What does God want from us?

I don’t know if you ever ask this question, but as far as I’m concerned I seem to ask this question a lot! Ok, God what do you want from me? It seems that I am always asking the question without expecting an answer. Well, the Gospel for next Sunday, the Gospel of the Last Judgment (Matt 25, 31 – 46) answers this

SEPERATING SHEEP FROM GOATS
SEPERATING SHEEP FROM GOATS

question pretty specifically and without equivocation.  The entire exhortation can be boiled down to one sentence. Blessed are the merciful! It requires mercy to feed, clothe, heal, visit, give drink, or welcome. St John Chrysostom remarked in a sermon on this passage, that we take pity on a poor stray dog and feed him when we encounter him, but we are most likely to ignore our fellow human if we come upon them by the side of the road. If we care for the physical needs of our fellow man, do we ignore their more basic spiritual needs? Do we welcome strangers to Church or think about clothing them in the garment of incorruption, their baptismal garment? Do we try to feed them with spiritual food, free them from the prison of loneliness or despair? It seems that if we go down to the soup kitchen or meet people’s physical needs out the back door of the community center, we’ve done our good deed.

How can we reach out? However, we really don’t want “those kinds of people” in the pew next to us. It is easy to give a loaf of bread, but a much more difficult commitment to share the bread of life, the Holy Eucharist. The banquet of the Kingdom is the wedding feast, and the king wishes all to attend. He desires the room to be full. The servants gathered “the good and the bad” and invited them into the feast. Has the king invited you? Whom shall you bring?

WHO AM I?

This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the second Sunday of the Triodion in the Orthodox calendar. It seems to me that every year when this week rolls around I tend to play a mind game with myself. Who am I this year? The quick and the safe answer is to say I am the prodigal.

Return of the Prodigal
Return of the Prodigal

How very humble and fitting. We’re all prodigals at one time or another. After all last Sunday we were reminded that the “good guy” was the Publican; when he realized he had a lot to answer for and admitted it. So, once again the safe bet is to tell ourselves, that’s me. None the less, when we shut the door isn’t it human nature to say, I am really not that bad. So, who do you think you are in this story.? My view is that at times we imagine ourselves to be each of the characters at one time or the other, Maybe that’s the way Christ intended us to look at this parable. At different times of our lives, we are anyone of the characters in the tale. Perhaps we are the prodigal, the owner of the swine, the companions in sin, the brother, the servants who attend to the returning son, the party going friends of the brother, the waiting forgiving father. Or even someone never mentioned, the mother, who may very well waited, worried and quietly rejoiced at her son’s return only to cry again at her elder son’s callousness. The question is: Who am I this year?.

 

Who are the Saints?

It seems to me that we Orthodox look at icons of saints and immediately think of super religious people who are so distant and so removed from our daily lives that we can’t relate to them as people.  As I began to study the life of Patriarch Methodios 1 of Constantinople, I felt exactly this same way.  You may not know, a few years ago I based my doctorate studies on this saint because no one had actually studied him in detail.  He is depicted in an icon which we see at the beginning of every Great Lent on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Sunday-of-Orthodoxy - (St. Methodios is to the right of the icon)
Sunday-of-Orthodoxy - (St. Methodios is to the right of the icon)

So, he must have had something to do with icons, but other than that who was he? Ultimately, this is the question we should ask about each saint, but more importantly we must ask how do they make a difference for us today?  At the time I began my studies Methodios was a stranger.  This is the reality of all saints unless we look at them in the light of faith.  They stand as reflections of Christ, in their time and their place.  Every one, young, old, male or female is a person who faced life with one thing in common with us today, struggle.  All of us struggle to live a life that matters, not in the great things but in the real things.  A life that matters is the path each person must travel.  So consider a saint’s life as a journey.  Look how they made the voyage.  When they came to that fork in the road to which we all come, how did they choose?  Yes, Methodios is the Patriarch who presided over the first Sunday of Orthodoxy.  He is right there in the icon!  If the people of the Church made him a saint, put him in icons and gave him a feast day; it is because he a chose a certain path.  What will be your choice?  The life of a saint may show you the “Way”.

[To learn more about Patriarch Methodios link to: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/06/14/101719-st-methodius-the-patriarch-of-constantinople ]

Thoughts on the Trinity and Christ in Orthodox Teaching

Have you ever considered the possibility that your idea of God is too small? What do you think about when you hear the word “GOD”? Maybe, it would help if we consider some of the Church’s teachings about God. First, let’s ask the basic question “What is God?” There are certain fundamental Orthodox teachings on this question. When we try to define God, we come to Mystery. Beginning with that question: The Church says “IS” – is beyond all human understanding, language, and abilities to grasp or describe.

God is Love; whoever sought to define Him would be like a blind person trying to count the grains of sand of the sea shore. – St. John Climakos

God is a God, who out of Love, reveals Himself to his creatures and creation. Our God is a Personal God. Our God is a TRINITARIAN GOD. What does this mean? The nature of God as Trinity is explained by a Father of the Church in this way:

Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity

The Father is the origin of all, the Son realizes, and the Spirit fulfils. Every thing subsists by the will of the Father, comes into being though the action of the Son, and reaches its perfection through the action of the Holy Spirit…

The number three therefore comes to your mind: the Lord who commands, The Word who creates, the Breath who confirms and what can it mean to confirm, if not to make perfect in holiness.

Treatise on the Holy Spirit – ST BASIL OF CAESARIA.

Think about the description of the nature of God, as we can understand him. Keep in mind; we can never understand the essence of God. Yet, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity share the same essence (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). They are unique persons; they are distinct but never separate. They have but one will, the will of the Father. NONE of three ever acts separately and apart from the other two. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware states, “They are not three Gods but one God.” What is it about God that we experience and know? We Orthodox view what and how we experience the Trinity in this way.

  • GOD’S ESSENCE – WHAT “IS”, THE INNER BEING OF GOD, IS TOTALLY TRANSCENDENT. MAN CAN NEVER KNOW THE NATURE OF GOD AND GOD’S OTHERNESS. THIS IS BEYOND OUR ABILITY OR CAPACITY TO COMPREHEND.
  • GOD’S ENERGY – GOD’S OPERATIONS OR ACTS OF POWER. THESE REVEAL GOD IN THE WORLD TO HIS CREATION. THIS IS CALLED GRACE, LIFE AND POWER AND IT FILLS ALL THINGS.

God is love (1 John, 8). The Persons of the Holy Trinity relate to one and another in a bond of LOVE, a perfect outpouring of selfless communion that is continuous, constant and mysterious. This is the nature of the relationship of the life of God as Trinity. Our destiny is to share this love and to express it in our lives. When we talk about God, we mean the Holy Trinity; and when we will speak of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, we speak of the Son of God revealed and encountered in the created world. In Christ, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and through our Baptism and Chrismation, we have the potential to partake in the nature of God as Trinity (2 Peter 1, 3).

For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event. God has revealed Himself to us in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh. The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26). The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”.

The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love. It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us. The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.

  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.Jesus
  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT HUMAN.
  • JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
  • JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY, SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.

Earlier we said, the Godhead is a perfect community of love shared between the THREE Persons of the Trinity. The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation. Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross. This act of perfect Love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God. We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord. The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER. Through Him, in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God. Christ assumed our human nature and our human body. He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential. He presents it to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God.

This is the reason why the Word of God was made flesh, and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that we could enter into communion with the Word of God and by receiving adoption might become the Sons of God. Indeed, we should not be able to share in immortality without a close union with the Immortal.

St. Ireneaus of Lyons

In Christ, we are called to KNOW the Father. This knowledge is the prayer of Christ before his crucifixion. His Resurrection abolished the hold which death had on us since our fall. His Accession granted us an intercessor at the Throne of God. At Pentecost, He asks the Father to send His Spirit to continue His Presence among us. His Second Coming will give the righteous immortality and perfect communion with God. These words of prayer explain our relationship to God the Holy Trinity.

My hope is the Father,
My refuge is the Son,
My Protection is the Holy Spirit,
O’ Holy Trinity – Glory to You.
St Ioannicios the Great

Welcome to Orthodox Praxis!

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This is the website and blog of Dn. George P. Bithos.  Praxis can be defined as an “action, practice or the conventional conduct”.  Originally, it conveyed the meaning of passing through or experiencing.  This “experiencing” is what I hope you take away from this site, because Orthodox Christianity is an experience, a life experience.  

It is my hope that as you visit this site it will become a way of learning about Orthodoxy.  My intent is and will continue to be sharing the faith with you.  Feel free to browse through the website using the links at the top right.  If I read something of interest, I promise to share it with you, in turn; you may share your thoughts and comments through the moderated blog below.  Visit often and let’s learn together!  May God Bless you always and as St. John Chrysostom said, “Glory to God in all things!”