Monday, June 30, 2014

The Rock and the Net

"We worthily exalt the all-praiseworthy Peter and Paul, the defender of the rock of the Church, and the net of the world."--Sessional Hymn I, Matins of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Glory to Jesus Christ!  The fast has ended, and the feast begun: we now celebrate the all-glorious Prime Apostles, Peter and Paul.  We can see this feast as the final feast in continuation of Pentecost, which in turn continues Pascha, and thus the Great Fast, and thus Theophany, and thus even Nativity.  For we can see a progression in time in many of our great feasts, beginning with the Nativity.  We celebrate Christ's birth, and then His Baptism and the manifestation of the Trinity to the world, the great Theophany.  Not long thereafter, we walk the way of the Cross during the Fast, remembering in part Christ's temptation in the desert falling His Baptism, and in part those days when He approached His death.  At the end of the Fast, we remember His glorious entrance into Jerusalem and the following events: the betrayal, the Mystical Supper, and then "the Cross, the nails, the spear, and death."  Yet death is not the end, of course: for then comes the greatest feast, the Feast of Feasts, all-glorious Pascha.  For forty days we celebrate Pascha, and then we wait in eager anticipation of Pentecost.  At Pentecost, the Spirit descended on the Theotokos and the Apostles and impelled them to preach the Gospel to all.  Yet we do not cease our remembrances there: for a few weeks after Pentecost, after fasting, we celebrate this feast, the feast of the Prime Apostles, who were inspired by the Spirit given at Pentecost.  Finally, we have in a month and a half the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  As the Church Year comes to a close, we remember her dormition; yet shortly after it opens (September 1), we remember her nativity (September 8), and from there the cycle begins again, with Philip's Fast and the celebration of the Lord's Nativity.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Spiritual Battle

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite

"For not for us is the battle against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the worldrulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."--Eph 6:12

There has always been need for the faithful to do battle.  I do not mean physical battle, which God only commanded for a time, but spiritual battle.  Even in the Garden, Adam was called to fight against the serpent and failed, as one tradition views it.  So Satan and his demons have since then been lurking on the earth, "prowling like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  Yet God has not abandoned us to the maw of the dragon: He gives us the grace to defeat the wicked one.  Christ trampled death by death, and He also trampled Satan and his power.  He Who cast out demons while on earth continues to cast them out when we call upon Him.  In the spiritual life, then, we are always combating demons, but with the help of the Lord we can overcome the foe, by participating in the victory Christ already won for us, even to the point of shooing the demons away with a feather duster, as St. Antony did.  So in reading the below excerpts regarding our spiritual battle, let us always be firm in the fight, always running the race to gain the crown, remembering the sobering declaration of Evagrius: "Prayer is warfare to the last breath."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Seventy Presbyters
Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders (1737) by Jacob de Wit (1695-1754)

"And spoke the Lord to Moses: 'Gather to me seventy men from the presbyters of Israel, whom you know, that they are presbyters of the people and scribes of them.'"--Num 11:16

Those God chooses to lead His people are never alone in their task.  The Lord does not wish it to be so.  Instead, the Lord calls others to support them in their ministry.  Take the example of Moses.  Not only did he have his brother Aaron at his right hand, but he had elders, presbyters (as the Greek has it), who assisted him.  At the exhortation of his father-in-law, Jethro, he called righteous men from the tribes of Israel to be rulers over the people and to assist him in judging.  These were not his only assistance, though, for the Lord ordered Moses to bring seventy presbyters of Israel to be before Him on the holy mountain.  These are the ones who "were seen in the place of God and ate and drank."  Truly God wished these men to assist His servant Moses, for He allowed them to be before His Face and yet live.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Family Annals 
The Root of Jesse, or, Christ's Family Tree

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."--Rom 8:14

The Holy Spirit that indwells in us is the Spirit of sonship by which God adopts us, by which He makes us members of His family.  If we are all sons of God, then we are all brothers and sisters of each other.  Whether we are Jew or Gentile by blood, by grace we have all become the brethren of the Jews.  For those not of direct bloodline to the Jews are a wild olive tree, and yet they have been grafted on to the cultivated olive tree, the tree of the Israelites.  So all who receive the Spirit are joined to the olive tree the Lord has cultivated since the Garden: all become of one family.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Levites' Portion 
Holy Prophet Aaron the High Priest

"Then the Lord said to Aaron, 'And behold, I have given you whatever is kept of the offerings made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel; I have given them to you as a portion, and to your sons as a perpetual due."--Num 18:8

Out of the twelve tribes of the Israel, the descendants of the sons of Jacob, the Lord chose one to be His own.  For He said, "The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord" (Num 3:44).  Levi was not among the msot beloved sons of Israel, for of him and his brother Simeon his father said, "Weapons of violence are their swords.  O my soul, come not into their council; O my spirit, be not joined to their company; for in their anger they slay men...I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel" (Gen 49:5-7).  Yet despite the violent nature of Levi, his descendants were not always so.  While Moses may have been a man of anger at times, Aaron was the servant of God who knew how to speak well, as his brother declared, and to him and his sons the Lord bestowed a great blessing.  For to them were entrusted the holy things.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Burden of Not Being Clairvoyant
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths."--Prov 3:5-6

Sadly, men are not omniscient as God is.  He is the only One Who not only knows the past perfectly, the present in its fullness, and the future in all of its unexpected turns.  Our history is quite partial, our knowledge of now is incredibly limited, and our predictions from the future are sometimes little more than a shot in the dark.  We can never know what will happen even today, a lesson that I experienced firsthand with one of my family members this past fall.  On Monday she was fine, in Tuesday she was hospitalized, and by Friday she had fallen asleep.  I cannot know when I will cease drawing breath: these could be my final words.  Of course, we can make "educated guesses," using what knowledge we have to make reasonable predictions.  Thus, my health is good right now, so I do not expect to encounter any great medical difficulties today.  For a prediction to be most reasonable, though, we must recognize that it is only a prediction and not inerrant foresight.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Glory to God for All Things
Metropolitan Tryphon (1861-1934)

"Oh, how many ideas and works had perished in that building--a whole lost culture?  Oh, soot, soot, from the Lubyanka chimneys!"--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In one of his most famous works, The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian author and Nobel Laureate in Literature Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn laments all the great works of human thought and culture that were destroyed by Soviet authorities.  The interrogators would burn many of the papers they found on the persons of their prisoners.   That was the fate of the Solzhenitsyn's own War Diary.  He mentions other such destructions: one man had formulated an alphabet and vocabulary for the Yeniseian languages, and with his work's annihilation came the removal of an entire nationality's written language for decades.  Another man was a great engineer, and his papers were taken from his wife and eradicated as well.  Solzhenitsyn's lament over the destruction of so much culture.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Manifold Perfections of Divinity 

"The divinity is jointly a sole perfection, and many perfections diverse, one in simplicity, and many in valor and eminence."--Fray Luis de León, The Perfect Wife §I

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!"  So declares the Shema of Deuteronomy, and so declares the Church: and yet we also declare that God is Three.  Not only does the Divinity have three Persons, but God manifests Himself to us in a multitude of ways.  These three Persons show themselves to us in many, many ways.  (They are not themselves merely manifestations of the Divinity, for this was the ancient heresy of Modalism.)  One tradition speaks of the different "books" by which one encounters God: first is the book of Scripture, of course, but there is also the book of nature, and the book of experience, among others.  We learn of God through prayer, through the liturgy, through contemplation, through study.  Yet it is always the one God we learn of, the One Who Is, the One above being, above all that we can know of Him, even beyond our conception of God: as Dionysius said, He is "hyper-God" (ὑπέρθεος).

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ecology of the Growing Church
Apse Mosaic in San Clemente, Rome

"As therefore the body is one, and has many members, all of the members then of the one body, being many, one body it is: and so Christ....And therefore the body is not one member, but many."--1 Cor 12:12,14

The Church is a body made of many members, the Mystical Body of Christ, as Ven. Pope Pius XII liked to say, and so she is an organism, living and growing.  As each organism has within itself some form of ecosystem, on a small scale, so too does the Church: the many types of members of the Church (apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, etc. according to St. Paul; we might more think of popes, patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, laity, etc.) all interact in various ways, just as do the different members of a body or the different organisms in a system.  The description of the Church as an ecosystem is more apt because an ecosystem is composed of entire organisms, not just parts of a larger organism; of course, the greater unity of the members of a single body is reflected in the Church as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Guide Me in the Way Everlasting"
 A Hodigitria Icon, an icon of She Who Guides, from the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, Romania

"And see if a lawless way is in me, and guide me in the way everlasting."--Ps 138:24

The way of the Lord is an everlasting way, for He is everlasting, and if we hope in Him, we too shall become everlasting, for we shall have no end to joy.  If we trust in the Lord, an eternal Heaven awaits us, the eternal liturgy where men of all tribes and tongues and races and nations will praise the Lord unceasingly.  The way to this eternal liturgical rest is what we ask from the Lord in this psalm.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Prayers of Bursting
 St. Nil Sorsky and the Miracle-Workers of White Lake

There are times that we set aside for prayer, when we follow a prayer rule, or set aside time to sit in the Lord's presence, or take part in the Church's Liturgy.  Yet we are called to pray unceasingly, and few of us can spend all of our time in prayer rules.  So we have other ways to pray: short prayers we can say when God spontaneously comes to mind, or when our hearts are filled to bursting to pray to Him.  These prayers are many and varied, and they stretch across many traditions.  The Roman Church used to call them "ejaculation" or "aspirations," while the Copts have a common one they call "the Arrow Prayer."  What matters is that they are short prayers we can offer to God at any time, when our souls are filled to bursting with love of Him or with a desire to plead to Him.  "It is possible to pray sitting, walking, sleeping, working, alone and in company. Everywhere, at all times, in all our activities, eating and drinking, in devout conversation, we are able to raise our minds and hearts to God, to present our needs with faith and humility and ask Him pardon saying: Lord, have mercy upon me" (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk).  When our hearts are running over with the river of living water, it bursts forth from us like a fountain in the form of these prayers: they are like a geyser erupting forth our prayers to the Lord.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dejection and the Ascension
The Ascension from the Rabula Gospels (6th century)

"And you leave, holy Pastor,
your flock in this valley deep, dark,
with solitude and crying..."

We are in that time of the first novena, between the glories of the Ascension and the great breath of Pentecost.  During these days, we remember how the Apostles spent them, reconstituting their number after the fall of Judas, praying and praising God, both in the synagogue and in the Upper Room, together with the All-Holy Theotokos.  They had that hopeful message from the angels: "The one taken up from you into heaven, the same will come in the way you saw him going into heaven."  Jesus would return in glory, riding on the clouds, seated on the throne of judgment and righteousness, and we pray that, on that day, we will be among those taken up into the clouds to be with Him.