Now that I found it what do I do with it?

Today is the feast day of Sts. Constantine and Eleni.  I was thinking about the event that we relate with St. Eleni (I like this better than Helen).  St. Eleni is remembered for not only being the mother of the Emperor Constantine, but in British folklore she is thought to be the spouse of “Old King Cole.”  That’s right the same King Cole as in the nursery rhyme.  Well, that shows you how much useless dribble fills my mind.  Back to the subject at hand, we remember St. Eleni because her search for and discovery of The True Cross of Christ.

The True Cross   The True Cross

 We all know the account of her discovering a mound with sweet basil growing among the weeds and stones of Golgotha, digging and uncovering several old crosses.  Subsequently, to determine the True Life-giving Cross from the crosses of the thieves she had a corpse placed on the wood. The dead person was brought back to life when he was placed on the True Cross. The recounting of this tale caused me to ponder a very significant point.  It occurred to me that at one time or another in our life’s journey we all lose faith. Perhaps, it is a great disappointment, or the death of someone we love, an illness, depression or a myriad of other reasons. We just lose it.  If we are fortunate to find our way again, either by struggle, the help of a friend, time’s healing passage or by the guidance of a spiritual guide, then we are faced with an ultimate decision.   Now that I found it what do I do with it?  St. Eleni can be a guide to our future  action.  What did she do?  What she didn’t do was sit back on her laurels and just take the “applause” of the assembled throngs, the people and her son.  She did what we all should do!  She put her faith into action.  She built churches all over the Holy Lands.  What can we do when we discover or rediscover our faith?  When we join Christ and His Body as a result of our embracing the faith or returning to the fold, our ultimate choice is what to do now.  The example of St. Eleni is – do something with your faith.  Let it light a fire in our heart and inspire us to put our faith to work. Feed the hungry, teach the uninformed, visit the sick, help the helpless, comfort the downhearted, be there for someone, reach out and encourage the timid.  The bottom-line is to become Christ to someone and make your faith a living faith!

 

 

Enlightenment

We remember the Samaritan woman on the fourth Sunday after Pascha and on February 26 each year.  The Holy Gospel has not given us the name of the Samaritan woman, but the Tradition of the Church remembers, and calls her in Greek – Photini, in Russian – Svetlana, in the Celtic languages – Fiona, in Western languages – Claire, all these names speak to us of one thing – of light.  Again light, we spoke of light only two weeks ago! There is not a mention of light in the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman but, the light is there in the person of Our Lord. As in many encounters with Jesus, there is light or rather enlightenment.

St. Photini and XC 

       St. Photini and XC

The Apolitikion for St. Photini begins with these words, “All illumined by the Holy Spirit…,” once again, light. The constant mention of this phenomenon should cause us to stop and wonder. In this meeting with Jesus, the woman at the well gained insight into her own life and into salvation history.  Enlightenment can be defined as: the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight.  OK, what insight did she gain.  She understood the relationship of Jews and Samaritans.  She knew she was living with this guy who wasn’t her husband. She well knew her marriage history.  What is left?  It seems to me that Photini still had doubts as to Jesus’ identity. We read her question to the city dwellers, “Can this be the Christ?” She did peak the people’s interest so that they went out to meet Jesus.  After they came face to face with him and listened to him they believed.

 The tradition of the Church tells us that Photini and her family were present at Pentecost. We read that St. Peter addressed the crowd by saying,”Repent and by baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38) Her enlightenment was linked to her baptism, which the Church refers to as illumination.  She sought forgiveness for a life away from God. This was a process beginning with her meeting with Jesus and His coming into her life and her receiving the Holy Spirit, her empowerment at Pentecost. She was on fire with Christ, but the flame had to be nurtured and fanned from a spark lit by the Light and the warmth of the Holy Spirit.

Paralyzed

This week our Church commemorates the Sunday of the Paralytic.  The Gospel reading is taken from St. John 5, 1 – 15.  One thing struck me after I read this passage.  Aren’t all of us paralyzed in one way or the other?  The young man in the Gospel account was physically impaired for many years, but he never gave up on the possibility of being healed.  He waited by the pool for thirty-eight years for his deliverance.

Christ and the Paralytic

Christ and the Paralytic

Many of us who are paralyzed spiritually, emotionally or psychologically sit by the side of life.  There may be limitations to our understanding, we may not be able to move past a scar on our heart, perhaps we cannot forgive some hurt we have experienced.  Do we live our life trying to be healed or trying to ignore our malady?  The question that Christ asked the young man is very pertinent to our own circumstances or powerlessness, “Do you want to be healed?”  At first, the obvious response would be an indignant, “of course,” but many of us wear our debilitation as a badge of identity.  Not too many weeks ago, we were anointed with the sacrament Holy Unction.  While we were being anointed, the invocation reminded us that Christ is the physician of our souls and bodies. Souls and bodies, we are told that the young man needed physical healing. Nonetheless, waiting next to the pool for thirty-eight years to be healed must have left emotional scars on the young man. As we analyze all the miracles of Christ, He heals each person whom He encounters; provided that the person turns him in faith.  The healing always restores the person to wholeness.  So, it is understood that all aspects of this paralyzed man was healed.

Turning to Christ in faith is not a magic formula.  Wholeness involves the restoration of our spirit. This restoration may impart to us the capacity to recognize our paralysis, to understand its cause and to start on a path to wellness.  Its possible physical limitations remain with us to illumine our heart to overcome the deeper emotional weakness. The healing of Christ is a mystery as is the opportunity to witness His love in our life.  Our witness, like the young man’s in the temple, is the acknowledgement that God is working to transform our heart.

Light

 

It’s funny how much the theme of light comes up during Great Lent and Holy Week. I was looking at an icon just a few days ago. The icon was in a dark corner with a vigil light placed in front of it and the light danced on the image making the image shimmer. The effect  

vigil-light
  catalyzed my thinking about light.  In modern times most of us, who are urban dwellers, really don’t understand darkness. The ambient light somehow prevents us from experiencing true darkness. Since it is difficult to experience true darkness, can we really understand the power of light? Many times you read or better still, speak to someone about their experience of the Easter Vigil, the first thing they mention is the light and how it seems to come rolling through the Church at ‘Come Receive the Light.’ 
The dictionary on my computer defines light in two ways. First, it gives a very precise definition of the physics of light, photons, electromagnetic waves and energy quanta; then it uses this phrase to describe light for the rest of us “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible”. It was this definition that I’d like to explore theologically, stimulating sight and making things visible, in what way? In the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, celebrated during Great Lent, the phrase we hear is “The Light of Christ”. It occurs to me that there is a lens by which we should filter the light we see…Christ! If our light is seen through this lens then how should we perceive it? But, Christ doesn’t say: “I am the lens” he says; “I am the LIght.” He is the source of what is visible, but what are the implications of being the source of the visible? We should define our world by His perception not our own. We see in icons and hear in hymns that Christ shatters the darkness. Does he shatter our darkness? Do we allow His Light to illumine our heart and mind? St. John states quite succinctly in the Gospel reading read during the Paschal Liturgy, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1, 5). The most difficult surrender is the surrender of our fears. These fears are our greatest darkness.  

Christ is Risen!   

Christ is Risen!
Christ stands ready to be the Light in our darkness. Our task is to permit the Light to enter, to roll back the great stone of our own tomb to let the power of the Light penetrate our private darkness.
The Light has overcome the darkness.

Pascha 2009

 

PASCHA  2009

 

Christ is Risen!!

 

 

 

I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT POSTING A BLOG LAST WEEK.  UNFORTUNATELY, MY COMPUTER DIED DURING HOLY WEEK.  I  AM WORKING ON THE PROBLEM.  GOD BLESS YOU ALL!  

Dn. George

Discerning the Signs of the Times (part 4)

Chapters 7 and 8 of Behr-Sigel’s essays centre on the central theme of Mme. Sigel’s life, the issue of women and men in the Church.  As these chapters are read, it must be pointed out that the essays were written for the most part in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The reason I call this to the mind of readers is that at that time this topic was being encouraged by the general trends in ecumenical and theological scenes world-wide.  Unfortunately, the extension of this movement, a more significant role for women in the Church, led to a relativism that opened the door for the current and more difficult issue within the contemporary ecumenical setting.  The newest difficulty for the Orthodox is the problem of the role of practicing homosexuals, be it their “marriage” or ordination.

Female saints

Some Women Saints of the Church

The injustice is that this current development has pushed aside the valid concern of the role of women.  This issue is a topic that must be faced with thoughtful study and consideration.  Behr-Sigel introduces her approach to this topic with a discussion of the question of Holy Tradition vs. common tradition.  This inquiry is tantamount to the consideration of the conversation about women and the Church.  What is true Tradition and what is custom?  Our Church is a Church of Living Tradition; from this Holy Deposit of truth springs all the teachings of the Church.  The Bible, the dogmas, the teachings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of our life as a people of God are all part of Holy Tradition.  This Tradition is the sinew of faith.  In addition, the life of the Church in history develops traditions with a little “t” which are the practices and customs which acculturate the Church in a time and place.  There are times that these two traditions are confused.  They are not only confused, but in an attempt to preserve essential Tradition, everything is zealously preserved even the non-essential. What is the true authority by which the Church is regulated?  Within these two traditions, the ferment and question of the role of women becomes entangled.  Did we not have women deaconesses within the Holy Tradition of our Church?   Did we not see their diminished manifestation in the tradition (little t)?  The Church of today must grapple with this question.  Behr-Sigel asks the difficult questions, while witnessing to the process by which the Church is using to deal with these matters.The theological foundation which forms the backdrop of this conversation is the subject matter of the next few chapters.

The beginning point is, of course, the example of Jesus and His relationship with women.  The essay points out correctly Our Lord dealt with the person, not with groups.  He encountered individual humans, not men or women, not colours or nationalities, nothing but a personal encounter with God was the reality of coming face to face with the Messiah.  Behr-Sigel rightly calls to our attention that Jesus shattered the “tradition” of His time concerning with whom he “should” associate.  Women, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, Samaritans, lepers, those possessed by demons; none were taboo for the touch of the Master. These examples are telling us what is important is the person relationship with Christ, the encounter not the convention of society.  Is this example borne out in the life of Church?  What is the Tradition and what is tradition?

Silence

This last Friday, I did not place my accustomed posting on this blog.  Ria and I were in Houston for the forty day blessing of our newest grandson, Peter.  It was a great honour for us to be present as a new child of God made his entrance into the temple of Our Lord.  I hope you all excuse me for being a proud Papou and skipping the last entry.  I promise to make it up, as this conversation continues.

LazarusToday, I would like to talk about silence.  As I was growing up, my parents always referred to the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus – as the “Silence (oi koufi)”.  I always thought this was because the Akathist had finished and there wasn’t a service that night.  Ok, there was silence.  Now, I look at this a bit more deeply.  If you remember a few years ago, there was this movement to help young people make better decisions by using the question, “What would Jesus do?”  As I recall, there were even little rubber bracelets with the letters “WWJD” on them. In this case this is the question that should be asked.  The Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus, (John 11, 1 – 45) begins with Jesus apparently hesitating to go to his friend’s aid.  Well, this supposed hesitation had a real purpose, for all to see the glory of God.  How was this to be accomplished?  Our Lord seemingly was blasé about Lazarus’s illness and rushing to his side.  After staying put for two days, Jesus prepared to go to Bethany informing His disciples that Lazarus was dead. As Jesus encountered Martha and Mary, they expressed thoughts that we all feel at sometime, “if only.”  They were sure that if only Jesus had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but Jesus was silent and missing.  For us to truly understand Jesus’ hesitation, we need to know a bit about the Jewish teaching concerning death.  At day four, in the Jewish understanding, the soul left the body in other words the body was a cadaver, a corpse. So if Lazarus was a corpse, Jesus did not simply resuscitate him.  As Jesus called forth Lazarus and Lazarus walked out of his tomb Christ created life from dead matter.  The Creator God bestowed life on Lazarus.  Christ is God and the silence of Lazarus’ tomb was shattered. To the assembled crowd this silence was deafening.

The Final Four

It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent.  If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend.  For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states.  After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast. 

We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection.  We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent.  At each stage there is a victory.  The victory enables us to move on to the next.  As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level.  During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn.  Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts.  Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured.  Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor.  The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension.  Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration.  Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass.  Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over.  Everyone is a winner.  We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.

Discerning the Signs of the Times (Part 3)

The chapters we will explore today are chapters 5 and 6.  It is my opinion that the editors of this book made a slight mistake.  I believe that the order of these two chapters should be reversed.  So, I am going to discuss chapter six, first.  The topic of this chapter is Alexander Bukharev.  He was a Russian religious thinker of the nineteenth century.  Honestly, he is a reasonably unknown except to a few Russian specialists.  As Mme Behr-Sigel reveals, Bukharev’s theology has influenced many Russian theologians of this last century, the names of which, we would all recognize from the Russian émigré community of Paris.  Most of all, I believe Bukharev influence is evident when the topic of the “mystical theology” of Orthodoxy is discussed.  A child of a clergyman, a theologian, monk-priest and once again a layman, Alexander returned to the world after some years in monastic life.  In his teachings, he emphasized the parallel between the kenotic love of Christ

Rublev's Face of Christ
Rublev's Face of Christ

and being the servant of one’s neighbor in the world.  Through his life and writings, we can see a Christian who does not cloister his faith, but makes faith alive in service to humanity.  For Bukharev, a faith alive was one that had a social context to alleviate suffering in the earthly world.  As Behr-Sigel says: “Bukharev’s approach was the integral connection between this ‘mystical theology’ and the concern for a compassionate, actively creative and transforming presence in the world.”  The Monk in the City as Elisabeth titles her essay elucidates a life of service linked with a profound spiritual empting of one’s self to express the love of Christ.  This theology expresses “worship of the living God through service to others” is evocative of the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The proceeding chapter focuses on the story of Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945)a spiritual inheritor of the theology of Bukharev.  Born in Latvia, her name in the world was Elisabeth Pilenko.  She became a politically active Socialist in Russia around the time of the revolution; escaping to Paris with her husband.  In Paris, she became involved with the Russian Students Movement and became friends with many of the Russian theological intelligentsia.  Sergius Bulgakov became her father confessor.  A theologian, poet and social worker she petitioned her bishop to take up the habit.  She was professed and was given the monastic name Maria.

Mother Maria of Paris
Mother Maria of Paris

She strongly wished to continue a monasticism open to the world in the manner of Alexander Bukharev.  In the 1930s she reached out to the suffering poor of Paris. A controversial socially active monasticism caused a scandal with more conservative church members, but Mother Maria endured.  With the advent of World War II, Mother Maria and her friends reached out to help Jews hide and escape Nazi persecution.  She was betrayed to the Germans and was put to death, taking the place of a young girl scheduled to die in the gas chambers.  Her martyrdom took place in the last days of the war in Ravensbruck concentration camp;   On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.  On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky.

Being in the Desert

It hardly seems possible, but here we are at week four of Great Lent.  The Church tries to bolster our spirits by holding up the Holy Cross as a symbol of courage, sacrifice and victory; pointing us to the Resurrection.  Never the less, if you’re like me there is this feeling of a slump.  We start the fast with enthusiasm and zeal, but we’ve come this far and it seems that we’re tiring of the whole thing.  Besides during this Lenten period, it seems that there are “slumps” everywhere, the markets have really slumped, the employment picture is slumping, and even the new president’s popularity numbers are slumping.  I guess we are not immune to the sense of dissatisfaction even with the course of our progress towards the Great Feast. 

Sign of Victory
Sign of Victory

 As a young boy, I remember my dad, who was a priest, always placed the Holy Cross on a tray of bright yellow daffodils.  This sign of spring and the promise of the coming of Pascha seemed enough when I was that age.  Now, I don’t know!  I am much older; life is much more complex.  Our consumer society offers so many distractions and alternatives.  In every Orthodox parish there is the increased availability of services during this period, but there is also all those other things that sidetrack us.  It is so easy to say not tonight, not this morning, next time.  So what should we do?  I know you’re probably thinking … Here it comes – the scolding and the guilt trip.  Actually no – because this year I am more at fault than most of you!  Well, again, what do we do?  I really don’t know.  Last night, when I was trying to think how to structure this entry something came to me.  Maybe, what I need is to quiet the clamor.  The word that came to mind, which reminded me of St. Gregory Palamas, is hesychia, silence or quiet.  This might be the time to sit down, shut the world out and let God speak to me and tell me how to fight the slump.  What a novel idea listen, don’t think – don’t talk – just listen. As you probably guessed, the concept of not thinking and being quiet is difficult for me.  I’ll let you know if it helps.