Christ the Teacher

Christ the Teacher

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Standing Fast in the Face of Scandal and Corruption

There is a scandal of monumental proportions within the Catholic Church that seems to reach all the way up to the Vatican.  The culture of the hierarchy smells of rot. The news in the East is filled with talk of schism as the Ecumenical Patriarch has signaled his intent to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church what is called autocephalous status, or self rule.  This strikes at the Russian Orthodox Church who have had the Ukrainians as part of their fold for centuries.

Secular governments, for a number of years now, have been embracing things like abortion and gay marriage.  This is not perhaps so new, but what is new and radically different is that places like Ireland and some countries of Latin America, very faithful countries, have been falling to the post-modern, and increasingly post-Christian, mind set.  Our cultural values are changing very rapidly. For me at least, it feels like the solid foundation that I once walked upon has been replaced by sand, wet sand, quicksand even!

One wonders, what is going on?  Where is this all headed?

Make no mistake, this division, the confusion, and the apostasy have the devil as its source.  And certainly, we cooperate with all this through our own pride and the passion of people pleasing.  To a certain degree, most of us want to get along and join in the new ideas, these new ways of understanding.  Even something as unchangeable as your gender is no longer firm. You can go to the doctor and change it!

Is there anything left that is firm, solid?

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always will be the same.  To think that He has changed His mind about things written in the Scriptures is pure hogwash, blasphemy even.  

And so, what are we to do?  What are we to believe?

Well, just because something is new doesn’t make it wrong or right, but we must try to see through things, we must seek wisdom.  It can be a minefield. It is a minefield! And so, as the Prophet Jeremiah tells us, I think this is what we must do:

Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

We must stand firm.  We must hold fast. As St. Paul urges us: Hold fast to the traditions! (see 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15).

This means living a holy life.  We must fast, pray, be merciful (“give alms”), and we must follow the law, the teachings that Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon is HIS plan for our salvation and our happiness.

One of our problems today is that we have been overwhelmed by much Evangelical and Protestant thinking.  It seems to me that this has led us to a watering down of the Traditional Faith. This is to our detriment.  We are no long Catholics and Orthodox in the truest sense. We have gone for the thinking that, “What is in your heart is what matters.” Or, we say, “Just believe in Jesus.  That’s all you need.”

If that were true, why did Jesus go to the trouble of giving us this masterpiece of the Sermon on the Mount?  Why did St. Paul, and all the Apostles and many early saints go to the trouble of suffering for the Gospel? Why didn’t they just knuckle under to the Emperor and then “just believe in Jesus?”

Because what we do matters!

I hear the objections all the time that Jesus is just giving us the ultimate example in His teachings but He really doesn’t expect us to fulfill them.  The Sermon on the Mount is what perfection looks like but we are human and full of sin so we can’t do it, He knows it, and so we just need to believe.

Well, of course we won’t fulfill His teachings with perfection, but we can follow the saints example and we can do our best.  We can follow His teachings and His interpretation of the law and keep it before our eyes. When we fail, we repent. We take up our cross daily and follow Him.  We can accept our sufferings.

In short, we must be an example contrary to our culture.  To speak to culture, we must stand out, not fit in. We must be joy filled examples of what our Savior and the saints teach.  Joy is in the Kingdom of God and not in this world or the things that the world offers us.

And so, to close, stand fast, stand firm.  Live the life of Jesus as much as you can. Read the Sermon on the Mount.  Do what you can. Repent of that which you are not able to do, but try again tomorrow.  Resist justifying your failures. Just repent and try again. Let us be obedient to our Savior and not to what our culture has become.  Trust in Him and not the princes of this world. They cannot save. He can.

Peace be with you.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Dealing with the Suffering of Scandal

I have had quite a long break from writing.  Work and the summer schedule has gotten the best of
me.  I will try now to get back to at least a post from time to time.

My summer reading program has been full as well.  One of the things that has gripped my attention is the scandal that involves the bishops of the American Catholic Church.  This scandal might even reach to the pope himself. Was it Pope Paul VI who said that the smoke of Satan was getting in through the cracks in the wall of the church?  Well, it certainly appears that many hierarchs have been under his influence here in the U. S. and within the walls of the Vatican itself.

And what do we do about it?  

Myself, I who worship at an Orthodox Church, and no longer consider myself Catholic, it is no doubt different than many who live and breathe within the Roman Church.  And yet, how this has affected me! I still have a great admiration and joy for the Catholic Church. There are many saints who still influence me and part of me will always be Catholic in a sense.

As I begin to write this post, it is August 29, a common feast shared by Rome and the East: The Beheading of John the Baptist.  

My first comment is that I cannot begin to speak of the horror of the abuse victims.  Whatever I say will fall short and will not be appropriate to their suffering. All I can say to what has been said by multitudes is that I will add my prayers and my fasting in hopes that it will aid in healing.  Words, my words, will not add anything positive. And so I will offer up what I can to the Lord.

Second, as I look to this feast day, I see something that can give us hope.  John the Baptist, or John the Forerunner as he is know in the East, is pretty much the number two guy after the Blessed Virgin.  In the West he isn’t quite given the honor as it is given in the East. We see him as a giant among men. And he is. He spoke the truth.  He stuck his neck out. He didn’t much mind that the scribes and the Pharisees did not care for him. He spoke truth to the king. He eventually lost his head and his life for this.  He never backed down and he never lost his faith.

Scandal is not reserved for our times.  It has always been. People of power and privilege will always make allowances for themselves and give scandal to others.  This will happen in the Church as well.

I would caution patience to all.  Let the dust settle before you run out and become something other than Catholic.  Pray. Fast. Show acts of mercy to all. I have written about the Little Way on this blog from time to time.  What an excellent time to begin if you haven’t already. Show mercy. Let this scandal shed light on your own failings and sins.  You shouldn’t have to look too far.

My initial reaction was one of great anger and then a deep, deep sorrow.  Today, on this feast, I begin a time of extra prayer and hopefully a more fervent fast every Wednesday and Friday.  A quote today that I ran across from St. Mark the Ascetic is very appropriate too:

“We know that the Lord wants us to bear insults, mockery, and hardships with patience, while the devil desires the opposite.”

In other words, how do we become more like Jesus?  We endure what He endured. To become more like Him we must live and be like Him as much as we can.  Humility. Yes! This is the path. It is the path of theosis, becoming like our Lord. This takes humility.  As St. John the Forerunner said, “He must increase, I must decrease,” John 3:30. Yes, He must become more and more while I become less and less.  In doing so, I will become more loving, more peace filled, more patient, and more everything that is holy and good. And these will happen no matter what is going on around me!

One final note: very often when something happens, we want to do something, we want to react in some way, usually to fix the problem.  I know this is something that I do when something happens to me in my personal life. I have to fix it. One thing I have learned from the saints is that we often cannot fix it.  We must just weep over it. We must let “it” change us before we can change “it,” whatever “it” is.

You following me?  

When something happens, what is the lesson in it for me?  What seed is there for my growth? What can I take away that is for my salvation?  What wisdom must I learn? Oh, there is so much that I must learn! Most of it does not involve my rational thought or mind.  Suffering can teach us. Yes, it can teach us very much if we allow it. Our instinct is to punish or reject or run. But let us sit and listen as much as we can and we may find some kernels of wisdom, pearls that may change the direction of our life.

May the Lord be with you.  Peace always.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Our Attitude in Suffering

How well we suffer is dependent upon our attitude in suffering.  Do we complain when trials come upon us? Do we blame others? What should our attitude be?  Well, for a little warm up, I’d like to share some scriptures with you.

Read Psalm 49.  Basically, we pray in this Psalm that we understand that everyone will die.  The rich, the poor, the wise, and the foolish will all come to perish. All our wealth will be passed on to someone else.  Part of this death, and part of the life that precedes it is going to have to deal with suffering, whether you are rich, poor, wise, or foolish.  we all have to deal with suffering. So, we may as well learn how to suffer well.

This is from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord,
   your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
   who teaches you to profit,
   who leads you in the way you should go.
O that you had hearkened to my commandments!
   Then your peace would have been like a river,
   and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;

Isaiah 48:17-18

“Your peace would have been like a river….”

Often, I hear people refer to verses like this one and make the point that by following the Lord, He will make life peaceful and happy, life will be sweet.  They see this (or other similar verses) as a proof that following God will save us from suffering, or at least suffering that comes from the punishment we receive from disobeying God.  

This interpretation is wrong on a number of points.  When we suffer, it really isn’t God punishing us. Sometimes, it is the evil of others that cause the righteous to suffer, for example.  Sometimes we make bad decisions, not necessarily sinful ones, that cause us to suffer. Anyway, one thing the Lord is telling us through the prophet is that even if we suffer, we can have inner peace, even joy, and other positive emotions.  Perhaps it is only through our trials and suffering that we truly come to trust in the Lord and stop trusting ourselves.

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.”
2 Corinthians 4:16.  

Our inner nature is being renewed every day.  Oh yes, the outer nature, our bodies and what people see is often “wasting away” with age or illness.  Yes, this can take a toll on us. And I don’t mean to minimize this in the least. We can suffer greatly in the body.  Look at cancer treatment as one example. People can suffer horribly and often they still die. But, as Jesus says, we must seek the Kingdom of God first.  We must place Him at the center of our lives. Then what we truly need will be given. Perhaps this is a long life, or perhaps it will be a short life, but no matter what, whatever is best will be given for our salvation.  In this we must trust. We might suffer for it, but through whatever we encounter, we must bring ourselves back to the Lord.

Our culture today does not have this attitude.  We seek pleasure and a long life. Whatever impedes this is called evil. We must try to view life through the lens of the divine and also look to the lives of the saints.  What was the life of Jesus on this earth? He suffered. What about the saints? Oh, they suffered too. So, when we suffer, we must see that we are in good company.

We often talk glibly about communion.  Looking at this word more closely, isn’t it true that to have communion with someone is to become one, or in union, with that person?  We “go” to communion, or we “have” communion at church. But do we? Do we really have communion with our Lord? Do we have union with the saints?  What about those people more intimate to us? Do we have a communion with them?

We might do well to ponder on this idea of communion and ask ourselves how this can manifest itself in our lives.  Our culture pretty much tells us it is good to be together and have fun, but how often are we encouraged to give our lives to another and draw near to them and suffer, even to suffer ourselves, as we become the caregiver or perhaps help them in a sacrificial way.

I remember reading an article about 15 years ago by someone who advocated that we NOT sacrifice for others.  We deserve to live our lives free from the encumberment of others. She told a story of a young woman who put her life on hold to take care of her parents who were suffering a health problem.  This woman, a young woman, was admirable to me. She was abused in her young life. She went to live on her own and was very successful. As her parents aged and declined she felt a guilt of sorts and felt she needed to care for them.  She quit her job and moved back in with her parents and cared for them until they died. She really gave up her life for her parents. What a great and wonderful thing! But not so for this author. She belittled this courageous woman and said she made a poor decision and that she had no responsibility to her parents but only to herself to “make something of herself.”

Is this what we have become?  

I do not recall if this woman was any kind of a Christian or even a spiritual person, but what she did speaks to me of what kind of thing a person who loves Christ would do, if it were at all possible.  Not all of us have the means perhaps to do what she did, but I hope and pray that each of us are able to take on some sort of suffering for the betterment of another person, to be able to sacrifice for another.  We might even help ourselves. This experience might even save ourselves. It would certainly save us from the passion of being selfish, but it may also even save us for eternity with the Lord.

Yes, we will all die as the Psalmist says above.  Our outer selves will waste away. Recognizing this might just be one of the most important ideas of life and living.  It might save our souls. It might set us free to become who we were truly meant to be. It might go a long ways to helping us reach out to other people to help them and allow ourselves to be helped.  We will need that too, you know. There will come a time when I need help, even just to live and to walk and to eat. I need to help others too. I need communion. And maybe it is a little suffering that will open my heart to this need for communion, with others and with the Lord.  Or that we see the suffering of others that causes a change. I pray that I can be like that woman I read about many years ago who laid her life down for love of another.

Peace be with you.

Monday, April 16, 2018

On the Trials and Suffering of LIfe

“Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 12.

We don’t want to be persecuted.  We don’t even want to be treated differently.  We even want to be treated better than others. Persecution?  Oh, this separates us into opposing camps almost, those that wish to appease the culture and those who fight against it.  Another way to see it is one camp will be blessed today with earthly blessings, the other camp will someday enjoy heavenly blessings.

I heard a quote once, and I am not sure who this was, I guess it was Father Thomas Hopko.  He said, “The function of the Church is to break your heart.” What he meant was that we so easily get into pride, people pleasing, and thinking that in our home parishes that all should be easy and light.  No! Our local parishes function to guide us on the road to spiritual growth. The local church exists to dash the illusion that the spiritual journey is always sweet and light. On the contrary, the spiritual life is the narrow path, the difficult road, it contains things we would rather not encounter.  And when we encounter these things, it is as if our feelings are hurt and we suffer, we are in pain to a certain degree. Our hearts are broken. And they will remain broken hearts and we will be in danger to leave the Church and go our own way unless we realize that this truly is the path, the narrow way, the way that leads to repentance and the Kingdom of God.

Here is a very long quote by St. Silouan the Athonite:

In the beginning we’re drawn by God with the gift of grace, and once we’ve been drawn to Him, then starts a long trial period. Our freedom and trust in God are tested, and tested hard.

At first, our petitions towards God, whether small or great, even our pleas which have only just been expressed, are usually fulfilled in a swift and marvellous way by God.

When the period of trials comes, however, then everything changes and it’s as if the heavens are closed and He’s deaf to all our supplications.

For fervent Christians, everything in life becomes difficult. People’s behaviour towards them worsens: they cease to respect them; don’t make allowances for them as they do with others; and pay them less than the legal minimum wage. Their bodies become susceptible to diseases. Nature, people, everything turns against them. 

Even though their natural talents are no fewer than those of others, they don’t find favourable conditions to put them to use. On top of that, they endure many attacks from demonic forces and the final blow is the unbearable sadness caused by Divine abandonment.

That’s the height of their suffering, because the whole person is afflicted on every level of their being. 

Does God abandon humankind?.. Is this possible?..

And instead of the soul experiencing God’s proximity, in its place comes a feeling that He is infinitely far away, so far that He’s unreachable, beyond the astral worlds and that all appeals to Him are helplessly lost in the vastness of cosmic space. The soul internally intensifies its cry to Him, but sees neither help nor attention as yet. That’s when everything becomes burdensome.

Everything’s accomplished with a disproportionate amount of effort. Life is filled with toil and we experience a churning feeling that God’s curse and fury are weighing down on us.

When all these trials have passed, however, then we see that God’s marvellous providence has been carefully protecting us in every aspect of our lives.

Experience of a thousand years, [Saint Silouan is speaking as a Russian and this was the length of time from the conversion of the nation to Christianity] handed down from generation to generation, says that, when God sees the faith of the soul of those struggling for Him, as He saw Job’s faith, then He leads them to abysses and heights that are inaccessible to others.

The stronger and more complete our faith and trust in God, the greater the measure of the trial and the plenitude of experience, which can become extremely profound. Then it becomes clear that a limit has been reached, one which humankind can’t cross.

St. Silouan beautifully captures the essence of the Christian life.  Yes, this is what happens. Most people want to cut out the part of suffering.  We view suffering in our lives as a disapproval from God or even punishment from Him.  No! This is not true. This is the demons whispering into your ear to lay down your cross and not follow Him!  Yes! Remember what Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it,” Luke 9:23-24.

Jesus did not carry a cross so we don’t have to.  He carried His cross to show us The Way. And the Cross is The Way, it is our way, it is the only way.  

“If you would enter into the mystery, then, like Christ Himself, you must become small, weak, poor, misunderstood, and willing to be broken.  You cannot know Him if you refuse to be like Him. This is the only path that is truly Christian. Outside this mystery, there is nothing to be known, nothing that will save,” Father Stephen Freeman.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Defending the Faith

Happy Easter to all Western Christians.  To the Christians of the East you have one more week.  Palm Sunday is today and Holy Week is upon you. Then the great celebration of Pascha.  Yes, this is our crowning feast! The feast of feasts. Our most important day of the year.  The doors of Heaven are opened for us because of what the Savior has done. We, His followers, have been given our crosses, our tasks to do so that we can enter through this narrow gate, this narrow way that He has opened.

“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints…” Jude 3

Recently I have received hate emails that disparage our ancient faith.  These emails speak of the “evil of the Eucharist,” and “the delusion of our faith.”  Of course these emails would come to me at nearly the time of our redemption. These people, writing for none other than the devil himself, don’t want us to confess our sins one to another that we may repent and begin a new life again, the new life that is won for us by our Savior, that new life that He offers us by giving us His very Body and Blood, a new life that is nourished by the Sacred Mysteries (or Sacraments), and the surrender that comes as we join ours with that of the Savior becoming evermore one with Him as  become more and more like Him.

“For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” Jude 4.

No!  Don’t fall for the lies!  Oh, we Catholics and Orthodox have our differeneces to be sure, but we have so much more in common.  We must not forsake the Tradition that has been handed down to us from centuries past, the wisdom of the saints and Fathers and Mothers that has almost entirely rejected by those who read a few texts from the Holy Scriptures and then say they are so moved by the Holy Spirit (the devil in disguise)  as to start their own churches. Oh my! Lord save us from this narcisistic and prideful delusion!

Yes, my friends, stay close to Mother Church!

“The Lord’s uncreated divine grace acts as a mother to us and doesn’t only preserve us from all ills, but also comforts our spirit with the sweetness of its presence.  And it inspires us with courage to undertake renewed defense and attack. In sufferings and in our trials in general, our spirit is expanded and our spiritual knowledge increased.  “In my sorrow you saved me,” (Psalm 4:1 LXX) by Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos.

Just look around at our culture.  The Church is under attack. We must stand firm.  Doctrine is important. If you are Catholic, don’t give up one inch of your faith.  If you are Orthodox, don’t give up one inch of your faith. Don’t give in to the seduction of the evil one. He comes all dressed up as sugar and spice.  Look at the left wing politics in our nation! It is evil dressed up as love. Don’t fall for it. Hate mail, notes on my windshield, letters in my mail box, knocks at my door, and other people who have sought me out over the years are so eager to tell me of the evils of my church.  Perhaps they have assaulted you with their filth. Stand firm. Our faith is a saving faith. Stand with a church that has weathered the storm for many centuries. Don’t join in with someone who has been around a few years or a decade or a century. That cannot be, nor is, it the faith of the ages.  

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Acquire the Spirit of Peace and Many Will Be Saved

We deceive ourselves.  We are gullible.  We believe things we read and hear.  Truth has become a subjective thing in our culture.  Truths taught by the Bible or the Church and accepted as truth for centuries seem to fall by the wayside in our present culture.  Many, if not the majority, do not believe things taught by the Bible or the Church anymore.  These are perilous times.  What can we do to protect or even enlighten ourselves and to provide these things for our families?

Do the spiritual disciplines as I have written of recently.  As much as you can, employ all of your senses while doing these things.  I am speaking of things like standing in prayer, bowing, prostrations, or using incense, and speaking prayers aloud with your voice.  Pay attention at church.  Listen.  Feel.  Be aware.  Be present and be watchful.  

I think it is an important  to remember that at Liturgy we do use all of our senses.  We listen to the words of the prayers and the the Holy Scriptures, we feel the movements of our body and we stand, kneel, do prostrations, sit, and walk; we see the holy icons or statues, we see other people, we see the priest, we see all the things going on in the church; we smell the incense and we see its smoke rise.  We recall our prayers rising to heaven as incense, and near the end of the Liturgy, we come forward and we receive our Lord who is near and we taste Him.  Yes, all of our senses our employed during the worship.  This brings the Lord near and the worship service brings us an experience of Him.  This worship is different than the worship in other churches.  I will refrain from saying that it is better or more holy, but it is the ancient way, it is the way marked out to worship God given in the Bible.  

The reason to me that it is important is that it gives us a sensory experience of God.  God is real.  We see that in the Liturgy.  We sense that, we sense Him in the Liturgy.  He is with us.  He is near.  We desire to take this with us always.  We want to live this reality in our everyday lives.  

And so we are inspired to live a quiet life with God at the center.  Yes, Liturgy should inspire us.  It is inspiring.  It is ancient.  It is ancient worship.  No frills here, no entertainment, just Biblical worship.  And we make this Liturgy the center of our life.  The prayers we pray at home should have some sense of this Liturgy or some connectioin to it.  

And so our daily lives, all of life not just our prayer life, should reflect this attitude, these things that happen during the Liturgy.  We recall God and who He is and how He wants us to be.  And hopefully this happens even before we get out of bed!  Our worship of God strengthens us to do the disciplines but also by doing the seven disciplines, we strengthen our ability to worship.  It all goes together.  By doing both, we keep ourselves from deception.

I think of the phrase of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand around you will be saved.”

I think what he is hinting at has little to do with doing great things, rather keeping the little things.  It is about living the teachings of Christ.  Being satisfied.  Being humble.  And having the qualities of being silent rather than judging and condemning others.  Just go through the disciplines.  Do them in a quiet way.  You need not blow a trumpet as you go through your day and proclaim to others that you are fasting or that you are not judging.  No, just do them in a quiet and peaceful manner.  Just do them.  Stake your life on them and all the teachings of Jesus and you will have peace because you are building your life on something firm and stable, you are building your life on Jesus.

Peace be with you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why Do All These Things?

Looking back on my recent posts, I have written about the Sermon on the Mount and also the spiritual disciplines.  Someone can rightfully ask, “What good is all this?”  Or, “Why should I do all these things?  Isn’t this trying to earn my way to heaven?  Isn’t this just a whole lot of doing?

Well, my first response is, “What is my attitude while I am doing these things?”  

If each of us asks that question, hopefully, then whatever we do, we will do it with the right purpose.  Remember, the first discipline is to acquire humility.  If we do not get humility right, then we might be tempted to think we deserve Heaven, or that we could somehow earn our way, or think that I am better than “those” people or “that” person.  No, we must be willing to take the last place and hold the attitude that I deserve none of God’s gifts.  If my attitude is not humble, then nothing matters.  It will not matter what I do.  If I have pride in place of humility, I will have hell rather than Heaven, I will have selfishness in place of love, I will have a distorted self love rather than a love of God and neighbor, and I will be the most pitiful of men.

All the spiritual disciplines must be accomplished through love and humility.  We must be fearless.  We must know that even in our failures that the love and mercy of God will conquer all, even our own failures and our lack of love and humility.  We will be judged on love, but we take comfort that even in this judgment, God is merciful.  

To me there is something going on while we do things, while we discipline ourselves.  You know how we learn things.  We read, we watch videos, we listen to speakers, right?  We take information in.  But I ask you, how much of that information goes towards really changing your life?  We read the Bible.  We read the lives of the saints.  We read the teachings of the Fathers.  But what changes in our lives?  Do we come to treat people better?  Do we love people better?  Do we become more humble and usable to God?

In doing, in trying to do the disciplines outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, we learn things that we can’t read in a book.  Honestly, one of the first things I learn is how frail I am.  I learn many things about myself, but the first is that I cannot do these things very well.  I fail miserably.  The more that I grow, the more I see just how miserable that I am.  Not necessarily in my outward behavior, but in my attitude and my thought life.  

One example I can give is adultery.  Following the Old Testament law, I have never committed adultery.  Not once.  But if I apply the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, the New Covenant law, oh my goodness!  I think I fail nearly every day.  Then I learn that what I pray in the Jesus Prayer is true: I am the sinner.  I am, as St. Paul would say, the worst of sinners.  There is one line in the Prayer of Ephraim, “O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother…”  Yes, I am getting acquainted with this line.  This is a powerful prayer.  If you have never prayed it, I would encourage you to do so.  Prayed over a long period of time, it is a good teacher in humility, especially if you do the prostrations.  So, here, if you would, you can see how just by praying the prayers, fasting, prostrations, a little bit of doing, I am learning just how wretched I am.  It is more than a mental exercise or a line read from a book.  It is experiential.  I use the prayers, the written down prayers such as the one by St. Ephraim, and of course the Psalms, to lead me into self knowledge and understanding.  One thing that I know, now more than ever, is that I do not deserve anything.  Oh, I have always known this, at least mentally.  But there is something different when you learn this lesson through life and your spiritual life.  One thing is for sure, I know that I do not go to Heaven on my own power, no way!  I have to trust that what St. Therese is true: that our sins are like a drop of water in the great furnace of the Lord’s love.  I am learning that my drop of water, my drop of sin is really like a bucket compared to my good works, which truly would be a drop.  My drop of good works, my drop of virtue is so small.  There is little that I can do that is good, and so I continue to repeat, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

This might be depressing to some folks.  We are created good.  Our egos are fragile and we cannot bear the truth about ourselves.  Perhaps this is another point of doing these disciplines: We are somehow strengthened in the doing.  I cannot explain it other than to say it is grace and this is how grace works.  No, we do not earn it and yet there is something that we must do.  

Take our Father in faith Abraham.  How would God have reacted if, when told to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham replied something like, “Well, OK, but you know Lord that nothing that I do can earn your love, so rather than sacrifice my son Isaac, I’ll just love you in some other way.  OK, Lord?”  

Or our Mother Mary, when the Archangel Gabriel came to her.  Her reply was, “yes.”  We tend to forget the law at the time, the Old Testament law that said the penalty for adultery was stoning by death.  Mary showing up pregnant without being married would have been cause for stoning to death.  But she said “yes” anyway.  She trusted God in her action.  In her actions, she learned about trusting God much more than just reading something in a book and then making some type of mental assent to this idea and labeling it faith.  No, there is something we learn by doing that is far, far more deep than ideas or claiming to believe an idea or even to say something like, “I believe in Jesus.”  Well, that really isn’t saying so much unless we back it up with lifestyle, and doing certain things, and making certain decisions that put our faith to the test (read James chapter 2).

The disciplines are just a start, a warmup.  They prepare us for actually sticking our necks out!  And you know, we are headed into a time when we will have to answer for our faith.  “Happy clappy” Christianity is worthless.  The “MTD” gospel will save no one.  The cultural war we are engaged in has progressed to the point where people are losing their jobs for their faith.  Others have lost their businesses.  I recently read of a case in California where a teenager was taken from his parents by the courts because he wanted to pursue “trans” treatment and become a woman.  His parents refused and the case went to court.  

Here I will close by encouraging all of us to stand with the Truth.  Remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?  Go back and read some of my articles about him.  Or read up on him on the Internet.  He stood with the truth and suffered.  

I will leave you with Luke 12:49-53: Jesus the Cause of Division

49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

The footnote in the Orthodox Study Bible shares an interesting point about verse 51 that I will also share with you:

There are  two kinds of peace.  False peace, to which Christ refers here, is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring issues of truth.  Genuine peace is reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and surrender to truth.  Genuine peace has division as a byproduct because not everyone wants truth.  In the fallen world, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19)

Look up the 1st Corinthians verse.  The Greek word used in verse 18 is actually the word we translate as “schisms” and in verse 19, the word is “heresies.”  

Get ready for battle.  Get ready to embrace truth.  Get ready to suffer.  I am not telling you to go out and look for suffering, it will come to you all by itself just by living your faith.  Just don’t be surprised when it happens.  It will happen.

One last thought about the disciplines.  This is what “ascesis” is.  It is the training, the exercise.  St. Paul talks about it.  The early Christians took it very seriously.  What athlete does not train?  What army does not ready itself for battle?  So too, we Christians must prepare ourselves for when the battle comes to us.  If we do not train ourselves, we will not say “yes” as Mary did.  We will not obey the Lord as Abraham did.  We will fail the test. Our faith will not stand up in the heat of the furnace.  The world mocks us for being sinners.  Do not let your sin, your lack of perfect behavior, unsettle you.  This is why we Christians repent daily, or even more often.  We know we are sinners.  We know we are unworthy.  Yet, we know who our Lord is also.  He is the merciful one and we stand with Him.  He will not abandon us.  Our sin does not, and will not, condemn us to hell.  Only our lack of repentance can do that.  Our Lord will fight for us.  We are weak.  He is strong.  Stand with Him.  Call on Him.  He will help you.

May His peace and blessing be upon you now.