A long overdue addition

There’s an amazing “conversation” that has developed over the past weeks regarding “morality” and the “the Christian life.” Here’s a nice rejoinder and summation commended to all.

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St Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory NyssanWhen we celebrate this venerable saint according to the Western Calendar (March 9) it is the anniversary of my ordination to priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Under the mentoring of Stewart+ Pierson, and during the episcopacy of +Jim of Ohio (RIP), and on behalf of +Jerry of Colorado, the Rt Rev. William C Frey laid apostolic hands on my head while I served the parish of St. Peter in Lakewood, Ohio.

When we celebrate the Feast of St Gregory of Nyssa according to the Eastern Calendar (January 10) it is also a very holy and special day for me. My son was baptized on Jan 10 and then four years later my daughter was born on this date. It is also the birthday of my marvelous mother-in-law.

So many things happen in association with this incredible saint that I feel connected to him in profound ways. Add the fact that he was an ardent champion of the Orthodox Faith against the prevailing heresies of his day, and I am a comrade in arms… May you be blessed as you read the glory that is the life of Holy Gregory of Nyssa.

St Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, was a younger brother of St Basil the Great. His birth and upbringing came at a time when the Arian disputes were at their height. Having received an excellent education, he was for a time a teacher of rhetoric. In the year 372, he was consecrated by St Basil the Great as bishop of the city of Nyssa in Cappadocia.

St Gregory was an ardent advocate for Orthodoxy, and he fought against the Arian heresy with his brother St Basil. Gregory was persecuted by the Arians, by whom he was falsely accused of improper use of church property, and thereby deprived of his See and sent to Ancyra.

In the following year St Gregory was again deposed in absentia by a council of Arian bishops, but he continued to encourage his flock in Orthodoxy, wandering about from place to place. After the death of the emperor Valens (378), St Gregory was restored to his cathedra and was joyously received by his flock. His brother St Basil the Great died in 379.

Only with difficulty did St Gregory survive the loss of his brother and guide. He delivered a funeral oration for him, and completed St Basil’s study of the six days of Creation, the Hexaemeron. That same year St Gregory participated in the Council of Antioch against heretics who refused to recognize the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God. Others at the opposite extreme, who worshipped the Mother of God as being God Herself, were also denounced by the Council. He visited the churches of Arabia and Palestine, which were infected with the Arian heresy, to assert the Orthodox teaching about the Most Holy Theotokos (“Mother of God”). On his return journey St Gregory visited Jerusalem and the Holy Places.

In the year 381 St Gregory was one of the chief figures of the Second Ecumenical Council, convened at Constantinople against the heresy of Macedonius, who incorrectly taught about the Holy Spirit. At this Council, on the initiative of St Gregory, the Nicean Symbol of Faith (the Creed) was completed.

Together with the other bishops St Gregory affirmed St Gregory the Theologian as Archpastor of Constantinople.

In the year 383, St Gregory of Nyssa participated in a Council at Constantinople, where he preached a sermon on the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In 386, he was again at Constantinople, and he was asked to speak the funeral oration in memory of the empress Placilla. Again in 394 St Gregory was present in Constantinople at a local Council, convened to resolve church matters in Arabia.

St Gregory of Nyssa was a fiery defender of Orthodox dogmas and a zealous teacher of his flock, a kind and compassionate father to his spiritual children, and their intercessor before the courts. He was distinguished by his magnanimity, patience and love of peace.

Having reached old age, St Gregory of Nyssa died soon after the Council of Constantinople. Together with his great contemporaries, Sts Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa had a significant influence on the Church life of his time. His sister, St Macrina, wrote to him: “You are renowned both in the cities, and gatherings of people, and throughout entire districts. Churches ask you for help.” St Gregory is known in history as one of the most profound Christian thinkers of the fourth century. Endowed with philosophical talent, he saw philosophy as a means for a deeper penetration into the authentic meaning of divine revelation.

St Gregory left behind many remarkable works of dogmatic character, as well as sermons and discourses. He has been called “the Father of Fathers.”

“Pentecost” by Metropolitan John of Pergamum

“COME, HOLY SPIRIT, SANCTIFY OUR LIVES!”

The cry for transformation and sanctification corresponds to the deepest longings and desires of the human being. And God knows the world, as it is, and our existence, as it actually is, needs transformation. The image of God, in which we are created, knows we cannot be content with things as they are. There must be change for ourselves and the way things are; but how?

The Holy Spirit: Two Avenues

Asking the Holy Spirit to be involved in our lives in any process of transformation leading to holiness. One is to ask Him to assist with our efforts: we do the planning, we make the efforts, and the Holy Spirit is asked to help. The other way is to leave everything to the Holy Spirit. We do nothing but pray, and leave everything to the Holy Spirit. Both of these extremes are wrong; but of these two the first one is probably the one we have to watch out for more carefully at this time of widespread rationalism and planning. The Episcopal Church claiming the Holy Spirit is responsible for the “new thing” that is being done in is an example of this.

The Holy Spirit seems to have an obsession with freedom. He blows where He wills, and does not like to be told what to do. [Remember the joke about how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans…] We must certainly try, and we must definitely do our best, but when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come we must be prepared for the unexpected. All of our best thinking may well prove to be wrong. But I for one would rather be holy than right…

Sanctification has always been associated with the specific operations of the Holy Spirit since the time of the Church Fathers. But the way this sanctification and the holiness that results from it have been understood through the centuries has turned spirituality into an irrelevant concept for the world today. A certain aristocracy and elitism are often associated with spirituality. We need to combat the lie which says the Holy Spirit transforms and sanctifies only certain individuals, with the truth that His gifts are poured “upon all flesh” as the prophecy of Joel has put it. How can we make the concept of holiness relevant today?

The Ethos of Holiness

Holiness means setting apart someone or something for God. Holiness requires an attitude —towards all that exists (our bodies, our minds, the material world, everything) — which says, “by nature, this belongs to God.” We cannot own ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our natural resources — they belong to God. Our theology says that we are in the world as the priests of creation endowed with the privilege of offering creation back to its Creator.

This eucharistic attitude is the first thing that we need today during this time of severe ecological crisis as well as when there are so many enemies and factions in our lives. This eucharistic attitude is a spirituality of holiness that flourished in the desert Fathers, but has been forgotten in the meantime. It has to be recovered urgently, now that we need to be redeemed from humanistic and human-centered attitudes to existence.

Holiness and Community

One of the greatest sins of mankind today is seen in how holiness is understood individualistically. We think of the transformation of an individual into a holy man or a holy woman and that they are characterized by certain virtues and they shine forth with qualities of goodness, humility, love, etc.

But we tend to forget that when the Holy Spirit blows, He always brings about communion and therefore creates community. There is no such thing as “holy individualism.” All holiness stems from the communion of the Spirit. That is what makes the Church holy and at the same time is so important for our spirituality and holiness.

There’s an old Latin saying that goes “One cannot be a Christian alone.” It is because of the association of the Holy Spirit with communion that the saying of St Cyprian, “There is no salvation outside of the Church,” must be taken seriously. And so we must look for a transformation of the Church even as we speak of sharing holiness and sanctification.

The structure and ministry of the community — which is visible unity — cannot be irrelevant to holiness. It is a tragic reality that Christian communities do not recognize each other’s saints, because of division at the level of both or either faith and order. Holiness and church structure cannot be separated. Praying for holiness must go together with working for unity. If we are not working for unity we cannot be holy.

Holiness and Freedom

Finally, holiness means liberation — or rather, freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). Liberation is from someone or something; freedom is for someone or something. Both aspects are associated in the work of the Spirit, who is freedom. These take various forms:

  1. liberation from the past — forgiveness through repentance (metanoia);
  2. liberation from passions of egocentricity (askesis, healing one’s self);
  3. liberation from injustice, exploitation, poverty and all social evil;
  4. liberation even from decay and death — something we speak so little about;
  5. freedom to love, even our enemies; to allow for personal, cultural and other differences to exist; to give our lives for our enemies, even as our Lord gave His on the Cross for us.

All this means that the Holy Spirit has a great deal to say to the churches today through sanctification and holiness. We must work for a spirituality that will make sense for all human beings in all walks of life. And yet we must guard ourselves against an easy ‘spiritualism.’ We often speak too easily and too quickly of the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit in what we are doing. We must humbly submit what we are and what we do to His purifying judgment, waiting for Him to reveal the truth.

There is always the danger of confusing the Spirit of God with our own psychological experiences or certainties. The Holy Spirit is God. He is Lord. He cannot be contained by our feelings. The best we can do is to worship Him as Lord, to pray to Him to dwell among us, and to wait patiently upon Him in all that we do.

Orthodox Nativity

nativityHear is a wonderful collection of Orthodox sermons and articles about the Nativity of Christ. I’ve found much to meditate on and pray and think about.

St Philip (of the 70)

Holy Apostle Philip of the Seventy, one of the 7 Deacons, is not to be confused with St Philip one of the Twelve Apostles. This Philip was born in Palestine, was married and had children.

After Pentecost, the Twelve Apostles made Philip a deacon in the Church of Jerusalem. Along with the other six deacons, they appointed him to deal with the offerings of the faithful and attend to the concerns of the widowed, the orphaned and the needy. The eldest among the seven deacons was the holy Archdeacon Stephen. When the persecution of Christians began, the Jews stoned the Protomartyr Stephen. The Apostle Philip left Jerusalem and settled in Samaria. There he successfully preached Christianity. Among the disciple’s converts was the noted magician Simon, who “after being baptized, continued with Philip.” (Acts 8:9-13)

At the command of an angel of the Lord, St Philip set out upon the road connecting Jerusalem with Gaza. There he met an official of the empress of Ethiopia (the “Kandake”), whom also he converted to Christianity (Acts 8:26-39). St Philip tirelessly preached the Word of God in many of the lands of the Near East adjoining Palestine. At Jerusalem the Apostles made him a bishop and sent him to Tralles in Asia Minor, where he also baptized many. St Philip died in old age.

adapted from here.

Metropolitan Kallistos on Lambeth and the Anglican Communion

HT to Kendall

Metropolitan Kallistos: First, I admire deeply the way in which Archbishop Rowan is fulfilling his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, at this moment of crisis. It’s easy to say, with reference to his position here at the Lambeth Conference or generally in the current Anglican world, that he is in a no-win situation. But granted the immense difficulties that he is facing, he is not doing too badly. Now, what should he be doing here at Lambeth? Should he be offering very firm and clear leadership, insisting on a particular point of view, putting forward resolutions to the plenary gathering of the bishops for their acceptance? He has not chosen to do that. Some people feel disappointed. Some people feel he should be doing that. But if he were to do that, it would create confrontation and division. If you walk through the mountains and you find a large rock in your path, one method is to kick it out of the way. The other is to walk around it and go on with your journey. Now Archbishop Rowan has probably understood that if he tries to kick this particular stone, or this double rock – the ordination of women and homosexual relations – if he tries to confront it head-on and insist on a clear expression of the position of the Anglican Communion, to kick the stone out of the path, he is likely to hurt his toe. The stone perhaps is too sharp and heavy to be moved in that way at this moment. But you can walk round it in the sense of affirming the bonds of unity that exist beyond these divisive issues. And this is what he wants to do with the present Lambeth Conference. To make this a time of shared prayer, shared discussion, strengthening the bonds of friendship. Now some people would be disappointed that as far as we can see, and we are halfway through now, there is not going to be either a major confrontation or a very clear affirmation. But perhaps this is not the right moment – this is not the kairos, the opportunity given by God for such clear statements. Is a very difficult thing to discern, when to insist on a decision, when to say we are not ready. That’s the problem that confronts the chairman of any gathering. And it confronts Rowan in a particularly poignant way.

Having just hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I am stunned by the aptness of this analogy. And, again referencing the hike in NH, I see the vast implications of all our ecumenical endeavors now in a very similar light. The oft-times huge stones in our path lie over and under and next to myriad others. Bishop Kallistos refers to the stones that stand in the path of the Anglican Communion being one with the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church, and yet in our conversations with protestants, for example, the stones are Sacramental Theology, Ecclesiology, and in our conversations with the pentecostals they tend to be things like disspensationalism. Lots to think on here.

read the whole interview here

St Gregory Palamas’s Sermon on the Transfiguration

transfiguration1.jpg St Gregory Palamas, (Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς)  Archbishop of Thessalonica (1296 – 1359)

For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth, it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).

First of all we must ask, from whence does the Evangelist Matthew begin to reckon with six days? From what sort of day be it? What does the preceding turn of speech indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Amen I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.

The Evangelist Luke points this out and reveals this more clearly saying: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that He took Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became a radiant white” (Lk 9:28-29). But how can the two be reconciled, when one of them speaks definitively about the interval of time as being eight days between the sayings and the manifestation, whereas the other (says): “after six days?”

There were eight on the mountain, but only six were visible. Three, Peter, James and John, had come up with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elias standing there and conversing with Him, so altogether there were six of them. However, the Father and the Holy Spirit were invisibly with the Lord: the Father, with His Voice testifying that this was His Beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit shining forth with Him in the radiant cloud. Thus, the six are actually eight, and there is no contradiction regarding the eight. Similarly, there is no contradiction with the Evangelists when one says “after six days,” and the other says “eight days after these words.”

But these twofold sayings as it were present us a certain format set in mystery, and together with it that of those actually present upon the Mount. It stands to reason, and everyone rationally studying in accordance with Scripture knows that the Evangelists are in agreement one with another. Luke spoke of eight days without contradicting Matthew, who declared “after six days.” There is not another day added on to represent the day on which these sayings were uttered, nor is the day on which the Lord was transfigured added on (which a rational person might reasonably imagine to be added to the days of Matthew).

The Evangelist Luke does not say “after eight days” (like the Evangelist Matthew says “after six days”), but rather “it came to pass eight days after these words.” But where the Evangelists seem to contradict one another, they actually point out to us something great and mysterious. In actual fact, why did the one say “after six days,” but the other, in ignoring the seventh day, have in mind the eighth day? It is because the great vision of the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is the mystery of the Eighth Day, i.e., of the future age, coming to be revealed after the passing away of the world created in six days.

About the power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom the Kingdom of God is to be revealed, the Lord predicted: “There are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Everywhere and in every way the King will be present, and everywhere will be His Kingdom, since the advent of His Kingdom does not signify the passing over from one place to another, but rather the revelation of its power of the Divine Spirit. That is why it is said: “come in power.” And this power is not manifest to simply ordinary people, but to those standing with the Lord, that is to say, those who have affirmed their faith in Him like Peter, James and John, and especially those who are free of our natural abasement. Therefore, and precisely because of this, God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit.

Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, (the disciples) of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light.

Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level (i.e., as something “created”) not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10).

So, with the onset of the Eighth Day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves, as for example when with five loaves and two fish He fed the five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:19-23). Or, taking with Him those who excelled others, as at the approach of His Saving Passion, when He said to the other disciples: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26:36). Then He took with Him Peter, James and John. But in our instance right here and now, having taken only these same three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes.

“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Chrysostomos). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses (let us put aside the blindness of mind of those who can conceive of nothing higher than what is known through the senses). Rather, it is to show that Christ God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.

Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself. In this regard, actually, He did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it. For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature. On Mount Tabor it was manifest also in His Flesh, by reason of the Hypostatic Union (i.e., the union of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the divine Person [Hypostasis] of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity). The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon defined this Hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, as “without mingling, without change, without division, without separation.”

We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess. Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light?

Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.

So also she who miraculously conceived and gave birth recognized that the One born of her is God Incarnate. So it was also for Simeon, who only received this Infant into his arms, and the aged Anna, coming out [from the Jerusalem Temple] for the Meeting, since the Divine Power illumined, as through a glass windowpane, giving light for those having pure eyes of heart.

And why did the Lord, before the beginning of the Transfiguration, choose the foremost of the Apostles and lead them up onto the Mount with Him? Certainly, it was to show them something great and mysterious. What is particularly great or mysterious in showing a sensory light, which not only the foremost, but all the other Apostles already abundantly possessed? Why would they need a transforming of their eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit for a contemplation of this Light, if it were merely sensory and created? How could the Glory and the Kingdom of the Father and the Holy Spirit project forth in some sort of sensory light? Indeed, in what sort of Glory and Kingdom would Christ the Lord come at the end of the ages, when there would not be necessary anything in the air, nor in expanse, nor anything similar, but when, in the words of the Apostle, “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15: 28)? That is to say, will He alter everything for all? If so, then it follows that light is included.

Hence it is clear that the Light of Tabor was a Divine Light. And the Evangelist John, inspired by Divine Revelation, says clearly that the future eternal and enduring city “has no need of the sun or moon to shine upon it. For the Glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb will be its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Is it not clear, that he points out here that this [Lamb] is Jesus, Who is divinely transfigured now upon Tabor, and the flesh of Whom shines, is the lamp manifesting the Glory of divinity for those ascending the mountain with Him?

John the Theologian also says about the inhabitants of this city: “they will not need light from lamps, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them, and night shall be no more” (Rev 22:5). But how, we might ask, is there this other light, in which “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas 1:17)? What light is there that is constant and unsetting, unless it be the Light of God? Moreover, could Moses and Elias (and particularly the former, who clearly was present only in spirit, and not in flesh [Elias having ascended bodily to Heaven on the fiery chariot]) be shining with any sort of sensory light, and be seen and known? Especially since it was written of them: “they appeared in glory, and spoke of his death, which he was about to fulfill at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). And how otherwise could the Apostles recognize those whom they had never seen before, unless through the mysterious power of the Divine Light, opening their mental eyes?

But let us not tire our attention with the furthermost interpretations of the words of the Gospel. We shall believe thus, as those same ones have taught us, who themselves were enlightened by the Lord Himself, insofar as they alone know this well: the Mysteries of God, in the words of a prophet, are known to God alone and His perpetual proximity. Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord in accord with their teaching, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul and lead to the fire of Gehenna and everlasting darkness. Let us be freed from these by the illumination and knowledge of the incorporeal and ever-existing Light of our Savior transfigured on Tabor, in His Glory, and of His Father from all eternity, and His Life-Creating Spirit, Whom are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.