Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Imperishable Life of Jesus Christ

"The hope for change...does not then come from inspired programs, but from inspired clergy, that is, when the clergy are truly aspiring to become useful vessels of God. The fate of the Church lies primarily in who the clergy are becoming rather than what they do."

Here is a worthwhile read about a modern-day church scandal which is in the process of being turned around for the glory of God. Nothing flashy mind you. No big programs, clever methods or exalted committees. This is an account rather of how one man's dedication to follow the commands of Christ is transforming the life of a city. This is a story about how the authentic holiness of a simple monk turned bishop (Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis and Preveza) became contagious and a veritable evangelistic tour de force. There are some universal lessons to be had from this account.

Even though Stephen Lloyd-Moffett initially started out his decade long study to discover a practical model for spiritual transformation, in the process he came to question the very validity of developing such a model. To his surprise he discovered that Bishop Meletios never set out to develop or use a program. Instead, through his own example, he restored the integrity of his priests; he set out to restore the church experience to its spiritual, aesthetic and traditional glory; and he labored to educate the people and re-establish monasticism.

As surely as Metropolitan Meletios did not use a "model" or program, Stephen Lloyd-Moffett did however analyze his encounter with Bishop Meletios and the people of Preveza in what he calls this "dynamic process in which the ancient faith finds its home in the modern world", and presents these notable principles.

  1. The Church is and must remain "of God" and not "of man". Programs and designs are based on human arrogance, a desire to play God. "The purpose of the leaders of the Church should be to act as a conduit or vessel of the divine, not a marketing arm of God."
  2. The bishop and clergy must lead and witness by their own example. "the hope of the Church is found in each of its representatives living within the imperishable Life of Christ"
  3. The Church must be universal in scope and uniting in action. Christ died for all people and therefore the Church is to remain independent from political affiliation and entanglements.
  4. The Church must cultivate the external elements of faith in parallel to the internal elements. Authentic faith in Christ will influence the external elements of our life.
  5. The Church should integrate monastics into the community. Monastics serve as an inspiration to others by means of their holiness and complete dedication to Christ.

The value of this book is in its refreshing approach it offers to the common struggles the Church faces in the modern world. We must change while remaining unchanged; we must shine while embracing obscurity. The power of true, authentic spirituality is the very power of God in our midst.

"Our hope does not lie in trendy charismatic revivals, clever programs, or well designed worldly motivators. Our hope is not placed in a human institution. Our hope is in God. As long as the true nature of the Church is not forgotten, we will never lose hope and fall into despair no matter what the circumstances we face. Yet this hope is predicated upon an understanding of the Church as the mystical vessel of God's grace and will. It is not an institution we run, but a mystery in which we dwell. Only then will we be energized by the imperishable Life of Jesus Christ."

May we all be energized by the imperishable Life of Christ indeed. There is much work to do, much transformation needed. First and foremost by and in me. May God in His ineffable mercy grant it so.

Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words of Wisdom from the Abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura

Every day, we ask ourselves, do we know the Lord’s will? Do we love the Lord’s will? Do we do it with yearning and love? For example, the monk who first comes to the monastery, no matter what he read about monasticism or self-sacrifice and the spiritual life and service, he read it from a distance. So very quickly he is surprised once he is in the monastery that he is not able to be obedient, for example, that he cannot sacrifice. If he is hasty, he does not stand firm and does not bear fruit and he leaves himself to boredom and despair, and departs. The one who knows himself perfectly, that he cannot be obedient, that he cannot be humble, that he does not possess true virtues, in his patience and his harmony with monastery’s order and discipline, becomes holy because he acquires these virtues with patience and he bears good fruit. Then, when he talks to you about discipline, you can understand something. If he talks to you before having gained experience, before having reached this point of brokenness, sacrifice, and obedience in all humility, he cannot talk to you because all you hear out of his mouth is gibberish and incomprehensible words, since they do not spring from experience. For this reason it says: they bear fruit with patience, that is that they persist in this every day. Virtue does not come so quickly and we do not quickly become great saints, because it’s not magic and it’s not just a button that we push. It takes the whole life and sacrifice until death in order to bear good fruit.

Read the whole thing Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Union with God

"Beatitude consists not in knowing something about God but in having Him within us."

- St. Gregory of Nyssa

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apophatic Theology: the End of Knowledge?

It would seem that the apophatic or negative approach to theology would be the end of knowledge, or else a slide into nonsense, nihilism or gnostic subjectivism. The basis of the negative approach after all is the acknowledgment that its subject is that which is by nature inaccessible, beyond comprehension, beyond intellection. This would seem to make it entirely useless as far as the acquisition of objective knowledge. Yet, paradoxically, far from being esoteric or an aberration it is understood to be, and indeed has been, a normative approach by the Eastern Orthodox church from her beginnings. How can this be? How can the apophatic approach then be beneficial to theology, and indeed to the Christian life?

Vladimir Lossky sees this paradox and the implied apophatic attitude as part and parcel of Christian revelation:

"the transcendent God becomes immanent in the world, but in the very immanence of His economy, which leads to the incarnation and death on the cross, He reveals Himself as transcendent, as ontologically independent from all created being."

An apophatic approach then would hardly be optional. God is revealed as beyond our being, beyond being, beyond concept, time, space, thought and understanding. A positive approach (kataphatic theology) then, which affirms God is good, light, just, merciful etc., brings us to a certain point but ultimately falls short. Lossky posits that negative theology offers an "apprehension of supreme ignorance" and a mystical knowledge superior to the intellect, so here we start to see the usefulness of apophaticism:

"The negative way of the knowledge of God is an ascendant undertaking of the mind that progressively eliminates all positive attributes of the object it wishes to attain, in order to culminate finally in a kind of apprehension of supreme ignorance of Him who cannot be an object of knowledge."

So we can speak of knowledge, however it is a knowledge beyond our intellect. But would this not give way to gnosticism as a path to secret, deeper knowledge, or to provide subjectivism fertile ground? Not so if this mystical knowledge is not contrary to the rest of Christian revelation:

Just as iconographic "antinaturalistic" apophaticism is not iconoclasm, so also the antirationalistic negative way is not gnosimachian: it cannot result in the suppression of theological thought without detriment to the essential fact of Christianity: the incarnation of the Word, the central event of revelation, which makes iconography as well as theology possible.

Apophatic theology then is not the end of knowledge but a very necessary method to allows us to go beyond created being, indeed beyond ourselves. And that, to me, seems to be a good thing. Quotes are from Vladimir Lossky's "In the Image and Likeness of God". A related post with interesting comments in the combox can be found at Energetic Procession.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where there is no love, nothing bears fruit and nothing leavens.

Thanks to the tireless labor of translation by Samn! over at Notes on Arab Orthodoxy once again a terrific article by Archimandrite Touma is ours to partake. Archimandrite Touma is Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite in Douma, Lebanon.

"Most of the problems that believers have encountered across history, as compared to non-believers, are on account of the disappearance of divine love among them. Why did Constantinople fall? Because in general the love of God was no longer active among the people. Why do groups of believers rise up against each other and break communion among themselves? Primarily because of a lack of love. Why did the Lord God permit the emergence of Islam? Because the divine love between us and among us had faded and some of us rose up against each other and so Islam was a great chastisement! Why do some Muslims consider the Christians among us to be crusaders and thus their enemies? Because the Crusaders, in the name of Christ, abandoned the love of Jesus and went to war, maiming and destroying. Why did novel teachings and heresies spread here and there? Naturally, because the Devil is at work, but also because at time because of a lack of love in us we do not properly embrace people and guide them, and so they take offence and go into error. The Lord’s last commandment in the Gospel of Matthew was: “Go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). Why have the believers, or those who are considered to be believers, not succeeded in making disciples of all nations after two thousand years, when the Holy Spirit was given in the Church to the world, but to the contrary a very large portion of them have abandoned the Faith? Because they left their first love (Revelation 2:4) and to a large extent behaved in the spirit like pharisaical Jews. From where did disbelief and worldliness enter the world? From the hardness of hearts of a great many Christians and their disbelief in the faith of the Gospel. From where comes blasphemy against the name of Jesus? From the Devil who does not have the love of Jesus in him and from his workers among the non-Christians, but especially from his workers among those who are called Christians who no longer have the love of Jesus in them and they bear false witness against Him in the spirit. There is much talk of theology today: books, libraries, institutes, studies, all the media, internet sites…. But there is only a little of the Spirit! Many personalities but little spirituality! Why? Because the love of Jesus has faded in our hearts and they have grown cold. Where there is no love, nothing bears fruit and nothing leavens. Labor, however shining its appearance, however profound and fresh and valuable it may be, where there is not divine love, the Devil makes for himself a place to live! To a people who have come to sanctify knowledge without faith active through love in the Church except formally, I will recall the words of the Apostle Paul: “If I have all knowledge… but I do not have love, then I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). I will also say that the richest library of knowledge about God in existence is the Devil’s library! There is nothing more expansive than the Devil’s archives! There, there is everything that can be known about God, but without the Spirit of God and without love!"

Read the whole thing here.