Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Appearing and Disappearing God

Does God hide?

I don't think I am alone in wondering how and why it is that God seems to appear and disappear - at times to be close and at other times to be quite distant. St. Simeon the New Theologian relates his experience:

I have often seen the light, sometimes it has appeared to me within myself, when my soul possessed peace and silence, sometimes it has appeared only at a distance, and at times it was even hidden completely. Then I experienced great affliction, believing that I would never see it again. But from the moment when I began to shed tears, when I bore witness to a complete detachment from everything, and to an absolute humility and obedience, the Light appeared once again, like the sun which dissipates the thickness of the clouds and reveals itself little by little, bringing joy. Therefore thou, Unspeakable, Invisible, Untouchable One, moving all things, revealing thyself and hiding thyself at every hour, thou hast disappeared and appeared before me day and night.

So it would seem that God is involved in some sort of elaborate game of hide and seek. But is this so, does God hide Himself from us? Is He playing games with us? It certainly does seem like that. But St. Simeon has more to say as he continues relating his experience:

Slowly thou hast dispelled the darkness which was in me, thou hast dissipated the cloud which covered me, thou hast opened my spiritual hearing, thou hast purified the pupil of the eye of my spirit. Finally having formed me according to thy will, thou hast revealed thyself to my shining soul, becoming invisible to me once more. And suddenly thou didst appear as another sun, O ineffable divine condenscension... O thou, who hast no place to hide thyself; for thou hast never hidden thyself from sight, never hast thou despised any one, but rather it is we who have hidden ourselves, unwilling to approach Thee.

So it is not that God disappears but rather that it is we who are like Adam and Eve, shunning our Creator. Is this a game? No,I suggest we ought to understand this as a healing process, as life long path to restoration, towards healing, towards beholding the Light. It is we who are blind, who are sick and need to come to learn to see our Physician who awaits us, who never left nor hid Himself.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tree should be healed by a Tree

There is a great hymn we sang for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Here it is mentioned that Adam by means of a Tree was deceived, but that healing also came by means of a Tree. Quite profound:

Come, all you nations,
let us fall down in worship before the blessed Tree,
by which eternal justice has come to pass!
For he who deceived Adam by a Tree
is caught by the lure of the Cross;
and he who held under his tyranny the creature endowed by God with
royal dignity
is brought down in a headlong fall.
The serpent's venom is washed away by the blood of God,
and the curse of just condemnation is undone
when the Just One is condemned by an unjust judgment.
For it was fitting that the Tree should be healed by a Tree,
and that by the Passion of the passionless God
what was wrought on the Tree should destroy the passions of man,
who was condemned.
But glory to Your dread dispensation for our sakes, O Christ the King,
through which You have saved us all
since You are good and the Lover of mankind!

Fr. Stephen has a great post about this very subject.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gospel, Earthly and Heavenly Things

“The Gospels do not speak of earthly things, but of heavenly things, teaching us a different life and polity, new riches and poverty, unprecedented freedom and bondage, another kind of life and death, a
different world and other - not like Plato, who contrived that ridiculous Republic of his, nor like Zeno and the other politicians, philosophers, and lawmakers. For all of them had the following common attribute: they revealed that the evil spirit secretly inspired their souls. Our own conscience which protests proves that all their ideas
were demonic devices, and all their teachings contrary to nature”
(St. John Chrysostom, Homily I on the Gospel According to St. Matthew).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Purity, Theology and True Intelligence

Some further reflections on the subject of knowledge, faith and some thoughts as to what comes from what. I have used knowledge and theology in a specific sense, not as it is commonly understood. I ran into this interesting passage by Alexander Kalimoros:

Knowledge is the vision of God and of His creation in a heart purified by divine grace and the struggles and prayers of man. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.

Truth is not a series of definitions, but God Himself, “Who appeared
concretely in the person of Christ, Who said: “I am the Truth”.
Certainty is not a matter of intellectual harmony; it is a deep
assurance of the heart. It comes to man after inner vision and is
accompanied by the warmth of divine grace. Intellectual harmony, which is the outcome of a logical ordering of things, is never accompanied by this assurance.

The only way to knowledge is purity of heart. It alone permits the
indwelling of the Holy Trinity in man. In this way alone is God and
His whole creation known, without being conceptualized. He is known as He really is without becoming comprehensible and without being diminished in order to fit into the stiffing limits of the human intellect. Thus the mind (nous) of man, living and uncomprehending, comes into union with the living and incomprehensible God. Knowledge is the living contact of man with the Creator and His creation, in mutual love.
We see the same sentiments in Vladimir Lossky, for whom theology is communion, not primarily academic pursuit. "A theology that constitutes itself into a system is always dangerous. It imprisons in the enclosed sphere of thought the reality to which it must open thought." He then goes on to explain the relationship between faith and knowledge:

Christian adherence to a presence which confers certitude, in such a way that certitude here is first...What one quests is already present, precedes us, makes possible our question itself."Through faith, we comprehend (we think), how the ages have been produced" (Hebrews 11:3) Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true intelligence. Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Epistemology and Reason

Earlier today via email I had a discussion with an acquaintance about a statement I made that theology comes after repentance, understanding and knowledge (illumination) comes after communion. It is not the other way around, i.e. theology first and then repentance, or communion with God after understanding God. Theology is a gift from God, it is indeed communion with God. This clashes with our modern, western accepted modes of thinking about how we come to know what we know.

It is an important distinction, for often it would seem to us that indeed it is the other way around - first I know, then I believe; out of theologizing comes communion with God. Evidence for this, or so the argument goes, is that some sort of knowledge (the existence and love of God for instance) is needed to believe in God. And this is certainly so, but my argument is that this "knowledge" is but a very general knowledge at best, often nothing more than mere intuition. Such as we can see with the Ethopian who did not understand the scriptures and had to be instructed - truly what knowledge did he have? This common knowledge may be a vague intuition, a draw of the heart towards God, a whisper of a calling to turn towards God, a desire for closeness with God. So I hold that repentance comes before illumination and that right belief comes from right communion. The Ethopian communed with the Apostle, and illumination followed. We see this time and again in other examples. Moses meets God and receives understanding after his separation and ascend on Mt. Sinai. Saul of Tarsus receives his sight after repentance; communion with God precedes illumination, Saul becomes Paul the theologizer par excellence. (as an aside, we can see an ontological change in these individuals - they have been truly changed)

From a western, protestant perspective (such as from which I came), it is very difficult to come to terms with this. We like to figure all of it out first, and then give our consent if God meets our requirements (whatever those may be). Such are not the ways of God.

Since we have inherited this western approach to truth (to life, to meaning, to salvation etc.), I think it is important to make this clarification. I know many people who are struggling with this. Sure we should study and reason, but who do we commune with, whose authority will we accept? What is a sure foundation to be the basis for knowledge, and how are we to acquire it? Is the experience of God a possibility?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Barren Field Gives Birth to Fertile Ground

Today we celebrate the Holy and Righteous Ancestors of God, Sts Joachim and Anna.

O Joachim and Anna, holy couple,
from your barrenness a holy root has sprung.
From her shone Christ our God, the Savior of the world.
You have gone to dwell in the heavenly mansions,
to join the most pure Virgin, your daughter.
You dance with the Angels as you pray for the world.
We gather this day to praise in song your righteousness.
Through all-holy Mary, the child of God,
you became the ancestors to Christ.
Intercede with Him to save our souls!

History Revised - Those Noble-Minded Bereans

John at Notes From a Common Place Book has a very interesting post up.

By way of his recent travels he shares his experience as a member of the Church of Christ. It does not cease to amaze me how one's doctrinal position can distort history, the present and perhaps even the future.

Read it here Notes from a Common-place Book: 2010 Travel Notes #16: Those Noble-Minded Bereans

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Beautifying Your Creature

You are wonderful, O God, and wondrous are Your works!
All Your ways are unsearchable!
For You are the Wisdom and perfect Hypostasis and Power of God;
Your working together is co-unoriginate and co-eternal;
therefore, by Your almighty power, You came into the world, seeking to
beautify Your creature,
in an inexpressible manner—from a Mother who had not known man,
yet, not changing in Your Godhead;
for You plan the seasons and the ages to accomplish our salvation, O
Changeless One.
Therefore we cry out to You:
“O Good Lord, glory to You!”

A New Year and Prelude to Joy.

It is very interesting to take a look at the beginning of the new church year which started on September 1. The very first major Feast we celebrate (September 8) is the birth of the Theotokos. This is not insignificant.

Today the gates of barrenness are opened,
and the virgin gate of God comes forth.
Today grace begins to bear its first fruit,
revealing to the world the Mother of God.
Through her things on earth are joined with the heavens
for the salvation of our souls.

The very beginning of our salvation is not the birth of Christ, but the birth of His mother - "today grace begins to bear its first fruit". Through her obedience the Incarnation was made possible, the Incarnation by which "things on earth are joined with the heavens". Truly miraculous, indeed the salvation of our souls.

Today is the prelude of universal joy;
today breezes blow that herald salvation,
and the barrenness of our nature is dispelled;
for the barren woman is revealed as the mother
of her who remained a virgin
after giving birth to the Creator.
From her the One Who is God by nature
takes what is foreign to Him and makes it His own;
and works salvation through the flesh for those who have gone astray.
He is Christ, the Lover of mankind and the Redeemer of our souls.

The barren woman of course is St. Anna, the grandmother of Christ, and through her "the barrenness of our nature is dispelled". Again we come to see the Incarnation, "the One Who is God by nature takes what is foreign to Him and makes it His own; and works salvation through the flesh".

Blessed Feast!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Calm Harbor

"Here in the church there is the one thing needful: Here is a refuge from the vanity and the storms of life. Here is the calm harbor for souls seeking after salvation. Here is incorruptible food and drink for the soul. Here is the light that enlightens all men existing upon earth. Here is the clean air of the spirit. Here is the fountain of living water which flows to life eternal (John 4:14). Here are distributed the gifts of the Holy Spirit, here is the cleansing of souls. The reading and chanting is done in church in a holy language. All Orthodox Christians should learn it, that they might understand the sweet pronouncements of their mother, who educates her children to prepare them for heaven, for life eternal…. Here in the temple, man comprehends the truly noble origin of his soul, the worth of life and its goal and purpose. Here he is torn away from his fascination with earthly vanities and passions. Here he comprehends his temporal and eternal fate. Here the Savior lives in His Life-giving Mysteries, in His salvation. Here he recognizes his true relationship to God and to his neighbor, to his family and to the society in which he lives.

The temple is heaven on earth, a place where intimate union with the Divine takes place. It is a heavenly school, where Christians are taught to become citizens of heaven, where they are taught heavenly norms, the way of life in heaven. It is the threshold of heaven, a place of communal prayer, thanksgiving, and praise of the Triune God, creator and protector of all. It is a place of unification with the angels. What is more honorable and more esteemed than the temple? Nothing. In its Divine Services, as in a blueprint, are severally depicted the fates of all humanity, from beginning to end. The Divine Services are the alpha and omega of the world and of mankind."

St. John of Kronstadt

h/t Word from the Desert

For more about St. John, see here and here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Long way to go yet.

Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth.

Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

The gift of God and of knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love, and humility, reside.

The following is a sign of the coming of the Spirit: the person whom the Spirit has overshadowed is made perfect in these very virtues.

God is reality. The person whose mind has become aware of God does not even possess a tongue with which to speak, but God resides in his heart with great serenity. He experiences no stirring of zeal nor argumentativeness, nor is he stirred by anger. He cannot even be aroused concerning the faith.

St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh), 7th century