Monday, January 16, 2017

The Desire for Heaven by St. Gregory of Nyssa

But so as not to fatigue your mind in vain by gazing out over the infinite, we’ll desist from poring over the nature of God Who lies beyond, because it’s impossible to understand Him. From what we’ve looked at, we’ve formed some sort of notion of His greatness, but all we’ve really gained is the knowledge that we’re unable to understand much else. And the more superior we believe the nature of God to be to our knowledge, the greater our sorrow is, because the summum bonum, from which we’ve been separated, is so great, and is such that we can’t bear any real knowledge of Him. 

And yet, sometimes we find ourselves in such close communion with God that it defies any attempt at explanation. And this God, Who’s beyond our comprehension, is so profoundly entrenched in our nature that we can actually be transformed in accordance with the original image, so that we seem to be new persons because of the absolute likeness. Because, whatever we think now about God, all of it was – once upon a time –  inside people. People once enjoyed incorruption and blessedness and composure and freedom. They didn’t know sorrow or the cares of life. They were closer to God and saw Him with a clear and free intellect, unhindered by any intermediate impediment. In short, all of this suggests to us the reason for the creation of the world, when it says that people were made in the image of God, that they lived in paradise and enjoyed the trees planted there. The fruit of these trees was life, knowledge and so on.

If we had all that, how is it possible not to mourn the disaster that befell us, when you compare and contrast the blessedness we knew then and today’s misery. We who were elevated have been humbled; we who were made in the image of the heavenly, have become dust; we who were destined to become royalty, are slaves; we who were created immortal have been destroyed by death; we who enjoyed the delights of paradise have been transported to this afflicted and wearisome place.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Concerning Progress by St. Ambrose of Optina

In your letter on the 18th of January, you passed on to me your son's question: "According to the Gospel, before the end of the world, mankind will be in the most horrible state that it has ever been in. This condition rejects the possibility of the continual moral perfecting of mankind. If one accepts this, is it possible to continue laboring for the good of mankind? Why continue laboring for the improvement of mankind if one is convinced that it is impossible to achieve moral perfection for mankind before the end of the world?"

In your letter on March 24, you asked the same question in a different way: "The duty of a Christian is to do good and to strive so that good triumphs over evil. It says in the Gospel that evil will triumph over good at the end of the world. By what means can we strive for the triumph of good over evil, knowing that our strivings will not be crowned by success and that evil will win in the end?"

Tell your son that evil has already been conquered. Evil has not been conquered by human might and strivings, but by our Lord and Saviour Himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God; Who descended from heaven, became man, and suffered as a man; Who vanquished the power of evil along with its originator, the devil who held dominion over the human race, through His suffering on the Cross and through His Resurrection. The Lord freed us from demonic, sinful slavery. He himself has said: Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy... (Lk. 10: 19). In the mystery of Baptism, power is given to all believing Orthodox Christians to trample upon evil and to do good. This is accomplished by fulfilling the Gospel commandments. No one can be forcibly bound by evil except those who are careless in keeping God's commandments, and especially those who voluntarily give into sin.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Nativity and Baptism of Christ

When we talk about the birth of Christ we are speaking of two births. One is the pre-eternal birth of the Word from the Father, according to the divine nature, and the other is the birth in time from the All-Holy Virgin, according to the human nature. This refers to Christ’s two natures: the divine and the human.

“The important thing is that this Word, before His birth in the flesh, is like the Father in every respect. He does not come from nothing. The Word has two births. One birth was before all ages and the other birth was in time, which is the birth as a man, the incarnation.”

This theological fact is revelational and above all it is empirical, as the glorified flesh of Christ becomes a source of life for the members of the Church, particularly the saints.

“It is not only the Old and New Testaments that clearly teach the fact that the Word, the Lord of Glory, Who is God by nature and co-essential (homoousios) with the Father, truly took flesh and was born in His own normal and separate humanity of the Virgin Mary – who is literally, really and truly the Theotokos or Mother of God. Thus He became man by nature, not just by indwelling, and, as the Word in flesh, He became co-essential with us through His humanity. This truth is clearly revealed to all who have reached glorification, from which they learn empirically that Christ is the Word, that He is God by nature and man by nature, and also by nature the source of glory. He passes on to His human nature the existence of the source of glory, by means of which the actual flesh of the Word becomes the source of our life and life-giving, because the Word Himself is incarnate, and on account of the union and exchange of natural properties between the divine and human natures of the Word.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The So-Called Apocrypha

During the 1500’s, Martin Luther desired to create a translation of the Scriptures into his native tongue of German. To translate the Old Testament into German he decided to use the Hebrew Scriptures that were in use by his local Jewish community called the Masoretic Text.
Because these books were not found in the Masoretic text, Luther considered them a lower form of Scripture. Yet, these books are found in the much earlier translation, the Septuagint.

He was unaware that this text had been altered by the Jews to counteract early Christians who were using the scriptures to convert Jews to Christianity. The Old Testament that those early Christians used was called the Septuagint.

The Masoretic text does not include many books that are found in the Septuagint. The Jews removed these in the Masoretic as effort to deter proselytizing. These books that were removed are called the Apocrypha. Jews in the time of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, and the early church called them Scripture.

When Luther made his translation, he did keep the Apocrypha in, but moved them to the back of the bible, and included a heading that read, “APOCRYPHA, that is, Books which are not to be esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, and yet which are useful and good to read.” Because these books were not found in the Masoretic text, Luther considered them a lower form of Scripture. Yet, these books are found in the much earlier translation, the Septuagint.

Despite what Luther felt about these books, Jesus seemed to know them very well:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Bible of the Early Church

300 years before Christ was born, the Hebrew bible, which Christians consider the Old Testament, was translated into Koine Greek. The title of this translation was called the Septuagint. It is this translation that was used by the Paul, the Apostles, and the early church. It is still in use by the Orthodox Church today, however, sadly, it is rejected by most modern Christians in favor of the Masoretic text.

Brief History of the Septuagint

After Alexander the Great conquered much of the know world, the Greek language become the common language in the Mediterranean. Over time Jews outside of Jerusalem ceased to understand Hebrew, but only Greek. Soon a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible was commissioned. It was translated by 72 scribes in 72 days called the Septuagint, which means “70” in Latin or LXX for short. The Septuagint was approved by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as an accurate translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint was the translation used throughout the Mediterranean. Both Jews in and out of Jerusalem were familiar with it and considered it Holy Scripture. It is evident that Jesus and the Apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint because of the 350 (approx) quotes of the Old Testament contained in the New Testament, 300 are from the Septuagint. The Apostles used the Septuagint on their missionary journeys. Greek speaking Jews were converting to Christianity because, in part, of what they were reading in the Septuagint.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fasting Is Important for Every Christian

Fasting, neither above nor below your ability, will help you in your vigil. One should not ponder divine matters on a full stomach, say the ascetics. For the well-fed, even the most superficial secrets of the Trinity lie hidden. Christ Himself set the example with His long fast; when He drove out the devil, He had fasted for forty days. Are we better than He? "Behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:11)." They are waiting to minister to you, too. 

Fasting tempers loquacity, says Saint John Climacus. it is an outlet for compassion and a guard upon obedience; it destroys evil thoughts and roots out the insensibility of the heart. Fasting is a gate to paradise; when the stomach is constricted, the heart is humbled. He who fasts prays with a sober mind, but the mind of the intemperate person is filled with impure fancies and thoughts. 

Fasting is an expression of love and devotion, in which one sacrifices earthly satisfaction to attain the heavenly. Altogether too much of one's thoughts are taken up with care for sustenance and the enticements of the palate; one wishes to be free from them. Thus fasting is a step on the road of emancipation and an indispensable support in the struggle against selfish desires. Together with prayer, fasting is one of humanity's greatest gifts, carefully cherished by those who once have participated in it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Questions Often Asked About the Mother of God

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (St. Luke 1:38)

During the Holy Divine Liturgy the Priest exclaims in prayer: "Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another  and our whole life to Christ our God". The response by the people is: "To Thee, O Lord".

Many people have e-mailed me about the teachings of the Most Holy Ever-Virgin Mary Mother of God, from an Eastern Orthodox point of view. The Ever-Virgin Mary (Aeiparthenos), the Most Holy Theotokos or the Birthgiver of God, and finally also called the Panaghia (All Holy Lady). Without a doubt, the event of Christ our Lord and Savior is the central focus of our history of salvation. These events of the life Christ our Lord and true God is fully understood also by those who have experienced its awesome reality.

In our Eastern Orthodox faith we turn fervently to the most beloved Mother of our Savior Jesus Christ, asking her to pray for us, but only in the since of intercession on our humble behalf. We of course too look to the holy apostles, saints, the martyrs and the holy prophets whom we often ask to humbly pray for us sinners, just as we ask one another for prayers.

We need to fully understand that in order to know the Mother of God, we must look to both Holy Tradition, and to Holy Scripture, as well as to the teachings of the holy Fathers of our Church, in addition to the results of the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, that fully and spiritually give the Eastern Orthodox Christians an understanding and as well spiritual guide lines in knowing the Ever-Virgin Mary.