An Avalanche

Last summer I read Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence”. I greatly enjoyed his journey with the spiritual elder, Father Maximos. At one point, they are discussing what Christ came to do while He was here and what His real mission was. Father Maximos says:

What the Ecclesia primarily teaches is the means through which a human soul may attain Christification, its saintliness, its union with God. The ultimate goal is to become perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to become one with God. Christ didn’t come into the world to teach us how to become good fellows, how to behave properly, or how to live a righteous life in this world. Nor did He come to offer us a book, even if this book is called the Bible or New Testament…He came to the world to give us Himself. To show us the Way toward our salvation.”

Kyriacos remarks having heard this before and mentions that it is Satan who seeks to prohibit us from communion with God and seeks to prevent us from reaching our destination of union with the Holy One. Kyriacos is curious as to how Satan does this, what are his means and ways to prohibit us from reaching union with God. Father tells Kyriacos that the most used tool of Satan is preventing us from union with God is what the holy elders have called “logismoi” (sounds like ‘logos me’). A simple reading and understanding of this Greek word would render it “thoughts”. However, Father Maximos has this to say:

Logismoi are much more intense than simple thoughts. They penetrate into the very depths of a human being. They have enormous power. Let us say…that a simple thought is a weak logismos. We need to realize, however, that certain thoughts, or logismoi, once inside a human being, can undermine every trace of a spiritual life in its very foundation. People who live in the world don’t know about the nature and power of logismoi. That is, they don’t have experience of that reality. But as they proceed on their spiritual struggle, particularly through systematic prayer, then are they able to understand the true meaning and power of this reality” (page 118).

I for one have found the language I need to describe my crazy thoughts within the Orthodox spiritual life. Have you ever laid in bed at night seeking to fall asleep, perhaps praying while trying to fall asleep, and just get bombarded by thought-after-thought? Sometimes these thoughts are intentional thoughts: what to do the next day, reflection upon events from the past day, agendas, etc. Sometimes these thoughts are not thoughts we think. Evil thoughts even! If you have experienced the bombardment of crazy thoughts at any time then you have experienced what the holy elders call the logismoi.

The Holy Fathers speak of the Fall of man creating a divide, a chasm, between man’s mind and man’s heart. This divide is what brings about the logismoi. Our mind is a crazy house while living disconnected from the heart, what the Fathers call the Nous. The Nous is the source of our being, our personhood as I wrote in my previous blog. The logismoi constantly bombard our hearts and minds to prevent us from experiencing union with God. Father Maximos is sure to point out that not all logismoi are bad. He speaks of how it is wise to speak with a experienced spiritual elder who can guide one in the discernment of one’s logismoi.

Kyriacos ask Father how it is that the logismoi can prevent us from reaching God. Father says:

Let us say that a logismos is a thought of a special quality and power intensity…There is something mysterious about a logismoi. Its impact is similar to the sting of a needle when you go to the doctor to receive a shot. When negative logismoi manage to enter into your spiritual bloodstream they can affect you in the same way that a needle, full of poison, penetrates you and spread the deadly substance throughout your body. Your spiritual world becomes contaminated and you are affected on a very deep, fundamental level. Your entire spiritual edifice can be shaken from its very foundation” (page 119)

We can see from this wise Father’s words that these thoughts can be very destructive, very detrimental to our spiritual well-being. A logismoi can be so powerful that it can leave us feeling helpless against its power. These thoughts are faced by all! Even the Saints throughout the ages. They have become masters over their logismoi through Theosis and spiritual regimens prescribed to them by their spiritual leaders.

Our logismoi pushes us towards committing a sinful act! The demons haunt us with the logismoi and compel us to commit these sins because God is gracious and loving and will forgive anyways. Then when this sin comes about and we have committed it we feel the wild, crazy thought that says God is a mean kid in the sky waiting to burn up dirty little sinners with His holy wrath. This is the crazy world of crazy thoughts, crazy logismoi!

Things were not always like this! Prior to the Fall we lived in a state of constant prayer, constant union with God. Once the Fall occurred and the rift between man and God came into existence so came with it the logismoi to replace what was continual, constant prayer. This is the existential crisis of our existence today! Our hearts were once innocent and pure, but once the rift came to be the heart became bombarded by these logismoi, which are themselves the barrier between us and union with God.

The best way to combate the logismoi is through ceaseless prayer. The lives of the Saints and holy elders testify to this. They also identified for us the 5 stages in the development of the logismoi that goes contrary to God’s law and goodness. I believe that Father Maximos points out the stages in order for us to be aware of how these crazy logismoi can destroy us. Knowing your enemies tactics is half of the battle, right?

5 Stages of Development for Logismoi

Assault Stage- this is the stage where the logismoi first attacks our mind. We must take care to know that this do not leave us accountable. Everyone in history of mankind since the Fall experiences the logismoi. Father Maximos says, “The quality of our spiritual state is not evaluated on the basis of these assaults.” We will always be attacked by myriads of logismoi. We do not sin in this at all. We have no need to feel guilty for these thoughts plaguing us. Pleading questions like “Why do I have these thoughts?” and “Why me?” are born out of our egoism. This obsession, Father says, is a tool used by Satan to bring us down. These logismoi come to us because we are humans……period! Do not beat yourself or obsess over these logismoi. You are human; you will experience them always.

Interaction Stage- this is what I call the conversation stage. This is where we begin to open up a dialogue with the logismoi. If the logismoi engaged you to lust after someone, which may be a bombarding thought that I and other men can and do face, then in this stage you begin to say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “What will happen if I do?”, “Who will know?”, or “Who is gonna get hurt?”. Father Maximos points out that even in this stage there is no accountability or sin, but that if one is weak to begin with then the actual sin is not far from being committed.

Consenting Stage- this is the stage where you give the logismoi your consent to do what it urged you to do like in our case above, lusting. We make the decision that brings about the beginnings of guilt and accountability. We say, “Okay, I am going to do this!” Father Maximos says, “It is the beginning of sin. Jesus was referring to this stage when he proclaimed that if you covet a woman in your mind you have already committed adultery in your heart. The moment this decision is allowed to take root in your heart, then you are well on the way to actually committing the act in the outer world.” He says that this stage is still consent and desire; no action has yet to be taken. If we pray and ask for God’s help and invoke His name we can defeat this stage without going on to the next.

Captivity Stage- if we aren’t able to be freed from the previous stage then defeat has come and the act has been committed. Father says we become hostage to the logismoi. The power in it is seen in the moment of succumbing to the logismoi. Once that happens the logismoi comes back in greater power the next time and is harder to resist, which just goes on and on getting harder to resist each time. This is called captivity because it takes a hold of us in a way we have a hard time being freed from.

Passion/Obsession Stage- “The logismos has become an entrenched reality within the consciousness of the person, within the nous. The person becomes a captive of obsessive logismoi, leading to ongoing destructive acts to oneself and to others…” says Father Maximos. The holy elders say that this stage is “like giving the key of our heart to Satan so that he can get in and out any time he wishes.” This stage is the stage of self-destruction. We can reason and understand, but we are helpless for our hearts are captive to the evil. The logismoi possesses and controls us.

These are the 5 stages: assault, interaction, consent, captivity, and passion. Father Maximos says that “they unfold and grow within us sometimes gradually, sometimes like an avalanche.” However, there is healing from these that come from the grace of the Holy Spirit and through cooperation with Him via asceticism.

These thoughts are indeed like an avalanche! I have witnessed all 5 of these stages; I have found the language of Orthodox spirituality to describe perfectly how our thoughts bombard us, sometimes for the good, but mostly for the bad. We are not held eternally by these thoughts. The avalanche does not cover us forever. The warmth of the Light of Christ burns brightly and reverently to melt away at this avalanche! It is not an easy battle, but there is a way of overcoming. I have not yet read further in the book, but Father Maximos does lay out a battle plan so to speak. We are not left hopeless in the wake of the avalanche of logismoi.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica once said:

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.

Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed.”

Nothing speaks to the power of the logismoi like Elder Thaddeus’ wise words. We did not cover the spiritual regimen that Father Maximos goes into later in the book, but I feel that knowing that the logismoi is real and how it seeks to consume us is half of the battle. The regimen may not be something we need to cover, but something I urge you to speak about with your spiritual father and how to combat it. I will say that learning to pray and enter into one’s heart is the beginning of fighting the logismoi as Jesus gives you strength and light to climb out of the avalanche. He has given us tools to combat these bombarding logismoi. Take hold of the tools and wisdom of the holy elders given to the Church. The avalanche can be overcome!

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.

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.

The Goal of Orthodoxy or (The Holistic Eschatological Orthodox Ethic)

1077506_10201892382165523_1527516608_oA post originally shared on my old blog, Orthodox Ruminations:

 

Today I had an old friend, with whom I have recently reconnected with more over Facebook, ask me, “What is your goal as part of the Orthodox Church?” This prompted great thought in me as I later drove to visit a Catholic bookstore to purchase some icons. It brings to mind thediscussion of ethics from my Senior Capstone where we studied the deontological, teleological, and areteological ethics. Deontological ethics are ethics informed by rules we keep. Telelogical ethics are ethics informed by the goals we set for ourselves or as a society. Areteological ethics are ethics informed by the virtues that form us from within. I believe that the goal (teleological ethic) of Orthodoxy is union with God via the ascetic practices (a form/type of deontological ethics) which seeks to kill our flesh, our passions, and restore us to right virtue within (areteological ethics), to restore us to right living and right relationship with God. The goal of Orthodoxy for me incorporates all the ethical avenues into one ascetic cocoon that takes us in as sinners, but transforms us to one day be resurrected in new life.

I, again, would say that the overall goal of Orthodoxy is union with God through what we call theosis, meaning “to be made divine”. Orthodox Wiki states of theosis, “Theosis (‘deification,’ ‘divinization’) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (‘missing the mark’), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection.’ Of course we aren’t made divine as God is in His essence, but divine as we were made to be in our original glorious state. We become truly human again, which is what Christ shows us in His becoming human. Theosis is,  as St. Peter said in his epistle, “putting on the divine nature”. Saint Athanasius said, “God became man that man may become god” (note the lower case g).

Now not to confuse readers unfamiliar with Orthodoxy too much we have a teaching about God’s energies and God’s essence. God’s essence is who He is, which is unknowable to us; it’s His ontology, His beingness, His ousia. It is the Numinous. His energies is manifestations of that essence. Grace itself is the energies of God which allow us to experience something of the Divine. We become like God in His energies. We become divine once again. We become Eucharistic. The real fall of man is that he ate that which he could not give thanks for. We become thankful. We take what God has made and given for our lives here on earth, along with our very lives, and offer them up in thanksgiving back to God through what we call askesis. Askesis is the practice of the spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship in the Divine Liturgy, etc. It is participating in the ascetic life to kill the Old Man, our flesh, and live from our hearts, where our true selves lie.

The goal of orthodoxy is theosis, the uniting of man with God, in holy love and holy light. It is union of the Divine with humanity. This is the goal of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is both internally focused, but externally present and manifested. Meaning the spiritual life is a struggle inherent in our own personal lives, but lived out and witnessed by all. Our goal is theosis, complete union with God. We are in continual repentance, and we are continually being made holy and are continually dying to the flesh. This is a struggle faced all our lives and is lived as repentance.

But we also live lives of holiness and show others the work of Christ in our lives. We do preach. We do evangelize. You don’t have 250 million adherents worldwide at this moment without evangelization. Of course our understanding of those things are vastly different than Protestants, but we do preach the Gospel and plant missions (new parishes) that feed the poor, hungry, etc. We do all of these things. Especially monastics.

However, it is by the quality of our inner lives that others see Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” This is what we do. We share with many, with all, the peace of Christ who has taken us into Himself. Our lives as St. Paul says are hidden in Christ with God. (Col.)

When we gain this inner peace from the hell that is our lives we spread that joy to others. It is participating in the grace, the energies, of God. We reinvest that grace given to us by our own askesis and spreading the light of Christ, making Him present in our mortal flesh to those around us. We become little Christs.

I’d say that this is the goal of Orthodoxy. We have the teleological goal of union with God via the deontological goal of askesis which transforms us areteologically and conforms us to the image of Christ. This is theosis. This is Orthodoxy. We are eschatological beings and Orthodoxy is an eschatological faith. This is a very short answer to a very complex question posed to me, but I hope I do it some ounce of justice. This is the Orthodox Ethic so to speak. I believe the ethics perspective paints a great picture of Orthodoxy and what it seeks to do in the human heart and mind. This is our goal; this is our ethic.

May God have mercy on us all and remember us in His Kingdom.

Millennials Need Worship that’s Been Around for Millennia

DSC01969Thom Rainer, the current CEO of the Southern Baptist LifeWay story chain, recently wrote about what type of worship the so-called “Millennials” like. He defines a Millennial as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, essentially those who grew up watching the rise of the internet and technology, or the pre-9/11 generation. The entire article is very much worth the read and I believe he is accurate. All of it is summarized by one statement toward the end:

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In other words, what young people want is a real worship experience, something that really strikes at the heart. The above statement is really unpacked earlier in the article, where Rainer states,

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.
  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.
  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Again, I don’t think Rainer is wrong in his assessment of what young people are looking for in worship. A lot of us Millennials were raised in very superficial environments; the message we received in music was so filtered and pacified that any deep message was quickly lost. When we first sang the stanza, “This is the air I breathe” we might have felt something, but ultimately it became another motion, a temporary fix on our search for the ultimate high. Worship in the 90s really came across as one emotional experience leading to another. Somehow that experience turned into a genre and in the 2000s we were pummeled with numerous “worship bands.”

Yet, we live in a very cynical and Nietzschean society. Everything is doubted, everything seems to have an illicit motive behind it. We view worship bands as simply trying to get one over on Christians and make a buck, or use their popularity to slingshot themselves into “secular” stardom. The preacher doesn’t really care about people coming to Christ so much as he cares about increasing revenue. Justified or not, these are stereotypes that exist among young people when viewing the church. What it means, however, is that we are perpetually suspicious of reality, always looking for the man behind the curtain; we want the authentic, but are often too cynical to appreciate authenticity when encountered. In a way, our experiences of the past shape our expectations of the present and our dismal hope for the future. Thom Rainer certainly has his finger on the pulse of the problem and I do believe he has found the proper solution…kind of.  Continue reading

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?

liturgy (1)Feelings-based, emotionally driven, stage centered “milk” has run its course. Which is a good thing! Some have noted about the intellectual pursuit the following stories have.  I see nothing wrong with the intellectual appeal to brings us to Orthodoxy. The life of the mind is great thing, and Orthodoxy has much to offer it! Orthodoxy is deeply intellectual, deeply spiritual, deeply ascetical. Some are attracted through the other paths, but as Westerners it is easy and most common for the intellectual to be a big draw. Of course if Orthodoxy is just another ideology we have adopted, and it doesn’t take root in the heart then we have a problem. It is both/and. Mind AND heart! Jesus said, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Nothing wrong with the intellectual approach nor the purely ascetical. We all come to Orthodoxy, but not on the same path.

Read and share how many Millennials are seeking after liturgy and spiritually edifying worship with symbolism and meaning. It is my sincere hope and prayer that this is a sincere move in the right direction for non-Orthodox Christians and not another fad. This could be a move towards healing schism. It is my prayer that many will unite to the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is the Orthodox Church. Don’t stop at Canterbury and Rome just to stay, but come home oh weary traveler, come home! Cheers!

Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?

By Gracy Olmstead

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.

For Bart Gingerich, a fellow with the Institute on Religion and Democracy and a student at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, becoming Anglican was an intellectual journey steeped in the thought of ancient church fathers. He spent the first 15 years of his life in the United Methodist Church, where he felt he was taught a “Precious Moments” version of Christianity: watered down, polite, and unreal. His family joined a nondenominational evangelical church when Gingerich was 16. Some of the youth he met were serious about their faith, but others were apathetic, and many ended up leaving the church later on.

While attending Patrick Henry College in Virginia, Gingerich joined a reformed Baptist church in the nearby town of Guilford. Gingerich read St. Augustine and connected strongly with his thought—in class from Monday to Friday, Gingerich found himself arguing for ideas that clashed with his method of worship on Sunday. Protestantism began troubling him on a philosophical level. Could he really believe that the church “didn’t start getting it right” till the Reformation?

The final straw came when a chapel speaker at the college explained the beauty of the Eucharist in the Anglican service. Gingerich knew this was what he was looking for. Soon after, he joined the Anglican Church.

For high-school English teacher Jesse Cone, joining the Orthodox Church fulfilled a deep yearning for community and sacramental reality. Cone grew up in the Presbyterian Church of America, heavily involved in youth group and church activities. While attending Biola University, an evangelical school in southern California, Cone returned home over the summers to help lead youth-group activities. He was hired as a youth pastor and “even preached a sermon.” But at Biola, Cone struggled to find a home church. There were many megachurches in the area that didn’t have the “organic, everyday substance” Cone was seeking.

He began attending an Anglican service, drawn to its traditional doctrine. He was a “perpetual visitor” over the next few years. A Bible study on the Gospel of John pushed him further towards the high church. Reading through the book with a group of friends, Cone began to notice the “conversational and sacramental” way Jesus related to people. “There’s a lot of bread, and wine, and water,” he says. From Jesus’s first miracle—turning water into wine—to telling his disciples “I am the True Vine,” the mundane, communal ways in which in which Jesus connected with people “confirmed in me a sense of sacramentalism—that everyday aspects of life are important, in a way the modern mindset doesn’t share,” Cone says. “I started looking at the world with more sacramental eyes.”

Cone became engaged to a woman who was also raised Presbyterian. In the weeks leading up to their marriage, they sought a church together, but none seemed to fit. Fundamental questions lingering in Cone’s mind—about church history, the importance of doctrine and dogma, what it means to live a full Christian life—came to a head. He told his wife, “I don’t think I’m comfortable being Orthodox, but I want to at least see one of their services, see what it’s like out there.” The next Sunday, they decided to attend an Orthodox Church with another young couple. By the end of the service, Cone says, “We were just blown away. Just blown away.” The worship, doctrine, and tradition were exactly what they had been looking for. “We were shell-shocked. And we haven’t stopped going since.”

PLEASE READ THE REST HERE! 

Living a Balanced Orthodox Life

dragonThis is a great video by Fr. John Moses. He presents how to live a balanced life between Hyperdoxy and Amorphodoxy (which is the extreme opposite of a Hyperdox). I liked how he refers to slaying the dragon in your own heart. Gave me a lot to think about spiritually this morning. The world, our marriages, our families, our jobs can all be our monasteries. Great food for thought; give this a watch. And arise everyday to slay the dragon!

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO!