A vocations reflection on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Dear Father, Brothers and Sisters, thank you for this opportunity to share a reflection on this 18th Sunday after Pentecost as part of the third year of Diaconal formation. I have one more 2 week trip to Pittsburgh in the program left, but really moments like these are the most important to help see if a life of service to the Church in this manner is something that is meant for me or not. Today I would like to share some thoughts on our Apostolic reading which comes to us from the second letter of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. Like the Gospel that was the focus of our homily today, where Christ gave life to the young man who was dead, here Paul speaks to the people of Corinth and to us today of our own call to give to God and to give to the world. Yes, this passage is indeed the source of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver”. This phrase is beautiful and it is true, it also shows up on things like our tithing envelopes. But I want to allow this whole passage to speak to our hearts and to yes include thoughts on our giving to the Church, but to do so with perhaps a broader view than we tend to have.

Second Corinthians is a letter that is mixed with some timeless truths and some very concrete messages written to the Church in the first century. We have glimpses of a very real situation where new servants of the Church such as Titus are getting a sort of “letter of recommendation” from Paul. In chapter 8, Paul focuses this upon the Church in Macedonia who despite being poor gave according to their means, or perhaps even beyond their means to help the Church in Jerusalem. He shows that this speaks to us of how Christ Himself became poor for our sakes, and that in union to Christ, the concern for the poor and needy is something that flows naturally from our hearts. It’s not a burden for the Macedonians, he argues, and so he trusts that the relatively richer land of Corinth will be like the Macedonians.

Paul also points out that love is not in one direction-no, the people of Corinth are loved by Titus, who Paul has sent on a journey to Corinth with some Macedonians to give of his life to them in preaching, mutual fellowship, and to help the church abroad that was suffering. This takes us to chapter 9. Before the section that was read today in the liturgy, Paul points out that everything he is saying about the Macedonians’ love, Titus’ love, his fellow ministers’ love is something that he is confident is also true of the Corinthians to whom he writes. We are united to Christ and as such Paul has boasted that the Corinthians will do their part and that a promised gift from them can be handed off to Titus who was journeying to help the suffering Church. This is where we have our reading of verses 6-11 of chapter 9. When Paul says “let me say this much”, it’s sort of like a lightning bolt out of the blue when we just heard it at the reading. But in the flow of the whole epistle, his words come as a natural consequence of all of this very concrete work of taking care of those in need.

As he begins, Paul makes a simple observation. If we are going to sow sparingly we will reap in the same way. If we sow bountifully we will reap bountifully. Kids: if you plant 1 seed in the ground, do you expect 100 flowers to grow? What about if you planted 10 thousand seeds? Would you get just 1 plant back? I hope not. Paul starts this passage about giving with this deeper but simpler mentality. Already I feel myself pulled to see things in a more mystical way. Think about it: When you give of your time, talent or treasure, do you look at that as something which can be sowed, germinated, grown, and then blossomed into something so much more than what it currently is? Or do you think, instead of praying or helping the poor at a food shelter or whatever it may be, I could be watching TV or hiking or just sleeping in? Once we have the more biblical mindset of what it means to give, Paul’s words take us to our attitude about this mindset when he says that we must give according to our inward decision, and to do so cheerfully and not grudgingly or sadly. So often our decisions are not only not cheerful, they are not inward. In my own Diaconal formation, I will never forget my first discussion with my vocations director. He told me that in our lives we must ask ourselves this question: How can you make your life the greatest gift of yourself possible? That is what a vocation is about, he explained to me. Making an inward decision and not doing something solely based on what I think others expect is a gift of ourselves that will be more natural and suited to the gifts that we have received. We will give from the treasure that we can honestly sow into this world. It will lead us to have a cheerful approach when we genuinely give of our time, talent and treasure. And that’s why Paul then goes to say that God loves a cheerful giver. Why? Our Lord delights in seeing us make the most of our lives, and in seeing us all give to each other as one family, one Body of Christ. This leads to the beautiful and naturally supernatural consequence that we will see the blessings of God multiply so that everyone has an abundance of what is needed, and he quotes the Psalms to prove this. But let’s go back to sowing-Paul continues in verse 10 and points out the way giving works – in a way it is all about searching our hearts about how to be cheerful givers but in another way it’s all from God. For he is the source of the seed that is sown, the bread that is eaten, and he is the one who multiplies all blessings. This why our liberality in giving, our generosity in responding to our vocations, is not only from God, it turns others to give him thanks, glory and worship.

As a beautiful link to this passage, the saint of the day for October 8th on our Byzantine calendar is the Venerable Pentitent Pelagia. Her own vocational story is profound. She was the head of a dance troupe in the 5th century and was known for dressing lavishly, living a lifestyle focused on pleasure. One day when she was in the town of Edessa, the Bishop was preaching a homily, and as she passed by she stopped to listen in. How did the congregation respond when they saw this woman? All of them but one looked away. The Bishop Nonnus who we commemorate on the Saturday of Cheesefare week, he was the one who did not write this woman off. He saw a deeper gift of life than what could be seen currently. He later explained that she took great care to adorn her body in order to appear beautiful in the eyes of men. To his brother bishops he added, “We… take no thought for the adornment of our wretched souls”. She eventually saw that her beauty was fulfilled in union with Christ and became a great and beautiful soul who prayed and gave her life to God and His Church in Jerusalem all the remaining days of her earthly life, and she now prays for us.

What about us? Will we answer God’s call to be enriched with a heart that gives cheerfully? Maybe we need a reminder that our giving is not a transaction at a bank but is indeed planting for a harvest. Scattering abroad and sowing should be our mindset whenever we give. It’s messy—we don’t have a promise that every seed will blossom and bear fruit but it gives life. Will we respond when we see need in the least of our brothers and sisters? In our day and age we have seen so much hurt, so much suffering, so many tragedies. These are all calls for us to consider where we may be able to be the love and healing that this world needs. Will we seek our deepest calling to make our whole lives a gift? Will we see that that is the path to joy and living our vocation? We all have a vocation, whether called to ordination or the religious life, or called to fatherhood or motherhood, called to be an excellent worker, student, son, daughter or friend. Will we answer that calling from within and do so cheerfully? When we can say yes from the depths own hearts and say yes to Christ, we will see the wonder of the life in Christ and we will cause the world to give thanks to God. Glory to Jesus Christ!

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A Reflection on the Exaltation of the Precious, Holy, and Life-Giving Cross

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit Amen.

A lot of us love epic war stories. Classic movies like Spartacus or more recent movies like braveheart stir our hearts. Even more recent comic book battles that have been put to the screen can capture our imagination. Some of these are true stories, and one of those battles is directly linked to our feast today.

Over 1700 years ago, there were two armies lined up for battle along a river to the north of the ancient city of Rome. It was a battle that would decide the fate of a kingdom. While at war with a general in a struggle to rule the Roman Empire, another general saw a sign. He had a vision. Inspired by this sign, which happened to be a Christian cross, he eventually vowed that if he would be victorious, he would dedicate himself and his nation to the religion which had followed that same sign. Keep in mind-Christianity was a religion which, up to that time, was not legal. And yet this general felt that he was being called by this sign to follow it, and indeed he was triumphant in battle against his enemies. Eventually he became the emperor of the entire empire, he then legalized the faith just one year later and converted to that faith along with his mother. Today we venerate this man and his mother as saints. You probably know this man and you probably know his story. He is St. Constantine, who we remember with his mother Saint Helen on today’s feast of the Holy, life-giving, and precious cross. While today’s feast is about the cross, the story of today’s feast is not focused on this dramatic imagery of a cross in the sky and winning a battle across a river. That was the just the start of something even more profound and more beautiful than a military victory. It comes through the ages to us from the readings that we have just heard.

Our Gospel passage today is stark. In it we hear the story of the crucifixion taken from the 19th chapter of the Gospel of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. But the verses that were chosen were like a masterful weaving. We didn’t hear the parts in the chapter that talk about the surrounding characters-the soldiers, the chief priests, and other pieces of the Gospel that were on the outside of the heart of the story. Those verses were selectively taken out to focus on the Cross. By doing this, the Church in her wisdom is lowering the noise around the scene from the “supporting cast” to place our hearts and our eyes on the bloody reality, the tragic reality, of Our Lord’s death on the cross. It ends with our Lord who gave up His spirit. The soldiers pierce his side as blood and water come forth, and the last word from John is that what he described was true. The passage does not continue to take us to the triumph of the resurrection. We don’t hear how it all ends. No, our eyes and hearts are fixed on that violent moment, that reality of total self-offering that our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ made. Does this death sound like victory? Not at all. Not, at least, if we stick to the surface of the story.

But we can see more deeply, beyond the surface, especially when we hear the apostolic reading from the 1st letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. We heard in this letter that “the cross is foolishness and a stumbling stone”. The cross sounds like defeat and suffering. It does not seem like the victory of some great military endeavor that turned the tides of history. But it is something that is a far greater victory than any dramatic story that may make its way to a movie screen, as was done with St. Constantine’s battle. It is called the wisdom and the power of God. The cross brings us life precisely through the death and suffering-this sounds like foolishness until we realize that Christ gives us his life when we are united to God. It is why we sing “Save your people O Lord and bless your inheritance, grant victory to your church over evil and protect your people by your cross.” We preach Christ and Christ crucified, St. Paul says, because of the fact that the Cross is a life giving moment in salvation history that meets us in our own suffering and confusion and unites it to Christ and his victory on the Cross. It did not seem like a victory in any way when one looks at it with human eyes. But again, there was so much more when one looks at it with spiritual eyes. This is precisely what happened at the event that gives us the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

So what then is the real story of the Exaltation of the Cross? It doesn’t start with a battle near Rome. It starts in a city that was defeated, not in a city of victory. It starts in the humility of the dust of the earth, not the lofty heavens. In Jerusalem, St. Helen led a search to find the same cross from our readings today. The actual cross that was covered in blood. It was covered in sweat and tears. According to Tradition, it was covered underground beneath a pagan temple to Venus which was part of the pagan Roman overthrow of Jerusalem. Maybe the pagan temple was built to erase the memory of Christ? Perhaps, but if so there was a hunger to find it once again. The faithful had heard that there was a temple to Venus and that this was where the crucifixion happened. They began to dig at the site, and in fact they did find multiple crosses. Together with the Patriarch of Jerusalem and others living there, St. Helen sought to determine which cross was the true cross. And that is when they had a brilliant idea. The crosses were placed to touch the body of someone who had died, and upon touching the true cross, he was brought back to life. Later, as the cross was elevated on high and the faithful cried out singing “Lord have mercy”, a dying woman was healed by coming under the shadow of the cross. Even some of those who doubted but witnessed the event came to faith, and the city of Jerusalem rejoiced one September 14th. Together with them, we are rejoicing with them, but let’s learn more about what we celebrate.

We can even learn about this same feast mystically in the Old Testament Scriptures. Two of the three passages from last night’s vespers service can show us this. First, in Exodus chapter 15 we hear the story of the people of Israel coming upon the bitter waters known as Marah. They were journeying, they were tired and thirsty but the water was not drinkable. What did Moses do to cure this bitterness? In Exodus we hear that Moses threw a tree into the water, and the bitterness was changed to sweetness. Now, is there any obvious way that this process of throwing a tree into water would make that bitter water sweet? No. It is a foreshadowing of the fact that the cross can rid us of our own bitterness and lack of ability to bear fruit. The second Vespers reading I would like to share with you is from Proverbs chapter 3 vs. 11-18 and there is a beautiful reflection there. After speaking to us as children and telling us that when we are reproved (that is, when we are disciplined) it’s not because we are neglected or hated. NO, it is because our father loves us, we are told to seek wisdom. In that passage we hear that wisdom is a tree of life to bring life to those who seek her. It might not seem clear why a tree was mentioned if we just picked up the book of Proverbs. But… when we hear that wisdom is a tree of life at this time of the year, that we are loved even when we suffer, we realize the same message. It’s the message that Christ through the cross brings us the tree of life. And where else do we hear this idea of a tree of life? In Genesis and revelation. Eden and heaven bring us a tree that gives life, and our Tradition teaches us that this is the holy cross.

The cross brings us life even though from one angle it only seemed to bring death. So we have the scriptures, our Church calendar, and our liturgical tradition. That may be all on the outside. What about me? What about you? What about this whole world? In many ways we often can only see brokenness and sorrow. We know that things aren’t the way that they should be. Turning to the cross we lift it on high just as they did back in Jerusalem, because we find that our death can turn to life when it is united to Christ. Our bitterness can become sweet. The holy wisdom of Christ becomes a tree of life that we embrace in love. Foolishness becomes our power. If you’re suffering today, ask how you may come to the shadow of the Cross to receive healing. It may seem foolish to admit that your suffering won’t simply disappear when you’re united to the Cross. But there is a wisdom that surpasses our understanding. There is life. There is exaltation.

St. Constantine may have won a battle through a cross in the sky, which allowed him to have one kind victory over enemies. But when St. Constantine and St. Helen went to Jerusalem to find and venerate the true cross at this feast, something even more special happened. The exaltation of the Holy cross celebrates a different kind of victory— and this victory comes about through that suffering from Christ and is linked to our own suffering, and it can bring healing to those who call upon Christ. The one led to a king becoming an emperor, but the other brings life through death. Let us go forth without fear when we see our own crosses by loving the Lord who willingly ascended the cross for us. Let us search out where the Cross can save us in our lives, and lift up the Cross on high as they did in Jerusalem when that cross was found. In doing so, we will be full of the life that comes through death. Glory to Jesus Christ!

A Reflection on the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary

Glory to Jesus Christ! It is good to be here to celebrate this most special feast. This feast of the Dormition is special for many reasons. Our Byzantine Tradition actually provides the foundation of the historical event that we celebrate in the Universal Church today. When the Church wanted to demonstrate the truth that the Mother of God, after completing the course of her life, was bodily assumed into heaven by God, it was our Byzantine tradition that was used by Pope Pius XII to show this truth. He would quote Eastern Fathers like St. John of Damascus to drive home the point that we believe that after Christ ascended, He would not leave His mother’s body in her grave. No, her falling asleep (which is what Dormition means) was followed with her Body being assumed into heaven. In the Church year which ends at the end of this month, this is the last big feast that we have. We have the tradition of fasting from August 1st until today, which makes one of four fasts that follow the feasts of Pascha, the Nativity, and the Holy First Apostles Peter and Paul. Today is perhaps the peak of our year, as our church year ends this month and a new Byzantine year begins in September. But there is more than the Church year and the joy of this last solemn feast of the Church year. Because the Theotokos’ body was assumed into heaven to be united with her soul, and because the apostles found fragrant flowers in the tomb, we have the joy of having flowers and herbs to be blessed on this joyful day. This is our final feast of the year but from an even more mystical angle, we could say that this feast is the final feast period in all of our life in Christ. This is the feast that testifies to the Completion of salvation history. Let’s take a journey through the icons in our church to see how that is true.

Let’s start up to your left, and what do we see? The fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. What is under the tree? A skull. Death. But who else do we also see in the icon? It’s an image of the Theotokos. This brings our minds to the words of God after the fall. In speaking to the hardships that befell mankind after the sin in the garden, there is a promise of hope. A promise of salvation. In Genesis 3:15 we hear what scholars call the “protoevangelion”, the first Gospel. The first good news to us from God after the ancestral sin was: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” That’s right, in the first book of the Bible we are told that the offspring of Eve will vanquish the head of the serpent. The main icons along the sides of our church are even more clear in telling the continual story of salvation as a long thread. What is the first one that we see? The nativity of the Theotokos, which we celebrate on September 8th, and is just at the beginning of our Byzantine Church year. Let’s continue from there to her Entrance into the Temple, to the Annunciation, to the Visitation of Elizabeth, to the Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, to His Holy Theophany, and we continue to the account of Christ’s life of ministry that crosses all of the way to the back of our nave and across to the “south side” of the nave as we call it. The icons on this side of the Church brings us closer to the Holy Passion of our Lord with his entry into Jerusalem, and eventual crucifixion (note the skull is here yet again) and resurrection. But that is not the end of the chain of salvation history, and it’s not the end of the icons on the south side of our nave. No, let us continue to see the story of Christ from resurrection to Ascension, we see the story of the Apostles, the splendor of Pentecost, and what do we find at the bottom, at the very end of this chain of history? It is the icon of our feast today. This is such a beautiful story that we see right before our eyes every time we come to worship, which I hope we can grow to appreciate more and more as we grow in our faith which is so deeply linked to things like icons and blessings. After the Feast of Pentecost our eyes move to the icon in the bottom left from my view, as the completion of this chain of events. Christ is truly Risen but at the same time this is the proof that it’s not just his ascension. It’s not just the power of the spirit at Pentecost. No. Our journey through salvation history ends with a woman who is both lying at her tomb, and resting safely in the arms of her son. But now in an almost mirror image of the Icon of the Nativity, she is the little one held in His arms, because her soul is home. She is restored as her body is eventually raised and the angels and Apostles who look on are in awe, because she has fallen asleep. The next time they will come back to the tomb with the Apostle Thomas and there will only be the aroma of flowers, and there will be no body. That is the sign that our salvation is seen most clearly in this special feast. And this is also why in our tradition that we say “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save us.” She is the first one saved by Christ in terms of priority, and like anyone who is filled with love, this salvation is shared to those who cry out to her. We say the words “O most holy Theotokos, save us” to attest to this beautiful chain of redemption that comes to us on this feast. Her Dormition is a sign that when we die united to Christ and His Church, we will have that same salvation which is manifested to her.

Scripturally, our Old Testament readings, apostolic reading and Gospel passage speak in harmony to this same fact. The readings from Genesis tell us that the Theotokos is the ladder from heaven that allows heaven and earth to meet. She is also the unopened door leading into the holy temple of God. She is full of the wisdom of God, who is in His presence listening to His words and keeping his commandments, which is the highest blessing of all. Perhaps even more striking is our reading from the letter of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Philippians. Here he speaks of how Christ humbles Himself in becoming Man, and that in this same humility it allows him to come to the Cross, but that God the Father exalts him so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. When I hear the words of Christ on the Cross and being exalted, I tend to think of Pascha as opposed to some Marian feast. Did the Church make a typo in pointing us to these words from St. Paul on this Feast, which is also the Apostolic reading for the Birth of the Theotokos? I argue NO, this is very intentional to think of Christ’s humility and exaltation on this feast. There is a genius here, for if Christ is to be humbled and live, he would have to come down to earth from the ladder, this door to heaven, who is His mother. And if he were to be risen from the dead but she were to live a normal course of life and not be with him in paradise in body AND soul, he would be of all sons the most sad.

Liturgically, our last day of the Church year speaks to this same fact. August 31st commemorates the deposition of the cincture of the Holy Theotokos. We remember the clothing that the Theotokos wore because there are no claims to having relics of the body of the Virgin Mary’s body, unlike many saints. That’s right, there are no remains of the Theotokos’ body on earth claimed from the over 2000 years of Church history, so don’t let the date of the dogma deceive you. The Dormition has been upheld throughout the centuries because of the importance of this feast. More importantly, this demonstrates that God’s love for her is a sign of love for us. But what about you and me? Will we fall asleep in the Lord and be assumed? Is that true of the graves that we visit, that the bodies have been assumed into heaven? After all, we should be visiting the faithful departed, praying for them both in Church particularly at anniversaries and on all souls Saturday’s. Is this beautiful promise only for the select few who are assumed? No, because we know that their souls will dwell among the good, as the prokeimenon for the faithful departed tells us. We also know that at the final resurrection, all of us will be integrally human, with our souls and bodies united just as is the case in this feast. This feast attests to the words of Christ who said that if one believes in Him, that person will not die. The Theotokos shows us that these words are not speaking of our physical hearts stopping to beat. This tragically befalls all of us, but in stark contrast to this tragedy we have the reality of life in Christ. We have the firm conviction that Christ trampled death by death. One of the most beautiful ways to see this is not just with special callings like that of Elijah who passed over physical death. No, the most beautiful way to see the victory of Christ over death is to see the story of His Mother. Her life on earth ended not as a bow of defeat, but as an affirmation and entrance into the eternal life of the presence of Her Son who trampled death. Her son, holding his Mother in his arms, calls us all to our destiny. He invites us to a deeper faith in His call to salvation by showing us that He loved His mother so deeply that He welcomed her to that life in the kingdom that he inaugurated.

So let us take this occasion of the Feast of the Dormition to see how deeply Christ loves us. He loved us enough to suffer crucifixion and to let His all pure mother pass from this earthly life, because this fleeting existence pales in comparison to the divine light of union with the Holy life-creating Trinity that never ends. May we journey ever more deeply into it so that we may one day be held by Him as we see Him with His Mother in this occasion of her Falling asleep in the Lord. She intercedes for the whole Church and so let us say together with these words, “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us.”

The Harmony between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis in Chrysostom’s Anaphora

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The Christian world is often cast in terms of divide and distinction. There are those who would argue that the apostolic churches emphasize the power of sacramental mysteries to bring salvation as opposed to Protestant congregations and their greater focus upon an individual’s faith in God for eternal life. In this paradigm, a person’s reception of something external to them is considered to be critical for salvation in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, whereas an internal act of faith is preeminent in the Protestant view. Does this make the Catholic and Orthodox perspective one that leaves out our own personal and internal life of faith and instead focuses on a sort of magical view where the external sacramental life is all that is needed for salvation? Some would say so. After all, if Catholics and Orthodox receive “life-creating mysteries”, there is a sense of passivity that enters into our spirituality if these mysteries are in and of themselves able to make life in our hearts with no regard to the faith in our hearts. In this essay we will reflect on this by exploring the way that the theology of the apostolic churches embraces both an external or passive reception of salvation, as well as an internal or active embrace of the faith.

 

Specifically, we will consider the anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, the primary Eucharistic prayer of the Byzantine Rite. Not only is it most often used in the Byzantine Tradition, the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom is a wonderful image of divine theology, and it exemplifies how our connection to salvation incorporates the reality of salvation as something received and yet truly incorporated by the faithful. By viewing our entire existence and salvation being brought about by God the Father, seeing thanksgiving (Eucharist) in all of life, meditating upon how Christ has saved us in a manner that leaves nothing undone, and professing that our complete transformation is rooted in our complete sacramental participation in the life of the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the mystical supper, we will find a balance between the primacy of God as Savior and the importance of personal adherence to the faith.

Existence and salvation accomplished by God the Father
In the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, we begin with the admonition to stand aright, in awe, and attentively so that we may offer it in peace. We are blessed with the Pauline phrase from 2 Corinthians which states, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” These words are not merely a Scriptural quotation, they are a powerful way to prepare our hearts and ensure that our theology and practice of the faith is full of the grace that is needed for what is to come. This dialogue is also a two way street, as the faithful respond by saying “And with your spirit.” Once grace is bestowed and received, the celebrant continues to guide our prayer by chanting, “Let us lift up our hearts”. Our hearts and minds must be engaged if we are most true to the words of the anaphora and so the faithful respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” The last admonition is perhaps the most important, as the celebrant intones, “Let us give thanks to the Lord” and the faithful reply by singing, “It is proper and just.” Why is this so crucial to the offering that we make? Eucharistia is the Greek word for thanksgiving, and as such we must give thanks to the Lord for a proper celebration of the Eucharist.
If we step back, it should be clear that all of the blessing and prayers enjoining us to be ready to offer our thanksgiving to receive the body and blood is in keeping with the theological understanding that as Catholics and Orthodox receive the life of God through the Eucharist, and that we must consider whether we are in such a state to be deemed worthy to receive. What this entails is a subject of much debate and is not the focus of the essay. But what is important is that while we profess that it is proper and just to give thanks to the Lord, we do not stop at simply preparing to receive communion as an external sacramental mystery. The celebrant’s prayer takes us further to consider exactly why we should give thanks to the Lord. The Anaphora continues by confessing who God the Father is as we pray to Him. We profess His ineffability, inconceivability, invisibility and incomprehensibility, and these sublime attributes are then placed in the context of what his creation of all things means in terms of mankind. The celebrant prays, “You brought us out of non existence into being, and again raised us up when we had fallen, and left nothing undone until you brought us to heaven and gave us your kingdom to come.” In hearing the words of the Anaphora, we tend to focus on who God the Father is, when the prayer uses lofty terms such as ineffability, incomprehensibility and the like. The proclamation of why we should thank God for His greatness of being casts our gaze to the external magnificence and wonder of who God is and that can cause us to long to receive Him in the Eucharist. Furthermore, the description of God’s relationship to humanity should also be meditated upon in addition to our focus on God. Before commemorating the saving passion of His Son, this prayer has a powerful focus on the reality that God has accomplished all for salvation. In those words that are about what He has done for us and in us, we acknowledge that our very existence is through God who raises us up when we have fallen. This raising from sin, bringing to heaven, giving us the kingdom to come is all accomplished by God. All of these acclamations take our own contributions and they are set aside, while the salvific love of God comes into focus. Nevertheless, these are the prayers of Christians who focus upon salvation as an ongoing journey that is received through sacramental mysteries.

It may also be surprising to read that these actions of salvation that we acknowledge God as having accomplished include bringing us to heaven and giving us the Kingdom to come are actually placed in the past tense! We do not hear that we will be brought to heaven and receive the kingdom to come one day at our deaths, or perhaps at the Second Coming of Christ. We hear that God has done this. When so much in our life may seem incomplete and our destiny may feel far away, we are reminded that union with the Eternal God who will make all things right provides an objective reality where all has been accomplished for us by the One who is beyond the constraints of time itself. In praying to God the Father, we profess our faith in a manner that would ward off any sense of earning His favor through the sacraments. This prayer also dispels the notion that our salvation is something that puts us into a fixed state of “being saved”, for we hear that He has raised us up again when we had fallen. The mystery of redemption finds its beginning and end in the loving kindness of God who has accomplished all for us, and as such our focus is external, on the eternal God who has brought about our salvation.

Thanksgiving for all things

As the anaphora continues prior to the Sanctus, the proper response to the salvation described above is thanksgiving. Accordingly, we again thank God in our act of Eucharistia. The celebrant prays, “For all this we thank you, and your only-begotten Son, and your Holy Spirit, for all that we know and that we do not know, for the manifest and hidden benefits bestowed on us. We also thank you for this liturgy which you are pleased to accept from our hands even though there stand before you thousands of angels…”
We not only thank God for our creation and salvation in the Eucharist, we give thanks to God for everything as we pray the Anaphora. We thank Him for the Divine Liturgy itself, which He accepts from us. God could have ordained that the choirs of angelic powers would be the ones who offer the highest worship to God, and yet this prayer emphasizes that His pleasure is seen in accepting our sacrifice in the Anaphora, even though the angels stand before Him singing the thrice holy hymn. God thus accounts us humans worthy to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on this earth and this pleasure emphasizes that he accepts the offering from our unclean hands not in a manner of pagan placating. Instead, the dialogue is one of thanksgiving, love and pleasure.

With all this borne in mind, our hearts are called to a thanksgiving that is unbounded, when we pray that we thank God for all the things that we know and for all those things that we do not know. There is so much that we know which could arouse doubt in our lives, limiting our thanksgiving to only those certain aspects of life for which we have decided are worth thanking God. There are also so many things that we do not know which could likewise kindle fear or despair and quench our thanksgiving to not include all things. But if and when we exclaim that we thank God for everything both known and unknown, our heart is opened in all facets of our being to God entering our lives and even our view of the world itself. Therefore, we invite God to come to us via the mystery of the Eucharist so that we may have thanksgiving both in our hearts and to show thanksgiving through our gratitude for all things. Our focus then is, in a sense, external on God whom we are thanking for His acceptance and love that we can see in all things. In another sense, our focus is also internal in that we are the ones making thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving for the economy of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist

As the Anaphora continues after the Sanctus, there are more acclamations of the holiness of God the celebrant prays to Christ, “You so loved your world that you gave your only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish, but have life everlasting. He came and fulfilled the whole divine plan on our behalf.” The anaphora brings our hearts to thank God the Father for the work of Christ with these words as well as the words of institution which follow. The spirituality of the Anaphora is focused on Christ, who could be viewed as the Savior who brought us our salvation. Our salvation is seen to be part of the whole divine plan which we receive as having been completely fulfilled on our behalf. No sense of lack is seen as these words are prayed. Are these words in keeping with the view that Catholics and Orthodox “work their own way” to salvation? This charge could be made, but only if we are not fully listening to the prayers!
After the words of institution which recount Christ at the Last Supper, the anamnesis follows. There we remember the sacred command and all that has come to pass in our behalf, and because we are praying to the Eternal God for whom all things are Eternally present, it even includes the second coming in glory, an event in the future! This remembrance reaches its apex when celebrant and faithful pray “Offering You, Your own, from Your own. Always and everywhere. We praise you, we bless you, we thank you O lord, and we pray to You our God.” The voice of this language has shifted from the external work of the Trinity saving us to the internal perspective of our own offering, praise, blessing, thanksgiving, and prayer. Our focus shifts on our own call to make an offering that is united to the external offering of God. While this offering is in keeping with the general depiction of how Catholics and Orthodox view the divine mysteries, the previous context of the Anaphora where we reflect on God as the one who accomplishes our salvation may shed light to balance one’s perspective on salvation as both external and internal.

The transformative effects of salvation in our union with God through Theosis

As we continue in prayer after the words of institution and come to the epiklesis, the Holy Spirit is called down to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ. From a perspective of our union with God, this is important because these prayers allow us to receive God Himself through the Eucharist as the gifts are changed by the Holy Spirit. However, to see the link between our theology and our life of faith, let us reflect upon a section of the epiklesis that is not so focused upon the transformation of the Eucharist itself but upon the transformation of our lives. Reading this section in an edited form the celebrant prays, “send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts lying before us…that for those who partake of them they may bring about a spirit of vigilance, the remission of sins, the communion of your Holy Spirit, the fullness of the heavenly kingdom, and confidence in you, not judgment or condemnation.” Oftentimes, the epiklesis is focused on to exemplify that in Byzantine spirituality, Christ comes to us through thanking the Father, repeating the words of Christ at the Last Supper, and calling down the Holy Spirit to effect the change. This is perhaps more Trinitarian in nature than the Western perspective that the words of institution are the central and essential aspect of transforming the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This distinction between the Latin Rite Catholic and the Byzantine approach could be used to drive a wedge between East and West, but is that the true focus of the prayer? If we step back and allow the words of the epiklesis that are about us to speak to us, we see something that may be more important than trying to bring chronology to a liturgy (which we have already mentioned is timeless in its remembrance of things past and future) or distinction between Churches. The transformation is also deeply focused upon us as participants in the Eucharistic celebration. The celebrant does pray “make this bread the precious body of your Christ and that which is in this chalice the precious blood of your Christ”, which were omitted in the quotation above. Nevertheless, when we expand our focus to the entire prayer of the epiklesis we can see our own part in being transformed. We hear that the Holy Spirit is sent down upon us and these gifts lying before us because we do not only want there to be transformation of the bread and wine into body and blood. We also want our entire being to be transformed so that we can be united to God Himself. We hear that the Holy Spirit is called down upon us so that we may partake and receive a spirit of vigilance, the remission of sins, the communion of [His] Holy Spirit, the fullness of the heavenly kingdom and confidence in [Him], not judgment or condemnation.
In so many ways, this last part of the Anaphora is a clarion call to demonstrate what the Gospel is with regard to us as recipients of the Divine Eucharist. Our theology of salvation effected by the Trinity and the reality of the Presence of the Trinity in the Eucharistic gifts pours out into our lives so that those lives might be transformed in divine union with the Trinity. In these words, we are being called not to just be prepared to receive the Eucharist and be forgiven. Instead, we are being prepared for what has been called by many “the liturgy after the liturgy”; that is, we are being prepared and transformed so that we can live out our life in union with God. We need a spirit of vigilance to walk wisely in life and live as God would want of His sons and daughters. We need remission of sins to overcome our own weaknesses, failures and guilt. This is the healing of our souls and bodies for which we pray prior to communion, but it is also a basic human experience that we are cleansed and can continue to walk in the light that calls us. We need the communion of the Holy Spirit to have the inspiration and guidance to live our life as He speaks to us in His still small voice, just as He guided the Prophet Elijah and the Church at Pentecost. We receive the fullness of the heavenly kingdom to be true sons and daughters of God who can not only “go to heaven” when we die, but we can live the blessedness to which we are called by Christ in the Beatitudes. For if we are receiving the heavenly kingdom, we will walk in those precepts and practices taught so clearly by Christ in narratives such as the Sermon on the Mount. Lastly, we need confidence in God and not judgment or condemnation, because anything short of this is a life of doubt and guilt. As we make missteps in the life to which we are called, the confidence asked for is the remedy to any judgment or condemnation that we experience. Thus, while the first half of the Anaphora grounds us in the perspective of Christ as our Savior in the Orthodox faith, the ending part of the epiklesis demonstrates that all of our theological points about the Eucharist which are external and received by the faithful find an arguably deeper reality in the Orthopraxis that we are called to not only by the purity of Eucharist, but by the deep prayers of internal transformation that come to us. The importance of an external reception of the transformed bread and wine is deeply linked to the importance of an internal actualization through our own transformation from humanity to divinity.
The most important fact to consider is that God whom we may have referred to above as external is not truly external. After all, He is internalized in the act of Holy Communion! Thus, the whole dichotomy of external versus internal is conquered by the Christian’s experience of receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist and being transformed by God through it. Perhaps that is the deepest lesson to be learned when we reflect upon salvation as it is celebrated in the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom. We are not passive, but we are also not acting out our salvation on our own. Instead, the theology and praxis that we see in the Anaphora testify that we are united to the life-creating Trinity, and the most important consequence of our reception of Holy Communion is that we are transformed through this unitive reception. As the Thanksgiving prayer after holy communion of our holy Father Basil the Great states: “Grant that they may bring about the healing of my soul and body; the defeat of every enemy; the enlightenment of the eyes of my heart; the calming of my thoughts and emotions; a faith that cannot be confounded; a love that does not pretend; a wisdom that overflows; the full observance of your commandments; the increase of your divine grace; and citizenship in your kingdom. Being preserved in your holiness by them, I will remember your love at all times. I will live no longer for myself, but of you, my Lord and Benefactor. Thus, having spent my earthly life in the hope of life without end, I will attain eternal rest where the sound of rejoicing never ceases, where the delight of those who gaze upon the beauty of your face cannot be expressed. For you, Christ our God, are our true desire, and the inexpressible joy of those who love you; and all creation glorifies you forever. Amen.”

Kenosis, Christmas and Christians

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Whenever we reflect on Christ and who He is, we knowingly or unknowingly engage in what is formally known as Christology. Fr. Dumitru Staniloae wrote wonderfully on Christology in the third volume of his dogmatic theology series entitled “The Experience of God.” In chapter four of this volume “The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior”, just three sentences of Staniloae’s writing make it clear how closely our salvation is tied to a proper understanding of Christology. He writes:

“Christ would not save us were He to manifest Himself as purely divine through the divine nature’s attributes and actions toward us, and as purely human through his human nature’s attributes and actions. In both cases He would not raise His human nature to cooperation for its salvation and ours. Moreover, in both cases He would remain, as God, inaccessible to us, and then the two natures in His Person would remain unknown and ineffective.”

This brief passage succinctly captures what lies behind the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. As perfect God and perfect Man, our salvation is possible. In contrast, errors in Christology lead to a break between the deep union of theosis (deification) which come to us through Christ’s Incarnation. Thus, focusing on the intersection between Christ’s two Natures united in One Person leads us to consider some critical truths which are the focus of this essay; namely, the kenosis of Christ, His sinlessness, His connection to His Mother, and the implications of these three concepts. By meditating upon who Christ is, we can come closer to seeing what He has done in becoming Man for our salvation.

The second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians arguably contains the most distilled passage on the doctrine of kenosis, or self-emptying, of Christ. In verses five through eleven St. Paul writes:

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

In many ways, a more vivid means to see His self-emptying is seen through reading of His life in the Holy Gospels. When we see Him hungry, weeping, wounded, and dying, we tremble to consider how real His humanity is. How can God suffer through all of this? And yet the Byzantine tradition considers the moment of His Passion to be the most apt place to bestow upon Him the title of “the King of Glory”. Kenosis becomes the ability to see the glory of Christ most clearly, because it is precisely at the time of emptying and losing His life that our salvation and union with Him is accomplished.

In the context of Christ’s self-emptying, we understand that He maintains His divinity at every moment. A key way to reinforce that His divinity is present in the midst of Christ’s suffering as man is to meditate upon the key Christological affirmation that Christ remained sinless even during that suffering. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes the importance of Christ’s sinlessness clear when the author states:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Christ’s complete self-offering is seen through His sinlessness both in terms of what His priestly offering is qualitatively, and through our understanding that He has been through all forms as temptation and yet is without sin. In terms of the perfection of His offering, no aspect of Christ’s personality was withheld from the beautiful union between the human and the divine, and as such His High priestly ministry is not focused merely on His dying on the cross and rising from the grave. Instead, His offering is made perfect because He is the spotless Lamb of God, as 1 Peter 1:19 makes clear. The fullness of human nature is purified because He lived a perfectly pure life that was fully human. Thus, holding to Christ as sinless is not merely a point of dogma, but is critical to bringing about completeness to our salvation.

In addition to speaking to the quality of His offering, the sinlessness of Christ is important for our salvation through our own perspective as we look to Him for salvation. The weight of our weaknesses and failures could lead us to despair, but it is made crystal clear that Christ’s sinless life is a beacon of hope that we have a high priest who truly sympathizes with us, living His human existence in a blameless manner. In contrast, Docetism represents a Christological misunderstanding whereby Christ only appeared to be man. Were this to be true, His life on earth would not be so deeply intertwined with our temptations and sufferings. He would be perfect because He was God and not truly man. If He were perfect as God but not truly human, this sinlessness would have no bearings on our own struggles because we are humans. The Christological formulations of the Orthodox faith embrace Christ’s true divinity and true human sinlessness so that we can have hope that we can conquer our sin through our union to Christ. The Orthodox view of Christ’s sinlessness therefore makes secure our salvation in terms of what is offered, and what we experience as imperfect people. As Staniloae says, our human nature is raised, His sinlessness shows that He is not inaccessible, but is instead close to our very hearts.

Between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, there is consensus that the Incarnation brings God and Man together not just in terms Jesus Himself. Rather, the Incarnation extends to those whom He has saved. This is seen perhaps the most clearly in the participation and union that His Mother had with Him, though this also extends to all Christians. At the foot of the Cross, Our Lord spoke to His Mother and said of St. John the Theologian, “Woman, behold your Son”, and to St. John Christ says, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:26-27). While the words of the Prophet Simeon were fulfilled as a sword pierced her heart (Luke 2:35), the death and resurrection of Christ showed not only His importance in bringing out salvation, but we can also see His Mother’s role as Mother of Christ’s mystical Body, the Church.

From the Council of Ephesus’ embracing the term Theotokos to state that the Mary is truly the God-bearer, to the Second Council of Nicea stating that icons of Our Lord and the Saints can be venerated precisely because of the Incarnation, the Church’s teachings on Christ can be seen to extend to those whom He has saved. After all, those non-Catholic Christians who deny the veneration of icons would not deny venerating Christ. But perhaps that is the whole shortcoming of their thinking, in that there is an implicit individualism separating us from Christ such that He deserves veneration but the saints do not. In Byzantine spirituality, our journey of theosis is so all-pervasive that the light of Christ shines through Mary and all of the saints, because the union is complete. This incarnational union began at the Annunciation when God became man in the Virgin Mary’s womb, and thus the Mother of God occupies a special place in highlighting that when we see her suffering at the Cross and glorified in heaven, we do not become idolaters. Instead, we profess the totality of the Incarnation and the fact that Christ’s union with us extends to our lives.

The Scriptures make it clear that we participate in the salvation of not only ourselves but of others (e.g., 1 Timothy 4:16). They also make it clear that the One Mediator between God and Man is Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). When St. Paul says that he fills up on what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24), we realize that St. Paul is either contradicting himself, or that the reductionist viewpoint that only Christ is involved in our salvation comes up short. As Staniloae says, Christ’s human nature participates in our salvation. In sharing the same nature, and receiving the divine nature through grace, Mary and all of the faithful participate in our salvation. This is why when the Byzantine Tradition prays we hear words such as the following, which come from the Troparion of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: ‘O Theotokos, in giving birth you preserved virginity; and in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life and have been transferred to life, and through your prayers you deliver our souls from death.”

We do not shrink away from saying that the Mother of God delivers our soul from death, just as the Apostle Paul speaks of filling up on what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. In both cases, the salvific work of Christ is lived out in those united to Him, and that brings salvation through the saints to the world. Through theosis, the divine union with the human comes to the humans who partake of the divine nature, and that divine nature shines through humans like St. Paul and the Virgin Mary in a beautiful mirror image of human nature shining through the fully divine nature in Christ. Therefore, to hold to the incarnation and salvation of Christ we must see the fundamental connection between His kenosis, sinlessness, and the holiness and union that we see between Christ and His Mother. As we grow to see our union of Christ, may we like St. Paul see that our own life is called to kenosis, sinlessness, and theosis so that we may share salvation with all people. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Arianism: from Arius to Today

The earliest conciliar debate on Christology stemmed from the teachings of the Alexandrian priest Arius. In defending the exalted nature of the divinity of God, he taught that it was impossible for the Man Christ Jesus to be truly the uncreated God. While Christ’s essence could be said to be quite similar in essence (homoiousios) to that of the invisible God, Arius would not agree that Christ as Son of God and God the Father had the same essence (homoousios). Like subsequent controversies, it can be argued that Arius was coming at Christology from a good motivation of defending the holiness of God, but he had neglected to appreciate the Incarnation as the mystery that it is. Others might defend the divinity of Christ to the exclusion of fully embracing His humanity, but ultimately the challenge of Arianism was to believe that one born of a Virgin could not also be the eternal God. He failed to see that the immortal God could become Man and die as a mortal man. By examining the debate over Arianism and seeing its ripples down to the present day, we will see the importance of the Incarnation not merely for theological accuracy and rigor, but in order to appreciate our salvation which is achieved through theosis.

O’Collins’ Christology lays out the topic of Arianism with a Scriptural and historical perspective that puts the debates about Christ into context. He notes that Athanasius, in writing against the Arians, provides a snapshot of the key texts in the Bible which were used to question whether the Son of God was truly God, as Orthodox teachers such as Athanasius held. O’Collins then goes on to discuss some of the pivotal references to Scripture that the Orthodox used to counter the passages found in Contra Arianos, both in Athanasius’ day and later as new Christological controversies emerged. First, let us consider the key passages used to support Arius and his followers’ claims. From the Old Testament, we have Christ foreshadowed as the Wisdom of God who says of Himself in Proverbs 8:22, ‘the Lord created/begot/possessed me at the beginning of his work’. The Hebrew is clearly somewhat ambiguous (hence the multiple English words placed as potential ways to translate ‘begot’) but if Christ is truly the Wisdom of Proverbs, and if begetting includes an act of creation, Christ would be created.

Further, the New Testament references appealed to by the Arians seemed to place Christ in the light of being created. Acts 2:36 states God “has made Jesus…both Lord and Christ”, implying that Jesus became something that He was not, when He was made Lord and Christ by God’s act. Hebrews 1:4 points out that Christ has “become so much better than the Angels”, again hearkening to words of change and growth. Colossians 1:15 echoes the idea of Christ as created by calling Him the “firstborn over all creation”. The word firstborn was used to advocate that His existence as begotten made Him not eternal, but created. The Church would ultimately convene at Nicea in 325 and at the council profess that Christ is “begotten, not made, one in essence [homoousios] with the Father”. But we have also seen that the Scriptures cited above might seem to cast doubt on this. How did the Orthodox teachers combat those Scriptures? O’Collins argues that it is largely through the full context of Scriptures not quoted by Arians.

One chief aspect of the Scriptures that points to Christ as uncreated deals with the clause in the Symbol of Faith that comes just after the famous homoousios profession, in that we state it is Christ “through whom all things were made”. The Creed codifies this from a dogmatic perspective, but the Scriptures are the foundation of the Creed and they testify to this creative aspect of Christ in passages such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which says that all things exist through Christ, and it is through Him that we live. Of His humility which would be pointed out by Arians in passages such as John 14:28 which says that ‘The Father is greater than I’, the Orthodox teachers would point out that this was speaking of His human nature. To support their position, they would refer to Philippians 2:9-11, which says that He humbled Himself despite not considering it robbery to be equal with God. His subordination was willing, because he took the form of a bondservant. And even more importantly, Athanasius and his followers would ask the Arians to explain how it is that Christ was made equal to God multiple times in Scripture, particularly with the Gospel of John when Christ says things such as ‘I and the Father are one’ in John 10:30.

Taken together, the Orthodox position against the Arian view would see the Father and the Son as ultimately one, but that in becoming Man Christ humbled Himself in an act of self-emptying, which is the word kenosis in Greek. The Arians were stressing the passages of Scripture that spoke of kenosis in becoming Man and suffering, to the exclusion of the passages which upheld His unchanging divinity. Athanasius and his successors in the Orthodox faith embraced all of the Scriptures in professing Christ to be truly God and Man. Synthesizing these references and arguments together, we can return to the Symbol of Faith and see how eloquent it is when it speaks of Christ in His being as “One Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God the only-begotten, born of the Father before all ages. Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father; through whom all things were made”.
Once the Creed was completed at the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, this did not eliminate controversies over whether Christ is truly God (not to mention all of the other controversies). Arians persisted in parts of the world as a formal sect out of communion with the Orthodox Catholic Church, but of course we can turn from history to consider Arianism as it exists in the world today. First, we can consider those sects not linked through succession from Arians, but they would agree with the tenet that Christ was created and is not God, being one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Key examples of this include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Islam, and more. It is true that particularly with the groups above which call themselves Christians, there will be much of the same Scriptural argumentation about Christ subordinating Himself to the Father, and the like. To counter them we can follow the lead of Fathers such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. But are there other ways in which Arianism still exists outside the bounds of formal doctrinal disagreements? Is there such a thing as ‘functional Arianism’? I would argue that this is indeed the case.

One example of Arianism comes to us from semantic sloppiness. For example, many times I have heard Christians who may say that they believe in the Trinity but then say that the Father is God, the Son is the Son of God, and the Spirit is something or some One completely unknown to them. Calling the Father God is not the problem, it is when the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is somewhat secondary to the divinity of the Father. How can this be dealt with? Byzantine spirituality is one key way to unsettle any notion of unintentional Arianism. Our prayers so often say things such as “May Christ, Our true God…”, or “O, Christ God, bless the food”. I even once had Roman Catholics try to ‘correct’ a blog post because I wrote “Christ God” in the context of a sentence. The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing) shines out in the light of the way that we continually emphasize Christ as God in Byzantine prayers.

Perhaps even more challenging to us is a form of Arianism that comes to us from the heart. We may sing the Symbol of Faith with gusto but there are many times that we look at the world and despair, as though nothing can be done to change the way things are. If we saw the world with eyes of faith, that would not be the case. But if we see Christ as only a man as functional Arians do, there is a sense in which we have lost the meaning of who God is. If God is not both divine and human in my own life, what hope for change is there? Again, to see Christ as God with our hearts, we need the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is one central aspect to finding our way and not losing hope. By continually invoking Him as Lord and Son of God, Jesus Christ will have mercy on us and on the whole world. This element of ‘Arianism’ is subtle and while not a formal heresy, may be the most important aspect of understanding who Christ is. We may profess what is true with our lips but if our hearts are not in harmony with our words, the beauty of Truth will not fully permeate our being. By meditating on the Arian controversy, we see the magnificence of God and His love for us as he became Man. By praying as Orthodox Christians, that glory of divinity can enter our lives. Glory to Jesus Christ!

Work Cited
O’Collins SJ, Gerald. Christology: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Study of Jesus. Oxford University Press, 2009 pp 165-168.

St. Acacius and Love

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On July 7th, one Saint commemorated in the Byzantine Christian Calendar is St. Acacius, who is mentioned in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

The OCA website has a short but beautiful summary of his life, here is the link:

http://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/07/07/101951-venerable-acacius-of-sinai-who-is-mentioned-in-the-ladder

 

In our world there is a focus on offending others, which can be beneficial from one perspective. We do not want to hurt our neighbors, after all! But I would ask-do we hurt ourselves when we continuously find reasons for offense? Have we missed forgiveness in this sensitivity to offense? Does it make us unable to love when we are wounded? If so, we may have missed an even deeper opportunity to love than in the world where no one offends another (assuming such world would even be possible).

With St. Acacius, we may have an example to consider. We may find his life shocking. He was mistreated by his spiritual father to the point of death without complaining. He was  miraculously raised from the dead to continue to show respect to the same monk who mistreated him, saying that he could not be silent if he was called upon. And so his dead body spoke to continue a life of love, despite no love shown to him.

This led to a beautiful remorse and repentance by his spiritual father, and his life of love brought a reconciliation to all of the hurts that Acacius endured.

The persistent love and obedience in the face of such offense is scandalous. We could consider him quite masochistic for enduring this. But I think that scandal is the exact place where we see his love, which was not contingent on his surroundings. As the love of God is present even as we turn away from Him, St. Acacius continued to love regardless of how he was treated.

May we seek to revel in this love! May God grant it to us when minuscule trials come our way. So often we speak out and react to the smallest things, and yet St. Acacius’ obedient silence in life and his obedient words in death can still our worries and heal not only our own wounds, but the wounds of those who have hurt us. That may be the deepest therapeutic, far above any feelings of justice that come from retribution.

 

I pray that deep love of St. Acacius fill our hearts to love no matter what we face. It is, I would argue, the surest way to be kept safe from the spirit of retaliation and frustration that seems ubiquitous in our world today.

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!