Tag Archives: Jesus

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?

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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


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


Orthodox Morning Prayers: to the Theotokos, and the Conclusion

*This is the sixth and final in a series of posts of Eastern Orthodox morning prayers. I say the prayers in the order that they will be posted, but feel free to rearrange and single out the prayers as you see fit! All Glory and Honor to the Holy Trinity!

To the Theotokos

O my most holy Lady, the Theotokos, by your holy and all-powerful prayers to the Lord our God, remove fro me, your humble and burdened servant, despair, forgetfulness, lack of understanding, and negligence, and take away all unclean, crafty and blameworthy thoughts from my smitten heart, and from my darkened mind; quench the flame of my passion, for I am poor and lost; deliver me from my cruel recollections and undertakings, and set me free from all evil actions; for you are blessed of all generations, and your most honorable name is glorifed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

It is truley right to call you blessed…

It is truley right to call you blessed, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption did bear God the Word, you, O Theotokos, we laud and magnify.

Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

O Lord Jesus Chris, the Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of your most pure Mother, of Saint (name of patron saint), of Saint (name of saint commemorated on this day), and of all your Saints, have mercy upon us, and save us, for you alone are a merciful God and loves all mankind. Amen.


Rules of the Pious Life

We live today in a culture that teaches a philosophy of (1) utilitarianism and (2) relativism. I posit however that this culture is one of the most nihilistic, most dangerous outlooks for our spiritual formation.

(1) Utilitarianism, in its most basic form as espoused by John Stuart Mill, states that if some thing brings pleasure, then it is good. If it brings pain, then it is bad.  Put another way, an act is good if produces more pleasure than it does pain, and bad if it produces more pain than it does pleasure.

I’m not going to go into too many details since that’s not the point of this post, but would you deny that, especially in America, this is the philosophy driving the general population?

(2) For the sake of being ‘politically correct’ (how I hate that term!) society today is very careful not to step on anyone’s toes or offend them. People are afraid to speak their minds for fear that someone else might complain, and if someone does complain then they are seen as victims and things are changed to go their way. All ways of life are equal and good, all religions are valid and profitable, and your way is equally right as mine; these are things that our relativism says to us.

But both of these extremely popular ideas are lies. When it comes to matters of truth there are only two options, there can be no fallacy of the excluded middle here; either something is true, or it is false. A half-truth is still wholly false and only the whole truth can be the truth. That is why it is so very important, as Christians, that we live our life a certain away. Platon, Bishop of Kostroma gives some very edifying and practical rules for living a pious life:

Force yourself to get up early and at a definite time. Do not sleep for more than seven hours, unless you have a special reason. As soon as you wake up, direct your thoughts to God and piously cross yourself, thinking of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.

Get up from your bed at once, get dressed and do not pamper yourself. While dressing remember that you are in the presence of the Lord and your Guardian Angel, think of the fall of Adam who, because of sin, deprived himself of the covering of innocence, and beg Lord Jesus Christ for the blessing of being adopted by Him. Then start immediately your morning prayers, kneeling, pray carefully with reverence and deepest humility, as ought to be done under the watchful regard of the Almighty; and ask Him for Faith, Hope, Love and a blessing for the coming day; and also for strength to humbly accept His will and bear all burdens, difficulties, misfortunes, disasters, sorrows and illnesses of body and mind, because of our love for Jesus Christ. Make a firm resolution to do everything for the Lord, to receive everything from His Fatherly Hand, and make a special resolution to do some particular good, and to avoid some particular evil. Every morning spend at least quarter of an hour on a brief meditation on the truths of faith, meditating especially on the incomprehensible mystery of Christ’s assumption of our flesh, and on His awesome second coming, and on Hell and Paradise. Meditate in this way: maybe this is the last day of my life, then do everything the way you would — if you were preparing to come before the justice of God. Thank the Lord for protecting you during the night and thank Him that you are still alive, not having died in your sins. How many people in the past have come before the justice of God! And also thank God that you still have time of Grace and Mercy and means of repentance and attaining heaven. Every morning think about yourself, realize that only now you are beginning and want to be a Christian, and the past was wasted.

After the prayers and meditations, if time permits, read some spiritual book, for example: St. Dimitry’s Spiritual Alphabet, or Bishop Tikhon Zadonsky’s Spiritual Treasure Gathered from the World, and read until your heart is made humble. After you have meditated sufficiently on a certain part, read further and listen carefully to what the Lord says to your heart. After that, start doing your work, and let your deeds and actions be for the glory of God. Remember that God sees you everywhere, sees all your actions, doings, feelings, thoughts and desires, and will generously reward you for all your good deeds. Do not begin anything without praying to God, because the things we do or say without prayer, later prove to be either sinful or harmful and display us through our deeds in a way unknown to us. Our Lord Himself said: “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Amid your labors be not downcast, and entrust their success to God’s Grace. Fulfill all that is difficult for you as though it were a penance for your sins —in the spirit of obedience and humbleness; while working repeat brief prayers, especially the Prayer of Jesus, and think of Jesus, Who by the sweat of His brow, ate bread, laboring with Joseph. If your work is being accomplished with success, as your heart desires—thank the Lord: if without success—then remember that this, too, God allows, and He works everything for good.

At dinner picture to yourself the image of Our Heavenly Father opening His hand, in order to feed you; never omit your prayer before you eat; and leave some of your food for the poor. After dinner consider yourself one of the five thousand who were miraculously fed by Jesus Christ; thank Him from your heart and pray that He not leave you without heavenly food—His word and His most precious Body and Blood. If you wish for spiritually peaceful life, give yourself to God. You will not find any spiritual peace until you are satisfied with God alone, loving Him only. Always and in everything think of God and His holy love for us sinners. In everything try to fulfill God’s will and to please God alone; do and suffer everything for God. Do not care to be respected and loved by people in their sins. Keep a vigilant watch over your feelings, thoughts, motions of your heart and your passions; give consideration to nothing trivial where your personal salvation is concerned.

When you think of God multiply your prayers, so that God will remember you when you forget Him. In everything may your teacher be Our Lord Jesus Christ, looking upon Him with the eye of your mind ask yourself more often: in this case what would Jesus Christ have thought, said, or done? Be meek, quiet, humble, be silent and endure by the example of Jesus. He will not lay a cross upon you, which you are not able to carry. He Himself will help you carry your cross. Do not expect to acquire any one virtue without any sorrow and pains of the soul.

Beg God to give you grace to fulfill in the best way possible His holiest commandments—even though they may seem difficult for you. When you have fulfilled any one of God’s commandments, await temptation, for love for Christ is tested by our conquering the obstacles. Do not dwell in idleness even for a short time, but always remain in labor and be occupied, because he who does not labor does not deserve the name of man. Isolate yourself, by the example of Jesus, Who, drawing Himself away from others, prayed to the Heavenly Father. In the midst of spiritual heaviness or coldness towards prayer and to all religious exercises do not give up acts of piety, it was that Jesus thrice prayed when His soul was sorrowful, even unto death. Do everything in the name of Jesus Christ and in this way all your actions will be deeds of piety. Flee even the smallest of sins, because one who does not leave the smallest, certainly will fall into great and deep ones. If you do not want to be bothered by evil thoughts, then humbly receive all disparagements of soul and bodily suffering, not at some expected time, but at any time, any place, and under any circumstances. Every thought, which withdraws you further away from God, especially filthy thoughts of the flesh, banish from your heart, as quickly as possible, as you would cast from your clothes a spark of fire that fell burning on them. When such a thought appears, pray hard: God forgive me, God do not leave me, deliver me from temptations, or the like. But amidst temptations do not be troubled. He who gives you the circumstance of a battle, will also give you strength for victory. Let your spirit be at rest, trust in God; if God is for you, then who is against you? Pray to God that He take from you everything that feeds your self-love, even though it may be very bitter for you. Wish to live and die for God alone, and to belong to Him entirely. When you suffer some dishonor from others, then realize that this was sent to you by God for your glory, thus being in dishonor you will be without sadness and confusion, and in glory. If you have food and clothing, be content with it by the example of Jesus Who became impoverished for our sake. Never argue and do not defend or excuse yourself too much, do not say anything against superiors or your neighbors without need or obligation. Be sincere and simple in heart, with love accept directions, admonitions, and being exposed by others, even though you may be wise.

Do not detest or be envious or exceedingly stern in word and deeds. What you do not wish for yourself do not do unto others, and what you wish others to do to you, do it first unto them. If someone visits you, elevate your heart to God and pray that He give you spirit of meekness, humbleness, and concentration; be gentle, modest, careful, wise, blind and deaf. according to the situation. Remember that Jesus is present among those with whom you are and among those with whom you speak. Say nothing without thought. Bear it firmly in mind, that time is short and that man must give an account of every [word uttered.] Listen more than speak, [for] in verbosity you will not escape sin. Beg God to give you [the] blessing to be silent and to speak at the right time. Do not be curious about news, [for] it diverts the spirit. If by words you are helpful to someone, acknowledge it in God’s grace. When you are alone, examine yourself whether you have become worse than before, whether you have committed any sins which you did not do before. If you did sin, immediately beg God’s forgiveness with humbleness and a contrite heart, and trust His Mercy, hastening to repent before your spiritual father: because every sin left without repentance is a sin unto death. And if you do not repent with a contrite heart the sin you have committed, you will fall into that sin again. Try to do good to everyone, any kind of good and at any time you can, not thinking whether it will be appreciated, with gratitude or without. And rejoice, not when you do good to someone, but when without spite [you] bear insults from others, especially from those to whom you were good. If one does not obey you the first time, do not force him through debate; make use of the good yourself, which he has lost, because meekness will bring you great profit. But when harm caused by one spreads to many others, then do not tolerate it, looking not for your own benefit but that of others. The general welfare is more important than personal considerations.

During supper remember the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, begging Him to honor you with heavenly food. Before going to sleep, examine your conscience, pray to be given light to recognize your sins: think of them, beg for forgiveness and promise to reform, determining clearly and precisely in what matter and how you intend to improve yourself. Then give yourself up to God, as though tonight you will have to appear before Him, entrust yourself to the Mother of God, your guardian angel, the Saint whose name you bear. Picture your bed as your coffin and your blanket as your shroud. Cross yourself and kissing the cross you wear, fall asleep under the protection of [the] Shepherd of Israel! He will not nod or fall asleep. If you cannot sleep or are keeping vigil at night, like Jesus Who prayed to His Father until His body sweat was bloody—pray for those who at night are severely ill or fatally ill, for the suffering and the dead, and pray God, that the night’s darkness not cover you. In the middle of the night get up from your bed and pray, as much as you can.

During an illness first of all entrust yourself to God in order to strengthen your spirit in the midst of your misery. Often remember and think of the suffering and the death of Jesus Christ. Ceaselessly say all the prayers you know and can; beg God to forgive you your sins and to give you patience while ill. In all ways possible abstain from complaining and irritation which are common when ill. Our Lord Jesus Christ underwent, for the sake of our salvation, the most painful illness and sufferings, and what have we done or suffered for the sake of our salvation?

Go to the services in church as often as possible; try especially to be present often at the Liturgy. Sundays and holidays without fail do deeds of piety; always remember that you are in the presence of God, the Angels and the Saints; the remaining time devote to pious reading and other acts of piety and love. Devote your birthday and Saint’s Day especially to pious deeds. Every year and every month examine your conscience rigorously. Go to confession and receive the Holy Sacraments as often as possible. Receive Holy Communion always with sincere hunger and real thirst of your soul, with a contrite heart, with reverence, humbleness, faith, trust and love. Think of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ as often as possible, begging Him to veil your sins and receive you into His Kingdom. May the name of Jesus always be on your lips, in your soul and your heart. As often as possible meditate on God’s great love to you, glorified and worshipped in the Trinity so that you yourself may love Him with all your heart, all your soul and with all your thoughts. Doing so, you will lead a peaceful life on this earth and a blessed one in heaven forever. The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Amen.

May our Eternal King and Righteous Father, along with Son and the life-giving Holy Spirit have mercy on us all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Muslim Christians?

A Church in Optina Monestary

What does it mean to be a Christian? What are we called to do? Very broadly speaking, we are called to be muslims, no, not in the definition of the word as “an adherent of Islam” but in the literal translation of the word which means “one who submits.” St. Nikon of Optina says:

Without humily, one cannot be a disciple of Christ. Without humilty, the heart of a man does not receive–does not assimilate–the teachings of Christ. Humilty inspires the heart of a man: to be submissive to the will of God; to humbly accept everything that the Lord is pleased to send on his path of life; to submit his mind, his understanding, and his desires to the obedience of Christ.

Every minute of every day we are called to submit to the will of God. This is a difficult thing! But just because it is difficult does not mean that it impossible, or that we should not try. As Orthodox Christians we are called to take up our cross and struggle to theosis, struggle to become ‘partakers of Christ” as the apostle Paul put it.

I dare not speak for God himself, but I do not believe that he is going to judge us on whether or not we are able to acheive this, but whether or not we sincerely try; whether or not we struggle against our own selfish desires and wants; whether or not we push aside our own will and submit ourselves, body mind and soul to Him.

St. Hesychios the Priest gives a good way in which we can ensure we are submitting ourselves:

Each hour of every day we should note and weigh our actions and in the evening we should do what we can to free ourselves from the burden of them by means of repentance–if, that is, we wish, with Christ’s help, to overcome wickedness.

Each our of every day we can examine how we lived that past hour to see whether or not we are living as God commands. If you think about it this way it becomes a very managable thing: What did this past hour? What good? What bad? Am I acting contrary to God’s will?

The important thing however is to not get caught up on any particular action no matter how sinful <b>or how spiritual</b>. At the end of the day we shouled  pray wholeheatedly for reprentance, and then start over again the next day. We have to live in the very present, in the very moment. If we get caught up on what has yet to occur, or what has already occured, then it will become terribly easy to not keep watch over what we are doing this very instant.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Gospel Summary in 12 Words.

What would you say if I told you that I could sum up the entire four gospels of Christ in 12 simple words? Would you believe me? In the Orthdox spiritual classic from Russia, The Way of of Pilgrim, we read:

The Holy Fathers say that the prayer of Jesus is a summary of the gospels.

What is this prayer though, and what does the book mean by this? The Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart is one of the most ancient prayers that we as Christians have and was formalized by the Orthodox Churches some time Komboskiniaround the 5th century. It is a meditation on the Holy Name, and goal is to repeat it so often, always concious of the what we are saying, so that it becomes internalized and self-acting, so as to fulfill the command of Paul to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  So what is this prayer?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This short prayer is filled with so much. Let’s break it down:

Lord Jesus Christ:

These three words affirm three things; first that Jesus Christ is Lord. The word lord is generally used as title of authority, indicating a certain rank which one has over others. By calling Jesus ‘Lord’ we are in effecting voicing our submission to him.

Second, it tells us who is Lord, Jesus. This is the name which even the demons know! Mark 5 tells a story of a demon possessed man, and in verse 7 the man cries out “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” In his letter, James tells us that not only do the demons know the name of Jesus, but they tremble at it.

Third, it affirms that Jesus is the Christ. This comes from the Greek Χριστός, Khristos, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for messiah. With this word in this context we affirm that Jesus is the messiah which God promised would rescue the world.

Son of God:

This phrase asserts that not only is Jesus the messiah, but he is also the son of God, sharing in the Father’s divinity. When we call Jesus the Son of God, we are affirming his place within the Godhead which has been revealed to us and was first made manifest to the world at the Theophany, the Baptism of Christ (which we celebrate on the 6th of this month).

Have mercy on me:

This phrase is much more than just asking for forgiveness from sins, though it does encompass that. It is also an admission that we are inferior to God, and it a plea for God to look favorably on us, to recognize our faults and our weeknesses and to not hold them against us. It is asking for God to love us.

A sinner:

With these last words we admit that we are sinners, that we have done things which displeases the Lord and goes against His will. This admission isn’t one of complete shame though, it is also a beginning point for our salvation. Once we admit that we are sinners, once we recognize the fact that we more often than not go against the will of God, and once we are able to freely admit this, then can the journey towards restoration begin. Orthodoxy often likens the Chruch to a hospital where we can go to have the sickness of sin cured with us and where we can be restored to health in God and so it is proper to make an analogy between the saying for addicts that it is only once you admit you have a problem that you are able to begin to get over it.

So here we have it. The entire Gospel summed up in 12 short words. Jesus Christ is God, he is the messiah who has been sent to save the world, to save you and me, who are all sinners. Let us admit to God that we are weak and ask him to have mercy on us, to forgive us for these sins so that we might be reconciled to Him and attain for ourselves the Kingdom of Heaven!

St. Isichios writes about the prayer: “Through the constant remembrance and invocation to Jesus Christ, a holy condition is created in our mind. This happens, if we appeal to Jesus Christ with fervor, crying aloud towards Him in entreaty day and night, so that repetition leads to habit and habit becomes second nature!”