reading Plato and the philosophers. Father Maximos says, “It is only the cleanliness and purity of the heart that can lead to the contemplation and vision of God. This is the meaning of Christ’s Beatitude, ‘Blessed be the pure at heart for they shall see God'” (page 44).

Father goes on to elaborate on how if we wish to investigate and explore God that we must emply the proper method of investigation, which is none other than the Eye of Contemplation and the purifying of one’s heart from the egotistical passions that plague us. He even goes as far as to say that if those who manage to do this, truly do it, and do not see God then they are justified in becoming atheist.

Father Maximos points out that the philosophical quest for God is one that is off. It is only through the existential experiential vision of God that we come to know Him and love Him. Theology, philosophy, the senses, etc. can all point towards God, but they cannot give you God. God cannot be contained to these finite things we have created with our minds. As Father says we must “transcend the IDEA of God and enter into the EXPERIENCE of God” (page 45). He goes on to say, “As long as we do not know God experientially then we should at least realize that we are simply ideological believers…The ideal and ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality” (page 45).

Father Maximos goes on to speak of the Creed and how the Christian mystical tradition is tied very much to the Creed for it speaks of a living God, of Reality.

I could go on with the conversation with these two men and the spiritual wisdom of the young Father Maximos, but I want to share one last part of what he said:

True faith means I live with God, I am one with God. I have come to know God and therefore I know that He truly Is. God lives inside me and is victorious over death and I move forward with God. The entire methodology of the authentic Christian mystical tradition as articulated by the saints is to reach that state where we become conscious of the reality of God within ourselves. Until we reach that point we simply remain stranded with the domain of ideas and not within the essence of Christian spirituality which is the direct communion with God” (page 45).

I am a huge fan of theology, of the life of the mind. I do not think the Eye of Contemplation is at all a disrespect to the life of the mind. After all, Christ told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Eye of Contemplation incorporates the asceticism that is needed in order to kill the egotistical passions. This truth of the Christian mystical tradition of the East does not kill, neglect, or cancel out the other two Eyes. It simply means that those two cannot bring about the experience of God. They can suggest it, recommend it, or show it, but they are not a direct participation in God. Those disciplines of the mind cannot bring us into the heart, which is where our selves lie. Our true selves. I find the most beautiful thing I have read thus far on the joys of living in the heart come from Father Meletios Webber in his book “Bread & Water; Wine & Oil”:


The heart is quiet rather than noisy, intuitive rather than deductive, lives entirely in the present, and is, at every moment, accepting of the reality God gives in that moment. Moreover, the heart does not seek to distance or dominate anything or anyone by labeling. Rather, it begins with an awareness of its relationship with the rest of creation (and everything and everyone in it), accepting rather than rejecting, finding similarity rather than alienation and likeness rather than difference. It knows no fear, experiences no desire, and never finds the need to defend or justify itself. Unlike the mind, the heart never seeks to impose itself. It is patient and undemanding. Little wonder, then, that the mind, always impatient and very demanding, manages to dominate it so thoroughly.”

The Eye of Contemplation brings us to the place of which Father Maximos and Father Meletios speak. It is in our hearts where we live in communion with God and find the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings. The only method of exploring God is to experience God. The only way to experience God is to live in the heart through contemplation and asceticism and participation with His Church and Her Divine Mysteries, which He has given as tangible means of Grace. The knowledge of God resides nowhere else.

Father Maximos said, “We lost the knowledge of God…at the moment when we transformed the Eccelsia from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values, and high ideals. When that happened…we became like tin cans with nothing inside” (page 55).

I am convicted that I more than anyone else have felt the impact of those words. I more than anyone else have been living a life like that of a tin can with nothing inside. It is now, through the asceticism of the Orthodox Faith, that I’m learning I have only experience God in very small ways due to my insistence on theology, philosophy, and reason. What good is a tool-less Christianity that does not provide one with the means to know and love God and live in Him?

These tools of asceticism I am discovering and the need to experience God and to know Him in my heart by the Eye of Contemplation are the beginning of a life lived like a can being filled to the brim with life until it overflows abundantly with the knowledge of God and His love and grace.

The Law and the End of Exile (A Guest Post)

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A guest post from Seraphim Hamilton. Feel free to find him on facebook:

The Law and the End of Exile

The New Testament’s theology about the Torah is actually found in the Torah itself, if only we would read the New Testament carefully. A key text is Romans 8:1-4. It reads:

(Romans 8:1-4)  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

That is, the Torah’s purpose is fulfilled in Christ, not because in Christ Torah-obedience is imputed to our account, but rather because in Christ, we receive the Spirit, who circumcises the heart and actually enables us to “fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law” because we walk “according to the Spirit.” This brings the teaching of Romans 2:25-29 full circle: a member of the covenant is one whose heart is circumcised. Why then, are there no ethnic identity markers (circumcision, food laws, etc.) in the new covenant? This is explained all over the New Testament, but the important thing to understand is that in the Hebrew Bible itself, the way in which we kept the commandments changed depending on the circumstances of the time. When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, clearly, they could not keep the laws about sacrificial offering in the way that they could when they had a standing Temple. Likewise, when the Messianic Age dawns, the way we keep certain commandments changes.

This is how Matthew’s Gospel is oriented. Matthew begins with a genealogy, divided into three sets of fourteen generations and climaxing with the Messiah. The three groups are (1) From Abraham to the Monarchy (2) From the Monarchy to Exile and (3) From Exile to the Messiah. Thus, the Messiah is presented as the one who ends Israel’s exile. Then, the whole Gospel of Matthew (probably composed as a teaching manual for Jewish Christians) is oriented around five “blocks” of teaching (corresponding to the five books of Moses) complete with blessings (Matthew 5:3-11) and curses. (Matthew 23:15-30) It then ends with the Lord Jesus ascending a Mountain asking the Apostles to go and make the whole planet the Kingdom of God (28:19-20) just as Moses ascended a Mountain and enjoined Israel to possess the Land. Thus, the Gospel of Matthew is about a New Moses delivering a New Law proper to the end of exile.

So, how do these two things connect? The key is Moses’ final speech to Israel in Deuteronomy 30. Remember that the Torah begins (Genesis 3) with exile and curse, though we don’t often think of it that way. Adam and Eve are in the Garden, they are given a commandment, and they break it. They are thus cursed with death and exiled from the Garden. This is the first and greatest curse found in the whole Hebrew Bible. The Torah ends with the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses and the people of Israel renew their covenant with God. In this book, the people anticipate the reversal of the curse on Adam. See:

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20)  “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Israel is given two options: life and death. By obeying the Torah, they can choose life. By disobeying it, they can choose death. The way of life is to “love the Lord your God.” But in fact, Moses has already prophesied the outcome:

(Deuteronomy 30:1-6)  “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

So, Israel WILL disobey the Torah. They WILL choose death. They WILL be exiled. And why? Because their heart is uncircumcised. But Moses promises that God will gather them back from exile, and it is at that time that their hearts will be circumcised. Because it is at that point that God circumcises their heart, THEN they will “choose life” and “love the Lord their God.” There are large amounts of prophetic writing concentrated around this theme of “end of exile.” Isaiah 40-55, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36-37, and many other passages revolve around the theme of the end of exile and expand on it. It is linked to the suffering servant, the new covenant, the messianic age, and other themes. Thus, the heart of the New Testament message, in its historical context, is the end of Israel’s exile and the reversal of the curse. The twist is that this happens not through the return of all Israelites to the strip of land in the Middle East, but through the reopening of Paradise. Looking back, we can see this in the Old Testament (comp. Isaiah 55:13 with Genesis 3:18, see also Isaiah 11:8 and Ezekiel 36:35), but it was unexpected in Jesus’ day.

So, the more I study the Old Testament carefully, the more I am convinced that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. Not because he fulfills a “list of prophecies about the Messiah”, but because His story draws Israel’s story to its climax in a remarkably elegant and coherent way that makes good sense.

Living in the Hingeway: A Reflection on Church and Culture

ImagePreface: This is just a simple paper assigned after an introductory study of postmodernity and the current cultural shifts and a reading of “The Younger Evangelicals” by Robert Webber. This paper is not designed to be very formal containing a thesis and points. It is merely a personal reflection upon 5 cultural shifts that are opportunities for the Church, 5 cultural shifts that are a danger to the Church, and 5 ways I want to create ministry in this cultural context or how to carry out ministry. I believe the ways these younger evangelicals, who come from multiple Christian Traditions, have some solid ways of engaging the culture that we Orthodox Christians can implement and learn from as we wrestle with the context in which God has placed us. I hope this will be of benefit as you continue to wrestle and to struggle in these anxious times.

LIVING IN THE HINGEWAY: A REFLECTION ON CHURCH AND CULTURE

Dr. Carlus Gupton writes, “Our time is best described as transitional, a very fluid moment where previous ways of understanding the world and functioning within it are increasingly abandoned, yet without clear definition of what will replace it. Something has ended, but the new beginning has not yet taken shape, thus we are in the uncomfortable wilderness, the neutral zone.” The Church is living in a day and age where absolutes are being denied and truth is relative. This day and age of Postmodernism can present to the Church opportunities to ministry and dangers to the Church’s ministry to preach the Gospel and be a hospital for the sick sinners.

Five Opportunities the Cultural Shifts Present

Robert Webber writes:

The younger evangelicals are conscious that they grew up in a postmodern world. One younger evangelical writes of ways postmodern thinking differs from modern thought. Postmoderns ‘no longer feel a need to bow the knee to the modern God of rationality.’ Postmoderns, he argues, ‘have a much broader conception of what counts as reason’ because they acknowledge that ‘all rationality (religious, scientific, or whatever) is laden with faith.’ Postmodern young people recognize that ‘thinking is highly indebted to others.’ Therefore, the younger evangelical rejects the modern notion of individualism and embraces community. And to be postmodern in a Christian way is ‘to embrace the kingdom of God and renounce the values of the world.’”

This is the first opportunity presented to us to witness to people. This opens the door that much of Protestantism, with its emphasis on the rational, had closed and that is the door to sacramentalism or a sacramental world-view. For too long reason has dominated the Church in the Western societies. We, as Orthodox Christians, must not let reason dominate the life of the Church too much.

The Enlightenment with the emphasis on reason and scientific method stole all the mystery from the Christian faith ranging from throwing out the sacraments and calling them “ordnances” to the rejection of Christian mysticism. This shift away from reason allows for the Church to restore a sacramental world-view for it allows for a restoration of mystery, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (fearful and fascinating mystery). This shift opens the door for the Numinous to be once again believed, for there to be transcendence beyond our reason. This is not to say reason is invalid. The Church would be wise to follow the words of Blasé Pascal, “If one subjects everything to reason our religion will lose its mystery and its supernatural character. If one offends the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous …There are two equally dangerous extremes, to shut reason out and let nothing else in.”

“The postmodern September 11, 2001, world has led to the recovery of the biblical understanding of human nature. The language of sin, evil, evildoers, and a reaffirmation of the deceit and wickedness of the human heart has once again emerged in our common vocabulary,” writes Robert Webber, “The liberal notion of the inherent goodness of humankind and the more recent evangelical neglect of the language of sin and depravity have failed to plumb the depths of the wickedness that lurks in the human heart. The younger evangelical approaches humanity with a more realistic and biblical assessment of our estrangement from God.” This presents the Churches second opportunity to present the Christian meta-narrative of the Creation, the Fall, Israel, and Jesus Christ. This allows for the Church to tell Her story of redemption and how She has been made a part of the re-creation attempts of God.

Pragmatic Evangelicals, seeking to draw in seekers (no pun intended), neglected to preach about the wickedness of men and the depths of humanity’s depravity. David Crowder, of The David Crowder*Band, put it this way: “When our depravity meets His divinity it is a beautiful collision.” This cultural shift allows for a sacramental understanding of the Cross and Resurrection to take place. The shift allows for the preaching of humanity’s depravity coming into collision with God’s divinity, which overcomes the wickedness and clothes the redeemed in the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4-5).

The Church can present the story of the Fall, but that there is more to life. That there is a door for humanity to be ontologically changed, transformed back into an original state of glory. David Horseman writes, “”Theosis is neither a mere psychological change nor a simple behavioral change. It is both, but not in a superficial sense. These changes of thought and behavior are but the indices of a deeper, ontological change, in our nature, a sharing of the divine nature, in which we become more and more like God, changed from glory into glory, until the day of our final redemption…” This could be the story we tell with this change in culture.

The third opportunity presented by this cultural shift is in the context of evangelism. The Next-Wave web magazine states of younger evangelicals’ desire “is to see people enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. Receive His forgiveness, enter His community with the saints, worship in ways that are meaningful to them, and reach out to others in their world.” Robert Webber believes that the new landscape of the culture will provide a new type of evangelism that is ancient-future evangelism. The old is that the Church must emphasis a personal regenerative relationship with the Triune God via Christ, but the new is the context in which the Church worships and facilitates community that is missional.

This aura creates an opportunity for the Church to fashion a community focused on relationships of reconciliation: relationships with humanity and with God. The Gospel is presented through relationship primarily. A good model of evangelism in the postmodern world would be: dialogue, demonstration, declaration, and defense all lived out incarnationally in the context of our greater society but also within our communities.

The Church’s fourth opportunity within this cultural shift is to begin to see Christianity as more than a world view. Robert Webber writes, “Today the younger evangelical questions the priority given to Christianity as a worldview. Younger evangelical Charles Moore writes, ‘The idea of Christianity as a worldview is essentially Gnostic. It makes Christianity an idea, a philosophical viewpoint, and a construct. Christianity is primarily a kingdom, an embodied reality and is more about a faithful discipleship than affirming an intellectual construct.’ Moore argues that making Christianity a worldview ‘abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.’”

This part of the cultural shift is very important to the life of Christianity because seeing the faith as something to be believed, rationed, and defended can leave it shallow and empty for there is no living it out. Christianity is primarily relational and has to be incarnational in this world. The Church can benefit with this ideological shift because it allows the Church to embody Christ and be formed to His image and live as He lives.

“The Christianity Today articles reported that ‘postmodern Christians are trying to redefine the relation of faith and knowledge, that instead of coming to the faith rationally, true knowledge requires the Holy Spirit to work an ontological change in the human heart,’” writes Robert Webber. He goes on to clarify that this is not a new approach, but that younger Christians are deconstructing in order “to reconstruct an historic life of the mind”. The road to the future lies in the past. The Church has an opportunity today to revisit the past with the Creeds, the Church Fathers, St. Aquinas, and St. Augustine and let that ancient wisdom shape and mold the way the Church carries out faith and practice. Many young Christians are even reverting to the ancient Orthodox Church and becoming one with Her and Her Mysteries. This is a good thing!

Five Dangers the Cultural Shifts Present

The number one thing for the Church to distinguish in the cultural shift of postmodernity is that there are two schools of postmodernity: soft postmodernity and hard postmodernity. Milliard Erickson, in Postmodernizing the Faith, writes:

Hard postmodernism, best represented by deconstruction, rejects the idea of any sort of objectivity and rationality. It maintains that all theories are simply worked out to justify and empower those who hold them, rather than being based on facts. It not only rejects the limitation of meaning of language to empirical reference; it rejects the idea that language has any sort of objective or extra linguistic reference at all. It moves from relativism to pluralism to truth. Not only is all knowing and all speaking done from a particular perspective, but each perspective is equally true or valuable. The meaning of a statement is not to be found objectively in the meaning intended by the speaker or writer, but is the meaning that the hearer or reader finds in it. ‘Whatever it means to me’ even if it is quite different from what it says to you.”

The Church has to remember that wonderful idea by Blasé Pascal that there are two dangerous extremes shutting reason out or letting nothing else but reason in. The pluralism of today’s society is dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church must defend and live the truth of the Gospel and learn to evangelize to a pluralistic society instead of assimilating into society.

Religious tolerance is the second danger. Dr. Gupton writes about what postmodern thinkers believe, “No religion should be thought of as superior to another. Indeed, this belief in superiority is the major roadblock to religious unity.” This hard postmodernism belief is very dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church believes that She has an exclusive claim on the Truth, which She must stand by and defend.

The third danger of hard postmodernism found in this cultural shift is in the area of evangelism. Dr. Gupton writes about postmodern thought, “Proselytizing is bigotry, pure and simple. The idea of winning converts is based on the antiquated notion that one religion has more to offer than another. Our task is to help others discover the hidden inner meaning of their religions, rather than convert them to our own.” This is something the Church must absolutely reject to defend the Gospel. Only through Christ is forgiveness of sin offered and deification began. Other religions contain some universal truths, but do not contain the Truth found in the Gospel presented by the Church.

The fourth danger the Church must be careful to be aware of moral relativism or moral pragmatism. Easum writes, “In the new emerging society right and wrong will not exist. Whatever benefits the individual will form the basis for ethics.” The Church has to come to the defense of morals and ethics. The problem with hard postmodernism is that it deconstructs to the point of chaos, which cannot be upheld. This is no accountability of ethics, but the Church can account for its ethics, which stem from God and absolute truths. Society and individuals are dangerous grounds upon which to build what is moral, right, or just.

The fifth danger to the Church is privatization. The Church must be careful to fight against this idea that faith, too, can be privatized and individualized. The Church must maintain a strong emphasis on communal living both at home and in ecclesiastical settings. Easum writes, “People are preoccupied with themselves. Whatever is done behind closed doors is considered acceptable conduct. Privacy is the ultimate price…The majority of people will tend to withdraw physically and psychologically.” This is the danger to an incarnational people called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We must do well to remember that our faith is personal, but it is not private! The rampant individualism of Western culture is an extreme heresy that we must be aware of and reject thoroughly.

Five Ways to Interface with the Culture

As a young man who feels called to the priesthood, I am feeling lead more and more lately to plant a church from the ground up. There is a great outline of postmodern churches compared to pragmatic Evangelistic churches and how they function within the postmodern culture, by Eric Stanford, found on pages 116 and 117 of “The Younger Evangelicals” that I think fits perfectly how I would like to approach ministry in this postmodern society:

1. Even though I would be the priest and carry out all the sacramental duties I want to approach leadership as a team effort with all the members of the parish helping to carry out the duties of the church. Ministries may not always come from the leadership team, but from within the congregation who feels lead to start up a ministry. Christ is the head of the Church, and I am a part of that thus He moves mysteriously and powerfully in all our lives in the parish.

2. Life is about relationships. My life motto is “I am a person of worth created in the Image of God the Father, the Almighty, to live, to love, and to commune with fellow humankind and with the Blessed Trinity.” This is how I want to carry out ministry in the church. Programs, as Eric says, “are means not ends.” Everything thing we do ought to be to foster community and relationship and not just to learn and do. Developing close, healthy relationships is the focus within the postmodern context I want to employ.

3. Eric writes, “Be authentic. Don’t pretend you’ve got it all together, spiritually or otherwise. Admit your mistakes and struggles, for then we can work on them together. No posers allowed.” I believe this is core to who I am. I strive to be real and authentic. I am drawn to real and authentic people, so I want to be a part of a community that emphasizes that over excellence or perfection, but wants to strive towards those together.

4. I want to help create a community that honors “intellect and emotions, doctrine and intuition,” as Eric states. I want to take a holistic approach to faith and life. I want to focus on the power of the story that Christianity tells: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus. I see it often as a five act Shakespeare play that has last the fifth act thus we are left to write the fifth act on our own according to the authority of the other four acts. Our stories should come inside of this grand story.

5. I want to create dialogue and relationship between Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and Orthodox. There is no us vs. them in regards to other Christians or in regards to non-Christians. After all, our Lord told His disciples when they told Him someone was casting out demons in His name that was not a part of their group, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Christians and non-Christians often face the same issues and have the same questions. It is about cooperation and not competition or condemnation. I want to clarify that I do not propose a false sense of unity or ecumenism either. The Orthodox Church is the one true Church, and I firmly believe this. We have made our conditions for unity known, but I think that dialogue is a good thing that promotes healthy conversations and understanding among those who profess Christ. I want to help foster this healthy conversation.

The Joy of Creating a Preaching Calendar

ImageI had the sincere honor of writing this guest article for Father John A. Peck’s website for Orthodox preachers. If you are a priest in the Orthodox Church or a member of laity who preaches then I would love to share with you my article about implementing a preaching calender into your homiletical skills. In this article, I also include my own preaching calender that I had created for my Hom. III course in my undergrad work. Share and enjoy. I hope you find it something you want to do 🙂

Preface by Father John Peck:

There is great value to organizing a preaching calendar, but it is often not considered by Orthodox clergy. Our calendar of readings actually lends itself well to organizing one and keeping our preaching timely and relevant to our congregations. I ask every Orthodox preacher to consider one for the coming year. The Calendar can be prepared during the summer months! One last note: The Preaching Calendar is a flexible tool to make teaching and preaching easier for the preacher. Plan one, use one and make it work for you.” 

The Joy of Creating a Preaching Calender

It is Saturday night, and you are staring at a black screen with a blank mind grasping at straws as the anxiety washes over you in massive waves. You have yet to write your sermon! This is the predicament in which many preachers find themselves. With their fat, bulging schedules, many ministers today try to find time for their sermons, but often do not, or cannot, carve out that time. Thus their sermon gets neglected, forgotten, or tossed together in a sloppy hurry. It is through solid, good preaching and teaching that a parish can become and remain a healthy community of believers who are challenged to think critically, engage with the Scriptures and Tradition, and live more holy, wholesome lives.

It is through a long-term, planned preaching calendar that the preacher can sit back and assess the spiritual needs of his parish and plan a preaching calendar that will address those needs. Healthy homiletics leads to a healthy congregation.

I recall from my days at Johnson University research conducted among unchurched individuals that lead to the conclusion that the number one thing those people looked for in a church was not the worship, the personality of the preacher, or the programs, but was indeed deep, strong doctrinal preaching. I am of the firm belief that incorporating the practice of compiling a 52-week preaching calendar into your homiletic practices is key in producing solid, sound, deep preaching that avoids shallow, weak, prep talks that we hear all too often.

There are many benefits to doing a preaching calendar. One can avoid the anxiety of waiting until late in the week to compile the sermon, one can carve out time due to better planning. Preparing the calendar weeks ahead gives you plenty of time to formulate ideas, work out thesis statements, create bullet points, and find inspirations to flesh out the skeleton of each sermon you have determined ahead of time. Another benefit is that it keeps the preaching fresh, active, and nourishing to the congregation.

Another great benefit to doing a preaching calendar is that it can be a team effort for the preaching team. I am a firm believer that the laity, those with the gifts to do so, should be involved with preaching and teaching, but with the blessing of their priest and bishop of course. Doing a preaching calendar allows laity the opportunity to become involved with the ministry of the Church as they should be. This is something to take into consideration: having a preaching team. One should select those with the clear gifts, experience, wisdom, and discernment to help in fashioning a preaching calendar as well as delivering some of the sermons.

Now, as Orthodox preachers and clergy, what is the best way to approach making a preaching calendar?

Last fall I had to create my own 52-week preaching calendar for my Homiletics III course at Johnson University. I decided as I was formulating my calendar idea that the best way I could do it was to simply follow the liturgical calendar and the Scripture readings for each Sunday and Feast Day I had to do. My instructions for the calendar were to do 52 Sundays along with special days in between, so I created a fictional parish called St. Athanasius Orthodox Church and a fictional assistant priest to assist me in the preaching named Father Arseny. I would give him special feast days and vespers services to preach on during the week. This was done as a requirement for my project, but when creating your own you can simply go through and create yours for the Sundays that you are preaching. One does not necessarily have to plan those sermons in between Sundays, but if you so desire you can.

However, for the season of Pentecost I did break from the liturgical calendar and do a 7 part sermon series on the healthy traits of a church. This was per request from my professor to have the project completed.

To get started I would say simply pray first. Ask the Lord to anoint your reading of the texts, your thought process, and the condition of your heart. Saturate the entire process in prayer and maybe even fasting when appropriate. Once you do that, and continue to do it through the process, I would begin by doing these things:

1. Creating a preaching team– as I said earlier, preaching can be a team effort if you are blessed with those with the gifts to do it. As someone who feels called to be a priest, I hope that I will have a team approach to preaching that has a bottom-up process rather than being alone in the homiletics department by myself. I believe having a team not only gives the laity a chance to develop their gifts and minister, but it also keeps the preaching fresh, offers different manifestations in the form of how each person uses their gifts, and makes the process of learning, creating, and growing together more fun.

2. Contemplate the needs of your parish– preaching is for the edification of the Body. If it is not edifying and building up those in the Faith then it is of no use. Sit down and pray through a list of families and individuals from your parish. Ask the Lord to bring to mind the issues, difficulties, concerns, problems, struggles, or needs they face, so that your preaching can best address those.

3. Plan ahead once you have your team – sit down with your team, or by yourself, and begin to formulate how you want to carry out your calendar. You have a variety of venues from which to choose. You can do the calendar strictly from the liturgical calendar using the readings or you can do sermon series, topical preaching, expository preaching, inductive story telling approaches, expository coverage of major Church doctrines, holiday sermons, feast day sermons, or stand alone sermons that can deal with social issues, or preaching through certain books of the Bible. Or you can create a hybrid of those as you’ll see with my own sermon series. But once you decide on the approach sit down and look at the calendar and how you want to flesh out the preaching calendar around it. The best time to begin planning a calendar would be November to December and base it for the following year, so that way if you implement the liturgical calendar you can begin at the beginning of the year. For me it just makes it easier to plan this way.

4. Begin to go through and decide the text, thesis (if there will be one), and points (should there be any) for each sermon on the 52-week calendar. If you are using the Church calendar then this will be easy since the text is decided for you. If you decide to do a series within the calendar go through and figure out how many sermons will be within the series or the topics.

5. Flesh Out The Sermons – Once you have the entire 52 weeks laid out, then as the weeks come up you can begin to flesh out the sermons if need be. If you are preaching on a certain subject in 3 Sundays then you can start working on that sermon. The point is to stay ahead and up-to-date with the task. You do not have to flesh out all the sermons that far in advance. If I were doing it I would try to prepare for 2 or 3 weeks out at a time. This leads to my next step.

6. Plan what resources you will incorporate – a lot of preachers like to use a number of resources to help with their sermon writing from commentaries to software programs. Have in mind how you want to implement these resources.

7. Involve the parish– what I mean by this is make it known that you are doing a preaching calendar. The parish members will be much more excited and receptive if they are made known and brought into the loop. You can think of ways to broadcast your series, topics, or special parts of the sermon. Also, if you can afford it and have the means you can plan ahead to include a sermon bulletin sheet that includes the thesis and points, etc. You can pass these out to the parish members as they enter the parish. I believe that this is a strong thing to do. It gives them a visual to go along with the audio of the sermon. This encourages later thought about the sermon and gives them a way to go back and look on the sermon for reflection, contemplation, etc. If you do decide to break from the church calendar and do sermons that involve Scripture not listed for the readings I would recommend you either print the Scriptures off in the bulletin or encourage your members to bring their own Bibles so to follow along. In fact doing both may be the best idea.

8. Have fun– I know that this sounds like a daunting, challenging task, and I do not mean to make it sound like it is not. It is a task. It is a challenge to do this. I spent many hours on my own calendar. However, I really enjoyed doing this. I think it is fun, challenging, and a way to grow as a preacher. We are preachers of the Gospel; it is an honor to do this. We are privileged to get to do this. Take joy in the work the Lord has given whether you are alone in it or with a team.

To give you an idea without having to go on and on about it, I would like to share with you my preaching calendar:

  • SUNDAY BEFORE THEOPHANY/1-1-12 (MARK 1:1-8)
    • Thesis: Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.
    • Point I: Preaching a baptism of repentance in expectation of His second coming.
    • Point II: Bearing the fruit of righteousness and spiritual discipline in our lives.
  • THEOPHANY OF CHRIST AND HIS BAPTISM/1-6-12 (MATTHEW 3:13-17)
    • Thesis: “Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling.”
    • Point I: The revealing of Jesus Christ our Lord as the Son of God.
    • Point II: The mystery of the Trinitarian Faith, which we profess.
  • SUNDAY AFTER THEOPHANY/1-8-12 (MATTHEW 4:12-17)
    • Thesis- Those in darkness have seen the Light of the Kingdom of God. Those in the Light:
    • Point I- Repentant of their sins and bring their darkness into the Light.
    • Point II- Turn to God for their salvation and healing.
  • SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THEOPHANY/1-15-12 (LUKE 18:18-27)
    • Thesis (Inductive Approach): We shall be perfected. (What can we do to be perfect?)
    • Movement I: We must willingly sacrifice all
    • Movement II: We must follow Christ in all things
  • THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THEOPHANY/1-22-12 (LUKE 18:35-43)
    • Thesis: Bring your needs before Christ.
    • Point I: Christ already knows our needs.
    • Point II: He calls for us to ask freely so to learn of His mercy.
  • ST. GREGORY THE THEOLOGIAN (WED. VESPERS)/1-25-12 (MARK 11:23-16)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • ZACCHAEUS SUNDAY (PRE-LENT)/1-29-12 (LUKE 19:1-10)
    • Thesis: We are all the same underneath the Sycamore tree.
    • Point I: We all live in sin and demonstrate a need for the Christ’s grace.
    • Point II: Christ comes to those who seek Him and repent and believe in His grace.
  • PRESENTATION OF THE LORD IN THE TEMPLE (WEDNESDAY VESPERS)/2-2-12 (LUKE 2:22-40)
    • Jesus the Unblemished Lamb
    • Point I: Jesus is presented on the 14th day for a blessing.
    • Point II: Mary can’t afford an unblemished lamb, but still offers Christ, the Lamb of God.
  • PUBLICAN AND PHARISEE SUNDAY (PRE-LENT)/2-5-12 (LUKE 18:10-14)
    • Thesis (Inductive): We justified before God. (Question: how?)
    • Movement I: Inward humility is blessed and leads to justification, forgiven and set right with God.
    • Movement II: Pride in outward deeds is condemned.
  • PRODIGAL SON SUNDAY (PRE-LENT)/2-12-12 (LUKE 15:11-32)
    • Thesis- The Father welcomes us home from the Far Country.
    • Point I: In sin, we live outside our true selves. It is a hopeless condition that leads to repentance.
    • Point II: Through Christ, the Father actively welcomes us back to the Kingdom when we seek repentance.
  • SUNDAY OF LAST JUDGMENT (PRE-LENT)/2-19-12 (MATTHEW 25:31-46)
    • Father Arseny preaches
  • FORGIVENESS SUNDAY (SUNDAY BEFORE GREAT LENT)/2-26-12 (MATTHEW 6:14-21)
    • Thesis: Forgiveness begets forgiveness
    • Point I: Forgiveness of other’s sins is a pre-condition to God’s forgiveness.
    • Point II: To not forgive other’s sins is to willfully flee from His forgiveness for us.
  • SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY (1ST SUN. OF GREAT LENT)/3-4-12 (JOHN 1:43-51)
    • Thesis: In the Church, with faith, through the Incarnation we see Heaven open up to:
    • Point I: The inauguration of the new age.
    • Point II: Fulfillment of all promises.
    • Point III: Manifestation of the Kingdom.
  • HOLY 40 MARTYRS OF SEBASTE (VESPERS)/3-9-12 (MATTHEW 20:1-16)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC (2ND SUN. OF GREAT LENT)/3-11-12 (MARK 2:1-12)
    • Thesis: Jesus’ Divinity is shown through the salvation of the paralytic:
    • Point I: He knows the secrets of hearts.
    • Point II: He forgives sins, a power belonging to God alone.
    • Point III: Heals by the power of His word.
  • VENERATION OF THE CROSS (3RD SUN. OF LENT)/3-18-12 (MARK 8:34-9:1)
    • Thesis: “There’s only two ways out of this world and neither of them are safe…”
    • Point I: Our natural death without Christ
    • Point II: Our spiritual death to self, crucifixion of the flesh, so that He lives in us. This is our cross.
  • ANNUNCIATION (4TH SUN. OF GREAT LENT)/3-25-12 (LUKE 1:34-38)
    • Thesis: Mary, the New Eve, demonstrates complete faith in God and high obedience:
    • Point I: Eve disobeyed, Mary now obeys.
    • Point II: Eve closed herself off to God’s will; Mary opens herself up to it fully and faithfully.
  • ST. MARY OF EGYPT (5TH SUN. OF GREAT LENT)/4-1-12 (LUKE 7:36-50)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • LAZARUS SATURDAY (END OF GREAT LENT)/4-7-12 (JOHN 11:1-45)
    • Thesis: Christ the Resurrection and the Life. (What are the implications of the Lazarus story?)
    • Movement I: Christ confirms the universal resurrection of all mankind prior to His own suffering and death.
  • PALM SUNDAY/4-8-12 (JOHN 12:1-18)
    • Thesis: Christ is King!
    • Point I: An aspect of His Kingship is His humility.
    • Point II: An aspect of His Kingship: He’s praiseworthy!
  • PASCHA SUNDAY-A BEAUTIFUL COLLISION OR (3+4=7)/4-15-12 (JOHN 1:1-17)
    • We have shared and are sharing with our Savior and Risen Lord Jesus Christ the glorious Resurrection life! We have become partakers of the Divine! We have risen from the dead, from an eternal sleep, to a new life!
  • ST. THOMAS SUNDAY: ANTIPASCHA (POST EASTER SUNDAYS START)/4-22-12 (JOHN 20:19-31)
    • Thesis: Doubt should be resistance to truth, but an active seeking of the truth.
    • Point I: We have not seen or touched Him
    • Point II: In the Holy Spirit, we’ve seen, tasted, and touched the Word of Life.
  • HOLY MYRRH BEARING WOMEN SUNDAY/ 4-29-12 (MARK 15:43-16:8)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • PARALYTIC SUNDAY/5-6-12 (JOHN 5:1-15)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
    • NOTE: Not the same Paralytic as the previous Paralytic Sunday.
  • SAMARITAN WOMAN SUNDAY/5-13-12 (JOHN 4:5-26)
    • Thesis: Worshiping In Spirit and Truth (How do we do this?)
    • Movement I: Worshiping in the Holy Spirit.
    • Movement II: Worshiping in Truth, who is Christ.
    • Movement III: According to Christ’s revelation.
  • BLIND MAN SUNDAY/5-20-12 (JOHN 9:1-38)
    • Thesis: Without courage there can be no healing.
    • Point I: Courage to admit we need healing.
    • Point II: Courage to repent and accept Christ’s healing of our souls.
    • Point III: Courage to step into His light for life.
  • ASCENSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST/5-24-12 (LUKE 24:36-53)
    • Thesis: Christ brings human nature to the Divine Kingdom.
    • Point: Reigns with the Father and Spirit in His glorified body.
    • Point II: He is worshiped in his glorified human nature by all the angels.
  • FATHERS OF THE 1ST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL/5-27-12 (JOHN 17:1-13)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY (PENTECOST SUNDAY)/6-3-12 (JOHN 7:37-528:12)
    • Thesis: The Living Water that Quenches Thirst (What, or who, is the Water?)
    • Movement I: The Living Water is the Holy Spirit.
    • Movement II: The new life that accompanies this is the gift of Living Water.
  • FEAST OF THE HOLY SPIRIT/5-4-12 (MATTHEW 18:10-20)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
  • ALL SAINTS SUNDAY/6-10-12 (MATTHEW 10:32-333719:27-30)
    • Father Arseny preaches.
    • After this Sunday begins the 7 Traits of a Healthy Parish Sermon Series, which will continue through the duration of Pentecost until December 16.
  • TRAIT 1- EVANGELISM (6-17-12 THROUGH 7-1-12)
    • -Sermon 1 Thesis: Evangelism By Dying to One’s Self.  Text: Galatians 2:19-20. Point I: We evangelize by the witness of our complete surrender. Point II: We show Christ in our mortal flesh.
    • -Sermon 2 Thesis: Evangelism By Being with God, in His Presence. Text: Luke 10:38-42.  Point I: We evangelize by sitting at His feet and learning. Point II: We evangelize by desiring one thing, Christ.
    • -Sermon 3: Evangelism By Being with Others. Text: James 2:14-18/Matt 22:39. Point I: We evangelize by our good works and by being His hands and feet.
  • TRAIT 2- VALUES (7-8-12 THROUGH 8-5-12)
    • -Sermon 1: Missional Values (Value 1- Centralized Identity and Core Value: “Jesus is Lord!”) Text: Luke 9:18-21
    • -Sermon 2: Missional Values (Value 2- Discipleship Making) Text: Matthew 28:19-20
    • -Sermon 3: Missional Values (Value 3- Incarnational Missional Impulse) Text: Mk. 16:15/Mt. 24:14
    • -Sermon 4: Missional Values (Value 4- Apostolic Environment) Text: Eph. 4:11
    • -Sermon 5: Missional Values (Value 5- Organic Systems) Text: Acts 2:40-47
  • TRAIT 3- ACHIEVEMENTS (8-12-12)
    • -Sermon 1- Bearing Good Fruit. Text: Mt. 7:17-20
      • Point I: Our community will know us by our deeds.
      • Point II: Our deeds show who we are and ultimately who Christ is!
  • TRAIT 4- LEADERSHIP (8-19-12 THROUGH 9-16-12)
  • TRAIT 5- UNITY (9-23-12 THROUGH 10-7-12)
  • SUNDAY BEFORE NATIVITY/12-23-12 (MATTHEW 1:1-25)
    • Thesis: God is with us.
    • Point I: This is not a new person coming into existence, but the eternal Son of God.
    • Point II: The virginal conception by the means of the Holy Spirit and the name “Immanuel” declare Christ’s divinity.
  • NATIVITY OF OUR LORD/12-25-12 (MATTHEW 2:1-12)
    • Thesis: The Advent of Love.
    • Point I: What is extremely poetic is that in Exodus God required the blood of a lamb to be spread on the doorway in order for the first born son to be spared, but in the Advent He sent His Firstborn of All Creation to be that very Spotless Lamb. Christ’s blood has been poured out for us.
    • Point II: The Advent is about God placing upon the Holy Altar His own Son in order that death and sin may be eternally defeated. The Advent is about the very love of God, the fullness of God coming to earth as a man.
  • SUNDAY AFTER NATIVITY/12-30-12 (MATTHEW 2:13-23 AND TITUS 2:1-14)
    • Thesis: A Season of Rebirth.
    • Point I: The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t just a physical visitation. It was a spiritual coming of Majesty. With the Incarnation and Nativity God’s Light was shone. His Light was shone on dark hearts.
    • Point II: It was necessary for darkness to dwell in our hearts so God’s Light could find a dwelling to rest, shining forth Light on our entire beings. Remember, our hearts, in Hebraic poetry is our ENTIRE being, not our physical hearts.

I hope that this will inspire creativity, vision, and passion for the art of homiletics.  I will pray that your sermons become more focused, energetic, passionate, and challenging. It takes a lot of work to sit down and create a 52-week preaching calendar, but the rewards and joy of having accomplished it far out weight the difficulties found in fashioning it. May God bless you on your journey to become better homileticians.

* if you are not familiar with the APEST ministry designations, Google it and enjoy. It is just another way to organize ministry work.