Living a Balanced Orthodox Life

dragonThis is a great video by Fr. John Moses. He presents how to live a balanced life between Hyperdoxy and Amorphodoxy (which is the extreme opposite of a Hyperdox). I liked how he refers to slaying the dragon in your own heart. Gave me a lot to think about spiritually this morning. The world, our marriages, our families, our jobs can all be our monasteries. Great food for thought; give this a watch. And arise everyday to slay the dragon!



On Humility

I found this over at Orthodox Christian Life and it is utterly delightful, deeply convicting, and hopefully uplifting! Read and share! May St. John’s words bless you and guide; may his prayers intercede for you!

On Humility

By St. John of Kronstadt

When you are slandered, and therefore grow disturbed and sick at heart, it shows that pride is in you, and that it must be wounded and driven out by outward dishonour. Therefore do not be irritated by derision, and do not bear malice against those who hate you and slander you, but love them as your physicians, whom God has sent you to instruct you and to teach you humility, and pray to God for them. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.”[131] Say to yourself, “It is not me that they slander, but my evil passions; not me that they strike, but that viper which nestles in my heart, and smarts when anybody speaks ill of it. I will comfort myself with the thought that, perhaps, these good people will drive it from my heart by their caustic words, and my heart will then cease to ache. “Therefore, thank God for outward dishonour: those who endure dishonour here will not be subjected to it in the next world.” She hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”[132] “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us: for Thou also hast wrought all our works for us.”[133]

We must by every means humble our hearts and subdue our proud intellect, lest we should be like the contemporaries of the prophets, who looked on them only as sweet-voiced singers, and nothing more; they did not wish to fulfil their commands, they even despised, persecuted, beat, and killed them; lest we should be like those, by whom “no prophet is accepted in his own country.”[167] However insignificant and unimportant the man may be, honour in him the image of God, especially when he speaks with love, and, above all, when he speaks of and does the works of love.

When anyone blames the imperfections and faults of your works, humbly acknowledge the justice of such censure, and say: “Yes, it is true, I am sinful, most sinful, I do not do my work with due care and willingness. Pray for me brother” — (saying thus to him who blames you) — “that the Lord may teach and help me, by His grace, to fulfil the duties of my calling and the work of serving others with due care and willingness.” Should anyone find fault with your abilities, say: “I do not give myself such and not other abilities, they are the gift of God; therefore to find fault with my abilities is the same as to find fault with the Creator, Who gave them.” When your own relations blame you and expose your weaknesses in the hearing of others, say to them: “I am truly such as you describe me; but it is no advantage to you that I am really such, nor that you should defame me and mock at me: to mock at the infirmity or weakness of your brother is foolish and inhuman; it is better to hide such an infirmity, because my infirmity is your infirmity, my shame is your shame; for I am your member, and you, too, are not without infirmity; let us, therefore, pray that the Lord may heal our infirmities, for all of us are infected with the leprosy of iniquity.” “Charity,” it is said, “endureth all things,”[1420] and does not put weaknesses to shame.

When your heart inclines to evil, and the evil one begins to undermine your heart, so that it is completely removed from the rock of faith, then say to yourself inwardly: “I know of my spiritual poverty, my own nothingness without faith. I am so weak, that it is only by Christ’s name that I live and obtain peace, that I rejoice and my heart expands, whilst without Him I am spiritually dead, I am troubled, and my heart is oppressed; without the Lord’s Cross I should have been long since the victim of the most cruel distress and despair. Only Christ keeps me alive: and the Cross is my peace and my consolation.”

Consider yourself worse and more infirm than all others in spiritual respects, and despise, hate yourself for your sins, — this is pious and right — and be indulgent to others, respect and love them in spite of their sins, for God’s sake, Who commanded us to respect and love all men, and also because they are created after His image — although they bear the wounds of sin, and because they are members of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual poverty consists in esteeming oneself as though not existing, and God alone as existing; in honouring His words above everything in the world, and in not sparing anything to fulfil them, even one’s own life; in considering God’s Will in everything, both for ourselves and others, entirely renouncing our own will. The man who is poor in spirit desires and says with his whole heart: “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” It is as though he himself disappears; everywhere and in everything he wishes to see God — in himself and in others. “Let everything be Thine, not mine. “He wishes to contemplate God’s holiness in himself and in all — His kingdom, also His Will; also to see Him alone entirely filling the human heart, as it should be, because He alone is All-merciful and All-perfect, All-creating; whilst the enemy — the Devil and his instruments, and those who oppose God — are thieves in the kingdom of God, and adversaries of God. To him who is poor in spirit the whole world is as nothing. Everywhere he sees God alone giving life to everything, and ruling everything; for him there is no place without God, no moment without God; everywhere and at every minute he is with God, and as though with Him alone. He who is poor in spirit does not dare and does not think of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, to discover God’s mysteries, to philosophise on the highest; he believes in the single word of the Lord, the Life-giver, knowing that every word of His is truth, spirit, and eternal life; and in the words of His Church, ever instructed in all truth by the Holy Spirit, he believes as a child believes his father or mother, not requiring proofs, but perfectly relying upon them. He who is poor in spirit considers himself the very last and the most sinful of all, reckons himself worthy of being trampled under foot by everyone.

If you truly wish to be humble, then long to be in every way offended and persecuted, as a hungry man longs for food; for by the justice of God you are worthy of this.

If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.

What is a pure heart? It is meek, humble, guileless, simple, trusting, true, unsuspicious, gentle, good, not covetous, not envious, not adulterous.

All you who draw near to serve God in prayer, learn to be like Him, meek, humble, and true of heart; do not let there be any deceitfulness or duplicity nor coldness in your soul.

If, during service, your brother does anything irregularly, or somewhat negligently, do not become irritated, either inwardly or outwardly with him, but be generously indulgent to his fault, remembering that during your life you yourself commit many, many faults, that you yourself are a man with all infirmities, that God is long-suffering and most merciful, and that he forgives you and all of us our iniquities an innumerable multitude of times. Remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” These words should always remind us that we ourselves at all times are great trespassers, great sinners before God, and that, remembering this, we should be humble in the depths of our hearts, and not be very severe to the faults of our brethren, weak like ourselves; that as we do not judge ourselves severely, we must not judge others severely, for our brethren are — our members, like ourselves. Irritability of temper proceeds from want of self-knowledge, from pride, and also from the fact that we do not consider the great corruption of our nature, and know but little the meek and humble Jesus.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who fills the whole universe, passes through all believing, meek, humble, good, and simple human souls, dwelling in them, vivifying and strengthening them.

But at the same time, the Lord said: “Be harmless as doves;” that is, simple and guileless. Borrow from the serpent his wisdom only, but let your heart remain simple, pure, and uncorrupt. Be meek and humble as I am; do not give yourself up to wrath and irritability, for “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God;”[303] keep yourself pure from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit.

When a man is about to pray, he must humble his proud heart, must cast away earthly vanity from it, and must bring into it living and undoubting faith.

Why does the Lord allow people to be poor? For the same reason, amongst others, that He does not make you righteous all at once according to your wish. God might have made all men well off, even rich; but then a great forgetfulness of God would have arisen, and pride, envy, and so forth, would have increased. And you would have thought too highly of yourself had the Lord made you soon righteous. But as sin humbles you, showing you your great infirmity, impurity, and constant need of God and His grace, so likewise the poor man is humbled by poverty and his need of other people. If the poor were to be enriched, many of them would forget God and their benefactors, would ruin their souls in the luxury of this world. So destructive are riches, and so do they blind the spiritual vision! They make the heart gross and ungrateful!

Be as kind, meek, humble, and simple as possible in your intercourse with all, considering yourself not hypocritically inferior to all in respect to your spiritual condition; that is, more sinful and weaker than all. Say to yourself, “Of all sinners I am the first.” From pride proceeds self-sufficiency, coldness, and insincerity in our behaviour to our inferiors, or to those from whom we do not expect to obtain any advantage.

Our self-love and pride manifest themselves especially in impatience and irritability when some of us cannot bear the slightest unpleasantness intentionally, or even unintentionally, caused us by others; or obstacles lawfully or unlawfully, intentionally or unintentionally, opposed to us by men, or caused by the objects surrounding us. Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honour and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us; whilst, alas! we ourselves are very slow to faith and to every good work — slow to please the one Master of all. Christian! you must absolutely be humble, meek, and long-suffering, remembering that you are clay, dust, nothingness; that you are impure; that everything good that you have is from God; that your life, your breath and everything you possess are God’s gifts; that for your sins of disobedience and intemperance you ought now to redeem your future blessedness in Paradise by the long-suffering which is indispensable in this world of imperfections and innumerable transgressions of the fallen men living together with us, and forming the numerous members of the one sin-sullied human race.” Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”[453] He who is impatient and irritable does not know himself and the human race, and is unworthy of the name of Christian. In saying this, I pronounce judgment against myself, for I am the first of those who are afflicted with impatience and irritability.

Receive everyone who comes to you, especially with a spiritual purpose, with a kind and cheerful aspect, although he or she may be a beggar, and humble yourself inwardly before everybody, counting yourself lower than he or she, for you are placed by Christ Himself to be the servant of all, and all are His members, although like you they bear the wounds of sin.

In order that men should esteem and love each other, should not be proud, should not be arrogant to each other, the most wise Lord has given to different men different natural and beneficial advantages, so that they may have need of each other. In this manner each one of us must involuntarily acknowledge this or that infirmity and humble himself before God and men.

Do not be despondent and do not fall into despair when you feel within your soul the deadly breath and ferment of malice and evil, impatience and blasphemy, or any weakness from impure thoughts; but fight against them unremittingly and endure valiantly, calling with all your heart upon the Lord Jesus — the Conqueror of hell. Humble yourself deeply, deeply, acknowledging yourself from the depths of your soul as the first of sinners, unworthy of human fellowship, and the Lord, seeing your humility and your struggle, will help you. Call also to your help the speedy Mediatrix, the Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, saying: ” Heal, most pure Lady, the many painful wounds of my soul, and strike the enemies constantly fighting against me.”[481]

Through masterful, or rather through mercenary pride and incomprehensible wickedness, we often do not deign to speak to those whom we feed and support, often behaving inimically to them, instead of rather humbling ourselves before them as their servants, in accordance with the words of the Lord. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,”[490] so as to redouble our recompense of the Lord by sincerely and unfeignedly serving Him in the person of the least of His brethren. O, meek and humble-hearted Creator, Giver of Life, Redeemer, our Nourisher, and Preserver — Lord Jesus! teach us love, meekness, and humility through Thy Holy Spirit, and strengthen us in those virtues which are most pleasing to Thee, so that Thy rich gifts may not make our hearts proud, so that we may not deem that it is we ourselves who feed, provide, and support anyone. Thou art the universal Nourisher. Thou feedest, providest, supportest, and preservest all; under the wings of Thy mercy, bounty, and loving kindness all are provided for and are given rest — not under ours, for we ourselves have need of being covered with the shadow of Thy wings at every moment of our life. Our eyes are fixed upon Thee, our God, as “the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us.”[491] Amen.

If Christ is in you through the frequent communion of the Holy Sacrament, then be yourself wholly like unto Christ: meek, humble, long-suffering, full of love, without attachment to earthly things, meditating upon heavenly ones, obedient, reasonable. Have His spirit unfailingly within you. Do not be proud, impatient, partial to earthly things, avaricious, and covetous.

It is unpleasant for a proud man when it is required of him to be humble to others; for an envious man when it is required of him to wish his enemies well…

“Every valley” and dale “shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[560] The valley and dale are humble hearts. The mountain and hill shall be brought low — that is, proud men who think highly of themselves, and despise the lowly and humble. So it is: the Lord unceasingly acts through the spirit of righteousness and mercy in the hearts of men, humbling the proud by various worldly circumstances — by maladies, losses, humiliations from other people, and exalting the humble.

Strive by every means constantly to rejoice the Heavenly Father by your life; that is, by your meekness, humility, gentleness, obedience, abstinence, right judgment, love of peace, patience, mercy, sincere friendship with worthy people, kindness to everybody, cordial hospitality, universal benevolence, accuracy in business, simplicity of heart and character, and by the purity of all your thoughts. Teach and strengthen us, O God, to live in accordance with Thy Will, for Thou art our Father, and we are Thy children, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

But, in accordance with Christian love, you must be indulgent in every possible way to the faults of your neighbour, you must cure him of his wickedness, of his spiritual infirmity (for every coldness, every passion is an infirmity) by love, kindness, meekness, humility, as you yourself would wish to receive from others, when you suffer from a similar infirmity. For who is not subject to infirmity? Whom does the most evil enemy spare? Lord! destroy all the snares of the enemy in us.

Should thoughts of self-praise, of self-satisfaction, occur to you, say: “I myself am nothing; all that is good in me is accomplished by the grace of God.” “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”[675] “Without Me ye can do nothing.”[676] Should the thought of despising any of your neighbours, or of your family occur to you, say: “The entire man is the beautiful work of God’s hands; everything in him is very well ordered.” For “it was very good.”[677]

To love God with all your heart means — to love with all your soul meekness, humility, purity and chastity, wisdom, truth, mercy, obedience, for the sake of God, and never to act contrarily to these virtues; that is, not to become proud, irritated, angry against anyone; not to commit adultery even in the heart; not to violate chastity, either by look, thought, or gesture; to avoid every inconsiderate, needless word and deed; to shun every iniquity; to hate avarice and covetousness; to flee from self-will and disobedience.

The Nativity of Christ. — He has come upon earth, He Who in the beginning created us from earth and breathed His Divine breath into us; He has come Who ” giveth to all life, and breath, and all things”[996]; He has come, He Who by a single word called all things visible and invisible from non-existence into existence, Who by a word called into being birds, fishes, quadrupeds, insects, and all creatures, existing under His almighty providence and care; He has come, He Whom the innumerable hosts of Angels continually serve with fear and joy. And in what humility has He come! He is born of a poor Virgin, in a cave, wrapped in poor swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Riches, honours, glory of this world! fall down, fall down in humility, tearful devotion, and deep gratitude before the Saviour of men, and share your riches with the poor and needy. Do not pride yourselves on your visionary, fleeting distinctions, for true distinction can only be found in virtue… learn here, before the manger, your vanity. Thus, let us all humble ourselves; let us all fall down in the dust before the boundless humility and exhaustion of the Sovereign of all, of God, Who has come to heal our infirmities, to save us from pride, vanity, corruption, and every sinful impurity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s purpose for us is to drive away from our hearts falsehood (flattery), pride, and diabolical malice, and to implant in the place of these His truth, love, meekness, and humility.

When anyone, out of kindness, praises you to others, and they transmit these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due to you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who thus spoke of you, and pray to God for him, that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.

If you meet with inattention or even disdain from strangers, do not be hurt or take offence at it, but say to yourself: “I am worthy of this. Glory to Thee, my Lord, that Thou hast granted unto me, an unworthy one, to receive dishonour from men like unto myself!” On your part always show love to all, especially to your relations, sincerely, zealously, heartily, loudly; not coldly and languidly, hypocritically, reluctantly, as if in a whisper.

A deep feeling of spiritual poverty, a lamentation at the existence of evil, a thirst after salvation, are to be found in every straightforward and humble soul.

If you wish to be humble, consider yourself worthy of all malice and hatred on the part of others, and of every calumny. Do not grow irritated, and do not nourish malice against those who bear malice against you, slander you, or falsely blame you. Say: “Holy Father, Thy will be done! “Remember the words of the Lord: ” The servant is not greater than his Lord; if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”[1396] If the world hated Him, the Most-righteous, the Most-merciful, then why should it be wonderful if other people hate you, a sinful and evil man?

Prayer is the constant feeling of our own spiritual poverty and infirmity, the contemplation in ourselves, in others, and in nature of the works of the great wisdom, mercy, and almighty power of God; prayer is — a continually grateful frame of mind.

[131] St. Matthew v. 44.
[132] Isaiah xl. 2.
[133] Isaiah xxvi. 12.
[167] St. Luke iv. 24.
[303] James i. 20.
[453] Galatians vi. 2.
[481] Canon to the Guardian Angel.
[490] St. Matthew xx. 26.
[491] Psalm cxxiii. 2.
[560] St. Luke iii. 5, 6.
[676] St. John xv. 5.
[677] Genesis i. 31.
[996] Acts xvii. 25.
[1396] St. John xiii. 16; xv. 18.
[1420] 1 Corinthians xiii. 7.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.

55 Maxims for Christian Living

55 Maxims for Christian Livingfr.thomas_hopko
by Fr. Thomas Hopko

1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheefull.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Cruciform Hermeneutics: True Theology Begins with the Cross

crucifixion1To begin, I want to say that in many ways, this blog is a continuation of my thoughts from my blog “Cosmic Sky Dad“. I’m nearing the end of Father John Behr’s (Dean of St. Vlad’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) “The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” (A great review here), and I have gained drastic insights into systematic theology from this book. It has been highly informative and formative in my thinking and theology in just the couple of weeks I’ve been reading it. I want to summarize in my own words what the book deals with. This is not a thorough treatment at all for the subject matter, so I highly recommend one pick up their own copy!

In the preface, Father John writes that he is presenting a “Christian theology that is systematic yet remains true to the way in which theology was first learned” (page 15). He begins to critique modern theology by saying that it seeks to be a model based entirely on the historical events or “what really happened”. He accuses modern theology and scholarship of starting with the theological debates found early in Christian history, but “separate these theological formulas form the way in which they were in fact learned and from the exegetical practice, the manner of using scripture, in and through which they were articulated” (page 15). Father makes a point that if we read define theological formulas detached from the original way they were learned we’re in danger of reading Scripture in a vastly modern way.

The notion of the Trinity is read as a history of the interaction between man and God and culminates in God being incarnate in order to bring about redemption. He says that this

approach to theology has become, in modern times, all but ubiquitous. But the fact that we only understand retrospectively should caution us to consider more carefully how such theological statements are made and what kind of assertions they are. For example…the term ‘incarnation’ [read in such a manner described above] is used to refer to the becoming human of the second person of the Trinity by being born from the Virgin Mary. But it is a stubborn fact, or at least is presented this way in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that the one born of Mary was not known by the disciples to be the Son of God until after the Passion, his crucifixion, and resurrection…Thus, to speak of the ‘Incarnation,’ to say that the one born of the Virgin is the Son of God, is an interpretation made only in the light of the Passion. It is a confession about the crucified and exalted Lord, whose birth is then described in terms drawn from the account of his death…; it is not a neutral statement that could be verified by an uninvolved bystander as a part of an objective history, an account of things ‘as they really happened,’ in the manner of nineteenth-century historiography” (page 16).

It is here that the heart of the book is presented. The point Father John is beginning to make is that the historical method of reading Scripture like this, on its on, places Jesus strictly in the past. Who He was, what He did, and what He said are all matters of history, but for the early Christians the crucified Lord was eternal and ever present, the One of whom the Scriptures speak. And it is precisely here that the book’s foundation is built. Father John states that the Apostles knew Christ in light of His passion, death, and resurrection. They turned to Scriptures, as directed by Christ, to see that it is He of whom they speak. Even in I Cor. 15:3-5, the Apostle Paul states that “Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures”, which he means the Old Testament.

Father John writes

Despite having been with Christ for a number of years, having heard his words and seen his marvelous actions, the disciples did not yet really understand him. Only after his Passion, his crucifixion, and resurrection, do they begin to understand who Christ is and what he has done, and they did this by turning back to scriptures” (page 22).

He goes on to say on page 25, “…Scriptures, the Old Testament, provided the means by which the disciples began to understand how God was at work in the Passion of Christ (for the early church the Passion includes the crucifixion, death, and resurrection and were celebrated as one event). It is in the Passion of Christ, that hermeneutics and theology must begin. I like to think of this as cruciform hermeneutics because it is in the Passion that theology begins. It is in Christ giving himself up for the life of the world that theology proper begins (page 31). This is where God is revealed to us and this is where our theology must begin. Father John makes a great point that the first principle of hermeneutics is Christ Himself! The Cross is where we start!

The Cruciform God of the Cross

I recently finished Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God” and also highly recommend it as well! However, I have noticed a lot of meshing between these two books I’m reading. Gorman proposes that the following verses from Phil. 2:6-11 (translated in his own words) is the Master Story of St. Paul and the beginning of theology proper, with which I’m inclined to agree, but also I’ll venture to say that Father John would too:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Gorman makes a point that these verses paint the accurate, wholesome view of theology proper, of divine power. It reveals to us how foolish we think of divinity. For humanity, divinity does not empty itself, but demonstrates itself over us through power. However, the saints, Father John, and Dr. Gorman make a point that the cruciform God is revealed through strength in weakness. Thus St. Paul’s master story turns theology proper upside down, or perhaps, right side up. It is here that we can begin to understand God and who He is and what He has done. Father John says that “the centrality of the Passion of Christ [is] the locus of the revelation of the transformative power of God…” (page 33). God is revealed in the voluntary death of Christ on the Cross; this is the scriptural reflection of the Apostles and has been the theological vision of many theologians. It should be ours as well.

Father John writes in regards to Phil. 2:6-11,

Christ’s taking upon himself the role of a servant, voluntarily going to the Passion, does not diminish our perception of what we might otherwise have considered his divinity, but actually manifests his true divinity. The transcendent power of God is manifest in this world in flesh, in darkness and in death, as a servant. But this manifestation of divine power, in weakness, is simultaneously a transformation: Christ, in the form of a servant, shows us the image of God; darkness and death become light and life; and the flesh assumed by the Word, becomes flesh of the Word–and becomes Word…The Passion remains as the locus for contemplating the transforming power of God, the ‘God revealed through the Cross'” (page 35).

Father John closes the first chapter by stating that, again, “in the night in which he was given up” to “in the night in which he gave himself up” is the beginners point for theology. It is

a theology which does not simply speak about God in the abstract, nor satisfy itself with a historical report about events in the past, but which contemplates the transforming power of God revealed through the Cross, the eternal, timeless power that upholds all things, inviting and challenging us also to become transformed in its Word, putting on the identity of Christ” (page 43).

Theology is Confessional

What does this all mean for us? It means that we possess a confessional theology, which we witness to through the transforming power of God manifest in Christ on the Cross: “Light in darkness, Life in death, Word in flesh” (page 141). An historical reading or recording of these events don’t do them the justice they deserve. That is why I’ve come to believe a cruciform hermeneutic, a reading of Scriptures in light of the Passion (crucifixion, death, and resurrection) are needed to develop proper theology and theological formulas. We must search the Scriptures in light of Christ and go from there, from the Cross. Father John writes,

What history would record as Jesus being put to death, theology confesses to be the very victory over death by one who gave himself up for the life of the world. The basis for this confession is not a claim to ‘historical evidence’ provided by the empty tomb or resurrectional appearances: the empty tomb needs to be interpreted…Theology begin, rather, with the opening of the scriptures by the risen Lord, so that his disciples see how they all speak of him and the necessity of his Passion, and so be prepared to share in the meal to which he invites them, when he is recognized and disappear from sight, creating in them a desire for the Coming One. It is based on Peter’s acknowledgement that he had betrayed Christ, that he was complicit in his death, but is nevertheless, and as a forgiven sinner, called to be an apostle, proclaiming the forgiveness of Christ, his mercy, and his love–a new creation.

Such theology is a confession, acknowledging the work of God in Christ. But it is only possible if it is accompanied by a confession about oneself. As with the denier Peter, the persecutor Paul, and the Prophet Isaiah before them, the reaction to the encounter with the Lord is the confession of one’s own sinfulness–that we are, each, complicit in the death of Christ and his persecution and that he is our victim in each of our acts of violence and victimization. As we look to the Scriptures, with the crucified and exalted Christ as our starting point, we can, only now, recognize that the world has lain in sin and death from the beginning, waiting to be saved and brought to true life by Christ. The truth of God revealed in Christ brings with it the revelation of the truth about human beings, both what they are called to be and that they have fallen from this high calling. The aim of theology always remains ‘the true understanding of things as they are, that is, of God and of the human being'” (page 142).

This means for us that not only do we have a confessional theology found to begin in cruciform hermeneutics, but that we have a confessional theology that leads to a confessional theology, meaning we must see the depths of our own depravity as revealed in our theological confessions and formulas, which, again, begin with Christ. It means we find our stories within the story of Christ and his faithfulness to God. Father John states that an encounter with the Christ proclaimed “in accordance with the Scriptures” leads to a transformation of our lives. For me this means a cruciform theosis, direction union and participation in Christ and His faithfulness through co-crucifixion. It is the beginning of our past lining up with salvation history. Father John writes,

If, as is sometimes said, the ‘self’ of each person is their own past told form the perspective of the present, and that past acting in the present, then the encounter with Christ provides a new, and yet eternal, vantage point from which to narrate one’s own past: we are invited to see our own past retold as our own ‘salvation history'”(page 143).

For me, this highlights even more what I have spoken of in regards to what the Gospel is, which is the faithfulness of Christ to God. Our past is united to Christ and told from the vantage point of the Cross. Christ is the Faithful Israelite who fulfilled the demands of the law vertically and horizontally. By co-crucifixion with Christ, we share in His sufferings, but also in His faithfulness. It is by this co-crucifixion that we become deified and theosis is worked in us. It is here that such proper theology found in cruciform hermeneutics leads us: nailed on the Cross with Christ sharing in His faithfulness and sufferings. His story becomes our story, one of faithfulness, love, forgiveness of our sins, and mercy. We are to share this story and pour out such joy it has to the world by proclaiming the God revealed on the Cross.

Our stories lived up prior to the encounter of Christ were meant to prepare us for encountering the crucified and exalted Lord. Father John writes, with which I close,

Everything is compressed within his economy: standing in the light of Christ, we can see him as having led us through our whole past, preparing us to encounter him. He alone knows the alone knows the reason why he has led each of us on our particular path, for we still walk by faith, not by sight. But it is a faith that all things are in the hand of Christ, and that ‘in everything God works for good with those who love him'” (page 143).

Our theology must begin with the Cross, with Christ. It is here that true theology begins by opening up the Scriptures who testify to Him. It is here that we experience God, the God of power in weakness. Thus it is in our weakness that God is revealed to us and saves us. Our theology must start with the Cross so that it can lead us to the Cross ourselves, so that through our weakness the transformational, holy, reverent, love of Christ is displayed by uniting us with Him in His sufferings and faithfulness bringing us to union with Christ through cruciform theosis, which brings us to peace with God who is a good God and loves mankind.

Don’t Invent the Notes: A Sagacious Exhortation for Young, Armchair Theologians

EHS_Bible-and-CouchIn a discussion about books that have influenced him, Father Stephen, my priest, made a comment about Stanley Hauerwas’ theology saying that he was not really a seminal theologian, but operated more like a derivative theologian whose genius still shone brightly.

I found his comments on Hauerwas very interesting. This is something I wonder about. Aren’t we all derivative theologians? Or should be anyways? I mean, in a world where ‘nothing new under the sun’ exists it is hard to be seminal. Being Orthodox is hard to be seminal I find because it is all already in place and what has been said has been said. So that means there are a lot of folks that are derivative. Sometimes I doubt my process as a student, thinker, and armchair theologian; I often fear I’m not doing well at synthesizing theological concepts, ideas, and doctines to place them in my own words and understanding. Often I feel I’m regurgitating something, but in some ways that is all there is to do. Of course, of course, we must learn to think, to synthesize, and to apply these things, but often there isn’t anything, for the theologian, to be seminal about. So maybe I’m just regurgitating. Or perhaps I really can synthesize and think through these things. But the point is made, regardless of all that, in what Father Stephen said in response, which I find great advice for young theologians (or in my case a wanna-be theologian; I use the noun for myself here very, very loosely):

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t want to be seminal. ‘Originality is not a virtue,’ according to CS Lewis…
Of course, Bach never invented a single note. Worked with the same 12 note scale that’s on my piano. But what he did with the notes! Same is true of good theology. Don’t invent the notes.”

That made me feel better because like I said there’s nothing new under the sun. I’d rather work on being better read, learning to further synthesize concepts and ideas, and repackage them for people who aren’t trained in such matters like theology.

One of my biggest issues while I was Protestant was that the theology was ever changing or seeking to reinvent the wheel. The next big fad! The new great idea! The growing cool movement! All of it relies on coming up with the next big thing! The beauty in Orthodox theology is that it is about receiving what had already been given and handed down, traditioned, through the generations. Thus being seminal in theology is not needy.

Of course what one can be seminal in, perhaps, is the orthopraxy of orthodoxy. The theology never changes or needs to change! The Faith has been given to the Saints as is (Jude 3). Of course as good theologians we must be aware of new ways of engaging the ever-changing contexts wherein the theology (orthodoxy) finds itself. However, the orthodoxy (as well as Orthodoxy) doesn’t change, but it finds new ways of orthopraxy within its cultural settings. Nonetheless, I digress.

This is good advice for any theologian, especially the young armchair theologian such as myself. It takes a lot of pressure off one’s self! We don’t need to be innovators, but faithful guardians and presenters of the gift traditioned to us. Anyone seeking refuge from the continual cycle of innovative theology or “faith” you are welcome to engage the Orthodox and see how one need not be a part of the ceaseless push to reinvent the wheel.

As Father said, and how Bach did, we don’t need to invent the notes of theology, we simply need to join our voices and instruments with the beautiful music being played by the Fathers, Saints, Apostles, and Christ. It’s not about inventing the notes, but playing them beautifully.

Vending Machine “Christianity”: The Church Created in Our Own Image (Mini-Blog #6)

vendingFr. Benedict Simpson, a Facebook friend, posted this deeply thought-provoking, but yet sharply critical status about Americans and how they “church hop”. One thing I have learned in my journey into Orthodoxy is that my preferences do not matter, the preferences of those in the early Church and throughout the ages did not matter, and neither does yours. This is where the Orthodox sharply disagree with some about spirituality, ecclesiology, and above all worship. Christianity isn’t  a vending machine where you get to pick and choose things. Nor is it a menu where you pick what is in line with your tastes. This is deeply out of line with both the New Testament and the Fathers.

I’m a drummer, and I’ve played in worship teams before. Of course, I wouldn’t mind some instruments in worship, but that isn’t how the Church has approached it and still approaches it (note, there are some African churches that bring deeply held customs of their culture into the Church, but it is not a general acceptance). But I’ve learned that there is so much beauty and watchfulness in the approach to worship we Orthodox take. We sing/chant the entire service without the aid of some silly stage, loud instrument, or egotistical worship leader. I’ve deeply criticized this approach and the entertainment-driven, feeling based approaches before, so I appreciated Father’s challenge and wisdom. This is just one insistence of preference, but think about your own preferences, your own theology, and how you may try to find a church that fits into them instead of a Church where you drop yours and receive what was given to the Saints.

We Americans and others shop for churches like we shop for coats. Does the coat suit me? Does it make me look good? Does it ‘feel’ good? Is it agreeable to my own sensibilities?

If we ask ourselves those same questions and simply substitute the word ‘church’, We will find the crux of the issue. Does this church suit me? Does this church make me look good? Does it make me feel good? Does this church agree with my own sensibilities?

Dear ones… with such an outlook, we are looking for the church created in our own image and not the Church that is the Body of Christ. Think upon this. To become part of Christ’s Holy Church one must sacrifice his own image in order to take upon himself the image and likeness of Christ; for indeed we are called to become imitations of Christ in all that we do. Even unto the Cross.”

Something to ponder on. God’s blessings to you in your ponderings.

Reflections from Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

forthelifeI wanted to share this post from “The Life of the World” over on their Facebook page. Today is the 30th anniversary of the falling asleep of Father Alexander Schmemann. Continue to pray for us, Father! If you have not read “For the Life of the World” and want a great introduction to Orthodox sacramental theology, then I highly recommend you read it! I read it over the summer and it drastically stretched me and informed me of a sacramental worldview! It is a marvelous book.

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the repose of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. This short meditation will not be about his life. It will not try to expound on the man’s legacy or attempt to contextualize his importance within the Orthodox Church.

Fr. Alexander is perhaps best known as a liturgist encouraging frequent communion and a deeper understanding of the Divine Liturgy. In honor of this, let us instead speak about Liturgy and ruminate on the Eucharist; as the center of Christian life and the center of the Church we can do no better honor to his memory. A note on the Word Eucharist: It comes from the Greek and means Thanksgiving. “The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom… [Our] entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world”.

Fr. Alexander’s For the Life of the World : The Divine Liturgy opens with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!” In the Eucharist we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – the perfect Kingdom – made present here on earth in the Church by the presence of the crucified and risen Christ. We are formed by entrance into the Kingdom to be temples of God celebrating the Heavenly Liturgy in the holy place of the heart. In eating the Body and Blood of Christ the new Adam, offered up in Thanksgiving on behalf of all and for all, we become truly human. The life of the true human, the redeemed human, is to give praise and thanks to God.

In the words of Fr. Alexander, “The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.” The Divine Liturgy is a synergy between the three churches – the three kingdoms. The paradigm – the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church – the community of the faithful, and the person – the temple and alter of God. Brothers and sisters, it is not enough to ponder on this. We must gather as church and enter into the kingdom. Let us offer praise and thanksgiving – the Liturgy. Let us ponder the words of John the Evengelist in the context of our meditation and see how the scriptures may be illumined through the Liturgy. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” John 14:16-20

Apologies for the confusing layout. The original post was full of errors and was just one big paragraph. I hope I have reproduced it in a sensible fashion. Be blessed. And may the memory of Father Alexander be eternal.