Sunday, December 31, 2017

Faith and the "Light"

Through the grace of God we are blessed with the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. Now we are able to have the fulness of the faith through Him. In our Baptism and Chrismation we are united with Him and become joined with His Body, the Church. This faith needs to be continually developed and nurtured through the sacramental life in the church and our own efforts guided by Grace seeking always Grace and our union with Him.

This faith is dynamic and ever growing. It is a continual process. As it increases we receive more Grace and powers. But we cannot just sit back in our own glory or comfort of our faith but we must also show it through our actions. These actions exemplify Christ Himself as we act according to His will, submitting our own will to His. This demands a complete cooperation, synergy, of our will with His.

As our faith matures and we are able though His grace to act like Him, experiencing our union with Him, there will be a loving presence that we acquire. This is the light that Jesus is talking about when He says, 
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We do not seek to gain attention through our enlightened works but glorify the Father who is in heaven. Nurture your faith and let your light shine.

Ten Points of an Orthodox Way of Life

Monday, December 18, 2017

Seeking His Mercy

"Have mercy on us.”

This is most common prayer in the Orthodox Church. Most of us have come to know it as the Jesus Prayer, ”Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” In Orthodox teaching God is not looking to punish us for our sins but He wants to help us overcome our sinful tendencies. He sent His Son because of His love for Mankind so we could be healed and learn to love God as He loves us. This love is best expressed in this prayer, He is all merciful. He will forgive us our sinfulness as He knows our condition and wants us to be perfected so that we can have eternal life in His kingdom forever. This is His plan for all of us.

Many people in the Church will practice this prayer daily by repeating it over and over in quiet in the morning and evening. It is a powerful discipline when we engage in it prayerfully and with love of our merciful God. We are not always aware of how sinful we are but any action that is not taken to glorify God is an error and misses the mark for what we are intended. If we engage in this regular practice of saying the Jesus prayer daily over and over we will eventually have it in our mind all the time and will be repeating it continually. 

How does  this help us you ask? How can we sin when we continually have God in our mind and are seeking His mercy. It is only through His mercy that we can be healed of this infirmary of sinfulness. We should not despair in our condition but recognize it and seek His love and Grace so we can continually grow to become closer to His image. 

More on the Jesus Prayer

Monday, December 11, 2017

What are the Major Steps of the Spiritual Life?

Fr Staniloae gives us a clear view to answer this question  He says there are two phases. The first is the practical phase and the second is the contemplative phase.

The practical phase involves taking actions that help a believer overcome their attachment to passions and progressively learning to practice the virtues leading to love. The purpose of this phase is to become liberated from the passions. The mind must be cleansed and become dispassionate so it can go onto the last phase of contemplation undisturbed by passions. 
He says, 
"Only a clean shinny mirror, unspotted by passionate attachment to things of the world, is capable of receiving divine knowledge."
The contemplative phase is an exclusive focus on God. It is a "reintegration, unity and simplicity." The mind becomes empty, cleansed of passions, quiet with peace and tranquility, now able to receive and accept divine knowledge.

There is a final stage which he calls the theological or mystical contemplation of God.

In the beginning our aim is purification. We must first strive to become able to live the virtues as tough by Jesus Christ. It is the virtues that combat the passions. So it is like a two dimension struggle. Pursue a virtue and eliminate a passion.

When we move towards contemplation we begin to see the reality of the universe. Our object is the "logo" of created things. This is the true meaning of them in eyes of God. One begins to see everything from a spiritual perspective.

Once the inner nature of things is known, then one enters into the understanding of mystical knowledge of God Himself. He says this is "an ecstasy of love, which persists unmoved in a concentration on God."

These steps are similar to the idea of purification, illumination and perfection which was used by Dionysius the Areopagite.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 69-73

Monday, December 4, 2017

Build Faith and Overcome Anxiety

We all know that faith is the foundation we need to be united with God. It's important to examine our faith and become clear about how true it is. As the Scripture asks, “Are you anxious about your life?” As you reflect on all your worries remember God knows all your needs. Worry will bring you no relief but remembering God, giving thanks, and seeking comfort and His grace, there is nothing that can cause us to worry.

We develop our faith by participating in the sacramental life of the church, especially regular participation in Holy Communion and Holy Confession. Also, we need a daily prayer life, in fact a life of prayer. The church fathers teach us the Jesus Prayer, which after repeating it over and over with our love of God and sincere desire to be united with Him, becomes a way to connect with God instantly in our most difficult moment.
Of course, if we have a heart clouded by bodily passions and self-centered desires, we cannot see God. Therefore, we seek His grace, the Holy Spirit, to help us. To strengthen our own will so we can cooperate with His will we must fast as is shown on our Church Calendar, especially on Wednesday and Friday. Fasting is an important means to gain greater self-control and humility.

As we gain spiritual strength, our faith becomes strong. Then God allows His grace to flow through us and we become more able to do His will, not out of sense of obligation, but because we love God so much and have an unquenchable desire to be united with Him.

John Cassin writes,
Unless the grace of God comes to the help of our frailty, to protect and defend it, no man can withstand the insidious onslaughts of the enemy nor can he damp down or hold in check the fevers which burn in our flesh with nature's fire.

Conferences, Conference Two: On Discernment, Paulist Press pg. 74, 5th century
Ten Points for Orthodox Way of Life

Friday, November 24, 2017

How do you show a martyr's spirit in daily life?t

When we read about the martyrs of our faith don't we wonder how this virtuous action applies to us in our daily life?

As an example of martyrdom in our daily life, Elder Aimilianos told the following story :
Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn't be late. On the way, I asked the driver:
"Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?"
You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home.
"Every day" he told me, "both lunch and dinner."
"How do you manage it? What time do you eat?"
"Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning."
Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn't this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love.
Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one's own selfish needs for the benefit of another.

Think of some ways you show the spirit of martyrdom in your life. 

Reference: The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, pg 160 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Modern frustrations

Why do so many people think everything is on the wrong track? It has nothing to do with the economy or the government. The problem today is that society as a whole has moved away from a spiritual grounding. Now everyone expects happiness and well being to come from material benefits. Also strangers are no longer God's children but soulless individuals, objects, and many are seen as a threat to our material way of life. To think that a government leader can make us feel better is misguided thinking. Politics has become too important! Let's focus on the message of Christ and our individual spiritual growth. This must be our aim, to become united with Him.

Our problem has nothing to do with our physical or material well being. Our problem is a sickness of the soul. Our soul is clouded and distorted by our earthly passions and desires. The soul longs for its reunion with God, its natural state. The healing of this spiritual illness is what will lead us to peace and joy no matter what difficulties we face. This healing has nothing to do with governmental action. It requires sincere prayer and worship with a spirit of humility with continual repentance.

What we seek can be found in the Church and it's sacramental life where we are nurtured by the a Holy Spirit. When we know God we see all our shortcomings and begin to recognize the yearning of our soul to be perfected to be reunited with Christ. We begin to seek repentance and to eagerly come to worship and receive Christ Himself through our regular participation in Holy a Communion. We learn how to pray seeking the gift of His Grace instead of earthly benefits. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.

If you seek true happiness, joy and peace, practice the Orthodox way of life.

Ten points for an Orthodox way of Life

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer Is About Silence

When we begin to pray we experience prayer as a struggle. Because of our love and intense desire to be in communion with God we cry out to Him. This is a cry that comes from the depth of our heart. But when we find that our cry is not being heard what do we do?

Elder Aimilianos says the following:
It has to be transformed, reversed—into silence within an atmosphere of silence. God is the God of those who live in tranquility and silence.
This may seem contradictory. First we cry our from our depths with intense desire but then we change our direction to silence. But this is not a contradiction. It is a transformation. We must transform from trying to speak, to intent listening. This requires silence. It’s a sequence of successive steps.

The Elder says,
Everybody’s got to stop, including you, if you want to hear the other person. And if they are talking, the first thing you’ll say is “Shh!” and then you’ll speak, to make yourself heard. It’s this experience and this reality that we’ll go through when our soul has recourse to God, too.
What he is talking about is a progression in our prayer. We are making a monvement toward God. This happens in silence.

He says,
When prayer is about to leave from inside us, to become, truly, a movement towards God, then we will see a “silence within silence”. Absolute silence, in other words.
This means we have to learn to learn how to pray in silence while surrounded with noise. It helps to find a quiet place to pray as Jesus instructed His followers. He used to go away from the crowd to pray where it was quiet. This why it is best to pray at night or early in the morning when your surrounding are quieter.

If we are following our breath while saying the Jesus prayer there is a cycle of crying out and silence. When we breath we inhale and then exhale. There is a midway point where we make a transition, an interval between these two movements. It is in the interval that we can find silence and listen for God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
I have to learn to keep this interval, this tuning, this setting of the ear, and then I’ll see that this is a fundamental thing in prayer, not the sound of my own voice... I have to learn to be silent, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God.
Resource: The Authentic Seal, pp 205-206
More on Prayer