Our Familial Bond with the Church is Now Unceasing

allsaintsSome wonderful reflections from my friend Seraphim about the intercession of the Saints:

 

Our Familial Bond with the Church is Now Unceasing

By Seraphim Hamilton

James Jordan’s aversion to the intercession of the Saints truly does perplex me, since many of his own interpretive insights provide a foundation for the practice of the intercession of the Saints. His arguments are essentially two:
1. It’s talking to the dead, it’s necromancy.
2. We have to go through Jesus to get to the Saints, but the practice of prayer to the Saints reverses this order, where we have to go to the Saints to get to Jesus.

As for #1, this is nothing more than a pejorative that I can’t imagine him applying consistently. The Lord says plainly in John 11:26 that anyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. As is often true of the Johannine literature, the Revelation of St. John provides an expansion on this theme first articulated in John’s Gospel. Revelation 20 gives us two deaths and two resurrections. The second death is the resurrection of the unjust. For them, their bodily resurrection is as good as death, since they are eternally burned up by the Glory of God, condemned to the moat surrounding the New Jerusalem (which is the New Heavens and New Earth). If you follow the thought consistently, the first resurrection is actually the death of the Christian. This is how Christ’s words are fulfilled. When the possession of the Earth begins (with the destruction of Jerusalem, just as the possession of the land began with the destruction of Jericho), Daniel 7 is fulfilled, thrones are set up in Heaven, and those who die in Christ are enthroned to serve in a royal-priestly ministry for a (symbolic, indicating the whole Church Age) thousand years. That alone refutes the idea that the intercession of the Saints is necromancy.

2. This is what really undoes Jordan’s whole argument, and it’s building on what I said in response to #1. Throughout the Old Testament, the essence of the prophetic ministry is intercession. Take a look at Genesis 20. God is speaking directly to Abimelech. Yet God tells Abimelech that He will heal him WHEN ABRAHAM INTERCEDES. As God says, “Abraham is a prophet, and he will pray for you.” That particular ministry of intercession appears again and again. Exodus 8:30-31 has Egypt released from plagues at the intercession of the Prophet Moses. The plague departs from Israel at the intercession of Moses in Numbers 11:2. They’re released from the plague of Serpents at the intercession of Moses in Numbers 21:7. A child is raised by the intercession of the Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:33. The Lord orders Jeremiah to cut off his ministry of intercession in Jeremiah 7, 11, and elsewhere.

The point is that the prophet, by his very nature, is an intercessor before God. This is true even when God is speaking directly to the person whom the prophet prays for. Abimelech only got Abraham to intercede because God told Abraham to intercede! The reason why the prophet is an intercessor is because he is filled with the Spirit. In Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel is filled with the Glory of God (the Altar-Fire) at his call to the prophetic ministry. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is called to be a prophet when he is glorified by the coal from the altar touching his lips. And that the call to prophethood typically happens in the Heavenly Council indicates that the prophet is an intercessor in virtue of the fact that he is seated in the Heavenly Council. Amos 3:7 says this directly- the business of the council is the business of the prophet.

But because this happens before the resurrection of Jesus, the ministry of the prophet is impermanent. They, like everyone else, go to Sheol to await the death and resurrection of Christ. When that happens, Pentecost follows. And Pentecost means that EVERYONE acquires this prophetic ministry. Take a look at Joel 2, quoted by Peter in the Book of Acts with reference to Pentecost:

(Joel 2:28) “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

This itself is an allusion to Numbers 11-12, which confirms our understanding of the passage as extending the prophetic ministry to the whole people:

(Numbers 11:29) But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

(Numbers 12:6) And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.

In the dry bones vision, Ezekiel sees what happened to him in Ezekiel 1 happening to the whole of the people of Israel. Got puts His Spirit on the whole people, and they rise from the dead. That ultimately runs back to Genesis 2:7, where God brings Adam up from the dust by breathing the Spirit into Him. It is fulfilled, of course, in the resurrection of Jesus (which IS the restoration of Israel from exile, back to Paradise) and the Outpouring of the Spirit.

All of this comes together when you wrap the threads provided above into one theological rope. The vocation of prayerful intercession belongs to the prophet because the prophet sits in the Heavenly Council via his union with God’s Spirit. It follows that a deeper union with the Spirit implies a more significant seat on the Council, and that ministry of prayerful intercession and Spirit-filling is tied together explicitly in Romans 8, where the Spirit prays for the world IN US according to God’s will.

And in Revelation 20, we have a confirmation that Christian death implies, not an ejection from the Council (as it did in the old covenant, since Christ had not risen), but a magnification of one’s Seat on the Council. The New Heavens and the New Earth is being prepared in Heaven, even before the day when Heaven and Earth are united fully. Christ sits as Head of the Council, but the Saints are permanently enthroned in a triple heavenly ministry. And as Hebrews 11 says, we are surrounded by a great CLOUD of witnesses. St. Paul uses the word “cloud” because the Heavenly Council is seen when the prophet enters into God’s Glory-Cloud. That means that access to God NECESSARILY IMPLIES our access to the Council. And that means, per the whole witness of Scripture, that we can request intercession from the council members, not because we don’t have access to God, but because our familial bond with the Church is now unceasing, and that is the joy of the new covenant.

Start your day out Right!

padrerichard

Give the first fruits of your day to the Lord
The “Four Bows”

If we are honest with ourselves, we should lament our inattention to God, our weak and inconstant prayer, our false priorities, the time we waste on things that are not effectual for our salvation. We are weak creatures, driven by habit, and many of these habits are sinful and destructive. So many of our activities are thieves – they steal time from prayer.

It is precisely because of our nature that I have counseled most of you to do “4 bows” in the morning. There is a superb article, from an old “Nicodemus” publication (which later became “Orthodox America”) which provided the seed for this instruction. In the article, a bishop was instructing a group of children. I will try to reproduce the gist of his words here.

Our hearts are like coal, which is cold, but…

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Tin Cans with Nothing Inside

tin-cansPeople often struggle with the question of  “how do we know God?”

Last summer one of my classmates for the training at one of my old jobs asked me about my degree. When we did our introductions my partner mentioned that I hold a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership. He told me how he was not of faith, but was an agnostic and that he really can’t know. He asked me a few questions about Orthodoxy and told me how his grandmother tried to scare him to Christ by preaching about hell to him. I told him we Orthodox would never preach what I call “Escapist Theology” (for me this means two things: those who believe in rapture and/or those who preach get-out-of-hell-free sermons). I have since heard him remark several times to others in the class about his agnosticism and what not.

Later in that same of week, I also watched a video with Fr. Hans Jacobse debating an atheist where the atheist asked about how we determine truth and what is real, etc. Yet another case of “how do we know?” being asked.

At the time, I had began reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“, which journals his travels and time spent with Father Maximos, a monk and spiritual elder from Mt. Athos who mentors Kyriacos on his journey from being a materialist atheist to being open to spirituality and faith as he explores many traditions.

It was at this point that I was beginning to hear a lot about how do we know God. This prompted much though in my life, so I thought I’d write about it. How do we know God? How do we observe reality? In the book, Kyriacos mentioned a criteria for this that a fellow professor had made known to him. The three ways we know reality is:

  1. The Eye of the Senses (empirical, science)
  2. The Eye of Reason (Philosophy, logic, math, [I also add theology])
  3. The Eye of Contemplation (systematic and disciplined spiritual practice to open upthe intuitive and spiritual faculties of the self)

Kyriacos says, “These are the three different and unique order of reality with their own legitimate and distinct domains, laws, and characteristics that cannot be reduced into one another.”

Now, let’s skip ahead to a conversation Kyriacos has with Father Maximos about this very subject of knowing. Father Maximos remarks at one point, “God,  you see, loves to be investigated by humans.” What Father meant by this is that God wants to be searched for and found. He does not expect us to commit to fideism. Kyriacos follows up that statement by asking, “…If God indeed urges us to be inquisitive, how are we then supposed to conduct our research? Are we to turn to science, to philosophy, or to theology as our starting point” (page 42)?

Father Maximos makes a point about how if we want to study things like the stars then we use a telescope. He says, “Everything must be explored through a method appropriate to the subject under investigation. If we, therefore, wish to explore and get to know God, it would be a gross error to do so through our senses or with telescopes, seeking Him out in outer space. That would be utterly naive, don’t you think?” He goes on, “It would be equally foolish and naive to seek God with our logic and intellect” (page 43).

In his book, “The Sickness Unto Death”, existential philosopher Soren Kiekegaard writes, “”Is it such great merit or is it not rather insolence or thoughtlessness to want to comprehend that which does not want to be comprehended?” This is what Father Maximos means by our logic and reason being lacking means to explore God. How do we, finite human, with our finite logic and reason explore that Other that lies outside the bounds of our logic and reason? It is quite absurd to think these are means to explore God on their own.

Father Maximos still firmly believes that we are to study God and come to know him, but it was Kyriacos’ question of how that carries the conversation forward between them. Father answers that with, “Christ Himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts” (page 43).

Our existential foundation, according to the Holy Elders, is indeed our hearts. Mind you, our hearts are the center of our being, the place where our personhood lies. It is the “center of our psychonoetic powers, the center of our beingness, of our personhood. It is therefore through the heart that God reveals Himself to humanity” (page 43). Those who wish to know God, to see Him, to live in communion with Him, cannot do it through logic, theology, reason, science, or by reading Plato and the philosophers. Father Maximos says, “It is only the cleanliness and purity of the heart that can lead to the contemplation and vision of God. This is the meaning of Christ’s Beatitude, ‘Blessed be the pure at heart for they shall see God’” (page 44).

Father goes on to elaborate on how if we wish to investigate and explore God that we must emply the proper method of investigation, which is none other than the Eye of Contemplation and the purifying of one’s heart from the egotistical passions that plague us. He even goes as far as to say that if those who manage to do this, truly do it, and do not see God then they are justified in becoming atheist.

Father Maximos points out that the philosophical quest for God is one that is off. It is only through the existential experiential vision of God that we come to know Him and love Him. Theology, philosophy, the senses, etc. can all point towards God, but they cannot give you God. God cannot be contained to these finite things we have created with our minds. As Father says we must “transcend the IDEA of God and enter into the EXPERIENCE of God” (page 45). He goes on to say, “As long as we do not know God experientially then we should at least realize that we are simply ideological believers…The ideal and ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality” (page 45).

Father Maximos goes on to speak of the Creed and how the Christian mystical tradition is tied very much to the Creed for it speaks of a living God, of Reality.

I could go on with the conversation with these two men and the spiritual wisdom of the young Father Maximos, but I want to share one last part of what he said:

True faith means I live with God, I am one with God. I have come to know God and therefore I know that He truly Is. God lives inside me and is victorious over death and I move forward with God. The entire methodology of the authentic Christian mystical tradition as articulated by the saints is to reach that state where we become conscious of the reality of God within ourselves. Until we reach that point we simply remain stranded with the domain of ideas and not within the essence of Christian spirituality which is the direct communion with God” (page 45).

I am a huge fan of theology, of the life of the mind. I do not think the Eye of Contemplation is at all a disrespect to the life of the mind. After all, Christ told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Eye of Contemplation incorporates the asceticismthat is needed in order to kill the egotistical passions. This truth of the Christian mystical tradition of the East does not kill, neglect, or cancel out the other two Eyes. It simply means that those two cannot bring about the experience of God. They can suggest it, recommend it, or show it, but they are not a direct participation in God. Those disciplines of the mind cannot bring us into the heart, which is where our selves lie. Our true selves. I find the most beautiful thing I have read thus far on the joys of living in the heart come from Father Meletios Webber in his book “Bread & Water; Wine & Oil”:


The heart is quiet rather than noisy, intuitive rather than deductive, lives entirely in the present, and is, at every moment, accepting of the reality God gives in that moment. Moreover, the heart does not seek to distance or dominate anything or anyone by labeling. Rather, it begins with an awareness of its relationship with the rest of creation (and everything and everyone in it), accepting rather than rejecting, finding similarity rather than alienation and likeness rather than difference. It knows no fear, experiences no desire, and never finds the need to defend or justify itself. Unlike the mind, the heart never seeks to impose itself. It is patient and undemanding. Little wonder, then, that the mind, always impatient and very demanding, manages to dominate it so thoroughly.”

The Eye of Contemplation brings us to the place of which Father Maximos and Father Meletios speak. It is in our hearts where we live in communion with God and find the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings. The only method of exploring God is to experience God. The only way to experience God is to live in the heart through contemplation and asceticism and participation with His Church and Her Divine Mysteries, which He has given as tangible means of Grace. The knowledge of God resides nowhere else.

Father Maximos said, “We lost the knowledge of God…at the moment when we transformed the Eccelsia from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values, and high ideals. When that happened…we became like tin cans with nothing inside” (page 55).

I am convicted that I more than anyone else have felt the impact of those words. I more than anyone else have been living a life like that of a tin can with nothing inside. It is now, through the asceticism of the Orthodox Faith, that I’m learning I have only experience God in very small ways due to my insistence on theology, philosophy, and reason. What good is a tool-less Christianity that does not provide one with the means to know and love God and live in Him?

These tools of asceticism I am discovering and the need to experience God and to know Him in my heart by the Eye of Contemplation are the beginning of a life lived like a can being filled to the brim with life until it overflows abundantly with the knowledge of God and His love and grace.

Widening Our Vision (Windows to Heaven)

ImageWhy do the Orthodox venerate and incorporate icons into their worship? It comes down to the belief that we see the world, as Father Stephen says, as a one-storey universe. God is here and now. The Church here on earth is the same as in heaven. The incarnation is what brings this about.

Basically, icons give us a picture of the worship in heaven. As we worship here on earth the saints are worshiping in heaven. The icons help us in seeing that. They give an incarnational presence. 

It has a lot to do with our view of the Church being the same on earth and in heaven. The communion of the Saints is key in this. We believe that since heaven is here and now that the saints are with God and worship Him. If heaven is here and now that means it is among us and we are all one Church. We are never alone for the saints are with us. We just aren’t able to see that; we aren’t able to perceive it with our limited vision. However, I think we can learn to see; we can enlarge our vision, our understanding.

When I enter into the nave of our parish and I see the icons making present the reality of worship I feel at home.  It is an overwhelming feeling to be connected to the Church in heaven and on earth as we participate in the Divine Liturgy that has been prayed for 1,500 years in its current form by billions, if not trillions, of Christians.  It is an overwhelming sense of belonging to know that that many people have said those same prayers and that millions more are saying them with us in the presence of the saints as we worship the Holy Trinity together.


The icons give us a picture of reality. We can widen our vision, our spiritual vision,  if we begin to understand that there is no dividing line between heaven and earth; we can widen our vision by realizing that there is one Church in heaven and one Church on earth. The Church is fully one and united in Christ in heaven and earth. When venerate the icons because they are worthy of our reverence. They make present the lives of the Saints.  We have respect and love for those who went before us. We honor them. We participate in worship of the All Holy Trinity with them. There is a richness to the Orthodox form of worship. It engages us fully, holistically. One Orthodox Christian said, “We see the Gospel in the icons.” Words fall short when spoken alone. The icons helps us to see the Gospel, to see reality in a way in which our eyes prohibit us.

This is not a full theology concerning the icons, but a basic induction to them as I have come to understand them. In summary, I once read that the “icons do with colors what the Scriptures do with words.” I wanted to write this up to give a basic, simple understanding of the icons. I’m sure others can answer the question of why we have them and venerate them better, but this is how I have come to understand them.

 

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON ORTHODOX RUMINATIONS

The Secret of the Universalist Hope

Eclectic Orthodoxy

“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions I.1)—perhaps the most famous sentence from one of the most famous prayers (and most certainly the longest) in the catholic tradition. St Augustine’s words have been quoted by preachers ever since they were penned. They point us to the most fundamental truth of our existence—we are created for God and can only find lasting happiness and fulfillment in him. Stephen J. Duffey offers the following commentary:

Grace is a comprehensive ambience for Augustine. No person, event, aspect of his life stood outside the divine intent to bring him to fulfillment. Conversion was not the first entrance of grace into his life, only the compass point from which he could read the presence of grace from the very beginning of his days. Wherever…

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