Tag Archives: God

What is the goal of Christianity?

 

I recently entered into conversation with a Mr. Christopher Randolph over on his blog when posted the question “What is the Gospel?” (see here) I thought it was a very interesting question to ask his readers and I enjoyed reading the responses that he got. In similar fashion I’d be very interested to find out what you, the reader, believe the goal of Christianity is. I have my own thoughts about it but I’m curious as to what others of different denominations, sects, or even faiths think.

As always, I am a big believer in conversation. I received my B.A. in Philosophy and I enjoy questioning others about their beliefs and thoughts so that 1.) they can have a chance to share what they believe and 2.) so that they might be able to find out for themselves what it is they believe when they are presented with competing lines of thought. If I respond back to you questioning your answer, please don’t see it as a personal attack, but rather as me trying to coax more out of you, for both mine and your own benefit!

So, with that said, let’s hear it: What is the goal of Christianity?


With fear and trembling…

With spring now here I’ve started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I leave for Holy Cross in only about four more months. This is much more than just another move to a new apartment, this means a trip from the bottom of the US to the top, and to add to the mix, with a (will be then) eleven month old baby.

This in itself is pretty scary. I am uprooting my family from the relative comfortableness of our current life and trusting that everything will work out once we’re there. But ah! Once we’re there!

It is here that my thinking usually shifts to the reason I am going to the school in the first place; I seek to dedicate my life to God and His people as one of His priests. The closer the time comes to officially start down this path, the more nervous I get. This is even scarier than moving my family across the country.

When I think about being a priest, my mind immediately recalls how unworthy of such a duty I am. Growing up, I always viewed preachers and priests as almost “other” than myself. They were holy men who prayed frequently, effortlessly dispensed advice and seemed destined to do what they were doing. With my own journey however I’ve come to see priests differently, as real people, just like myself, with their own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  Again, just like myself, with my own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  I live far from what I would consider a holy life; I pray far more infrequently than I should, I’m often confused myself as to the best course of action, and I still have a lot to work on in taming the various passions which sometimes drive me.

All of this is possible, and the first step is always the same: we must recognize and then acknowledge our failings. I thank God that I have found myself in a position where I have to do this starting now, where there is no more time to “get to it later.”  The fact that I am scared at the thought of the responsibility I seek to take on drives me to examine and seek to better myself, to do what I can to try and prove myself worthy of that responsibility.

You don’t have to take such a drastic step to awaken your own self to this however. We all have responsibilities, whether or our spouse, kids, co-workers or what have you. Strive to be a good example to who ever it is that depends on you or who you really care about. Live your life in such a way that those around you honestly want to know what it is that you have that they seem not to. In our times it is no longer expected that someone is a Christian. It is much more common to be agnostic, or unconcerned, or even lukewarm to the point of being insincere. The upright Christian is becoming rarer to find and hence more valuable.

We are all called to the priesthood in our lives, to tell the World of the Good News and to teach, guide and help each other. It is my prayer that God, seeing us striving to overcome ourselves and reaching out to Him, in fear and trembling, will grant us grace and mercy and draw us closer to Him. Amen.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Not Everything Happens For a Reason

“…or, God is Not Playing a Game of Cosmic Chess”


Forty-five days ago what should have been one of the happiest moments in the lives of my wife and I turned into one of the worst; she went into labor.

The problem was that she was 5 weeks early. This wasn’t the main problem in of itself however; the doctor said that at that stage the baby was nearly full-term and should have the same survival rate as a full-term child. The main problem was that when we went into the doctor’s office and she performed a sonogram, we couldn’t hear a heartbeat. The visual ultrasound confirmed the worst,  and the following words, directed towards my wife, will forever be ingrained in my memory: “Your baby has no heartbeat, it is dead, but either way, you’re giving birth today.”

For eight months we had dreamed how our precious Anastasia Noel would look, what she would be interested in, what foods she would like and what kind of person she would be. We tried to prepare for how our lives would be changed, how we would need to give up this or that, how this Christmas would be the most special Christmas ever and how our parents were going to be transformed into grandparents and we children would now become the parents.

All of this came to sudden halt. We were devastated, and understandably so, but the reality of the situation didn’t kick in immediately. It took some time for us to completely shift our way of thinking, just like it took time after we discovered she was pregnant.

That day, for me at least, was an alternation between a powerful sadness and dispassionate shock. My wife’s mother and grandmother drove five hours to be with us, arriving an hour or two before the delivery and not too long after my own parents and sister, who themselves drove two hours. My wife’s sister and friend were there, as were our friends from church and Anastasia’s planned godparents, Theodore and Stacey (who, coincidentally, was also named after St. Anastasia).

One of the most common phrases I heard directed towards us that day, and in the weeks after, was “Everything happens for a reason, I’m sure God has something special planned for you.” This phrase became for me something absolutely repulsive, although I appreciate the sentiment of those who mentioned it.

I don’t believe that everything does happen for a reason, that God is playing something like a game of cosmic chess. In chess you play tactically; you make a move based on a hoped-for chain of events: “If I move this pawn, then it puts his queen in danger and he will have to move his bishop to protect it, opening up his rook for attack.”

The reason I don’t believe this is twofold: God is love, and because of this love there is free will in humanity, and freedom in all of creation. If God did have a hand in every single event that happened, if He made sure that nothing happened without a specific reason, then it would negate this freedom. This isn’t to say that I am a deist and believe in the great “Watchmaker God” who set the world in motion and then moved on, but I do believe that God created a system around himself, and lets that system play out according to the laws it was designed by.

Our baby did not die for some overarching reason. God did not “want her before her time” (as one person told me) and so take her away from us. I don’t believe this because God is love, and to actively take something away from us which is both an expression of the love shared between my wife and myself, as well as His love for humanity by allowing us to continue on, is not an act of love. Our baby died because something went wrong during her development which caused the placenta to not form as it should, and so not be able to supply Anastasia with what was needed in order to sustain her.

No, not everything happens for some specific reason. Not every action undertaken by nature or by humanity is directed by God. Not every tragedy happens in order to allow some good. Some things just happen as a result of the system which God created, such as natural and extraterrestrial disasters. Other things happen because God loved us enough to give us freedom of the will and not make us automatons.

Not everything happens for a reason, but this doesn’t mean that nothing does, nor does it limit the possibility that once something does happen, it might open up the possibility of something else. Now that my wife and I don’t have to worry about how we are going to be able to afford rent, all our bills, -and- support a child, we might have the opportunity to do something to continue better our situation and our relationship that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, such as going back to school or being drawn even closer together by what we’ve been through.

I said some words at the funeral for our stillborn daughter, and while at the time I fumbled it up due to my emotions, the following is what I meant to say:

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, and I don’t believe that God took our daughter away from us. Our daughter died because something went wrong in her development. I do, however, believe that He welcomed her with open arms when she arrived in His Kingdom. I have no fear for my daughter; she is now where I am fighting tooth and nail to be, standing before the throne of God. My prayers are for my wife and I and our family, that we will have the strength to grieve and to carry on. I do hope for one thing though, that even though we never got to get to know our daughter, she knows us and knows how much we love her still. Glory to you God, glory to you.

IC | XC
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NI | KA

 

Memory eternal, my sweet Anastasia. You got to skip all the hard stuff, and are now another bright star in heaven, and a special intercessor for us before the almighty Pantokrator. Please pray for us, that God will have mercy on us.

I love you.


Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now.

Almighty King of heaven and earth! Who made You enter my unworthy heart, when I am accursed, and poor, and blind, and naked? No one, of course, but Your immeasurable love for me. O uncreated love! O love most sweet! What do You want of me, beggar that I am? Nothing, as I see and understand, except my love for You; nothing, except that no other fire should burn on the altar of my heart but the fire of my love for You, which would consume all love and all desire other than that of bringing myself to You as a burnt offering and fragrant incense. Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now. So hear now, O Lord, the vows of my heart! See, I combine my desire with Your desire; and as You have given the whole of Yourself to me, so I give the whole of myself to You, to be wholly in You. I know, O Lord, that this cannot be, unless I renounce myself wholly; it cannot be if any trace of self-love remains in me, if I harbor some sympathy or disposition towards a will of my own, thoughts of my own, or some self-pandering habits of my own. Therefore I desire and I strive from now onwards to oppose myself in all that is not acceptable to You,  even if everything in me and outside me should rebel against it. By myself, I have not strength enough to succeed in this. But since from now on You are with me, I daringly trust that You Yourself will accomplish in me all that is needed. I seek and strive that my heart may be as one with Your heart; and I trust that Your grace will grant me this. I seek and strive to see nothing and to hear nothing, to think of nothing and have sympathy with nothing, except that which Your will, determined by Your commandments, leads me to and shows, and I trust that it will be granted me by Your power working in me. I strive and I seek not to let attention stray from the heart, where You dwell, there to gaze at You unceasingly and be warmed by the rays of light issuing from You; and I trust that this will be given me by the touch and embrace of Your hands. I strive and seek for You alone to be henceforth my light, strength and joy; and I trust to be given this by Your saving action on my inner man. It is of this that I pray and shall always continue to pray. O merciful Lord, grant me this, grant me this.

This is prayer which the authors of Unseen Warfare recommend to be prayed after receiving Holy Communion, and what a powerful prayer it is!

In it we have the humble confession of the person praying it, acknowledging that they themselves have done nothing worthy of God entering into their very being.

In it we see just what it is that God wants us from us; He doesn’t demand anything outlandish, anything that would stoke the pride – He wants only our love, in return for the divine love which He is so eager to pour out on us.

In it we have a firm resolution to conform ourselves to God’s will and to do what it is that He wants from us, while acknowledging that in order to do so we must deny ourselves and not give any room to self-pandering.

In it we have a confession that this is not something we can do on our own, that it not something that we can do without help. In confessing this we we simultaneously deny the original sin of Adam and Even which was just this: the belief that we, as human beings, can make our own way without God and do not need to rely on Him.

And finally, in it we have a firm statement of faith and trust in God. This is perhaps the hardest part; to relinquish the control which we try to have over ourselves and our lives, and to trust that once we do so, and invite God’s eager help, that He will indeed provide for and take care of us.

This, in my opinion, is a very amazing prayer which can be said at any time. I hope that I – and whoever else might come across this prayer – can take it to heart, and once it’s there, pray it from the heart with all sincerity and surety of the love of God.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Orthodox Personhood, Sin and Salvation

Before one understand morality from an Orthodox point of view, one must first understand how Orthodoxy views the person, sin and salvation. In The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras says:

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness.

This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostasis free from space, time and natural necessity….

Personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man. It is the mode of existence shared by God and man, the ethos of trinitarian life imprinted upon the human being. In the Orthodox Church and its theology, we study man as an image of God, not God as the image of man exalted into an absolute. The revelation of the personal God in history manifests to us the truth about man, his ethos and the nobility of his descent.

…In the historical revelation of God, we study true personal existence free from any constraint — from the constraint imposed on man by his own nature after his fall, which was the free subjection of his personal distinctiveness to the necessities and dictates of nature individuality…

In other words, it our free will and our relationship to God which defines us in the Orthodox church. Before the Fall, man was free from the exaggerated expression of our passions — greed, pride, selfishness, ego, etc. — and those passions were directed towards growing closer to God, growing more and more like Him. Our end was to reach theosis or deification, to unite our will, thoughts and actions to those of God and to become as like him as is possible.

God gave us free will however, and with it came the possibility to deviate from the course which God had created us for. The “original sin” was when man used his free will in just such a way; to pursue something other than the will of God.

Sin, in Orthodoxy, is not some concrete act, nor is it something that can be defined into laws, rules or regulations. The Greek word for sin, and the word which appeared in the New Testament, is”amartias,” which is defined as missing the mark:

The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and “missing the mark,” as the loss of that “end” or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

There is nothing God’s creation which is hypostatically  and naturally evil, not even the devil himself. Sin is failure, a failure as to existence and life: it is the failure of persons to realize their existential “end,” to confirm and conserve the uniqueness of their hypostasis through love.

To sin then is to not attempt to live up to our full potential in Christ, to not live in the manner which God created us for and to not attempt to correct the distorted image of God which we bear. This sin is understood to be a result of the breaking away of our will from the will of God in order to focus on our own individual needs and wants.

In the West, repentance is largely seen as a recognition of guilt, and this view comes from the legalistic, juridical view of sin which was developed in this part of the world. This isn’t the way that it was originally — and continues to be in the Orthodox East — seen. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” and it translates into “change of mind.” This is so much more than just a change of attitude; it refers to a complete change in a persons way of thought, in their outlook.

Repentance is the recognition that  man’s self-sufficiency is inadequate; it is a search for the life which is realized in personal relationship with God, a thirst for personal communion with Him.

Repentance does not mean simply the “improvement” or even “perfection” of individual behavior and individual psychological feelings, or the strengthening of the individual will. All these can come about while a man still remains a prisoner in his autonomous individuality, unable to love or to participate in the communion of love which is true life. Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man cease to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life.

Repentance then isn’t asking God to forgive us for acting “badly” and vowing that we will live “better lives,” it is recognizing that the way we have been living is focusing on ourselves and then trying to fundamentally alter our world-view. Our salvation comes through this whole-hearted attempt to live the way which God wants for us, which we were created for. Salvation comes from recognizing that our individual efforts are not enough, that our individuality is a lie told to us by the world and that is symptom of a mis-directed will.

This is what I’m learning as I read through this amazing book. I’ll continue to post my thoughts and reactions and hope to read some of yours as well!


The Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:

Seraphim

…I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.”

This vision, perceived by the holy prophet Isaiah, give us a wonderfully vivid description of the throne of God and how those who are before this throne act. The Seraphim, one of the classes of Angels, cover their faces at the sight of the glory of God, humbling themselves before the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. In their modesty they also cover their bodies, knowing that no one, not even they, are worthy to stand in the sight of God. But even so, they also hover before God, eager to be in that presence and to study the might and wisdom of Him. They continually glorify God, calling out to each other and any who will hear that God is holy, God is set apart from every created thing, God is over and above wholly different from anything that has, does, and will exist.

How often do we today act like this? How often do we show the reverence and respect to the Almighty? Instead we speak casually about God, we refer to God incarnate as “JC” or as merely a “friend” whom we have a relationship with. We speak about what God has done for us, how he has helped us, what we hope he will do for us. This is a backwards way of thinking! We should instead be thinking about what we can do for Him, we should talk about His glory, and every sentence we utter about Him should be worshipful. Let us take a cue from the Angels and ceaslessly sing of His glory!


Against “Sola Fide”

St. Augustine

Reject those who say we need only our own free will and not prayer to help us keep from sin. Even the Pharisee wasn’t blinded by such darkness. For, although he mistakenly thought he only needed his own righteousness (and believed he was saturated with it), nevertheless, he thanked God that he wasn’t “like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers…” Yet it isn’t a question of prayers alone, as if we don’t need to include our willful efforts. For although God is “our Helper,” we cannot be helped if we don’t make some effort of our own. God doesn’t work out salvation in us as if we are dull stones or creatures without reason or will.

-St. Augustine of Hippo (emphasis mine)

Sola Fide, or “faith alone” is a protestant doctrine that human beings need only have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Those who ascribe to this view see man’s relationship with God as very judicial; we human beings are “criminals” by virtue of our fallen nature and soley by believing in Christ, God gives us a judicial pardon (justification) and decides to save us. We play absolutely no part in this salvation outside of merely believing in God. I (as well as both branches of ancient historical Christianity) have a problem with this, and my personal reasons are three fold: (1) It is irreconcilable with normal human behavior and is essentially a “get out of hell free” card, (2) the idea of a judicial pardon is irreconcilable with the idea of an all powerful God, and (3) it is demeaning to the creations of God and ignores the gifts which He has given us.

(1) Get out of hell free: I say that the doctrine of sola fide is likened to the Monopoly game’s get out of jail free card because if all that is needed for salvation is belief, then it ignores how we act. Now, I will agree that faith is the jumping off point, the essential beginning step for salvation, but it is not enough to retain that salvation. If all I need to get to heaven is to believe in Christ (and what exactly is it that we’re supposed to ‘believe’ in order to gain the salvation?) then as long as I have that faith, can I go out and do anything I want? Can I continue to live in the world, valueing money, gratifying my body and the desires of my passions etc. and still get to heaven as long as I “believe” in Christ? This just doesn’t make sense!

In Orthodox Christianity (as well as Roman Catholicism) salvation is a dynamic process. We do not say that we “are saved,” rather we say that “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.” You have to work to keep your salvation! This isn’t to say that salvation comes about by human effort, not at all! Salvation can only be granted by God. But if we truley believe that Jesus Christ was God. If we truley believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, if we truley believe in everything that God has revealed to the world from the time of Noah down to the time of Christ, then we will be active in our faith. We will strive to conquer our will, we will fight to overcome our passions, we will learn the tacticts of the demons and the subversive logismoi and learn to fight against them, trying as hard as we can to live like Christ and how God wants us to. It is not enough to say “I love you Jesus!” and then think that we are automatically granted entry into the Kingdom.

(2) We must be reconciled, not God: This reason I have against the idea of sola fide actually has its roots in the whole western conception of original sin and salvation. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) tends to view original sin as some sort of stain on the soul which each of us inherits at birth. Because of this view, the Western idea of salvation tends to be that we must appease the wrath of God and ask for forgiveness for this sin on our souls. It is seen much like a court process: God is the stern judge, and we are the defendants. We must plead our case before God and then hope that he chooses to forgive us. But let me ask this, if God is truley just, then why does He hold us responsible for a sin which we did not commit?

Eastern Christianity has never seen salvation like this. We are only responsible for the sins which we ourselves commit. We do not inherit some stain on the soul. Rather, what we inherit are the results of the original sin; death and subjugation to the passions. If you view salvation in the manner that the Western Churches do then in effect what you say is that we have to reconcile God to us; we have to make God change His mind and they way that He views us. Again, this view is mistaken! It is us who would be changing, not God. It is us who should change the way that we live and us who have to work to live how God wants us. If you believe in sola fide then you unequivocally buy into this idea that God must change to justify us, rathern we changing in orther that we be justified.

(3) We are not cattle: My last major objection to sola fide comes from the complete helplessness that it leaves the human race. Sola fide assumes that human beings are completely depraved and absolutely helpless to do anything to change the situation. How demeaning is this! We are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. To say that we are such base creatures as to not be able to do anything under our own power but wallow in sin rejects this truth. No, we human beings, while not having the power to actually achieve salvation on our own, do have the ability to work towards it, to prove to God that we are trying to live how He wants. We are not dumb animals, walking around in the dark praying for someone to turn the lights on for us. We are icons of God.

The truth that the Eastern Orthodox Church has proclaimed for nearly 2,0oo years—since the time of the Apostles—is this: Adam and Eve, acting as representatives of all of humanity, were created in the image and the likeness of God. At the time of creation our will was perfectly in tune with God and because of this there was no corruption in our bodies, we could see and talk to God easily. The fall from this state of grace was the result of going against the will of God. The result of this was that it because increasingly harder to do the will of God and so we left the state of grace which we lived in. No longer partakers of the divine grace corruption entered our bodies, meaning that we don’t have easy control over our will and passions, and eventually the material body corrupts tot he point to where it cannot sustain life or the soul (death). God didn’t abandon us though, and chose the Israelites to teach how to enter back into that state of grace. To make it easier for us to overcome our will and to realign it with God’s, He gave the Israelites commandments and laws. These served as a way to deny the things that we want, and to eventually overcome those wants.

Over time however the Israelites looked to those rules and laws and ends in themselves. They saw them as the way of achieving salvation, rather than as a jumping point. So, God became incarnate in the flesh and came down Himself to teach us a new way. He became a rolemodel for us, showing us how to live, how to love, and teaching still that we must deny ourselves and look to God on how to live. By dying on the Cross, the immortal destroyed the power of death, and opened up the gates of Heaven so that now when the body fails, the soul has the opportunity to go straight to Heaven and be with its Creator.

In order to this we must acknowledge God as the only true God, and Christ as God Himself. We must acknowledge that we often live for ourselves, gratifying our passions and seeking after our own will. Futher, we must deny this and work to conquer this will and instead do the will of God. We must have faith that by doing this we can reach the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and then once in that state we can strive to grow in God, and to learn more and more about Him. We cannot reach God through our own power, but neither are we powerless in our struggle. Salvation is a two way process: God has set up the right conditions and waits for us with open arms, while it is up to us to see those conditions and to run willingly into those arms.

May God bless you during this period while we eagerly await the celebration of His ressurection!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


God will take away your gifts…

So here we are, ending the third day of the Great Fast. This is the time of the year when we are to really strive to live lives pleasing to God, to purify ourselves of harmful passions, and to fill our lives with spiritual thing things. I’ve been reading a wholly edifying book known as the Unseen Warfare which was written by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1600s, and over time made its way to Mt. Athos, and then to Russia where two Eastern Orthodox monks, St. Nikodemus and St. Theophan translated, edited, and made some changes to it.

In chapter 20, How to overcome negligence, it states:

Let the conviction never leave your thought that a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honour has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world; that every time we banish negligence and force ourselves  to do the work we should with diligence, Angles in heaven prepare for us the crown of a glorious victory; and that, on the contrary, not only has God no crowns for the negligent, but that little by little He takes back from them the gifts He bestowed upon them for their former diligence in His service, and will finally deprive them of His kingdom if they continue to be negligent, as He said in the parable of guests bidden to supper, who were too lazy to come: ‘For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper’ (Luke xiv. 24).

This is a very power statement, and one that I believe we should really think over during this lenten period.  It is only be continuing to progress on the spiritual path, by continuing to subdue and conquer our harmful passions and striving to align our will with the will of God that we can be assured of the Kingdom of God. If we are negligent in this task, and focus instead of gratifying our own base instincts and working to please our selves, or even if we just stop in a neutral position, God won’t punish us right away, but the longer we wait to restart our work, the more of His grace God removes from us until we have fallen so far from Him that we lose our salvation.

I pray that God will keep us all strong over the next 46 days until Easter, that we will have the strength, courage, and conviction to run the entire course of the fast, and that we can use this time of “concentrated Christianity” to regain what Grace we’ve lost, and refocus our energies into worshiping the Most Holy Trinity. May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Return to me…with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offereings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridgroom quit his room, and the brider her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, and say “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say amon the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

With that, one of the daily readings for today as specified by the Chruch calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her faithful to begin preparing for Great Lent. This is a 40 day period of purification and prepation for the faithful as we eagerly await Pascha–the celebration of Christ’s ressurection from the dead, the single most important moment in all of Christianity and without which the entire religion would not exist.

This 40 day period is also the strictest when it comes the Church’s proscribed fasting rule.  Officially from the morning of the firstday of Great Lent, a Monday, until evening three days later on Wednesday, no food is eaten. After that for the remaining time we do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, oil, or anything with those ingredients in them or are animal byproducts, with the exception being Saturdays and Sundays when wine and oil are permitted.

This more than the just “I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent” mentality that seems so pervasive. This is mortifying our bodies in an effort to overcome our own passionate will and to recognize that we rely on our God to provide for us and ensure our continued existence.

The Church Fathers have recognized for two millenium the value of hunger when fighting against the passions.  The Desert Father Abba Evagnus has said:

Lust is extinguished by hunger.

The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

The passions are exiterminated by sorrow and suffereing, either voluntary or sent by Providence.

And these are just two of many examples.

Great Lent begins on March 2nd according to the New Calendar this year. For all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, both here and worldwide, I humbly pray to God that this Lenten season will be edifying and profitable to you all. Let us struggle together to carry the weight of a self-inflicted cross, to fight against our passionate wills, and reflect upon what it is that our Great and Glorious King and God has done for us: He has set us from the snares of everlasting death and has corrected the Ancient Error so that we might have the means and the opportunity to recapture the Divine Image and Likeness and live in love in His presence.

To my Roman Catholic cousins who begin their Lenten period today, I pray that you will humble your hearts before God during this period, that you might treat it as not ‘Ordinary Time,’ but as extra-ordinary, other-worldly, sanctified time. Treat it as such, change your life to conform to this holy period and I am sure that it will be beneficial  to your souls as well.

Lastly, for the Protestants who do not follow a liturgical Church calendar, I pray that you might find your way back to this ancient observance and set it apart as a time of repentance and anticipation as well.

We are preparing for the second and more glorious Advent of Christ our God, greater than even Christmas. The only event that will ever be more important than this one to Christians will the third one! May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA